When London opened its first dessert bar a few years back, the concept was met with a certain amount of trepidation – was this a one trick pony, all style over substance, an idea too far…? Happily, it was the start of a trend that shows no signs of abating with one-dish restaurants opening up all over the capital and beyond, including celebrations of eggs (Good Egg), cereal (Cereal Killers) and puddings (Afters).
So when I read that Norwich was getting a dessert bar of its own, my sweet tooth (of which there is admittedly only one) did a little dance – finally we get to be as trendy as London, with a restaurant celebrating all things sweet.
The brainchild of husband-and-wife team Jaime and Stephanie Garbutt – who moved back to Norwich in August this year following some time in London – Figbar’s dream was realised after many kitchen experiments, a PhD, a chocolate tempering machine and – the website tells me – a collection of poetry.
Jaime has an impressive background in pastry including positions with Marcus Wareing and Gordon Ramsay at multi-Michelin-starred Pétrus, Galton Blackiston and Richard Bainbridge at Michelin-starred Morston Hall, and Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi in their flagship Islington Restaurant Ottolenghi.
When looking for somewhere to realise their dream, Steph and Jamie struck gold, finding a lease on St John Maddermarket Street – easily one of the prettiest alleyways in The Lanes, with The Maddermarket Theatre and The Maddermarket Kitchen as neighbours. It’s even more charming this time of year with simple lightbulbs strung between the trees.
It’s a cold Thursday evening when I head through the doors of Figbar, Jamie already at the coal face of the large, open-plan kitchen making cake after tart; financier (a small French almond cake, flavoured with beurre noisette) after brownie. “Gosh I don’t know,” Jamie says when I ask him how many sweet things he has made that day. He starts counting up all the trays of things in front of him and then shakes his head at the impossibility of the task. “Hundreds,” he concedes. “Hundreds…”
The decor inside is warm and homely, with slate grey-blue walls and wood floors; one long table in the middle and high seating around the perimeter – a few seats looking out onto the lit street. I love the series of lights hanging down from the ceiling as well as the nice little touches – from the beautifully-designed fig logo to the great sign in the toilet, and from the black and white photographs of Norwich to the specially-made tea towels for sale. The place simply oozes style. There are even little bags of tasty treats available to buy and take home.
The menu is kept simple: choose from the array of gorgeous cakes, financiers and tarts in front of you – which rotate regularly – or, for something more substantial, select a plated pud from the menu. Unlike a lot of the dessert bars in London, Figbar is licensed to sell wine, beer and dessert wine too, elevating it to a sophisticated indulgent experience.
My dining companion Claire and I start by ordering two glasses of wine – white for me, red for her – and then venture to the counter to select our first course. Claire bravely opts for the Brownie (it isn’t small), while I go for a Blueberry Financier which looks far more modest, if a little sticky. We then sit down while our ‘starters’ are plated and our wine is poured – all arriving together in a ‘wow’ moment.
The brownie, Claire tells me, isn’t over sweet and is the perfect combination of crunchy on the outside and gooey in the middle. I try a slither and it really is delectable. Mine is equally delicious – rich and soft with a lovely sweet-sharp hint of blueberries and a nice crunch of almonds, giving a subtle marzipan after-taste.
For ‘main’s we pick up the menu and select ‘eggnog’ (me) and ‘banoffee’ (Claire), both of which we wolf down in silence until there isn’t a scrap left on the plate. My ‘eggnog’ consists of spiced rum custard, roast plum, mulled plum sorbet, squashed fly mince pie (er, ke?) and almond crumble, and is just like Christmas on a plate – a genius dish that would surely have Greg Wallace brimming over with excitement (it’s also the nicest dessert I’ve eaten in years).
Claire’s ‘banoffee’ is banana caramel, lime crème fraiche, maple and candid pecans, banana caramel ice-cream, hazlenuts and shortbread. I’m so busy enjoying mine I forget to ask what it’s like – but her face says it all.
In the mood for something chocolatey, my next trip to the counter sees me selecting a Chocolate Bundt (named because of the shape of the tin) and Claire a Raspberry and Pistachio Financier – mine gooey and almondy; hers fresh and tangy. I whisper to the lovely lady taking our order that it’s my friends birthday; as if by magic a candle flickers from the top of her cake.
We order more wine and stay as long as we possibly can, giddy on too much sugar; giggling like kids pumped up on Haribo. If famous French painter Henri Toulouse Lautrec is to be believed – and marriage really is ‘a dinner that begins with dessert’ – then the Figbar partnership is sure to go the distance, in more ways than one.
23 St John Maddermarket Street, Norwich, Norfolk, NR2 1DN. figbar.com