Still a first choice
The Last in Norwich celebrates 28 years in the wine bar and brasserie business this month. Perfect timing, therefore, for Emma Outten to revisit with her editor.
The Last Wine Bar and Brasserie has long since been the first choice when it comes to celebrating a special occasion here in Norwich. For me, the Norwich institution in a former Victorian shoe factory has been the go-to place for birthdays with girlfriends, interviews over long, liquid lunches and the odd (surprisingly well-behaved) hen party.
And it holds a special place in my heart as it was the setting for one of my last suppers, before giving birth to my one and only – and boy did she kick as soon as I’d finished eating!
This month The Last is 28 years old, which is no mean feat in this day and age. There are not many other restaurants that have been going that long in the city (in fact, I can only think of one).
James and Ecky are the directors of the show (although you’re more likely to find Ecky at the Blue Joanna Bar and Kitchen on Unthank Road these days). They’ve always tended to do their own thing, and manage to be on-trend without following the vagaries of foodie fashion.
It has expanded over the years, and is rather labyrinthine, split as it is over two levels. The restaurant side has had a spring refresh, and now there’s much more of a sense of cohesion between the restaurant and bar, colour-scheme wise. On the far wall, the Country and Eastern cushions scattered across the mellow yellow banquette seating have softened things up somewhat and I particularly liked the wooden wine box ‘bricks’ on the feature wall.
The bar remains pretty much unchanged and still has a great buzz about it on a Friday night – hey, the end of the working week is always worth celebrating. It’s a sophisticated sort of place, and yet is gently understated – there’s a friendly feel, with lots of regulars, and the manager, Emma, seems to know all of them!
After an uplifting glass of Prosecco, editor Sarah and I were shown to our table. We liked the fact that there is a both a bar and restaurant menu, and that you can mix and match (although the bar menu is not available on a Saturday night).
Now, the wine list was always going to be extensive (there’s maybe more than 100), not to mention ambitious and unusual, but our choice was a simple one: it had to be ‘A Great White’, a Vermentino from Languedoc (£19.95), specially selected by James and Ecky to celebrate their 25th anniversary just a few years back.
We kick-started things with warm sourdough bread and butter, then chose starters from the bar menu – all were priced at £6.50. I went for the grilled halloumi cheese, with slow roasted tomato and cashew pesto – this was absolutely delicious and turned out to be my favourite course (a case of peaking too soon!). The plentiful pesto topped things off perfectly.
Sarah had the char-grilled bacon, blue cheese, pear and walnut salad, which, she reported, was good and crispy – and she liked the fact it didn’t come dripping in a heavy sauce.
For mains we chose from the restaurant menu: I had the barbequed celeriac, with borlotti beans, cavolo nero, hazelnuts, and Binham Blue (£15). The celeriac was surprisingly filling (it had something of the jacket potato about it in terms of size), and I loved the crispy, cheesy balls (I think I might’ve mentioned my cheese addiction, before…).
Sarah went for the catch of the day, which was, on this particular day, sea bream. It was beautifully cooked, with great spices and flavours – the aubergine was very tasty and she liked the quirky mini poppadoms.
We probably over ordered by also going for a side dish of mixed seasonal greens (£3.50) which saw plenty of kale and sprouting broccoli – but then you can never have enough greens.
Finally, we tackled desserts – Sarah had to have The Last’s iconic cheesecake which she reported as being as rich and satisfying as always. This version was with blood orange (£7.25) so had a tangy, zesty tone which went well with creamy richness of the cheesecake. Whereas I opted for the rhubarb, custard panna cotta, pistachio and rhubarb sorbet (£6.50), which was suitably seasonal and delicately refreshing.
We signed off with some loose leaf, mint tea at the end of an enjoyable, relaxed evening. The Last has been going since 1990 and, quite frankly, has still got it. Put it this way, Sarah rebooked for a month’s time, on her way out!
Reviewed in Feast issue 25 – April 2018