The Vine, 7 Dove Street, Norwich NR2 1DE
The Vine, built in 1786 and the smallest pub in Norwich, closed its door as an Adnams house in 2006. In 2008, it reopened as a free house and Thai restaurant under the dynamic management of Aey Allen. During our first visit to Norwich a few weeks ago, this was the first pub we came across, and as Lady Alebagger and I are somewhat partial to Thai cuisine, we decided to ‘give it a go’. The first thing you notice is that, yes, it is small. Maybe six tables (I did count them, but I’ve forgotten!) with comfortable chairs. It looks like a very small restaurant, with the tables laid out to facilitate eating, and yet there’s a proper bar in there, too. Not like those you normally find in a restaurant, with weirdly shaped shiny silver alien spaceship-like fizz dispensers, but with four proper handpumps with four proper ales. On offer this evening were The Hanged Monk, a 3.7% mild from Tipples Brewery, Elgood Feelgood Fresh (3.8% pale ale), Oakham Scarlet Macaw (4.4% golden ale) and Wolf Coyote (4.3% bitter).
I stood at the bar, and Aey immediately said ‘I know about beer; ask me about the beers!’ So I did, and she certainly did know her beers, obviously having carefully tasted each of those she was serving, as every good landlord should, of course. I settled for a jar of the Hanged Monk to start with. It’s a very dark red in colour, and light in the mouth. Dominant flavours are coffee and a hint of smoke. An excellent beer to start with. By this time, our food had arrived. We had elected to remain downstairs, but there is more restaurant seating upstairs. I find it hard to describe the food. The first mouthful just transported me to a better place. Suffice it to say that Lady A and I ate in total silence, not wishing to disturb the fabulous experience of eating this wonderful, wonderful food. Of course, once the food was done, there were still three more ales to sample, so I plumped next for the Elgood’s Feelgood Fresh. A bright yellow in colour, it has a thin head with a hoppy aroma. The taste is light and hoppy, with an interesting spicy twist which appears towards the finish and goes on into the aftertaste.
By this time, sensing a fellow enthusiast, Aey was chatting away, ‘You must try this,’ she said, indicating the Oakham Scarlet Macaw, ‘It’s my new favourite beer.’ Well, if you’re twisting my arm, I thought. Pale yellow in colour, this is a very bright, hoppy ale with prominent citrus notes; hints of grapefruit. The taste reminded me a bit of some of the BrewDog beers I’ve been trying recently. I asked Aey if she’d ever had any BrewDog beers, because if she liked this one, she’d love Punk IPA or 5am Saint. ‘Hang on!’ she said, and disappeared into the back room, emerging shortly after with a Tesco ‘Bag for Life’ filled with pump clips. She sat down on the floor next to our table and started digging through them. Judging by the quantity of pump clips in the bag (and now mostly on the floor) Aey is not afraid to experiment with new beers. ‘I don’t put on very strong ales,’ she says. ‘I don’t mind people having a few 4% beers, but I don’t want anyone getting really drunk in here.’
It transpired that she hasn’t had any BrewDog beers on, so I suggested that she goes to Tesco and buys herself a few bottles, but added that they did tend to be a bit on the strong side.
I finish off with a Wolf Coyote, the only beer on the bar that I had previously tasted. This is a complex beer, sweetish to start with a dry edge and a distinctly dry, hoppy finish. A great end to my session at a great little pub.
I’ve been to many pubs which also sell themselves as restaurants. Often, it doesn’t quite work. Either the food is indifferent, or there’s a lack of care taken over the beer. It either works as a restaurant or a pub. Pubs that seriously take to the restaurant road often end up being sniffy towards drinkers, and sometimes even downright hostile. The Vine works terrifically well as both a pub and a restaurant. Whilst we were there, another couple came in for a meal, and there were several drinkers, sitting blissfully unhassled both inside and at the two tables outside. Drinkers welcome, diners welcome. Aey even served freshly cooked starters as snacks to a couple of drinkers who were sitting at the bar.
If you like your beer well-kept and varied, and if you love Thai food (or are willing to give it a go – I encourage you to do so), and if you like your hostess to be friendly, knowledgeable and above all massively enthusiastic, then don’t think about going to the Vine. Just go.
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