Norwich: Russian Bling, Princes and Parsley
March 2, 2018
A weekend in Norfolk is normally an escape from the city, and we head straight for the coast. This time we wanted to stop in Norwich on Friday, to see the Russia Season exhibitions at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, contrasting art before and after the 1918 Revolution – Royal Fabergé and Radical Russia. I’d never understood the appeal of Fabergé before, but seeing the pieces up close I could see the delicacy of the craftsmanship, and the extraordinary richness of the enamel colours. While the exhibitions are now finished, the gallery is well worth a visit for its outstanding collection of artefacts and artworks, as well as its temporary exhibitions; everything from an ancient Greek bronze helmet to Henry Moore and Picasso.
We decided to take the opportunity to stay overnight in Norwich, and were recommended to book into “3 Princes”, a boutique bed & breakfast (just four rooms) in a stunning Georgian townhouse in the medieval quarter of the city.
The owner, Morag, greeted us warmly and showed us to our room on the first floor, which overlooked the Assembly Rooms (formerly the “Forget Me Not” church of St Michael at Plea). Despite the conveniently central location, it’s a quiet spot. In the morning you slip on the bathrobes provided, and choose from the generous continental breakfast laid out in the kitchen on the same floor, to take back to your room; (fig compote & yogurt, warm croissants, and soda bread with cheese and cured ham, were among the options on our visit).
Three Princes, 3 Princes Street, Norwich, NR3 1AZ
NORWICH MARKET – SERVICE WITH A SMILE
On Saturday morning we explored the central Norwich Market to pick up some provisions for the weekend. The stalls are laid out as a grid of permanent units, making it easier for the traders to set up and leave, and avoids the congestion around a conventional street market as vans deliver and pick up stalls.
We bought some spankingly fresh plaice fillets from a helpful fishmonger at City Fish.
Fruit and veg from C.J’s, where the proprietor confided he is a fourth generation greengrocer (he looked well on it!) adding that “people these days don’t expect their grapes to have pips in”.
Well kept cheese came from “The Cheeseman”, who offers 140 varieties, and good bread from The Norwich Providore.
What was noticeable from all the stalls, as well as the quality of their produce, was the friendliness of the traders.
Typing this, I’m listening to a moving tribute to the late Charlie Hicks, another fourth generation greengrocer, much loved and respected in the industry. I was fortunate enough to meet Charlie a couple of times in my career. Well worth a listen:
Shopping done, we continued to stroll towards Norwich cathedral; we found ourselves on Elm Hill, understandably a popular location for filming and photoshoots. The Britons Arms is a 15th century building, the only house in the street that survived a great fire of 1507. It had an interesting menu outside, which boded well for lunch.
…where the greengrocery theme continues:
In the Cathedral we came across the tomb of one Osberto Parsley (I want that name!) and his remarkable career as a “singing man” for fifty years, under four Monarchs, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I. He served continuously through the dissolution of the monasteries, the Reformation, the re-establishment of the Roman Catholic church under Mary, and the renewal of the Church of England under Elizabeth. He died in 1585.
LUNCH at the britons arms
Back in the Britons Arms, we shared potted ham with toast and a pickle, and a celeriac, potato, and Norfolk Dapple cheese bake, which both came with plentiful and very fresh salad. It was a cold and drizzly day outside, so hot spiced apple juice hit the spot; cinnamon, cloves and fresh ginger.
The intriguingly named sisters Sue Skipper and Gilly Mixer have run the Britons Arms for over 35 years, and pride themselves on cooking daily from scratch, without gimmicks, and using traditional skills and local produce. (They buy their bread from The Norwich Providore).
9 Elm Hill, Norwich NR3 1HN
BLACK APOLLO, HOLT
Suitably restored by lunch, we proceeded “in an orderly fashion” to the coast, and the next day popped into Holt, the local market town.
Ideally a morning in Holt starts with a coffee at Black Apollo, which wouldn’t look out of place in Shoreditch (I wish there were one like it closer to my home). This tiny gem can get busy, but their coffee is worth the wait. During the summer months they have a couple of tables and chairs outside, in the little yard at the back.
The Black Apollo Coffee House opened in 2014 (“Black Apollo” was a name given to coffee by artists and poets in the 18th century). Their coffee is roasted in their micro roastery just a few hundred yards from the shop, and cakes, pastries and bread are carefully sourced from local bakers.