Pull up your sleigh
What could be more festive than featuring reindeer in December? Rowan Mantell reviews a fine pre-Christmas feast at The Reindeer in Norwich
Fairy lights twinkle in the darkness as we leave our sleigh (okay, bicycles) outside and are met by a roar of good cheer. The Reindeer Pub and Kitchen, on Norwich’s busy Dereham Road, is a popular place. But with a long bar, and pub tables to the right and restaurant tables to the left, there is plenty of space. It’s a relaxed, happy atmosphere. We are shown to a cute little table, on a mini balcony up a couple of steps from the main room. There are flowers and a candle to lift the atmosphere even further, and it’s ideal for people-watching too.
The restaurant specialises in British food, and it homes in even closer for many of the dishes. There is Norfolk bred pork or pigeon on the starters list; Norfolk pheasant, beef, pork and potatoes and Suffolk pork for mains; a British cheese board and even British tapas (think black pudding scotch eggs, haggis hash cakes, homemade pork crackling and cured sprat fillets).
However, there is no rigid sticking to national boundaries at The Reindeer. The menu takes in recipes and methods from around the world, and gives familiar (and not so familiar) ingredients a cosmopolitan twist. So there is egg yolk confit, celeriac remoulade and Thai curry. There are also traditional English dishes which are considerably less familiar. I only know what hogget is (a one-year-old sheep) from my obsession with The Archers and had to look up onglet (a cut of steak) because it isn’t yet stocked by Ambridge Organics.
A pint of Shires, as served in The Bull, Ambridge, is one of the few beers not on The Reindeer’s impressive lists, chalked on blackboards near the entrance and up above the bar. Once there was a brewery here and beer is still a vital part of the pub, so my husband felt obliged to begin with a pint, while the idea of putting a couple of aperitifs at the top of the dinner menu certainly worked for me and I enjoyed an elderflower Collins.
We then moved on to herb gnocchi, mushroom consommé and confit egg yolk for me, and Norfolk pigeon, puy lentil ragu and game crisps for my husband.
Both were ideal for a wintry evening and packed with warm, hearty flavours. In fact my gnocchi dish was so delicious that the only thing missing was a spoon to catch the last juices of the consommé. However, all credit to the waitress who brought me a spoon for my main dish of Channel hake, Scottish clam, mussel and chorizo broth, with potatoes and kale. It too was good enough to want to savour every last mouthful. An inspired combination of tender hake, delicate shellfish in a rich broth, its combination of rich sophistication and earthy simplicity seemed perfectly fitted to the whole ethos of The Reindeer. The pub vibe is combined with clever, confident cooking, fabulous flavours and friendly service.
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Back to our meal and my husband had the onglet and chips, and we then shared a rich chocolate and coffee torte with caramelised walnuts. Again, this was a traditional pudding given a Reindeer twist. Within days kale, mussels and caramelised walnuts had appeared in meals at home, maybe not as successfully, but the Reindeer is the kind of place that makes you want to recreate its magic.
Expect to pay
Starters £4.50 to £6
Mains about £15
The December menu of £25 for two courses or £32.50 for three, includes lots of festive touches alongside some more great Reindeer combinations of hearty ingredients and classy cooking. There is a starter of beetroot and vodka-cured Loch Duart salmon, main courses of roast Norfolk black turkey and chestnut stuffing, or beef and venison cobbler, or butternut squash, chestnut and spinach tart, all with all the trimmings.