Out & About

May is all about Spring Menus

and full-on culture!

There’s a lot to look forward this month including the return of some of Norwich’s most vibrant cultural event says Melanie Cook of www.VisitNorwich.co.uk

This year sees Norwich’s largest festival celebrate 250 years- the Norfolk & Norwich Festival. The Festival is in fact one of the oldest arts festivals in the world, which seems incredible. Originally organised in 1772 to raise funds for the new Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, the rest-as they say-is history.

Starting its life as a celebration of orchestral concerts, the first ‘Grand Music Festival’ took place in 1778 at St Andrew’s Hall and Sir Peter Mancroft Church. In 1824 it grew to become the ‘Triennial Norfolk and Norwich Festival’. In 1958 the programme shifted to include visual arts and theatre for the first time. Shortly after this, in 1961, it was given the new name of ‘Norwich Festival of Music and the Arts’ which also saw Jazz incorporated. In 1989 the Festival become an annual event, then moved from October to May in 2002. The much-adored Spiegeltent arrived in 2009, which brings us to 2022 – celebrating 250 years. 

Over the years thousands of people at the Festival have enjoyed performance, visual arts, music (of all genres), cabaret, dance and hugely joyful, eclectic things to do that you could never have imagined experiencing. I’m a huge fan. I’ve walked backwards around Norwich (I thoroughly recommend it), had an opera singer perform at my house (incredible), stayed a night at Air Hotel in the woods (I’ve never laughed so much), seen more nudity than I can shake a stick at (blush, thank you Spiegeltent) and had some of the most memorable experiences with my family and friends, that I will treasure forever. 

And whether you’re one or one hundred, there’s always amazing things to do. The Festival today is a diverse and inclusive 17-day event full of surprises, shocks (good ones of course) and frivolity, depending on what tickles your fancy. 

This year’s free large-scale opening event is all of the above and more. Dominoes (Station House Opera, 13 May, 6pm), starts at Anglia Square and then moves into Norwich city centre- literally. This is an artwork of epic proportions. Much as its name suggests, these are dominoes, a two-kilometre line of breeze blocks falling and shifting in front of your eyes. It will be a thing of beauty. Sponsored by Norwich Business Improvement District this is part of the TARMAC Free Outdoor Programme at the Festival. 

Much of the Free Outdoor Programme takes place in Chapelfield Gardens which this year for the first time has a 17-day stint where the gardens transform into the ‘Festival Gardens’ for the full length of the festival. The Band Stand (in partnership with BBC Music Introducing) takes place between 13–17 May at 7.30pm and 9.30pm. Soak up the atmosphere whilst incredible young music-makers keep you entertained. The annual Garden Party (21–22 May) once again offers free family fun where eight new shows are on offer as well as ‘make and do’ sessions. 

The Festival Gardens are also home to a great bar- for after-work and lunchtime get-togethers and pre and post show drinks. And, of course, my favourite, The Adnams Spiegeltent (18–29 May) in all its full decedent glory. Once again, the Speigeltent will be providing us with laughs, music, literature and cabaret. The Spiegeltent has a range of activities and shows from weekend daytime to early evening as well as some starting at 10pm, meaning there’s a host of other things you can fit into your evening including dinner ahead of a show.

The Ivy Brasserie in Norwich (London Street) is one such place and a perfect venue to compliment the glamour of the Spiegeltent. Start your evening with cocktails, a French Garden 75 (£12.25), incorporating Hendricks Gin, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, sugar, lime, cucumber and The Ivy Collection Champagne or a Sparkling Peartini (£12.50), featuring a sumptuous blend of Grey Goose Le Poire, Italicus Bergamot Liqueur, Lillet Blanc, lemon and The Ivy Collection Champagne. 

Their new spring menu includes delights like Garden Pea & Nettle Soup (£6.95), Grilled Asparagus with Szechuan mayonnaise, capers, flaked almonds, quail’s egg and watercress (£8.50) and sweet treats like their new Black Bee Honey and White Chocolate Cheesecake (£9.25). 

At the other end of London Street find new kid on the block George Wood at Brix and Bones. George’s open fire cooking is causing quite a stir across Norwich. And with a menu vastly different to other restaurants in the city it’s proving a very popular haunt. 

Seating only 30 (open Wednesday to Saturday), this is an intimate space where you watch dinner cooked in the open-theatre style kitchen. Dishes includes pre-meal snacks like Curry Scratchings, lime pickle mayo (£3) and Prawn toast, pickled onion, burnt lime togarashi (£5) with small plates such as a selection of Marsh Pig cured meats, brix piccalilli (£8) or fish sausage, mushy pea mayo, pickled sea purslane (£8). Then cooked over the coals- 200 Day aged Hereford sirloin (£15 per kilo) and line-caught grey mullet with roast fennel gravy (£20). Desserts are bone marrow fudge doughnut (£6) and goat’s cheese ice cream, beetroot molasses with a fennel cracker (£7).  

This year also sees Norwich celebrate 10 years of being a UNESCO City of Literature. And during Norfolk & Norwich Festival annually, one weekend is always dedicated to this status with the City of Literature Weekend (27–29 May). In all there are over 10 events over the weekend taking place across Norwich, the Spiegeltent, Plantation Garden and Dragon Hall.

One such event is Wandering Words: A walking Tour of Norwich UNESCO City of Literature (free, 13–29 May). This literary walk celebrates the 10-year anniversary. On the tour discover Norwich of the past, present and future through newly commissioned poems from fantastic writers with links to the city. Pick up a walking trail map from the Festival Box Office.

But to truly get under the skin of all that the Festival offers, as always, I suggest giving the printed brochure a really good read. Grab a coffee, settle back and go at it from cover to cover so as not to miss any of the amazing cultural events taking place across Norwich and the county. It’s wonderful to get back to a thrilling full and packed programme after the last couple of years.

Finally, I wish you a fabulous time at Norfolk & Norwich Festival in its 250th year. And remember, book something you’re not really sure about because the risk may just mean you get to do something very special and memorable.


For more inspiration for wonderful things to see and so in Norwich and Norfolk as well as places to stay, eat and shop go to  www.visitnorwich.co.uk


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