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The Library, Norwich

Once the first public subscription library in Britain, this is a beautiful eating out experience in the heart of Norwich.

It was a cold Halloween in Norwich and the lovely Hannah Colby and friend visited The Library Restaurant  for a warming glass of wine and some good food. Much better than a chilly walk around the houses and a plastic bucket of Haribo – over to Hannah for her Eating Out review!

The Lowdown

A much-loved Norwich establishment for many years, The Library is owned by Nigel and Jane Raffles, two stalwarts of the local foodie scene. After dodging teenagers in masks and bedsheets, we found ourselves on Guildhall, looking up at the beautiful pillars that frame the entrance to the building that was once the first public subscription library in Britain. Books and food? My two favourite things!  Lead the way…

library restaurant wooden tables and chairs bookcases

The Vibe

As you’d expect from a building that used to be a library, the ambience is pretty chilled. On a quiet Wednesday night in November, the restaurant wasn’t full, but with a Prix Fixe menu that runs from 12.00pm – 2.00pm and 5.30pm – 7.00pm, we’d obviously missed the early evening rush. But even at its busiest, the open floor plan allows plenty of room around your table and privacy to gossip without fear of being overheard! The decor is understated and relaxed, with loads of warm wood, plants and natural materials. There’s a side room with squashy sofas and coffee tables – perfect for kicking back with an Espresso Martini – and the upstairs gallery is ideal for those who like to people-watch the diners below. Oh, and with shelves that are still stacked to the rafters with classics, this is a bookworm’s paradise!

coloured sofas and tables book shelves

The Scoff & Quaff

As two hungry girls who love their food, we were always going to take the three-course option. To start the evening, the bride-to-be dived into a plateful of tempura prawns, beautifully light and crunchy (I know – I stole one) whilst I sampled the ham hock terrine with piccalilli and micro-herbs. This wouldn’t have been my usual choice –  I’m a dairy girl and the goat’s cheese bruschetta was calling – but I’m glad I went a little off-piste from my usual comfort zone.  The presentation was good and the first glass of dry French white went down very easily.

The Library has something of a reputation for steak and would have been rude not to try it. The ribeye was perfectly medium-rare with a great smoky flavour from the wood grill (I may have stolen some of her steak too – all in the name of research!) My pork tenderloin on cheesy polenta was an absolute winner, and it’s nice to have the polenta as a variation on the default potato standard. It was also good to see a wide range of gluten-free and vegetarian choices on a menu which also included two vegan options.

Who can resist a sundae? Not me – I did warn you that I was a dairy girl! The raspberry flakes on the top of my chocolate and salted caramel ice cream added a sharp kick of flavour. I wasn’t allowed to steal any of the bride-to-be’s passionfruit Eton Mess (how selfish!) but as my sundae was twice the size of hers anyway, I feel I won in the battle of desserts.

Out & About

Nestled in a quiet street just opposite Norwich Market, The Library is in prime position for lunch or post-shopping cocktails. In the evening, you’re only a hop and a skip away from the pubs and bars of The Lanes, Pottergate and St Benedict’s and there’s a monthly Jazz Club that takes place at The Library on Monday evenings. Don’t forget that if you’re looking for inspiration on places to go after dinner, you can check out our What’s On guide too!

Muddy Verdict

This is one to keep on your restaurant radar as a go-to option for any occasion. I could imagine visiting on a first date, an anniversary, for lunch with my mother or with a girly group of friends. The food was well-cooked and full of flavour without being fussy and it was lovely touch when Nigel came out from the kitchen to check that we were enjoying ourselves (we were). Our waitress, Ripley, was a little gem and was friendly without being over-attentive.  Our verdict? No gimmicks or tricks here: this was definitely a treat.

Good For: Relaxed, casual dining in large parties or an intimate meal for two

Not For: Fine-dining foodies who are looking for innovation and experimentation

The Damage: There are options to suit all purses here. For a budget-friendly option, dine early from the Prix Fixe and enjoy two courses for £10.95 or three for £14.95. Otherwise, starters range from £4.25 to £6.95 and a sirloin steak with all the trimmings will cost you £16.95. Desserts come in at £5.95 each and our bottle of (very nice) house wine was £16.95. Cheers!


The Library, 4A Guildhall Hill, Norwich, NR21JH,  Tel: 01603 616606

Review by Hannah Colby 

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