Norwich: The Bicycle Shop

Sarah BrealeyOnce upon a time it used to be an old bicycle shop now its had a fairytale transformation into a caf�-bar specialising in local produce, finds SARAH BREALEY.Sarah Brealey

Once upon a time it used to be an old bicycle shop now its had a fairytale transformation into a caf�-bar specialising in local produce, finds SARAH BREALEY.

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Once upon a time, there was a bicycle shop in St Benedict's. It was a nice bicycle shop, just the sort of place for getting your bicycle repaired, or even for buying a shiny new bicycle, painted red with a gleaming silver bell.

But time passed, and there seemed to be less need for bicycle shops, and in 2000 the bicycle shop closed. After a while the bicycle shop became Silk, a Thai restaurant, and after that it was the Kitchen, a restaurant and then a caf�, but sadly that too closed.

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Then one day along came Rob Howe, a former wine merchant who had worked at he Last Wine Bar and the Playhouse bar. He missed the old bicycle shop, and so he decided to call his caf�-bar the Bicycle Shop. He decorated it in memory of the old shop, with vintage cycling posters and bike-wheel lampshades, and put an old bicycle outside.

There were no shiny red bicycles with gleaming silver bells, but there were plates of cake in the window, and organic beer in bottles, and good coffee, and things to eat.

The Bicycle Shop provides oat crepes with different fillings, both sweet and savoury, such as roast vegetable with goats' cheese, or brie and bacon, which was rich and oozing with melted brie and crispy bacon. And are a few specials too, like vegetable lasagne.

This was at lunchtime - you can have breakfast too, including locally produced bacon, or a croissant, or the simplest and perhaps the best - home-made bread with a wonderful array of home-made jams, including fig jam and proper marmalade and nearly everything else you can think of.

In the evening there are the same specials, plus decent olives, or more of the home-made bread with olive oil and balsamic, a cheese board, a meat board, a mixture of the two, and a pickles board. For a pickle-lover this would have been a dream come true, with cheddar, an egg, pickled onions, gherkins, pickled cabbage, chutney, pickled chillies - pretty much everything under the sun that can be pickled, in fact.

The vegetable lasagne was home-made, and filled with tomatoes, peppers, onions and mushroom, with plenty of cheesy sauce. It came with a little green salad, whereas something more substantial like chips or garlic bread might have been better, for hungry persons at least.

A peppery beef and ale stew was exactly that, in a deep bowl with a matching flavour, and chunks of beef, mushroom and onion in its depths. It too, came with the home-made bread, and it was just the thing for a winter's night.

The dishes were not always the largest, but it did mean there was room for cake afterwards. Chocolate brownie was found to be sweet and nicely gooey in the middle, and stuffed full of hazelnuts. Carrot cake was fresh-tasting and just nicely spiced, with the thinnest layer of water icing on top.

And the prices were quite reasonable - �3.50 for a crepe, �5.50 for lasagne or a large bowl of chilli - which meant that even those who come from humble cottages could afford them.

Beer was rather more expensive - �3.30 for a pint of Helles, an interesting lager from the Meantime brewery in Greenwich, and �3.50 upwards for bottles of real ale. But tea was just �1, and there were other soft drinks and fruit and herbal teas too. House wine was �13.50 a bottle, with several to choose from.

Everyone agreed that the Bicycle Shop was a fine place, and a worthy successor to the old bicycle shop. And so they all lived happily ever after.

t The Bicycle Shop, 17 St Benedict's Street, Norwich, 01603 625777

t Open: Daily 10am-midnight, except Mon (5pm-midnight) and Sun (12pm-11pm).

t Wheelchair access: To ground floor, including the toilet.

t Vegetarian options: Yes, usually a choice of crepes at lunchtime, as well as one or two of the specials, and the cheese or pickles plate in the evening.


Food: ****

Service: ****

Atmosphere: ****

Family: ***