This year is the 10th anniversary of the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival and the organisers are determined to make it the biggest and best yet. The festival is already the largest in the UK – with volunteers running numerous events, both large and small, across the county from 30 August to 12 October. However, this year we want to do more in Norwich – which is where the festival started.
Among the many events being planned is the ever popular Battle of the Bangers, which last year attracted over 5,000 sausage lovers to taste the finest our local butchers have to offer. There will also be the City Farm and a Norfolk Producers market – all outside The Forum on Saturday 6 September. This will coincide with the final day of the reinvigorated Norwich Restaurant Week, which will run from 1-7 September and is being supported by Norwich BID and Norwich Lanes.
The current chair of the Norwich Lanes committee is Jayne Raffles. She and her husband Nigel have been running restaurants in Norwich for 24 years – and currently have three in the Norwich Lanes district: St Benedict’s, The Library and Pinocchio’s. I had the pleasure of meeting them both for a Rapido lunch in Pinocchio’s to discuss their plans for making the most of Norwich Restaurant Week.
Fresh fast food to savour
I have to admit to having a real soft-spot for Pinocchio’s. It’s the place we tend to go for family celebrations, including the day we moved back to Norfolk, the night (four years later) when we finally moved out of a rented house into our own home, as well as various birthdays and anniversaries. It reminds me of the family-run trattoria in Bologna we tried when we visited Italy – with good, honest food, prepared fresh every day.
Nigel, a talented chef who is responsible for the food in all three restaurants, uses local suppliers (such as Easters) and fresh seasonal produce wherever possible. “It’s important to provide great tasting food and great value food, if we are to compete with the big corporate chains. We make virtually all our bread at Pinocchio’s, particularly our pizza dough, although we use a specialist Italian supplier for the ciabatta because they make it using the traditional slow fermentation method.”
The ciabatta we had for lunch certainly tasted delicious, packed with chicken, mushrooms and pesto. As did the arancini, deep fried rice balls with chorizo and smoked mozzarella, and pin-wheels (rounds of bread) filled with a rich lamb ragu. Sadly I was driving, so had to pass on a glass of Moretti (my favourite Italian beer if you must know) but the homemade Sicilian lemonade was so deliciously refreshing I was slightly surprised the Famous Five didn’t arrive on their bikes with Timmy the dog just to knock back a jug or two.
Supporting cultural life in the city centre
As you would expect, Jayne and Nigel are also passionate about promoting local, independent restaurants. “It’s the independents who help keep Norwich special,” says Jayne. “They stop the city turning into just another clone town and they attract visitors who are vital to the local economy.”
This passion is reflected in Jane’s championing of the Norwich Lanes organisation, which promotes independent businesses in the city centre. As chair, Jane works closely with the Norwich Business Improvement District (Norwich BID) team, which has raised £3m to improve the look and feel of the city centre. Both organisations support special events in the city centre throughout the year.
The Lanes committee is organising four big events this year. The first was the successful revival of Jack Valentine in spring, with Norwich BID’s help. Next up, on 6 July, is the hugely popular Summer Fayre – which just gets bigger and better every year. Then in October the Lanes will support the 5th Sound & Vision festival at Norwich Arts Centre. And finally, the organisers are planning a late night open-shop/open-restaurant event for December (more on this nearer the time).
Meanwhile, Norwich BID will be laying on street entertainment every Thursday throughout the summer. The Head Out, Not Home campaign (which runs 12 June to 28 August) aims to encourage people to stay in the city after work and make the most of the long (and, we hope, sunny) summer evenings. To keep up to date with what’s on each week, follow #NorwichEvenings on twitter or download the BID’s ‘Discover Norwich’ app.
Norwich Restaurant Week
Both Jayne and Nigel see Norwich Restaurant Week as another great opportunity to attract people to the heart of our fine city and raise the profile of its independent food network. “We are trying to encourage all the restaurants, cafés and bars in the Lanes to take part and help make it a week to remember. The Food & Drink Festival and Norwich Restaurant Week in particular are vital to putting Norwich on the map as a modern food destination, not just an historic visitor attraction.”
Jayne and Nigel seem to thrive on being busy – so they are planning three events for the Food and Drink Festival. “We are going to have a Slow Food Festival in The Library (our restaurant on Guildhall Hill),” says Jayne. “The team behind the Aylsham Slow Food Festival (which is also an #NFDF2014 event) are helping to organise this and it will be like an indoor market celebrating the best in regional food.”
Nigel is organising an American pop-up barbecue in the Warings Store: “This will really appeal to people who love succulent burgers and other traditional American food,” he promises. Then, in the third week of September (not Restaurant Week but still during the festival) Jayne will be hosting a special #NFDF2014 event at City College. “Hopefully this will help inspire more students to pursue a career in catering.”
— Jayne Raffles (@RafflesFood) March 12, 2014
Celebrating our City of Literature’s heritage
Finally, as if all those events were not enough, Jayne and Nigel are planning an extra special event in November to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the reopening of The (Norwich Subscription) Library building in 1914 (after a devastating fire in 1898). This will run from 1-7 November and will involve The Bookhive, Jarrold, the Writers Centre, the UEA’s Writers’ Circle and the Blue Badge Guides. There will be children’s events on the Saturday (including pop-up bookstalls and storytelling) and authors’ evenings (including book signings) during the week.
Now that seems like a wonderful example of feeding the body and the mind – of which I suspect Epicurus would have strongly approved. It certainly works for me. Thank you Jayne and Nigel for an excellent lunch too.
Be a part of #NFDF2014
If you are interested in taking part in Norwich Restaurant Week, please post your details below and the organisers will get in touch with you.
If you have any questions or comments, or ideas for future posts, please feel free to post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply. In future blogs I will talk more about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 (see my earlier post about being an #NFDF2014 Champion) – and other food and drink events around the county – I hope you enjoy them.
Thank you for reading.