Norwich: Explore the UK’s most creative city

Image: Nick Garrod via Flickr
Image: Nick Garrod via Flickr

Another September, another group of university freshers descend upon the city.

Half of them will tip-toe through their time here, rarely leaving campus and concluding that Norwich is a concrete place with two monotonous shopping malls and a range of unreliable bus services. The other half will quickly discover a city bursting with bohemian spirit. These are the ones who’ll stay here long beyond their degree, because from the first time they stumble into a cafe-bar with awesome lampshades and an undiscovered band on stage, they’ll feel like they’ve found home.

The Norwich Lanes is the first of the city’s many unique highlights. This historic district is full of cobbled stone streets and beautiful storefronts. Take a walk around and you’ll find a collection of independent shops filled with vintage clothes, pre-loved records and quirky knick-knacks. Dotted between are cafes, bars and restaurants with shabby chic décor and different events every night.

In the heart of the Lanes is St Benedict’s Street where city favourite The Bicycle Shop is located. The multi-purpose space is set over three floors and hosts everything from magazine parties to book launches to conversation clubs, and its basement venue hosts touring acts several nights a week. Mismatched furniture, weird and wonderful cakes, and breakfast served until 3pm (dippy eggs with soldiers come highly recommended)… What more could you ask for?

A few doors down is Norwich Arts Centre. The converted church programmes an impressive array of music nights, resulting in the NME naming it best small venue in the east this year. Courses in creative writing, photography and design are offered here too, as well as its foyer and bar acting as a mini art gallery.

The Birdcage, Norwich’s hipster haunt, attracts twenty-something guys with sleeve tattoos and Elvis hairstyles. Its retro feel is complimented by cabaret, spoken word, poetry and music, brought to you by barmaids with forties style and flowers in their hair.

On St George’s Street is Norwich University College of the Arts and Norwich Playhouse. As well as a delicious programme of theatre, comedy and panto, the Playhouse has one of the best beer gardens in the city. The bar is staffed by NUCA students, and, come nightfall, Norwich’s finest DJs spin lo-fi and electronica while a merry audience dance their evenings away.

With table service, chalkboard menus and international cuisine, Frank’s Bar is another brilliant spot. Its walls are covered with paintings and photography, while Sundays see screenings of classic films and hangover-cure brunches served early till late.

Cinema City offers an eclectic collection from Hollywood blockbusters to acclaimed indie flicks and the latest in foreign cinema. Occasional screenings of Audrey Hepburn movies and mini-festivals celebrating legends like Woody Allen present just the right dose of nostalgia.

Just outside the city centre lies the University of East Anglia. Its Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts is Norwich’s finest gallery, and its music venue – the LCR – hosts live acts from across the world, recently including Coldplay, Ben Howard and Nero.

UEA also boasts the UK’s most prestigious creative writing courses, and presents a seasonal literary festival with speakers like Sebastian Faulks, Ian McEwan and Pat Barker. It’s no surprise Norwich was named UNESCO City of Literature in 2012.

If that impressive selection of sites isn’t enough, other places worth a look include The Forum (incorporating the Millennium Library, BBC Look East and The Curve film studio), Norwich Writer’s Centre, independent store The Book Hive and quirky cafe-bar 42 King Street.

If you’re planning a visit, coincide it with the multi-arts Norfolk and Norwich Festival or the Norwich Sound and Vision Convention – you won’t be disappointed.

This feature was originally published on IdeasTap.com.

Review: Jamie’s Italian Restaurant | Norwich, England

Image via Jamie's Italian
Image via Jamie’s Italian

RESTAURANT NAME: Jamie’s Italian

LOCATION: Norwich, England

CUISINE: Italian dishes with British flair.

BEST FOR: A quick bite to eat after a day of shopping.

GENERAL IMPRESSIONS: A casual eatery with a rustic feel and a simple menu offering a few welcome surprises.

PRICE GUIDE: £3 to £10 for starters and sides, £5 to £25 for main dishes, £4 to £6 for desserts.

Image via Jamie's Italian
Image via Jamie’s Italian

 

DECOR: Sturdy wooden tables and chairs, soft lighting and plenty of food-related knickknacks on the walls and display shelves. Everything is explicitly Jamie Oliver-branded, but that doesn’t detract from the pleasant, almost-Italian atmosphere.

SERVICE: Friendly, enthusiastic and efficient staff with a good knowledge of the menu. Expect a 5-10 minute wait for starters and a 10-15 minute wait for main courses.

Image via Jamie's Italian
Image via Jamie’s Italian

 

STARTERS AND SIDES: As well as artisan breads, olives, bruschetta, squid, kale and something called “Italian nachos”, there are lots of sharing plates (known as “planks” on the menu) including cold meats and vegetarian options.

MAINS: Most ingredients are seasonal and locally-sourced, and the menu includes salads, pastas and lots of meat and fish dishes like lobster al forno and chicken al mattone that are inspired by traditional Italian cuisine. For the less daring, there’s always the Jamie’s Italian burger with mortadella, balsamic onions, tomato, melted smoked mozzarella, pickles and chillies.

DESSERTS: Cheesecake, brownies, tarts, pavlova and ice cream – pretty basic offerings, and much more British than Italian.

DRINKS: A good selection including Italian specialities like Amalfi Limoncello, Bellini and Aperol. All the usual beers, wines, soft drinks and coffees you’d expect, and the Jamie Oliver-branded house wines are, perhaps surprisingly, very good.

Image via Jamie's Italian
Image via Jamie’s Italian

DO THEY TAKE BOOKINGS? Yes, and the restaurant gets busy, so do book in advance.

CLIENTELE: A huge variety — from couples to families, students to pensioners, birthday celebrations to girls’ nights out.

CONTACT INFO: 21-24, Royal Arcade, Castle Street, Norwich, Norfolk NR2 1NQ | 01603 519967

WEBSITE: jamieoliver.com/italian

Norwich Food: The Last Brasserie

A couple of weeks back, my friend Connie and I were stressed. Stressed beyond belief. We both had way too much work to do – too many essays to write, not enough time and no gut-desire to actually do it.

Given what wayward souls we are, the obvious solution was a lovely dinner and drinks date. Connie lives just off of Unthank Road here in Norwich, so it seemed like a great time to try out The Last Brasserie, which hasn’t been open long.

It’s a gorgeous little spot.

We started off with a bottle of house red…

Followed by a wonderful feast!

If you’re anything like me, you want a way closer look than that though. Here it goes…

Yummy spiced prawns!

Homemade hummus…

Fresh bread, still warm from baking, with a generous dollop of butter waiting to be added…

A mouthwatering steak dish for me…

…and a divine bowl of mussels for Con.

After a culinary pick me up, we went back to the library the next day refreshed and refuelled. Cheeky meal out comes highly recommended for quick and natural stress relief.

Romeo and Juliet at Norwich Playhouse

Last Thursday, the infamous Mummy Razavi and I headed to Norwich Playhouse to see a new touring production of Romeo and Juliet.

Norwich Playhouse (and its wonderful bar) is one of my favourite spots in the city, and quite possibly my favourite auditorium in the country. It’s set out so that no seats have an obstructed view, and at an intimate 400 capacity, it always punches well above its weight in terms of programme.

This was the final of three Romeo and Juliet performances happening over two days at the Playhouse, and The Icarus Theatre should certainly be proud of an accomplished and very entertaining interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic. Although Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, this production has made excellent use of the play’s funner aspects, with classic 16th century euphemisms and other naughtiness in tow.

It’s perhaps a strange element for a literary-oriented lass like myself to fixate on, but the set design and lighting were a welcome focal point of the stage. With very few physical props and a minimalistic use of lighting, the outcome was tangible and quite beautiful. I really loved everything about the layout and logistics of this performance.

While the actors were generally well cast for their roles, the changeovers slick and the performance engaging, unfortunately I found myself left rather cold by Romeo and Juliet themselves. A lack of chemistry between the actors combined with obvious fake-kissing (hands in front of the face stuff) made for the kind of moments where you realise you’re watching people on a stage. Personally, I really like falling into a play and forgetting the outside world exists for a few hours…

That aside, this was an excellent take on a globally-renowned tale of true love and true loss, and a very enjoyable night out.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

  • Company: co-production between The Icarus Theatre and King’s Theatre, Southsea
  • Running Length: 2 hours and 30 minutes including interval
  • Credits: directed by Max Lewendel; full cast and crew list available here
  • Other Dates: See here for a complete list of venues on this tour (includes both the UK and Ireland)

For more information about upcoming events at the brilliant Norwich Playhouse, have a look here.

Norwich Lanes: 42 King Street

So, this place isn’t actually in the Norwich Lanes, but it definitely has the Lanes vibe, so we’ll let it slide this once. Where is it, you might ask, if not in the Norwich Lanes? Try 42 King Street…duh…

My old housemate Alex (who is currently residing in Portland, Oregon for the year – amazing, right?) visited this place a couple of times last year, and each time, couldn’t stop raving about it for days afterwards. After my first visit, I can completely understand why.

42 King Street is a bar-meets-gastropub-meets-bistro kind of establishment, and you probably couldn’t fit more than 20 people inside at any one time. That makes going there pretty magical – your timing has to be impeccable to get a table, and you feel a little bit special for having found your way inside.

We popped in for a late drink and snack after a gig nearby. We had a lovely glass of wine and sampled some of their tapas…I had garlic-infused chorizo and peas, and it was absolutely delicious.

42 King Street is definitely one of my new favourite places.

Norwich Lanes: Biddy’s Tea Room

Norwich is full of wonderful places, and even though I’ve been living in the city for years now, there are still a collection of spots I haven’t explored. Biddy’s Tea Room was one such spot, until last week when I dragged some friends along for an afternoon of tea and things…

The whole set up is very much like a traditional tea room. Lots of bunting, old lady tablecloths and mismatched crockery.

Biddy’s have delicious cakes, scones and jam, tea cakes and more, so I gathered these treat-loving folks…

Aaron Gina of House Sixteen (http://housesixteen.wordpress.com/) Georgios – http://soundcloud.com/georgioshadji Me and Katie (http://katiekingmakeup.tumblr.com/)

And oh did we have treats! I had an afternoon cream tea which costs a totally-worth-it £4.75…

Aaaaand a spiced chai latte, because they are seriously yummy.

While Katie and Georgios split two types of freshly-baked homemade cake (couple of quid each I think) – it was lemon and poppy seed vs peanut butter. Between them, they came to no decision about which was better really.

Biddy’s comes highly recommended from me. This was such a lovely way to spend an afternoon!