Wagamama Norwich – A Review

Wagamama first opened its doors in Bloomsbury, London, in 1992 and in the 25 years since then has grown into a chain of over 120 restaurants in the UK with more than 20 overseas.

Wagamama in Norwich has recently undergone a “shiny new” refurbishment and I was lucky enough to be invited along last week with other food bloggers and writers for the official re-opening. I was accompanied by my friend Cathy – an avid foodie like me – and between us we tasted (and tested) a variety of dishes. We met one of Wagamama’s top executive chefs who talked about Wagamama’s food and history. I was particularly interested to see the new vegan menu which offers some delicious meat and dairy free dishes.

Before the refurbishment, the restaurant had a slightly clinical feel: bright white walls, a lime green feature wall and plenty of stainless steel. The new décor is a complete contrast: while there is still a white and green theme (but no lime!), it’s been softened by the addition of exposed brickwork on pillars, wood panelling and a marble bar counter. Copper coloured pendant light fittings cast a warm glow throughout the restaurant and the large wall mirrors – with a hint of copper on the glass add a sense of space. The bench seating has remained and adds a sociable feel to the dining experience. In my opinion, the new colour scheme and feature lighting are very stylish and make the Wagamama experience more relaxing and intimate.

The waiting staff whetted our appetites with a selection of side dishes, which were placed in the centre of the long table so that we could all dig in. The pork ribs in a Korean barbecue sauce were very popular as was the chilli squid.

We tried two prawn sides: ebi katsu (crispy fried prawns in panko breadcrumbs served with a spicy chilli and garlic sauce) and lollipop prawn kushiyaki (prawn skewers marinated in lemongrass, lime and chilli). For me, the star of the side dishes was beef tataki: lightly seared marinated steak, thinly sliced and served chilled, dressed with citrus ponzu and Japanese mayonnaise.

We chose our own main dishes and each of us ordered something different. I chose the chicken and prawn pad thai (rice noodles in an amai sauce with egg, beansprouts, leeks, chilli and red onion, garnished with fried shallots, peanuts, mint, coriander and fresh lime) while Cathy plumped for the chilli ramen with chicken (a spicy chicken broth topped with red and spring onions, beansprouts, chilli, coriander and fresh lime). I noticed that there was an awful lot of red chilli in Cathy’s bowl but she coped with it admirably!

Someone else on our table had selected the Wagamama ramen which was a substantial bowl of food containing chicken, seasoned pork, prawns and mussels in a rich chicken broth with dashi and miso. Another diner had the steak bulgogi which consisted of marinated sirloin steak and miso-fried aubergine served on soba noodles, dressed in a sesame and bulgogi sauce and finished with spring onions, kimchee and half a tea-stained egg.

The portions of food were very generous and well presented. The chefs had clearly taken time to ensure that the dishes had visual appeal as well as great flavour.

Some desserts then miraculously appeared on our table including a white chocolate and ginger cheesecake that was drizzled with a chilli toffee and ginger sauce, yuzu and lemon tart and a wonderfully moreish cake comprising layers of chocolate sponge, dark chocolate parfait and hazelnut cream with a sleek chocolate mirror glaze. By this time I think we were all quite full but for the purposes of research we valiantly clutched our forks and sampled each of the puds. Well, it would have been rude not to!

I should mention at this point that we could have chosen dishes from the vegetarian and vegan menu. Meat-free at Wagamama doesn’t mean taste-free: side dishes included bang bang cauliflower; mixed aubergine and panko aubergine hirata steamed bun and yasai gyoza with a dipping sauce. For lovers of katsu curry, the vegetarian version consisted of sweet potato, aubergine and butternut squash coated in crispy panko breadcrumbs, covered in an aromatic curry sauce and served with white rice and a side salad. Vegan main courses included yasai pad thai, kare burosu ramen and yasai samla curry. The vegan dessert options were limited to two different flavoured fruit sorbets but I would hope that the Wagamama chefs will soon add more puds to the menu.

The drinks selection was varied with a choice of teas, coffee, wines (bottles or by the glass), beer, soft drinks and fresh juices – there was definitely something available to suit everyone.

I left Wagamama in Norwich feeling pleasantly full and I will return as soon as I can to try some other things on the menu. It will take several visits to try everything but I don’t think that’ll be an onerous task! The waiting staff were courteous and attentive and we appreciated the Executive Chef taking time to talk to us about the food, the flavours and the Wagamama ethos.

 

 

I was invited to Wagamama for a complementary meal in order to review the restaurant following its recent refurbishment. The above reflects my honest opinion of my November 2017 visit. The photographs of the food items are taken from Wagamama’s website.

 

 

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The Beechwood Hotel, Norfolk – A Review

 

 

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The Beechwood Hotel is an attractive country house hotel located on the edge of the market town of North Walsham. The award-winning, fine-dining restaurant seats up to 60 people and offers breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner to residents and non-residents alike. The hotel has an interesting history: from the 1930s to the mid 1960s it was a private house owned by two doctors who were close friends of the crime writer Agatha Christie. Indeed, she spent a lot of time there and used to disappear off to the summerhouse in the garden where she spent time writing. There is various memorabilia and photographs in the hotel available for guests to look at. The crime-writing connection has inspired the owners to put on successful “murder mystery” evenings which offer a delicious three course evening meal while the intrepid diners try to work out “whodunit”.

 

Chef Steven Norgate is passionate about local Norfolk produce and sources most ingredients for his innovative modern British menu from within ten miles of the hotel, such as Morston mussels, Cromer crabs, Sheringham lobsters and outstanding 21 day aged beef that melts in the mouth.

 

The dinner menu could include a starter such as Tavern Tasty ham hock terrine, pea puree, tomato chutney, sourdough crisps, capers, rocket and a mustard dressing followed by Bunwell Estate venison and local, seasonal vegetables. And to round off an excellent meal, I highly recommend the sticky toffee pudding when available or the “trio of Belgian chocolate” dessert.

 

There is always a vegetarian option on the menu too, for example a rosti potato pancake filled with goat’s curd, wild mushrooms, cauliflower puree and onion marmalade served with apple and rocket salad.

 

Whether you go to the Beechwood Hotel for lunch, afternoon tea, dinner or a “special occasion” meal, you won’t be disappointed. With polite and attentive staff, elegant surroundings and food by one of the best chefs in the area, the Beechwood Hotel is most definitely one of the gems in Norfolk’s crown!

 

 

www.beechwood-hotel.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Review of The Hoste, Burnham Market, Norfolk

FullSizeRender - Copy (13)Monday 21st December 2015 was a significant date in my diary: it was our 30th wedding anniversary and as such needed to be celebrated in some way. As we’d only moved to Norfolk from London two weeks earlier, we hadn’t had a chance to book anywhere but luckily when I contacted ‘The Hoste’ in Burnham Market, they said they could fit us in. We decided to treat ourselves to lunch there having heard some excellent reviews. Another attraction was the fact that The Hoste is dog friendly, so Millie our well-behaved cocker spaniel came along too.

Although we’d been visiting Norfolk for more than 20 years, I’d never been to Burnham Market before and I was looking forward to browsing the 30+ independent shops and wandering around the green. Unfortunately, as soon as we got out of the car it started to rain heavily and was very windy so we didn’t really have the opportunity to explore “Norfolk’s loveliest village”. This prompted me to reflect that perhaps it wasn’t a brilliant idea to get married in December!

On the positive side, when we entered ‘The Hoste’, it was warm and inviting and the bar was very lively. We walked through to the restaurant and discovered there were two seating areas: one for people with dogs and one for humans on their own. Our waiter led us to a table and Millie curled up and went to sleep under it.

The lunch menu looked very tempting and considering that many people refer to Burnham Market as “Chelsea-on-Sea”, I thought that the prices weren’t unreasonable for what was, after all, a celebration meal.

 

For our first course, I chose roasted woodland mushrooms cooked with garlic, presented on a brioche slice with parmesan and dressed with an aged balsamic vinegar. The mushrooms were chunky, juicy and full of flavour and the parmesan added a delightful savoury tang.

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My husband had a locally smoked cod fishcake made with leeks, potatoes and mustard, which was dressed with a light sauce. He said the fishcake had a firm texture and he could clearly taste all the individual ingredients.

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A very minor criticism of the starters was that they were both topped with rather a large amount of rocket which concealed the dishes underneath it, as you can see from the photographs. With rocket as a garnish, less is definitely more in my opinion as I find its peppery bitterness somewhat overpowering.

For his main course, my husband chose the roasted Norfolk turkey with all the trimmings and I had seared calf’s liver. I don’t usually eat offal but in a good restaurant, calf’s liver can be outstanding so I had my fingers crossed that The Hoste’s chef would do it justice.

The turkey ‘trimmings’ were very good: my husband said the fondant potato melted in his mouth and the chestnut, apple and ginger stuffing made a change from the ubiquitous ‘sage and onion’ that proliferates at this time of year. As for the turkey itself, he said the breast was well cooked but he was a little disappointed by the brown meat (which he’s not fond of anyway) as it was chewy. He left some on the side of his plate and I have to say, it did look rather gristly. I don’t know if restaurants actually cook whole turkeys – as you would expect – or whether breasts and legs come separately but it was a shame that one small element of the bird wasn’t as good as the rest of the dish.

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The calf’s liver was very good and was served with a generous amount of Great Ryburgh bacon (I have heard that the butcher in the village of Great Ryburgh is excellent and that people travel miles for his meat). The creamed potato was smooth and delicious and the accompanying onion gravy and the buttered spinach I’d requested rounded off my main course very nicely.

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Our plates were cleared and as we were debating whether to have a dessert, our waiter appeared with an unexpected plate of petits fours – see the photograph. I think I mentioned it was our wedding anniversary when I booked so it was a lovely gesture that we really appreciated.

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We finally decided we’d share a dessert and we ordered the chocolate fondant with honeycomb and a blood orange sorbet plus two spoons. The dark fondant had a perfectly melted centre which oozed onto the plate when I cut into it. The blood orange sorbet was divine with a sweet sharpness that cut through the richness of the chocolate. This dish elevated the classic chocolate and orange combination to a very high level indeed and served as an excellent finish to our meal.

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The service at The Hoste was excellent – attentive but not intrusive – and we were genuinely touched that someone thought of marking our anniversary in a small way with the presentation of the petits fours. The meal including service came to just under £75, which we felt was acceptable for a special (and filling) anniversary lunch without alcohol.

I’d recommend The Hoste at Burnham Market and would rate it 9/10 for food and ambience and 10/10 for service. It also gets plus points for being dog friendly.

 

www.thehoste.com

 

 

 

Disclaimer: This review reflects my honest opinion of the food my husband and I were served (and paid for) at The Hoste on 21st December 2015. I was not asked to write the review nor did I receive any incentives for doing so.

 

 

How I Became a Food Blogger

I was off work last week due to minor surgery on my toe which was accompanied by a rotten cold so I was feeling rather miserable. However, sitting at home on the sofa with my foot elevated for a couple of days did allow for some time for contemplation.

I’m inherently quite a curious (alright, nosey) person and I love hearing about how people ended up doing the jobs they do or leading the lives they have. I then started to think about how I came to set up my blog because I find the history of such things fascinating. Bloggers all have different stories to tell about how they began so I thought I’d share mine.

Two and a half years ago, I was sitting on the same sofa with my leg elevated but for a far more serious reason. In March 2013, I was hit by a car as I was running across a road (after my dog which had scarpered during a walk in the park) and subsequently suffered a badly broken right leg and a head injury. I think the fact that I’m quite a generously proportioned lady of a certain age (!) and therefore quite robustly built was what ensured that I wasn’t killed (the driver must have been doing at least 50 mph in a 30 mph zone) because apparently I was thrown through the air and landed in the middle of a crossroads. I don’t remember the impact or the landing – as I was knocked unconscious and the next few days were a blur due to the vast amounts of morphine I was given. At least the dog was OK.

Only a few months before the accident I’d set up my small home baking business (to run alongside my day job in HR) having registered with my local Council, completed an online Food Hygiene course and given my new enterprise the name of ‘The Little Pink Kitchen’ because my kitchen is quite small and the walls are pink. I attended a cupcake decorating workshop run by the 2011 Great British Bake Off winner Jo Wheatley and thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was the first time I’d really played around with cutters, moulds and sugar paste and I was hooked from the start. Orders were steadily coming in and I did a few bake sales and got my name out there locally. All things considered, I was feeling rather good about things at that time.

But then, the accident changed my life. I got over the head injury relatively quickly – although I must say that you do get quite a bad headache when your head comes into contact with a road from a great height! The leg took longer as initially I had a ‘tibial nail’ holding it together (basically a titanium rod from knee to ankle – with screws in) but the bone didn’t heal so after 6 months it was removed and I had a plate put in, which on the X-ray looked like a long piece of meccano. (If you are under the age of 40, you’ll probably have to google ‘meccano’.)

With these surgeries came a lengthy recuperation period involving crutches, no weight-bearing with no cast, then light weight-bearing with a cast (I had a pink one!) then an air boot all followed by months of physiotherapy learning how to walk again. It took almost two years for life to get back to a relative ‘normal’ state. My poor husband didn’t know whether he was coming or going as he had to look after me and the dog as well as trying to do his job. It was a very difficult and emotional time for both of us.

Although I couldn’t do any baking or cooking for several months, I kept my hand in with the cakey bakey world via Twitter (mostly) and other social media using my trusty iPad. Well, it was a better option than watching day time television – I think that really would have finished me off.

I was delighted to find such an active online baking community on Twitter. I made contact with a lot of home bakers and people who had started their own baking and cake businesses, both on a small and a large scale. I was surprised to find that people who wrote blogs could make serious money by doing it. I remember thinking that it must be wonderful to earn a living doing something you love. I work in HR dealing with the problematic side of people management, things like disciplinary hearings, poor performance and absence so a lot of what I deal with on a daily basis can be quite negative and it definitely drains you. Making cakes and pottering around the kitchen makes me happy and the worst thing for me about the accident was that I couldn’t do it for months.

As time went on, I got back into the kitchen and started baking again, just on a small scale for pleasure. I found baking to be very therapeutic: it took my mind off my troubles and there was something nice to eat at the end. At the same time, the thought of returning to my job was not making me feel particularly happy. It was a very large company with over 16,000 employees and there had been a lot of changes while I’d been away. I think my managers were wondering if I’d ever come back given the recovery time after the operations and I sensed that their sympathy was waning, which to be honest was quite hurtful. Anyway, an opportunity came for me to leave in mid 2014 when there was a restructure and I took it because financially it was worth it and it felt like a great relief.

Since then, I’ve found alternative HR work that I enjoy and I’m now baking and cooking much more often and feeling a lot happier. I’ve attended courses at Squires Kitchen and a celebration cake decorating course at Konditor and Cook at Borough Market and I highly recommend both. Late last year I started writing monthly articles and recipes for a local newspaper but this offered only limited opportunities going forward. It was at that point that I had a ‘light bulb moment’ when I realised that if I set up my own blog, I could write about anything I liked, with no limits.

So what did I like? Well, cakes and baking obviously but I also love trying out new kitchen gadgets, visiting food festivals, cake and baking shows, developing recipes, reviewing books, products, cafes, tea shops and so much more. So www.thelittlepinkkitchen.com was born earlier this year after a brief time writing under a WordPress heading.

Recently I’ve been actively making new foodie contacts and networking as although I write my blog for pleasure and don’t make any money from it (one day perhaps…..) I would like it to contain things that people really want to read about and find entertaining. I have some projects in the pipeline which I’m very excited about and have been sent some items to review so I’ll be getting around to that very soon.

What’s the selling point for my blog, I hear you ask. Well, I’m an all-round foodie (as my waistline makes only too clear) so I cover quite a range of topics which adds variety to my blog. I’ve received feedback that I have an engaging style of writing with a quirky sense of humour that comes through in my posts. I’m not paid to write posts so my opinions are my own which means I can be totally honest although I would never be unkind or malicious. (See my earlier post on ‘blogger blackmail’ for an insight of what can happen when bloggers are unreasonable.)

I’ll finish by saying that it’s been interesting for me to reflect on events over the last two years and I can honestly say that if the accident hadn’t happened, my blog probably wouldn’t exist and I wouldn’t have made friends with some wonderful people via Twitter, especially the Sunday Baking Club crowd.

You all know who you are. Thank you for your on-going friendship and support.

With The Girlies At Galu

OK so I’ve used a bit of artistic licence with the title of this post as no way could we three friends realistically be classed as ‘girlies’. None of us will see 40 again although my friends are nearer to it than I am. Anyway, let’s move on……..

My friend K was abroad for her birthday in August and so on Friday 4th September 2015 we went with another friend J for a belated birthday meal at Galu, a restaurant in Banstead, Surrey. Galu is a ‘Mediterranean bar and grill’ with a bespoke open flame charcoal grill located in the heart of the open view kitchen. As you enter the premises, the stylish bar is to the left and the restaurant to the right.

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We were seated immediately and I was struck by the spacious feel of the restaurant despite the fact that it was busy. It also is light and airy due in part to the floor to ceiling windows along one side of the building. The lighting was a little subdued but not so much that you couldn’t read the menus or see each other. I have a real issue with lighting that’s ‘barely there’. If you’re having a romantic meal (which K, J and I weren’t), dimmed lights might be quite conducive but generally I like to be able to see the people I’m dining with and not hazard a guess at what’s on the menu!

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We were presented with the a la carte menu as well as details of the day’s ‘specials’. There was a wide choice of dishes available so there really should be something to suit everyone. For starters, J and I had the seared king scallops wrapped in pancetta and served with a pea puree while K had warm goat’s cheese served on aubergine with rocket. If scallops are on a menu I always tend to choose them as I’m not allowed to cook anything vaguely ‘fishy’ or ‘sea foody’ at home as my husband believes that the whole house smells of fish for days afterwards. The scallops we had were outstanding: tender, juicy and more importantly not overcooked. A rubbery scallop does not a happy diner make!

For the main course I chose calves liver with bacon, buttered spinach and creamy mash. I don’t ever cook or eat liver at home due to my husband’s queasiness about offal so this was a real treat for me. K had a dish from the ‘specials’ list: herb crusted rump of lamb with roasted new potatoes and creamed spinach while J couldn’t resist a juicy sirloin steak with peppercorn sauce. Judging by the ‘mmmms’ and ‘ooohs’ I heard coming from their direction, their meals were equally delicious.

To accompany our meal, we had two bottles of wine, one of which was a pink Prosecco (yes, PINK!) – both bottles went down rather well, I must say.

We were so satisfied by our two courses and our wine that we couldn’t manage any puds even though the dessert menu was rather tempting.

We did, however, manage to squeeze in a complementary drink at the bar after dinner thanks to Vas (who owns the restaurant with his father John). J had a rather spectacular fruity based cocktail which she found to be a little livelier taste wise than she first thought while K and I settled for the simpler options of wine (her) and Irish cream (me). While we were in the bar, I was quite taken with the mixology skills of the barman and just had to take a photo of him in action. Apologies for the poor quality of the picture – my flash was playing up. Note to self: buy a decent camera for blog purposes!

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One other very important point: the ladies’ loos were spotless. I can’t comment on the gents (a review too far I’d say) but I’m sure they were equally gleaming. I’ve been in so many restaurants where there is a lack of lavatorial attention so Galu got extra brownie points for that.

I couldn’t fault the food, service or atmosphere at Galu and my friends and I had a great time. I will definitely go back again and I’d recommend that anyone who lives within a reasonable distance of Banstead also gives it a try. You won’t be disappointed but if you go on a Friday or Saturday night you’d be sensible to make a reservation as it’s a very popular place.

Disclaimer: We paid for our meal but accepted complementary drinks from the restaurant owner. I was not paid for or asked to write this review.

Previous blog posts revisited

As I closed my previous blog down, I thought I would recycle some of the posts I wrote for it. I was quite proud of them when I wrote them and I didn’t really want them sent to oblivion. Some people may not have seen them so they will have something new to read. For those of you who may have seen them before please accept my apologies and new posts will be added very shortly.

My new and – hopefully – improved blog

image1 - Copy (9)Well hello there! Some readers may know that I had a blog previously which I didn’t get to work on too often due to things such as work, life and house selling getting in the way. Well those three things are still there (the house selling is the most frustrating of them all) but I’ve decided that I really need to get off my not insubstantial behind and do some writing. It’s something I really like doing and it’s cheaper than therapy so I really need to crack on with it. I don’t necessarily want to be ‘Blogger of the Year’ although it’s a nice feeling if someone enjoys your posts and makes a positive comment.

To start off, I’ll set out how I think my blog will look. Firstly, it’s going to be a very simple layout as I’m using the free bit of WordPress because I’m not a very technical person. My previous blog was set up by a chap who did a great job but required paying for his services! As I wasn’t finding the time to post regularly I thought it wasn’t cost effective to keep paying a monthly fee so that’s why now it’s just WordPress and me, finding our way together.

Secondly, although this will be mostly a food blog I will occasionally write about other things that I like. There are definitely things I like apart from food ………. Really, there are ……… So you may see things like book reviews (OK usually recipe books), reports on my visits to cake shows or foodie events, product or ingredients reviews (I have posted reviews and recipes for Sugar and Crumbs flavoured icing sugars and have received samples of Wrights Flours and Cake Mixes and posted about them previously). In the future, I hope to develop relationships with other suppliers who want to get their products ‘out there’. And I should say that I’m a very fair reviewer – even if I get products for free – because it helps nobody if feedback isn’t true. I always make an effort to review tea shops, cafes and restaurants that I’ve eaten in because good places should be praised and the poorer ones need to be given reasons to improve. I admire anyone who sets up his / her own cake or food business. It’s hard work and you have to be dedicated. I’ve seen a lot of people on Twitter or Facebook that I now call my friends transform from being good home bakers into foodie world ‘celebrities’ and I like to publicise their efforts whenever I can.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Tracy and I live in Wallington, Surrey, but we are hoping to move to Norfolk once we’ve sold our house. Which may not be in this lifetime the way it’s going. I work in HR for a local College, and I live with my husband Andrew and a cocker spaniel called Millie who we rescued from a puppy farm. My son is 29 and my daughter is nearly 26. They both have partners and flew the nest quite a while ago. They return occasionally for a roast dinner and cake. My love of baking and sweet treats has led to a teensy weensy weight problem (well, a big one really) and so I’m currently on a healthy eating regime and have lost over 2 stone since March 2015. My weight loss journey will feature from time to time on my blog but please shoot me if I become a diet bore.

The current logo for The Little Pink Kitchen will be changing in a couple of months as although I like it, I want one to reflect that this blog will not just be about cakes and bakes but also about savoury things including main meals and all sorts of other foods that I like. For example,  I’m currently enjoying simple, healthy Japanese recipes using the Itsu cookbook (almost every day) and the dishes I’ve been preparing are definitely helping me to win the battle of the bulge.

And if you were wondering how I happened to choose the name for my blog (and the small cake business I have as an occasional sideline), look at the photo that accompanies this post. Yes, my kitchen really is pink and it’s also quite small. I really didn’t have to think too hard about that, did I?

That’s all for now. I’ll be back as soon as I can with a new post. I hope you will enjoy my new blog.

Tracy x