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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

L’Hexagone, Norwich: ‘Easy issues executed very nicely’ – restaurant evaluate | Meals

L’Hexagone, 22 Decrease Goat Lane, Norwich NR2 1EL (01603 926 886). Starters and small plates £7-£12, mains £14-£24, desserts £7, wines from £21

Early in my comfortable adventures as a gigging musician, placing my ragbag of borrowed licks and boundless, puppyish enthusiasm earlier than very type audiences, I had an epiphany. No matter my ambitions, I used to be not required to have mastered the piano fully earlier than taking part in for individuals. The jazz world could also be strewn with mighty saxophonists who flip as much as gigs bellowing “any tune, any key, any tempo”. To me, they’re God-like figures. However I didn’t should be, certainly may by no means be, like them. As a substitute, I merely had to have the ability to play the tunes I used to be acting at that second. Again then the viewers didn’t have to know that there was not a lot else past the 10-song set they’d simply heard. I’d nonetheless be, and certainly stay, one of the best jazz pianist of all of the British restaurant critics.

There’s rather a lot to be mentioned for being good over a slender bandwidth; for doing a small variety of issues rather well, relatively than making an attempt to show your exhausting high-trapeze virtuosity. I thought of this whereas learning the brown-paper menu at L’Hexagone in Norwich. It’s the tiny French restaurant that actually can. It’s the type of place we may all do with extra of, when cash is tight and we have to take our pleasures with care.

‘Smeared thickly with garlic-boosed tapenade’: tomato tartine.
‘Smeared thickly with garlic-boosed tapenade’: tomato tartine. {Photograph}: The Observer

The decor of the small house, on a slender slab-stoned alley, is what I’ve simply outlined to myself as Refined Goth: the partitions are painted black. Downstairs is a bar with seating for not less than, ooh, six. Upstairs, previous the spray-painted phrases “liberté, égalité, fraternité”, is a eating room seating one other mighty 20. Consistent with the very smallness of all of it, that lunch menu runs to barely 50 French phrases. They’re, nevertheless, nice French phrases: a distillation of southern French nation cooking right down to its necessities. The prepare dinner is Frenchman Thomas Aubrit, son of a prepare dinner, nephew of a butcher. His English spouse, Gemma, whom he met on the restaurant he was working in again in France, runs front-of-house.

Come early they usually’ll do you actually good espresso, pastries and a croque monsieur or madame. Come for lunch and it’s soup, salads and a bunch of cheery issues involving beef. That basically is the sum of it: to over-extend this jazz-food analogy till it submits a letter of resignation, it’s a decent nightclub set that hits all the best notes, and most positively in the best order. The £12 salade niçoise is a pleasingly dense, chopped affair, with a fairly association of anchovies and tomatoes, topped by half a boiled egg, its yolk at an ideal state of jamminess. A tomato tartine is a crisply toasted piece of sourdough smeared thickly with garlic-boosted tapenade and laid with slices of beef tomato, intently zigzagged with stripes of thick pungent pistou, the French reply to pesto solely with a little bit Gallic swagger. Eat the tartine together with your palms and also you’ll be smelling your lunch in your fingertips for hours after, in a contented method.

‘A properly dressed affair’: steak tartare.
‘A correctly dressed affair’: steak tartare. {Photograph}: Chris Ridley/The Observer

There’s, after all, steak frites, or a bavette with a shallot sauce. Cheaper, gnarlier cuts get the one therapy they perceive: stewed till breaking down into threaded fragments, in a tomatoey stew with black olives, new potatoes and the lofty insistence of fennel seeds. The particular right this moment is a steak tartare, a correctly dressed affair, with a golden egg yolk at its centre and an enormous heap of hand-cut chips, nonetheless tipped with the fat-wrinkled skins. It’s a beneficiant heap for £24.

We may now play “guess the desserts”, however the sport gained’t final very lengthy, will it? it is going to embody chocolate mousse; a comfortable, barely grainy milk chocolate model topped with chocolate flakes, all of which melts away to nothing on the tongue. Sure, there’s a butter-yellow crème brûlée, the burnt sugared floor simply begging for the crack of the teaspoon. Have the vanilla panna cotta with the fruit purée for those who like, however mine’s nonetheless that crème brûlée, eaten till I’ve run the sting of my spoon all the best way around the terracotta bowl to take away all of the crusty, sugary bits.

‘A pleasingly dense, chopped affair’: salade niçoise.
‘A pleasingly dense, chopped affair’: salade niçoise. {Photograph}: The Observer

Within the evenings, there’s a 14-course tasting menu, every dish evoking the profound panorama of Provence. Don’t be foolish. After all there isn’t. That may be exhausting. It’s precisely the identical tight, engaging proposition, maybe with the addition of a fish dish. It’s only a bunch of easy issues executed very nicely and with true, beguiling attraction. To go together with it, drink one thing sweetly acquainted from the brief wine listing that hasn’t heard of wherever exterior France. Nearly all of it’s obtainable by the glass; virtually all of it’s below £40. Don’t come to L’Hexagone anticipating life-changing drama. Come right here anticipating to be fed. By the way, the title is a French nickname for the form of their nation. I didn’t know this and now I do. Daily is a college day.

Whereas I’m loitering in Norwich, I’ve to say chef Jimmy Preston’s XO Kitchen, which, in its personal method, additionally sticks inside a slender body, on this case a cheeky, magpie-like romp throughout Asian flavours. They knew I used to be coming, certainly allowed me to order prematurely as a result of in any other case I’d have been too late for final orders. Subsequently, this may’t fairly be thought-about a evaluate, however I adored the face-slapping flavours a lot they should be talked about. Come for the char sui pork stomach, each charred and wobbly below a brain-blasting rust-coloured sauce, with a heap of pickled cucumber and a dollop of Norwich-appropriate Coleman’s Mustard.

‘Begging for the crack of a teaspoon’: crème brûlée.
‘Begging for the crack of a teaspoon’: crème brûlée. {Photograph}: Chris Ridley/The Observer

Sooth the mustard burn with the watermelon salad, in an enormous soupy dressing heaped with mint, peanuts and contemporary chilli. Do order the meat massaman, a lush coconut curry, with a hacked-off chunk of bone, the nicely stuffed with wobbly, sizzling, bone marrow. Particular reward is reserved for his or her BBQ hispi cabbage, with a black bean dressing and a golden, crispy rubble that Preston calls XO seasoning. So, what’s that precisely, Jimmy? “Properly,” he says slowly. “You want a pork aspect for XO in order that’s crushed-up Frazzles. And then you definately want dried seafood in order that’s Scampi Fries.” He appears away. “Monster Munch may also have been concerned.” If you’re appalled by that, what are you doing studying this column? It’s utter genius. The remainder of you, go to Norwich. Lunch at L’Hexagone. Dinner at XO Kitchen. Or the opposite method spherical. I actually don’t care. Both method, job executed.

Information bites

Fancy lunch at your native grocery store? Then you definately’re in luck. Boparan Restaurant Group, which owns a bunch of excessive road manufacturers together with Gourmand Burger Kitchen, Slim Chickens and Caffè Carluccio, has opened its first ‘Restaurant Hub’ inside a department of Sainsbury’s in Sydenham, south London. One other is more likely to comply with in Wolverhampton, as a part of plans to open 30 within the coming yr, every providing meals from a wide range of their manufacturers, each to eat in and take away.

The Hawksmoor steakhouse group, which is shortly to open an outpost in Liverpool to go alongside these in London, Manchester, Edinburgh and New York, has turn out to be one of many few restaurant firms within the UK to be licensed as a B Corp enterprise. The certification, by the non-profit B Lab community, means they’ve been assessed to convey profit not simply to their shareholders, but in addition to their staff, clients and to the setting. They are going to be reassessed each three years. Go to thehawksmoor.com.

Employees shortages are endemic throughout the financial system, however it appears the hospitality sector actually is struggling greater than most. In line with evaluation of knowledge from the Workplace of Nationwide Statistics by Koozai, a digital advertising company, nicely over a 3rd of meals and lodging companies are having issues recruiting the expert workers they want. The subsequent most affected sectors are building and transport.

E mail Jay at jay.rayner@observer.co.uk or comply with him on Twitter @jayrayner1

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