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From Bellini’s opera to Sicily’s primo pasta to Fitzrovia’s latest edition, Norma has never been “the norm”.
Spread over 3 floors of a Georgian town house, the interior is stunning. Moorish details are beautifully integrated into the design. Very high spec with comfortable, intimate seating and excellent acoustics, it’s easy to imagine Maria Callas herself, ensconced in a velvet snug.
Helping people with their coats on arrival is a simple gesture of hospitality that should be a given. Nobody offered, so my first impression of service was not the best. Our waiter Antonio changed that in a hurry. 5 stars! One of the best waiters I can remember. He made me feel that ensuring I had a nice evening was his utmost pleasure. Now that’s talent!
Head Chef Ben Tish has created a lovely menu that is varied without being overwhelming. Snacks, antipasti, a crudo bar, pasta, mains and dessert. It changes according to market availability and is based on good quality produce and the traditions of Sicily.
A bottle of 2017 Nero di Troia IGT Murgia Rosso from Puglia (£37.50) wiped dreary London from my mind. Very dry with rich tannins, dark fruit and liquorice. Good value.
West Mersea oysters at £4.50 each were quite briny on their own. The addition of salted capers only made them more so and obscured the fennel oil that sounded so intriguing. Pan fried violet artichokes (£10) were tender and top quality. A very light pickling gave a touch of acid and a delicate pine nut purée a sweet, creamy contrast.
Spaghettini fritters (£6) won the first round. Antonio recommended them and was spot on. Crispy pasta pancakes with a divine parmesan cream that I licked from the bowl! A dish of whimsy I will remember and most likely, steal!
Both our mains were excellent. A nice portion of meaty monkfish (£26) was beautifully cooked and served with mussels and vegetables which made a gorgeous, sweet and briny broth. Grilled salt marsh lamb (£27) was dish of the day. Perfectly pink, tender and juicy, it came with salt-baked carrots and beets, olives and mint sauce. Simple, well executed and delicious.
Dessert was hit and miss. Brioche with salted caramel ice cream and bitter chocolate sauce (£8) sounded like my idea of heaven but the actual dish brought me quickly to earth. It was an actual brioche, complete with top knot, but so tough we could barely cut through it. It seemed to be several days old. Something more on the order of pain Perdue would have worked better. Happily, the ice cream and chocolate were delicious on their own. The Norma house sundae (£8) mixed honey gelato with orange flower water, slow cooked figs, ricotta and raisins. I tasted neither honey nor orange flower in the ice but the slow cooked figs were a delight and I somehow managed to slurp it all up.
Not pure bel canto, but definitely a cut above the norm.