David Adlard, chef/proprietor of Adlard's restaurant in the centre of Norwich, joined our table and responded forcefully to the compliments on an excellent meal by saying, 'I am a simple man who likes simple food'.
The vehemance of this response betrays Adlard's physical and mental strength in keeping this highly distinctive restaurant going since 1989, overcoming not only personal problems but also commercial ones. When he first opened, Adlard's was alone in concentrating on top-quality local producers and could never be cheap. Today, having led the way it is surrounded by considerable competition.
Personal strength aside, Adlard's approach to cooking has been shaped by an unusual apprenticeship. Having studied chemistry at university, he only came to the stove aged 30 as an apprentice at The Connaught, a period which, he explains, 'lifted the veil'. This unusual education has dictated all that Adlard has cooked so well, his open-minded approach to wine and now his writing for which he has won an award (the restaurant website contains recipes and writings including a funny account of a trip down the Loire).
Adlard has recently appointed a younger man, Tom Kerridge, as Head Chef but has characteristically chosen someone with almost as unusual a background as his own.
Kerridge was initially a child actor (earning an Equity card working with Prunella Scales) before submerging himself in the kitchens of the Capital Hotel, Odette's, Monsieur Max and Stephen Bull.
Now with his sculptor wife he has headed for slightly quieter pastures and begun to put his imprimatur on the menu with dishes such as black bream with cockle risotto, a fillet of sea bass with a beetroot lasagne, Angus beef with pommes dauphinoise and sweet and sour raspberries with passion fruit sorbet.
In both Adlard's and Kerridge's cases, London's loss has been Norwich's gain.
79 Upper St Giles, Norwich NR2 1AB (tel 01603 633522, web www.adlards.co.uk)
Set lunch £15 two courses, dinner à la carte £35.
Closed Sunday and Monday lunch.