L’Hexagone, Norwich: “Simple things are done very well” – restaurant review | food

Lexagon, 22 Lower Got Lane, Norwich NR2 1EL (01603926886). Starters and small plates from £7 to 12, main courses from £14 to £24, desserts from £7, wine from £21

Early on in my blissful adventures as a laughing musician, laying down a junk bag of licks and my boundless puppy enthusiasm in front of very cute crowds, I had an epiphany. Whatever my ambitions, I was not required to have mastered the piano completely before playing for people. The jazz world may be full of strong saxophonists who turn up to gigs screaming “any note, any key, any rhythm.” To me, they are god-like characters. But I never had to be like them, and I could never be like them. Instead, I simply had to be able to play the tunes I was performing at that moment. Back then, the audience didn’t need to know that there wasn’t much there other than the set of ten songs they had just heard. I would have been, and still am, the best jazz pianist among all the British restaurant critics.

There is a lot to be said for it being good on a narrow bandwidth; To do a small number of things really well, rather than trying to prove your cumbersome prowess at crafting a high swing. I thought of this while studying the brown paper menu at L’Hexagone in Norwich. It’s the little French restaurant that really can. It’s the kind of place where we can all do more, when money is tight and we need to take care of our pleasures.

‘Densely smeared with garlic-coated tape’: Tomato tartine. Photo: The Observer

The decor of the small space, on a narrow cobblestone alley, is what I defined myself as a polished Gothic: the walls are painted black. Downstairs is a bar with seating for at least six people. Upstairs, after the spray-painted words”Freedom, Equality, Fraternity‘, is a dining room that accommodates another great person. In keeping with the smallness of it all, this lunch menu is barely 50 French words. Yet it’s great French words: a distillation of a Southern French country to match its necessities. The cook is French Thomas Oupret, son of A cook and the nephew of a butcher.His English wife, Gemma, whom he met at the restaurant where he worked in France, runs the house.

Come early and they will serve you good coffee, pastries and croque monsieur or the lady. Come for lunch and it’s soups, salads and an array of delightful things that include beef. That’s really the bottom line: overextending that jazz-food analogy until he delivers a letter of resignation, it’s a tight nightclub set hitting all the right notes, certainly in the right order. The £12 niçoise salad is a delightfully dense and chopped affair, with a lovely arrangement of anchovies and tomatoes, topped with half a boiled egg, the yolks in excellent condition for a fluff. A tomato tartine is a crisply roasted piece of sourdough thickly smeared with garlic-enhanced tapenade and topped with slices of beef brisket, closely crimped with thick streaks of pungent pesto, the French answer to pesto with only a little gallic sauce. Eat the tartine with your hands and you’ll happily smell your lunch on your fingertips for hours afterwards.

Chic clothes: rice steak. Photography: Chris Ridley/The Observer

There are, of course, steak, or baguettes with leek sauce. Cheaper and less expensive cuts get the only treat they understand: stewed until crumbly, in tomato stew with black olives, new potatoes and a high insistence of fennel seeds. The highlight of the day is the steak tartare, a proper dressing, with a golden egg yolk in the center and a large pile of hand-cut potato chips, still tinged with greasy wrinkled skin. It’s a generous stack for £24.

We can now play Guess the Sweets, but the game won’t last long, right? You know it will include chocolate mousse; A smooth, slightly grainy milk chocolate version covered in chocolate chips, all of which melt so as not to touch the tongue. Yes, there is a buttery yellow creme brulee, the scorched burnt surface just begging for a small spoon break. Have the vanilla panna cotta with fruit puree if you like, but I’m still that cream brulee, until I run the edge of the spoon all the way around the terracotta bowl to remove all the crusty and sugary bits.

'A Delighted and Chopped Relationship': The Nisoise Salad.
‘A Delighted and Chopped Relationship’: The Nisoise Salad. Photo: The Observer

In the evening, there is a 14-course tasting menu, each dish evoking the deep landscapes of Provence. Do not be silly. Of course there is no. That would be exhausting. It’s exactly the same narrow and tempting suggestion, perhaps with the addition of a fish dish. It’s just a bunch of simple things that are done very well and with real deceptive charm. To go along with it, drink something familiar from the short wine list that you haven’t heard of anywhere outside of France. Almost all of them are available in glass. It’s almost all under £40. Don’t come to L’Hexagone expecting a life-changing drama. Come here expecting to be fed. By the way, the name is a French nickname for their country form. I didn’t know this and now I know. Every day is the school day.

As I hang out in Norwich, I have to mention Chef Jimmy Preston’s XO Kitchen, which, in its own way, also sticks to a narrow frame, in this case a magpie-like swing across Asian flavors. They knew I was coming and actually let me order in advance because otherwise I would have been too late for the last orders. So, this can’t be considered a review, but I was so in love with the slapping flavors that they have to be mentioned. Come for pork belly char sui, both charred and wobbly under a rust-colored sauce, with a pile of pickled cucumbers and a dollop of Norwich-appropriate Coleman mustard.

“Begging to crack a teaspoon”: creme brulee. Photography: Chris Ridley/The Observer

Smooth mustard with watermelon salad, in a great soup dressing brimming with mint, peanuts, and fresh chili. Order the beef tenderloin, a lush coconut curry, with a chunk of cut bone off, and the well full of wobbly, hot bone marrow. Special praise is given to grilled Hesby cabbage, with black bean sauce and the crunchy golden cumin that Preston calls XO Seasoning. So, what exactly is this, Jimmy? “Okay,” he said slowly. “You need a pork ingredient for the XO, so these are ground fries. And then, you need dried seafood, so these are Scampi Fries.” looks away. “Monster Munch may also be involved.” If you freak out about it, what do you do by reading this column? It is absolute genius. The rest of you, go to Norwich. Lunch at L’Hexagone. Dinner at XO Kitchen. Or there is another way. I really do not care. Either way, the job is done.

News bites

Lunch at your local supermarket? So you are lucky. Bobaran’s restaurant group, which owns a range of popular brands including Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Slim Chickens and Caffè Carluccio, has opened its first restaurant inside a branch of Sainsbury’s in Sydenham, south London. Another is likely to follow in Wolverhampton, as part of plans to open 30 next year, each serving food from a variety of their brands, both for indoor and outdoor dining.

The Hawksmoor steakhouse group, which is set to soon open a location in Liverpool to align with those in London, Manchester, Edinburgh and New York, has become one of the few restaurant companies in the UK to achieve B Corp certification. Certification, by the nonprofit B Lab network, means that it has been evaluated to benefit not only its shareholders, but also its employees, customers and the environment. They will be re-evaluated every three years. visit thehawksmoor.com.

Staff shortages are rampant throughout the economy, but the hospitality sector actually appears to be suffering the most. According to an analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics by Koozai, a digital marketing agency, more than a third of food and accommodation companies are having trouble recruiting the skilled employees they need. The next most affected sectors are construction and transportation.

Email Jay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter MustafaHosny Oh God, Amen

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: