If you earn in a city like Paris, New York or London, if you live the 13-hour-day-at the-office routine, whereby eating out is almost the easier option and if you have even a whiff of interest in global cuisine, I suspect your journey into the world of food snobbery will be a speedy, effortless and seamless one. It is easy for those of us who live not just in geographical capitals but also food capitals of the world to forget that the genius of food craft is not confined to our cities. London’s leading and award-winning chefs did not fall out of their mothers’ wombs in the glitzy kitchens of Michelin starred restaurants.
They, like us, had a variety of backgrounds and upbringings, grafted to try and perfect their chosen art form and found themselves in institutions they are passionate about as a result.
Throughout the United Kingdom, in other cities, towns, villages and households, budding and established masterchefs are lurking behind unassuming doors, proudly dishing up their signature plates with aesthetic artistry and polished, professional service, bringing the joy of the fine dining experience to communities all over the country.
Pamela’s Restaurant – Fine Dining in Great Yarmouth
Pamela’s Cocktail Bar and Restaurant in Great Yarmouth is one such place and we discovered it earlier this month when we ventured over to the Suffolk seaside to celebrate my father in law’s birthday.
My in-laws have lived in this area for well over three decades and Pumpkin’s earliest memories all stem from this region, yet it was Trip Advisor that led us to this elegant restaurant near the seaside. Love or hate Trip Advisor, there is no denying that there are some restaurant gems just waiting to be uncovered on it, if you can face sifting through the reams of subjective and often polar reviews.
I rarely write specific restaurant reviews – travel writing alone keeps me busy a-plenty and there are more than enough food bloggers out there who do a far better job of the food chat than I ever could. But I simply couldn’t resist showing you what we found at Pamela’s and I hope that if you think of, hear of or visit Great Yarmouth one day, aside from the images of beach huts and fish and chips on the pier, you will also remember to look up Pamela’s.
Aware that this would be a restaurant where we all pay a set price per head for 3 courses, we tried to eat light earlier in the day. Then again, we are of Indian heritage and once an Indian mum, always an Indian mum and every time we visit either one of the Mums, we gain a little weight; nothing we can’t shake off with a week back in our London abode but we’ve learned to be realistic about food portion goals when staying with family!
Cocktails at Pamela’s Bar
The night started off with us ringing the doorbell of a cosy white door to be greeted by waistcoat-clad members of staff who took us through to a glowing bar, illuminated by fairy lights, studded with tasteful soft furnishings and dishing up some salty nibbles whilst we perused the drinks menu.
We left the men to dabble in a tipple whilst Mum in law and I stared indecisively at the range of non-alcoholic cocktails on offer.
The strawberry and mint mocktail came highly recommended as a refreshing option with which to start the evening and my belief in that assertion was corroborated by the fact that I had ordered and finished my 2nd one before the bread basket had even come out for the night.
They request you to order your starters and main courses downstairs at the bar before you are accompanied upstairs to your table but to give us a flavour as to how well fed we would be, a collection of four Piri Piri chicken amuse bouches arrived our way.
We were led upstairs to our table on one side of a rustic, converted barn with wooden panels above us, silver plates in front of us and a glimpse into the hard-at-work chefs in the distance. This is comfortably the kind of restaurant where you could don your glad rags. I really wished I had been wearing something a little more glamorous than a bohemian maxi dress.
The staff were insistent on helping us carry our belongings and drinks up to our table and this form of helpful, guest-orientated hospitality was to continue throughout the night. Having got the ordering out of the way already, we were free to toast the occasion with a basket of fresh bread brought to help us along, the contents including jalapeno bread, olive bread and even a homemade chicken pasty. I cannot tell you the glee in Pumpkin’s face upon mention of the final item – I am not sure a person has ever been so happy to see a restaurant bread basket.
The Gourmet 3 course Meal at Pamela’s
Our starter choices included scallops with ham hock croquettes, a mini lamb burger in black bread with fries and Japanese fish cakes.
One of the special things about reserving a table at this restaurant was the fact that we hadn’t been able to see the exact menu in advance (though we did get some clues from the sample menu on their Facebook page.) Far from being a bad thing, this meant that for those of us old enough to remember an era of deciding food choices AFTER arriving at the restaurant, we were able to take a trip down memory lane and do things the old-fashioned way. I had forgotten how liberating it is to choose your meal at the restaurant and not the night before on your screen.
The manager of the restaurant told us that they change their menu frequently and always seek to experiment with flavours and ingredients, which keeps even regular diners on their toes. My main course for the night was pan-fried hake on a bed of quinoa with a coconut broth, whilst Mum in law chose a duck option, served with cherry jus on a bed of rice. Apologies for the absence of detailed ingredient lists here (and the somewhat blurry photographs) – as you can see, I’m still a novice as far as food blogging goes 😀
My father in law’s gin cured salmon and pickled cucumber with black rice probably won the accolade of most uniquely presented main course of the night, a trend he would also spot above the rest of us shortly afterwards in the dessert stakes.
Aside from the classic British staples that were on offer on the menu, I liked the twist of world ingredients and flavours that featured, which meant that there’s something for everyone. It’s the one and only time I’ve ever seen an Indian-inspired chicken “Kiev” with butternut squash, and Sag Aloo (spinach and potato), which ended up being Pumpkin’s selection for the evening.
The meal was substantial but well-paced and we weren’t made to feel rushed, which allowed us a bit of time to digest properly before we moved onto desserts. Whilst Pumpkin and I rarely choose set menus or tasting menus when we’re out together, for a celebration, it is quite a decadent treat for all diners to know that they will be partaking in a full start-to-finish feast.
It also means that everyone gets to enjoy dessert (though I have been told off by the dentist this week about sugar consumption so I’m on my best behaviour for now.)
Pumpkin couldn’t take his eyes off the banana creme brulee with salted toffee brownie and caramel ice cream, the crème brulee arriving with an active flame hovering above it, crisping up its ceiling to perfection. Their listed chocolate dessert was unavailable so instead, one of us went for the alternative, a chocolate pave with hazelnut ice cream.
Unsure if I had ever tried Rum Baba before (a type of cake usually soaked in rum), I was intrigued to try out Pamela’s version, served with rose petals, rose ice cream and pistachio. Rose and pistachio are such commonly used ingredients in Middle Eastern cooking so the description reminded me of my childhood in Saudi Arabia (minus the rum of course!)
As I alluded to earlier, however, it was Dad in law’s Pimms and lemonade cheesecake with jelly that had the most fun, fanciful and dare I say it, feminine presentation out of all the desserts but he reported back that it was a flawless summer dessert, resonated by his flawlessly clean plate at the end of the meal.
Mini, the owner and manager of the restaurant who chatted to us like we were old friends, poignantly told us that she named the restaurant in memory of her Mother in law, so it felt really special that I was dining in this utterly charming restaurant for the first time with my own Mother in law too.
Just when you think there can’t be any more thoughtful touches and surprises left, the bill is brought to you in what can only be described as a miniature version of Aladdin’s treasure chest (which Mimi decorated herself) accompanied by a collection of chocolate petit fours. How cute are the pink Lego piece and the chocolate bolt?! (Disclaimer – I did have to ask Pumpkin if this was a nut or a bolt) 😀
If you’re used to London fine dining prices, you will be very pleasantly surprised by the value for money you get here, when you consider all that the dinner and drinks experience includes. But even if you aren’t used to London restaurant price brackets, this is exactly the kind of swish, undiscovered, gourmet, fine dining experience hidden behind a small door that I was talking about at the start of the post and precisely the type of food finds that I love discovering both in my own city and across the UK. I only hope that I stumble across more such restaurants, hiding in other hidden corners of the country.
Have you ever stumbled upon a restaurant that took you completely by surprise?