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Why the restaurant and bar scene is booming in Norwich

PUBLISHED: 09:24 29 November 2016 | UPDATED: 09:33 29 November 2016

Chef Roger Hickman at his restaurant at Upper St Giles. Picture: Denise Bradley

Chef Roger Hickman at his restaurant at Upper St Giles. Picture: Denise Bradley

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Norwich's restaurant scene is booming according to figures that show an increase in the number of bars and restaurants in the city over the past two years.

The Library restaurant. Jayne Raffles.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYThe Library restaurant. Jayne Raffles. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The number of bars and restaurants rose from 485 in 2014 to 500 in 2015.

The rise mirrors a national increase in the number of restaurants opening in towns and cities across the country.

Across the country last year 15,830 new venues opened, according to the Office for National Statistics. However, 12,605 closed, the second highest figure on record.

In 2015, Norwich had 1,328 food related businesses compared to 986 in Ipswich, 926 in Great Yarmouth and 1,269 in Cambridge.

House of Tiago restaurant.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYHouse of Tiago restaurant. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich BID, said: “There’s an increase in stock from where we were 10 years ago, year on year there’s an increase in the level of restaurants.”

He said the increase in bars and restaurants reflected a change in people’s habits.

He added: “I think it’s a good scene in Norwich. There’s a change in ethos in the way that people use the city, it’s much more about the experience and the habits. Most people will eat out once or twice a week and take families out, so it’s a very different process than it was 10 or 20 years ago.” Cookery teacher and Norwich food blogger Zena Leech-Carlton said: “I think more people are eating out now and I think there’s a huge amount of people that come to Norwich from all over the place. Even if you go to places like Ipswich, King’s Lynn, Bury St Edmunds, there are not that many restaurants, so I think people are going to Norwich just to eat, just for the food scene.”

Jayne Raffles, who is joint director of The Library restaurant, on Guildhall Hill, alongside her husband Nigel, said: “Norwich was a backwater in many people’s eyes for years and years and years, and suddenly it’s blossoming. We’re one of the top 10 destinations to shop, we’ve got the Broads, we’ve got culture, we’ve got everything.”

Five Guys opening day 17/10/16 Five Guys opening day 17/10/16

However, the news proved worrying for some local restaurant owners who fear a saturation in the market.

Roger Hickman, owner of Roger Hickman’s Restaurant, on Upper St Giles Street, said: “If everybody ate out at night we’d probably fill all the restaurants, but that’s not the case.”

Mrs Leech-Carlton echoed this, adding: “It does worry me how they all make a living.

“I know weekends are really busy, but during the week you kind of worry, especially being in catering knowing what it’s like in January and February.”

Why Norwich’s restaurant scene is thriving

The success of the catering industry often depends on the disposable incomes of its consumers.

But, Mr Gurney argues, Norwich is more protected from national economic trends than many other cities.

He said: “What Norwich BID is doing is making Norwich as recession-proof as possible.

“In the last recession we were the fourth most recession-proof city because we had that diversity of offerings and weren’t dependent on any specific section.

“From financial to retail to the public sector, Norwich is resilient because it has a diversity of businesses and organisations.

“Therefore it’s not going to be as hit and therefore it can retain its businesses better because if you’re going to open a business you would open it in a city that’s going to be less hit by those national trends.”

How do chains affect our city?

Both Mr Hickman and Mrs Raffles expressed concern over an increase in chain restaurants in Norwich.

Mr Hickman said: “What’s sad for me is it is all these chains that are coming in, there are not a lot of independent restaurants opening. It’s mainly the chains that are coming in, getting these amazing buildings, and changing the usage which the council are allowing.

“Then there’s a restaurant down the road that has been there for 20 years that has then closed down, so the chains are bullying the independents out.”

Mrs Raffles said: “What I think down the line is that the independents will be pushed out eventually by the chains. They’ll be pushed to the outskirts and outer parts of the city and in the centre it will unfortunately eventually be more chain restaurants because they can afford, and will pay, the rent which perhaps independents might not be able to. So long term it is a worry.”

In October this year the American fast food chain Five Guys opened on Orford Place, a month after the Thai food chain Giggling Squid opened on Tombland.

Mr Gurney said Norwich was an attractive prospect for chains who want to add the city to their portfolio. He said: “There is a sort of presence that is held in a portfolio and Norwich is one of those cities that if you were to have 10 to 20 stores or restaurants in a chain nationally Norwich would be one of the locations.”

Mrs Raffles said: “I do think there needs to be some sort of thought about how it will look in five years’ time if we don’t do something about it.”

10 restaurants and bars new to Norwich

Turtle Bay

Five Guys

Giggling Squid

St Andrew’s Brewhouse (below)

House of Tiago (right)

Brick Pizza

Donnelli’s

Jive

Nanna Mexico

Cosmo

Some of the restaurants that have closed in the past two years

Pizza Hut (Orford Place)

Hot Chip

Blue Agave

Figaro

La Tasca

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