Sarah BrealeyNorwich restaurant Tatlers is in fine form under its latest head chef Adam Jarvis finds SARAH BREALEY, who was particularly impressed with it black pudding.Sarah Brealey
Norwich restaurant Tatlers is in fine form under its latest head chef Adam Jarvis finds SARAH BREALEY, who was particularly impressed with it black pudding.
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Thrifty pig-keepers have made black puddings from pig's blood since the Middle Ages at least. Even the ancient Greek poet Homer described a sausage-like mixture of blood and fat in the Odyssey, which sounds like a forerunner of black pudding.
In Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure, things are going wrong in Jude and Arabella's married life when they kill the pig themselves, and Jude knocks over the bucket of blood, causing Arabella to cry: 'Now I can't make any blackpot [black pudding].'
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Thomas Hardy would be surprised to hear that fresh pigs' blood is no longer used in black pudding. According to Laura Mason and Catherine Brown in The Taste of Britain, 'Pig blood, which has good setting qualities, is now excluded because the pig has been found to urinate on slaughter, contaminating the blood.' Dried blood is used instead, or if fresh blood is used, it is usually ox blood.
You can imagine my delight at sharing these facts with my dining partner as he consumed his wood pigeon with black pudding and smoked bacon. Although I considerately waited until he had finished before I started talking about pig urine.
Black pudding has moved from its humble farmyard origins to a trendy ingredient in quality restaurants such as Tatlers. This particular specimen was from Bury, which is famed for its black puddings. It was matched perfectly with the salty bacon and the tender wild pigeon.
We had already tucked into a starter of prosciutto ham with marinated grilled artichoke hearts and truffle mayonnaise. The artichoke hearts were meltingly tender and mellow of flavour, the prosciutto meltingly tender and rich in flavour. Then there was the dainty dish of mayonnaise, full of the animal-musk of truffle oil. I liked that it was in a separate dish, so the diner could apply it as he felt fit, but it was not elbowing its way all over the plate. As a starter it was not enormous, but with these pricey ingredients no-one could complain. For a set menu starter it seemed like a bargain.
The other starter, leek and potato soup, was prosaic in comparison, although to be fair it was a nice version: soothing, classic, well-balanced, all the things you like about a leek and potato soup, even if you can't quite stifle a yawn while eating it.
My main course of 'whole camembert with new potatoes, crusty bread and gherkins' is a dish which I regularly make at home as a sort of instant fondue. I stole the idea from food writer Nigel Slater, and I suspect Tatlers may have done the same. Compared with the wood pigeon or the smoked haddock cakes with langoustine and chive beurre blanc, or the steak with foie gras and hollandaise sauce, it was a bit like, well, something you might make at home. And I was torn between relief and disappointment when I saw that although it was technically whole, it was a mini camembert, not a conventional size one. I suppose a full-size cheese would have been a bit much for one person.
To finish we shared a chocolate brownie with hot chocolate sauce and home-made vanilla ice-cream. The name chocolate brownie can cover a whole multitude of sins, as well as a few glories, and this was a glorious one, warm, so gooey it was almost liquid in the middle, and merging with the chocolate sauce. The vanilla-flecked ice-cream was a suitably creamy foil.
It was a Tuesday night and Tatlers was popular - a fact which seemed to have caught the lone waitress by surprise, and she warned us to expect delays. In fact she did a sterling job of being in three places at once.
The decor is quietly refined, with heavy, aged-looking wooden tables, and paintwork that varies throughout - deep red in one room, pale in another. Those who remember Tatlers under previous management will see that the bar has moved downstairs and there is an extension of the restaurant upstairs. These days it is owned by Sean and Ruth Creasey, who also run Butlers in Holt. It's almost a mini-empire of restaurants that seem like they should have apostrophes. Head chef Adam Jarvis joined the restaurant 18 months ago and was promoted to head chef 10 months ago.
Tatlers has long been a stalwart of the city's upmarket dining scene, but has changed hands a couple of times over the last few years. To me the food seems as good as it ever has been, and better than it has been at times.
I can't fault the place for its value. If you order the set menu, it works out as �8 for a main course and �4 for a starter or dessert. You can pay that much for bog-standard pub grub - and Tatlers is doing a lot more than that.
t Tatlers, 21 Tombland, Norwich, 01603 766670, www.tatlers.com
t Open: Mon-Sat 12-2pm and 6-9pm (until 9.30pm Fri/Sat).
t Vegetarian options: There is a separate vegetarian menu.
t Disabled access: Not ideal - there is a step at the front door and the toilets are upstairs.