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Monday, March 26, 2012
A Norwich restaurant which is anything but the last resort, The Last Wine Bar and Restaurant has been serving discerning diners in the city for 22 years. STACIA BRIGGS had a first class meal.
Special enough to be celebratory but without the need to pre-warn your bank manager before you dine, The Last Wine Bar has a wholly-justified good reputation in Norwich.
Run by Ecky Limon and James Sawrey-Cookson — one or both can always be seen in the restaurant playing gracious hosts — The Last is a city institution, boasting a superb location, beautiful venue and fantastic food served by attentive, knowledgeable staff.
The restaurant itself has three distinct dining areas, the bar – where we sat – downstairs with its intimate booths and a more formal dining area opposite the bar.
Housed in a former Victorian shoe factory, the open brickwork, high ceilings and large windows give the bar an undeniably cosmopolitan feel helped by the setting in one of Norwich’s most vibrant quarters.
With my legendary knowledge of wine (in other words, none) my dining companion chose a carafe of white from the impressive selection on offer: with it came open-textured slices of bread with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dip.
To start, I chose deep-fried delice de crème cheese, toasted rye bread, redcurrant jelly and Pedro Ximenez syrup (£6.25), my friend decided to try the recommended seared scallops with celeriac and vanilla puree, apple and pear compote and walnut dressing (£6.95).
With food cooked to order, and on a busy night when the bar was buzzing, there’s a small wait for food, but with a grandstand view of St George’s Street and the opportunity to people-watch, there’s no opportunity to get itchy feet.
My delice de crème cheese was fantastic: a molten volcano of melted cheese contained in a golden crust and perfectly balanced by the sharp redcurrant jelly and wine syrup. My friend’s scallops were plump, plentiful and perfectly complimented by the accompanying dressings.
For our main courses, we chose from the bar menu and the specials board, although we had an embarrassment of riches on the main menu, including choices such as braised lamb shank, fennel and potato rosti, pan-fried cod and char-grilled sirloin steak. There’s a definite, and welcome, emphasis on locally-sourced ingredients.
My friend chose the pie of the day, duck with Chinese five spice, butternut squash and ginger served with new potatoes and peas (£8.50), I chose a beefed-up version of a bar starter: butternut squash, sage and goat’s cheese Arancini with roasted garlic aioli (£5.25 as a starter).
Portions are extremely generous and when our dishes arrived, I balefully realised that neither of us would be able to eat an entire dessert on our own, meaning a lively debate about which we’d choose to share was on the cards.
Arancini is a form of deep-fried (my second deep-fried dish of the day – I must harbour some secret Scottish genes) risotto ball, with just enough crunch to act as a foil against the creamy, vegetable-packed interior. The aioli was delicious: I am a sucker for roasted garlic.
My friend’s pie, with its golden puff-pastry lid, was full of fragrant duck, subtly spiced and packing the perfect amount of heat. That neither of us could finish our courses had everything to do with our dessert dilemma and nothing to do with the fabulous quality of the food.
As reviewer, I played Top Trumps when it came to choosing dessert. My friend would have had the Rhubarb and Custard rhubarb brulee tart with vanilla mascarpone, sweet pickled ginger and rhubarb and rhubarb syrup (all desserts are £6.25).
I pulled rank, however, and with powerful persuasion steered us towards the dark chocolate and banana fondant, peanut brittle and honey-roasted peanut ice-cream.
Great choice, if I say so myself: a small mound of chocolate heaven surrounded by a frozen moat of fabulous ice-cream and shards of sweet brittle.
The Last Wine Bar, with its warm welcome, great food, buzzing recession-proof atmosphere, dizzying wine selection and attentive service is rightfully a first choice for Norwich diners. Next time, I might even let my friend choose dessert (this may be a lie).
THE LAST WINE BAR AND RESTAURANT
St George’s Street Norwich 01603 626626 www.lastwinebar.co.uk Twitter: @LastWineBar
Open: Lunch Mon-Sat 12pm-2.30pm, evening Mon-Fri 5pm-12.30am, Sat 6pm-12.30am, Sun closed
Prices: Starters from £5.50 (main menu), £5.25 (bar menu), mains from £14.95 (main menu), £8.90 (bar menu), desserts £6.25 (main menu), £4.95 (bar menu)
Vegetarian options: Good
Wheelchair access: Some