Norwich: Unthank Arms

The Unthank Arms is a traditional pub whose grub is far from pork stratchings and bags of crisps. STACIA BRIGGS enjoys revisiting a favourite haunt from her youth.

I spent half my misspent youth propping up the bar at The Unthank Arms, albeit most of the time as the designated driver (or rather the only person with a car in my group of friends).

Today, the Unthank is a five-minute stroll from my house rather than a five-mile drive from my parent's pad, but it still retains that wonderful 'proper pub' feel that enticed me all those years ago.

On the corner of Bury Street and Newmarket Street, the Unthank is housed in a beautiful Victorian building which has been tastefully decorated in rich heritage colours and which boasts an upstairs restaurant, a large beer garden, a bar serving real ales, premium lagers and more than 40 wines and a dining area downstairs which

The restaurant itself is flooded with light during daylight hours thanks to the large windows, and cosy and welcoming in the evening.

Even eating close to the bar, it still manages to feel like an intimate dining experience, and the staff are attentive, polite and very swift. The pub has a standard menu, which changes regularly (although old favourites, such as pork, remain) a specials menu, a children's menu and a tempting looking Sunday roast menu.

To start, I chose deep-fried risotto balls, �4.75, flavoured with chilli, almond and coriander and served with coconut cream. One of my companions wanted to save themselves for their main course (in other words wanted to pilfer from our two starters), the other chose warm mackerel salad, �5.50, flaked mackerel tossed with pickled pear, fried potato and baby salad leaves with horseradish dressing.

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I'm generally one of risotto's greatest enemies: restaurants and caterers tend to think that risotto is the height of sophistication for vegetarians, and therefore I've eaten more risottos than is strictly decent, or necessary.

Deep-fried, however, risotto takes on an entirely different flavour. Crisp on the outside and fluffy inside, with a chilli kick, the risotto balls were a million miles away from the bland slop I've been forced to eat in the past.

I'd thought the coconut cream might be too sweet, but in fact it was the perfect foil for the subtle fire of the fried risotto. A hit.

The rich oiliness of the mackerel combined with the sharp pickled pear complemented each other wonderfully, said my fellow diner, and despite being the kind of proper vegetarian that doesn't eat fish, even I was impressed by how beautifully it was presented: like a fishy work of art.

The companion that had forgone his starter chose to combine two dishes on the menu on one plate, a tactic which is – apparently – common and happily tolerated, but which I have never had the necessary nerve to try myself.

He chose the lamb's liver and bacon, �7.95 (which usually comes served with bubble and squeak, onion gravy and parsnip crisps) but with the accompaniments from the crispy belly of pork (�11.50), which were apple mash, cabbage with smoked bacon and a red wine and thyme reduction.

The waitress didn't bat an eyelid.

The other diner chose the very same belly of slow-roasted Blythburgh pork while I couldn't resist the baked Camembert studded with garlic and served with toasted ciabatta, chilli jam and a dressed baby leaf salad, �8.50.

The Camembert was creamy and scented rather than over-powered by its garlic studs. Eaten on slices of toasted ciabatta as wonderful comfort food on a cold evening, the flavoursome dressing on the salad meant the dish was never cloying or overly rich.

Both the pork and the lamb's liver and bacon were declared to be packed with flavour, generously portioned and with thoughtfully chosen accompaniments which set off the meat perfectly.

In the interests of thorough reviewing, we gilded the lily with desserts, warm triple brownie with vanilla ice cream, �5.50, for me and banana, chocolate and toffee sundae, �5.25 and coconut and lime cr�me brulee with a cinnamon wafer, �4.95, for my friends.

Imagine how lovely these desserts sound, and that's how lovely they were. Chocolate brownies can often be tough or claggy, this one was soft with the requisite amount of chewiness.

The sundae was gigantic and the brulee was a clever and piquant twist on an old favourite.

The overall bill, including four or so gin and tonics and some soft drinks, came to �68.

Before leaving, I noticed a sign on a beam advertising fondue, which has to be ordered at least 12 hours in advance, in either meat, cheese or chocolate varieties.

I was too young to appreciate fondue in the 1970s, and I was more interested in drinking than eating in the late 1980s when I haunted the Unthank, so it seems only fitting that I head back in 2011 for some fondue fun. Anyone fancy sharing?

The Unthank Arms

Newmarket Street


01603 631557

t Food served: Mon–Fri 12pm–2pm, 6pm–9pm, Sat 10am–2pm, 6pm–9pm, Sun 10am–8.30pm

t Prices: Starters from �3.95, mains from �8.95, from �4.50

t Vegetarian options: Good

t Wheelchair access: Yes