People seem to have trouble with the word “fine”. They can take it two very different ways.
See, in my mind, fine means superior, delicate or refined; it’s a compliment intended to communicate your appreciation of something well-honed and superior. Yet most people take it as meaning average, adequate or unexceptional. Tell your other half that they look “fine” when they present themselves scrubbed and dressed for a night out and they’re not going to thank you.
So to Beverley’s new “fine” dining restaurant Norwood House.
This large, handsome, Grade I listed, Georgian house has been a private residence, girls’ school and training college in its time and, since the end of last year, has been open as a “fabulously elegant” restaurant serving English food on the traditional side of modern.
There are two main dining rooms that are big, light and fairly posh. There is also a very comfy lounge area and a majestic entrance hall with a marble floor and dramatic sweeping staircase. Not that we saw much of it. On the night we visited we were not allowed through the main door and were instead directed through a side door, down a virtually pitch-black corridor and left to guess where we were meant to be going. We never saw the lounge, the other dining room or the grand entrance with staircase until I insisted on having a nosy around on our way out.
To get another of the negatives out of the way, I should say that the dining room (the one we were in, anyway) is oddly unsettling. It’s a big, high ceilinged, impersonal space which has been shorn and simplified to the point where it feels almost clinical. There is a fine line between intimate and intimidating and this atmosphere treads it poorly.
On to the positives. While personally I’m not keen on the way the menu is broken into “beginning”, “middle” and “end”, the selection is solid enough.
Seared scallops with champ mash, Bury black pudding and crispy pancetta was as you’d expect. Carpaccio of beef with a shallot white truffle oil and aged balsamic vinegar dressing, shaved parmesan and lemon juice was (too much oil aside) very tasty. There is a tasting board featuring ham hock and parsley terrine, mini Yorkshire puddings, smoked trout, pear and blue cheese salad, fried brie and kumquat chutney which looked good on another table.
Regular readers will know of my thoughts on food served on planks, so when my steak and chips turned up on one I bristled slightly. It wasn’t bad, though. Better was the pan fried sea bass with lemon pomme puree, green beans and sauce vierge across the table.
Desserts were a passable bread and butter pudding and an equally acceptable poached pear and chocolate sauce thing.
If this review seems a little perfunctory, it’s meant to. It’s the same kind of indifference Norwood House inspires. Here is a theoretically wonderful restaurant inside a lovely building bang in the centre of a great Yorkshire town. It should be grand, stately, welcoming, warm, exuberant, memorable – it should be “fine” as in superior, delicate or refined. But it’s little better than OK.
I put a few of my points to co-owner Heidi Greaves a few days later and she assured me that she considers Norwood House very much a work in progress and they were confident they would be a much improved proposition in a few months.
I truly hope so. I have to say, though, that they are charging fine dining prices right now for an experience that falls short on more than one count.
We paid just over £100 for three courses each and wine and there are at least three places within a five-minute drive (one just a short walk away) where I can spend that amount or less and enjoy a much more imaginative, elaborate and adventurous evening.
Heidi reports a good trade most of the week so there are obviously people happy with the offering or willing to make allowances for a new venture, I’m not so sure I can be so forgiving.
For once, when people ask me what I think of Norwood House, I will say “fine” and the word will take on a new meaning for me.
Norwood House, Norwood, Beverley, East Yorkshire, HU17 9ET. 01482 869012, www.norwoodhouserestaurant.co.uk. Opening times: Wednesday to Saturday: 11am-late, Sunday: noon to early evening