“ Address: Unit 3c Wherry Road, Riverside, Norwich, NR1 1WX „
When it was time to graduate, my parents agreed that to celebrate we should visit my favourite restaurant in Norwich after the big event. Artorio's Mediterranean Taverna is located on the outskirts of the city centre and has been a delightful restaurant to visit time and time again over the past three years. This review will not just focus upon one specific visit but rather serve as an account of many.
DECOR, STYLE AND SET UP
Artorio's is situated at the heart of the Riverside complex on the fringes of Norwich, across the road from the train station and within walking distance of the Premier Inn on Prince of Wales Road. The independent eatery sits amongst many chain restaurants, including Chiquito's and Pizza Hut, and is about a minute away from bars, clubs, a cinema and a bowling alley. There's even a multi-storey car park adjacent to Riverside and if you exit the parking lot via the pay stations, you will see Artorio's straight across the street.
The restaurant is simply decorated; the one-off, show-stopping chandelier hangs above the bar but otherwise, the area is minimally decorated with wooden furniture and a selection of brightly coloured paintings. The relaxing environment is aided by the background music which is essentially harmless but I doubt that acoustic cover versions of 'Tainted Love' and 'I'll Be Watching You' will be to everyone's liking...and rightly so! The male and female toilets are located up the stairs and the disabled toilets are on the ground floor. The bar is positioned alongside the patisserie on the right as you enter the eatery and the open kitchen is on the left where you can sit and watch the food being prepared.
The floor space has been utilised wisely by the owners of Artorio's; whilst all of the seating is on the ground floor, we have never had a problem getting a table. In fact, on every occasion, we've been shown to our table promptly before being asked what we would like to drink. Whilst Artorio's have managed to squeeze a lot of tables into a reasonably sized dining area, it might be wise to book if you intend visiting the restaurant during the evening; on the two occasions when I've dined there on a Tuesday night, the place has been very nearly full. Otherwise, we've mainly visited Artorio's on a Sunday lunch time when we've been one of only two or three tables within the place.
Starters at Artorio's range from mixed nuts for £1.75 and garlic mozzarella flat bread topped with caramelised onions for £4.95. A selection of drinks, from soft to alcoholic, are severed with prices on the alcohol front varying from £3.40 for a bottle of Peroni, £3.65 for a 175ml glass of sauvignon blanc and £4.45 for a pina colada. Bottles of wine start at £13.95 for Ropiteau L'Emage sauvignon blanc and Merlot.
The main menu offers what I consider to be good, varied selection; if you have somebody in your group who's not keen on trying the dishes inspired by Greek or Spanish cooking then there's a variety of Italian inspired dishes that would suit most tastes. Pizzas start at £6.25 for a humble Margherita and the most expensive is the Sicilian, a mixture of spicy meatballs, peppers and parmesan cheese for £9.45. Pasta dishes, such as Lasagne, are also on the menu with prices starting at £7.90 for Spaghetti Carbonara. The pizzas and pastas are competitively priced in comparison to some other eateries close to the Riverside complex, such as Prezzo's who charge £6.95 for a Margherita and £8.95 for Carbonara pasta.
For carnivores and pescatarians, there is a reasonable assortment of dishes under the Grill and Classic Meat & Fish subsections. Some of the more unusual dishes are grilled chicken with red pesto, chorizo sausage and mozzarella for £11.50, Lamb Moussaka for £10.45 and salmon served with spinach in a creamy white wine sauce for the same price. Most of these dishes are served with vegetables or salad and either fries or rosemary roasted potatoes. For vegetarians, the choice is more limited although Artorio's do several pizzas with vegetable toppings and some pastas minus meat or fish. From past experience, it is always worth enquiring as to whether it would be possible to change a dish slightly: say you wanted to try the Reine pizza without the prosciutto ham, I'm sure the folks at Artorio's would be more than happy to oblige.
However, the choice for vegetarians is certainly not limited when it comes to the Meze. For those of you who're unsure, Meze is simply a series of mini dishes which you can pick and choose to create a main course to be shared between two or more people. Personally, I love this approach to dining; being a Libran, I'm not that fab at decision making so being able to pick and choose different dishes is a refreshing change and good for people who like to try new things. On the Meze menu, prices start at £2.75 for the vegetarian Dolmades, vine leaves stuffed with seasoned rice, and conclude at £5.25 for octopus cooked in red wine. Dips are sometimes served with individual Meze dishes, such as the Lamb Kofte which comes with a minty yogurt, but others, such as hummus, can be purchased for £2.65 or a selection of three costs £6.45 including pita breads. In itself, and as you'll gather by the end of this review, the Meze menu is a little on the pricey side; many of the dishes are ideally just for two people. Yet I do believe that it's a matter of quality over quantity at Artorio's and that's something I would never want them to compromise on or change.
OUR DINING EXPERIENCES
There has only been one occasion when I've not eaten the Meze as a main course; I tried one of the three Peinirli's costing £8.65, a Grecian pizza where the dough has been twisted into a boat shape and then stuffed with various cheeses and smoked ham. The Peinirli was ridiculously moreish; the dough was squidgy on the inside yet crisp on the outside and was coated abundantly in a rich tomato puree, just the way I like my pizzas. The smoked ham was mainly hidden beneath the layers of stringy cheese but some pieces had gone crispy like bacon upon being cooked. If it wasn't for the fact that I love the Meze so much, I would have definitely eaten the Peinirli again because it was a beautiful yet indulgent take on a pizza.
My Brother only sampled the Meze on one occasion; I don't think he particularly appreciated my folk 'accidentally' catching the back of his hand whilst he was reaching over for the Kofte kebab but none-the-less, he has always been keen to sample some of the other main courses at Artorio's. One time, he opted for the Piri Piri Chicken served with fries and salad (£10.45) and I can report from firsthand experience that the chips are wonderful: skinny but with a lush, light yellow colour and a slight crispiness. Whilst the meat was plentiful, it's worth noting that the Piri Piri sauce will not be to everyone's liking; the harsh, oily sauce was to my Brother's taste but for me, it was too peppery, upstaging the mild flavour of the chicken rather than enhancing it. On Graduation night, my Brother chose the Chicken Americana Hot pizza (£9.25), minus the green chillies, which was a meaty mixture of pepperoni, seasoned chicken and mushrooms. Whilst he was not asked if he would like another ingredient in place of the chillies, the toppings were not in short supply and he stated that the chicken was well seasoned, not too dry, and that the pepperoni was mildly spiced. The base was thin and crispy and he had no problem finishing off every last crumb so he could give us a hand with our Meze!
When it comes to the Meze, Artorio's advise that six to eight dishes are sufficient for two people as a main course whereas one or two dishes would be ample for a starter. In line with the restaurant's advice, my parents and I typically ordered ten dishes between the three of us as a main course, including the meat Meze set menu. Although the set menus have altered slightly since we first visited Artorio's, the meat version now consists of a Spanish omelette with potatoes and onions, fried potatoes with a thick tomato sauce, chorizo sausage and cannellini beans, lamb Kofte kebabs, Piri Piri chicken wings, pork and beef meatballs and slabs of pita bread for £20.95. Artorio's also offer two other set menus, one mainly consisting of fishy small plates for the same price, and the other a mixture of vegetarian, fish and meat dishes for £25.95.
The meat Meze set menu has always been a winner with us; the Kofte kebab, at a first glance, looks a little dry and anaemic. However, I've always found that the kebab has been of the right, solid consistency in light of what a Kofte normally is and the meat has always been seasoned with a delicate yet delicious mint flavour. I've never had any rough meat in that dish at all which is always a positive sign. The Tortilla Espanola has been a surprise favourite of mine; normally, I avoid dishes made prominently with eggs but the tortilla is scrumptious; the potatoes have the fresh taste and aroma of new potatoes whilst the onions offer a slight tang without being too overbearing. Sadly, you only ever get served two slices of the tortilla but it is enough to divide and share between three people at a push.
The fried potatoes, the Patatas Bravaz, have always been an essential part of the Meze for me; the crispy potatoes are a bit like chips but segmented into chunks with a soft, fluffy centre and crisp outer layer. They're at their yummiest when dipped into the thick tomato sauce and whilst there doesn't appear to be a lot of sauce on the potatoes, it is more than enough to go around as too much would make the potatoes soggy. The Meat Meze set menu is rather keen on tomato-based sauces, including the cannellini beans and chorizo which my Dad always calls posh baked beans! Truthfully, that's all they are but the creamy, herby tomato sauce works well with the smoky, muscular chorizo and doesn't allow the Spanish sausage to overpower the other, more subtle, flavours.
The other dish to be served in a tomato sauce is the meatballs. Before Artorio's, I'd never been a big fan because whenever I've eaten them elsewhere, mainly at the local Prezzos's, they've always seemed a bit chewy and gristly. The ones at Artorio's couldn't be more different and are very juicy, complemented exceptionally well by the slightly spicy tomato sauce which is my favourite out of the three as it's the thickest and comes with warm chunks of ripe tomato and onions which give the meatballs a little more flavour too. None of the tomato sauces are identical within the set menu and they all work well with the flavours in their individual dishes.
The Piri Piri chicken wings are essentially the same as the meal my Brother ate and they too provide a reasonable amount of meat. The one I sampled did not have a really crispy skin to it which was a pity and as a result, the tart sauce was just sat on the top of the wings. In recent months, the chicken wings have replaced the Champignons on the set menu, a dish of button mushrooms sautéed in garlic and red pesto (£4.15). On the one occasion when we did not order the mushrooms, I have to say that I really missed them; the mushrooms have always been tender and the sauce is a light flavour that offers them the pizzazz they need. The red pesto does not overpower the garlic but this dish is a good take on the tried and tested garlic mushrooms. The Champignons come in a small bowl and whilst there could be more, there has always been plenty to go around.
The spinach and feta cheese wrapped in filo pastry, the Spanakopitas (£4.15), is another dish which makes a great addition to the Meze meal; whilst the Spanakopitas are not that flavoursome due to the restrained taste of feta and rather bitty spinach, the filo pastry allows a different texture to be included in the meal which makes a pleasant change to the sauce-based dishes. The mini bruschettas (£4.15) also provide this contrast and I love the fact that the toasted pieces of baguette are always very well done underneath; some people would argue that the chef wasn't keeping an eye on what he was doing but that's how I like my bread anyway! The topping on the bruschettas is lovely; the tomato puree is rich and dried onto the bread like a pizza but the spinach and feta flavours really come through, making the overall taste a little creamier. You get three Spankopitas and three bruschettas per plate which is perfect for us.
You also get three of the Halloumi Lounza (£4.45), a salty dish comprised of halloumi cheese laid across thick, grilled ham. Regrettably, we only tried this dish the last time we visited Artorio's but it's a definite favourite of mine; whilst I'm not normally one for salty foods, the chewy cheese and thick gammon-like ham worked well together, offering variance to the tomato flavours. My Mum always orders a small Greek salad (£5.15) to go with the meal and the dish is obviously a fresh array of brightly coloured vegetables, fruits and feta. She said that the salad is always crisp and delicious yet something that is nice to have 'on the side' with the Meze meal to break it up a little and offer a little more diversity with a pleasant, light vinaigrette dressing.
Whilst I have adored many of the dishes we've sampled at Artorio's, there have been a few that I would not recommend, including the skewers of pork and chicken (both £3.60) which were dry and pretty flavourless. My Mum is a big fan of the Dolmades but I personally couldn't stand them; for me, they were too mushy and the vine leaves too overpowering in flavour so I couldn't tell if I liked the seasoned rice inside or not.
ERM...ROOM FOR A PUDDING?
Honestly, nine times out of ten when we've visited Artorio's, I haven't needed a dessert; my Mum, however, has always blackmailed me into having one so she doesn't look like a porker...her words, not mine! Since she has managed to twist my arm on every visit, I've tried a few of the restaurant's puds including an ice-cream trio of vanilla, chocolate and Cyprus Rose flavours (£3.75). I wish I'd chosen another type in place of the rose; whilst the vanilla was creamy and the chocolate velvety but not sickly, the Cyprus Rose flavour smelt, and possibly tasted, like toilet cleaner! Needless to say, I didn't have that ever again but I've adored the Chocolate Indulgence Cake (£4.65) every time I've had it. You would assume that the sinful layers of white chocolate truffle, milk chocolate truffle and amareti truffle, dusted with cocoa powder, would be too abundant but truthfully, it has to be classified as the lightest chocolate pudding I've ever tasted; each bite slides effortlessly off the spoon and each flavour is prominent which is quite a shock considering that white chocolate normally has such a faint flavour. The portion size with the chocolate cake is good but because of its lightness, I would happily have two slices instead of just the one!
Now who's being the porker?!
My Mum has always ordered the Baklava, a sweet mixture of nuts, cinnamon and honey wrapped in filo pastry; individually, this costs £4.45 but on some occasions, we've had the Greek Pastry selection which comes with a piece of Baklava, a slab of warm Shamali and a portion of Kataifi with vanilla ice cream for £9.45. Obviously, this is enough for three people but my Mum and I have sometimes finished it off between us. I can't vouch for the quality of the Baklava, mainly because Mother won't let me near it, but I've always enjoyed the Kataifi, a very similar concoction with nuts and honey bound together in shredded pastry. The Shamali is not too sweet and has a slightly chewy consistency which is enjoyable but the Kataifi is my favourite out of the two as it's a semolina cake with almonds on top and a runny, honey sauce. There's a real taste of coconut to the dish and the cake itself is bitty texture-wise but the flavour is lovely: very syrupy and easy on the palate. The Baklava is apparently as good as the ones you get in Cyprus which is, I'm sure you'll agree, quite a compliment.
SERVICE AND OTHER DETAILS
Overall, I think that the service at Artorio's is very good: the staff have always been friendly and attentive and they really listen to their customers. For example, my Mum always asks if they can leave out the peppers with the Greek salad and it's always been served without them and one waitress seemed genuinely interested when we commented that the piri piri wings were a poor replacement for the mushrooms on the meat set menu. With the good points highlighted, I do need to point out that on more than one occasion, our food has been waiting on the pass for several minutes before it has arrived at our table. Sometimes, Artorio's have seemed short staffed but on other occasions, the waiters and waitresses have been a little too engrossed in their conversations...
The cutlery, plates and cups have always been clean upon arrival but I do have a couple of issues with the way the Meze is served. At Artorio's, I feel that serving spoons for each individual dish would be an advantage as otherwise you have to use your own knife and folk to dig food out of the rather miniscule bowls. Something else that I've found to be an issue is that there is no way to keep the Meze food warm; the bowls merely sit in wooden containers. Especially in the case of the dishes that are served with sauces, I think a method to keep the food hotter would be advantageous as the mushrooms per say go cool rather quickly.
The toilets at Artorio's have always been clean and well stocked with loo roll. Some of the soap dispensers have not worked in ages but the two that do are always filled with soap.
OVERALL: WHY I'D HAPPILY DO A 140 MILE ROUND TRIP TO GET TO ARTORIO'S AND BACK
Now that I'm no longer at Uni, I doubt that we'll be visiting Artorio's very often. This makes me very sad; it's one of the few restaurants that I've visited repeatedly where I've enjoyed every meal I've had. I feel that the menu offers a good selection, including the drinks list which ranges from fizzy drinks to juices to beers and wine, and that the food is of a very high standard. As you can gather, at least where the Meze is concerned, the portion sizes are sometimes not overly abundant and the prices can be regarded as rather steep in light of that. For the pizza my Brother ate, the meat set menu as well as several other Meze dishes, two desserts, three soft drinks, a beer and a bottle of crisp, cold Alexander the Great Sauvignon Blanc set us back over £80 during our last visit, and that was with a 25% off two main courses voucher! Frankly, it is a lot of money for how much you get with each separate Meze dish and perhaps I should be giving Artorio's four instead of five stars because of that. Yet, I can't deny that I love Artorio's; the warm atmosphere and delicious food is wonderfully satisfying and I've always left with a smile on my face.
Recommended in almost every way.
Address: Unit 3C, Wherry Road, Riverside, Norwich, Norfolk, NR1 1WX
Phone number: 01603 666165
Opening times: 12 noon - 11pm daily
Payment?: Cash or card
Family friendly? Yes - a kids menu is available and costs £4.95 for a main course, dessert and soft drink.
(Please note: review previously posted on Ciao.co.uk)
A restaurant located in the heart of Norwich, Nofolk's Riverside complex.