Richard Hughes: “Norwich still has that air of shutting-up shop at 6pm”
15:01 07 January 2014
© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2009
The past year has – once again – seen a number of high profile restaurant comings and goings.
News of celebrity closures as “operators” as diverse as X-Factor host Dermot O’Leary, football pundit Jamie Carragher and comedic fruit and veg man Gregg Wallace shouldn’t really come as any surprise, I suppose.
Wild Garlic, run by 2009 Masterchef winner Matt Follas, has closed and the most upsetting news of the new year is that Norwich-boy-done-good Tom Aikens is shutting the doors at his eponymous two-Michelin Star restaurant in Chelsea at the end of the month, albeit to concentrate on the gorgeous Tom’s Kitchen brand.
Norwich city centre has seen a wave of new openings and I know from personal experience just how tough the marketplace is.
Despite all the hype, huff and puff Norwich still has that air of shutting-up shop at 6pm.
After a visit to the theatre in the summer, we joined the throngs streaming down Theatre Street and wandered throughout the eerie streets in search of sustenance.
Following a fairly fruitless search, we finally discovered the shining light of the late night bite scene, The Bicycle Shop on St Benedict’s Street, but the city – discounting the no-go areas of Prince of Wales Road – is often deserted.
And it’s not just deserted at the closing hours of the day: you can walk from Magdalen Street to the Assembly House at 6pm on a Sunday and not see a soul.
As with the majority of the population we took a break over the past few days and I had my one Saturday night off of the year, an experience I have no desire to repeat.
Again, a visit to the city centre was surreal. With no booking I thought we’d struggle to dine, but in most venues it was tumbleweed time.
Newly-opened venues, spick, span and shiny, were completely empty, save for the eager staff, leaning on the bar awaiting the chance to cook, serve and wish you a happy new year. The wander back through the streets at 10pm found many of the newcomers in darkness.
The established independents and the chain operators will doubtless (a) have seen this before or (b) have the financial clout to carry on regardless, but trying to establish a foothold is a fraught gamble.
It can be done: look at Café 33, Frank’s Bar, The Grosvenor Fish Bar and the aforementioned Bicycle Shop, but I fear for many. On that cheerful note, I’d like to wish you all a very belated happy new year!
Despite my doom and gloom, I’m sure the eating out phenomenon is here to stay (I very much hope so, for obvious reasons…).
It might help if the proliferation of TV chefs could turn their attention back to their own kitchens meaning more prospective customers would tear themselves away from the telly in order to eat the food that appears in front of them – in real life as opposed to on a big screen, Technicolor HD 3D TV. It tends to taste better on a plate than on a screen.