OPINION: It has to be Harrogate! column with Caroline Bayliss
I need to talk about Norse. Until that infamous blog post at the beginning of January, I hadn't been intending to visit any time soon. Why? Because booking in advance seemed tricky (they wanted a deposit) and when we tried a few last minute bookings we had been met with, 'sorry we're full'.
I thought that the restaurant must be riding high and didn’t need the occasional diner like me – but I was proved wrong.
In his blog Paul Rawlinson spoke of the period before Christmas as being “really difficult”, and of his restaurant as “struggling”.
I was slightly incredulous.
This is the same restaurant that was lauded by Jay Rayner, that won “Restaurant of the Year” in 2017, and only moved to its cool new venue in April.
We went in early January.
It has suddenly become much easier to book – there’s an excellent on line booking engine via the website and no booking fee – and if you’re prepared to sit down at your table before 6.30pm – it’s inexpensive; £18 for two courses of perfectly cooked, exciting, innovative and enjoyable food.
The Swan Road restaurant is not exactly “hygge”, but it is very comfortable; it’s got a light feel, simple furnishing, good quality chairs and comfortable banquettes (which cannot be said for all banquette seating in Harrogate).
We were worried that without a trendy beard my old and balding husband might be out of place; we needn’t have!
There was a fair sprinkling of beards amongst staff and customers, but we felt perfectly comfortable.
Our fellow diners were all ages; from hipster to those verging on the antique! And the staff were great; friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable.
What about the food? We chose from the à la carte menu rather than having the tasting menu.
Norse’s reputation always seemed based on its tasting menu.
It was, and is outstandingly good.
But not many of us want to eat that many courses, or can afford the price (or calories) more than occasionally.
So it was the à la carte for us.
A starter of smoked eel rarebit, with soused mussels, sounded odd but was utterly delicious, as was a main of pan-fried cod , with a crab fritter, and silky smooth shellfish sauce.
Our waitress Clare did her friendly best to persuade us to try a pudding; but describing one Scandinavian concoction as “like cold rice pudding in a doughnut” didn’t exactly make it sound tempting!
We did order pudding; white chocolate, with buckwheat ice cream and buttermilk gel.
Undaunted, Clare brought an extra small bowl of the rejected pudding for us to taste; both were delicious.
There is an interesting wine list and there are lots of wines by the glass; which means you can create your own wine pairing.
Tap water comes without fuss although they do have bottled water (including Harrogate!).
So let me add my voice of support to Norse. Please just go and give it a try?
It’s so easy to book online and there are tables to be had.
The ingredients may be unusual, the flavour combinations may be eclectic; but the result is restaurant magic.