A post in which Lucy and The Chap embark on a trip to Veeno wine bar in Norwich for afternoon tea with a twist.
I love Italy.
Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that I’d move to Rome in a heartbeat.
Because of the art, the architecture and the culture. But more importantly, because of the food and wine.
That’s why I was so keen to visit Veeno wine cafe, the latest addition to the Castle Mall in Norwich. Pitching itself as a casual place to stop for wine and nibbles, it seemed like a no-brainer.
Veeno: the atmosphere
I have to start with the thing that struck me the most.
It is quite a strange experience, drinking wine in Castle Mall. While Veeno is nicely decorated and we had a great time, the acoustics are odd. It’s a little bit like drinking wine at a swimming pool; the sound of the shoppers and screaming children waft up the escalators and echo around the space. There’s nothing to absorb or mask the sound because there are no soft furnishings or screens.
That said, I am curious to stop by when it’s busier. We visited in the middle of Sunday afternoon when there were few people in Veeno. It might be different after work on a Friday, or a Saturday evening.
And that’s not to detract from the lovely view of Norwich Castle from the windows. And it’s very prettily decorated. The pergola in the centre of the wine bar is strewn with fairy lights; the tiles behind the bar are on-trend, while the lighting was ultra modern. All of which helped to create a more elegant air than the Castle Mall might suggest.
There is also a small wine-tasting room, which feels sophisticated and exclusive. I’m tempted to book up a wine-tasting experience for a few friends to get the full experience.
When we arrived, we were shown to our table by Oliver, our waiter, who explained the Veeno concept.
Set up by an Italian family, all of the wines are from their own vineyards in Sicily, or from selected partners. As a result, you can’t get the wines anywhere else in Norwich. It’s meant to be a relaxed place to sit back and enjoy a drink and nibbles and have fun.
Now, I know it’s a wine cafe. I didn’t mean to be contrary, but they had a bottle of Malfy con Arancia orange gin on the counter. And I’ve been trying to get hold of a bottle for ages. So I couldn’t resist. Served up with a Fever Tree tonic (£8) in a cut-glass tumbler it made me very happy – transporting me back to Italy. The only downside was that it was served with a single-use plastic straw, which makes me slightly depressed.
On that subject, if you don’t like wine, they have a large selection of spirits and liqueurs available, alongside cocktails and beers.
Italian afternoon tea at Veeno
While I sipped my ice-cold G&T, we selected the Italian afternoon tea (£19.99) because it seemed like the most civilised thing to order on a Sunday afternoon.
We were both presented with a delicate flute of dry prosecco to start, which had delicate bubbles and a smooth finish.
This was soon followed by a slate cake-stand bedecked with all manner of sumptuous treats, including scamorza (smoked mozzarella), speck (smoked ham), paninis, scones and cakes. And I shall take each layer in turn.
The savoury layer
The Veeno team slice its charcuterie on-site so that it’s fresh when it arrives at the table. I am happy to confirm that is indeed the case. The speck was expertly shaved and wafer-thin. It melted in the mouth and was deliciously salty. It was perfect with the dry prosecco.
The scamorza was similarly pleasing. It is one of my favourite cheeses. Having discovered it on a recent trip to Italy, I was despairing of ever finding any in Norwich. Thankfully, Veeno came to my rescue. Again, sliced, it was creamy and rich with an intensely smokey finish. It was a decadent start to the experience.
The paninis were equally good. The Parma was filled with speck and mozzarella, while the Siena came with pesto, mozza and tomatoes. The mozzarella stood out for us both in the sandwiches. It was creamy and moist and perfectly stretchy. If I had to pick a favourite version though, it was the Siena. The fragrant basil of the pesto mixed things up rather nicely.
Before I move onto the next layer, I must mention that there was a small bowl of plump and juicy olives too. A mix of green and black, they were pleasantly garlicky and devoured immediately.
Now, these were no ordinary scones. The texture was more like a sweet sponge cake, speckled with dried fruit, and topped with a crunchy sugar crust. I must confess that I might like them more than regular scones.
They came with Tiptree strawberry jam (which was a relief, because Italian jam isn’t as good, in my opinion) and a generous dollop of mascarpone cheese. It may sound odd but was absolutely delicious. Creamy and light, we both agreed that it was less rich than clotted cream.
The top layer of every afternoon tea is my favourite. And this was no exception.
There were two cake options presented: chocolate and lemon. Thankfully, The Chap knows me so well that he offered to go halves on each.
The chocolate cake was divine. Almost mousse-like, it had a hazelnut, gianduja-like flavour. Topped with chocolate chips and hazelnuts, it was rich and moreish.
Almost mousse-like, [the chocolate cake] had a hazelnut, gianduja-like flavour.
The lemon cake was equally moist and cut through with a sharp, sweet lemon curd. The texture was dense and damp, which made me think that there were ground almonds at work.
We finished off with a couple of Illy espressos (although tea was available), which was a smooth, almost bitter dark-roast, perfect for balancing all of the sweet stuff.
Oliver and Charlotte were wonderful hosts, giving us the down-low on everything from the concept to their favourite wines. They gave us a taster of both the fragrant Zibibbo and the light Nero d’Avola, which I am tempted to go back for.
I really like the sound of the wine flights; it’s like a mini tasting session for £10. You get three 70ml glasses of wine to sample, along with tasting notes.
They also explained that the wine can be bought to take away for a 20% discount, which again, is very tempting.
This review was sponsored by Veeno. If you would like me to review something in Norfolk or Norwich, you can find out more on my Press & Reviews page.