“ 54 Marine Parade, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, NR30 2EJ. Tel:01493 855606 „
Getting stuck in Great Yarmouth during dinnertime my other half and I decided that we would venture down the sea front to get some dinner. Even though I have been to Yarmouth more times than I care to remember neither my other half nor I had ever eaten in the town so we were at a bit of a loss where to go.
For those of you who have never been to Yarmouth the sea front is predominantly made up of arcades and restaurants so there was no shortage of places to try. With so much choice and no knowledge we decided to take a look at all menus, which are outside all the restaurants as a tool to pull people in.
All the restaurants serve the same dishes at the same price so the only thing that sets them apart is the 'look' of the establishment. Some are older and more run down than others and there are some that looked so vile we walked straight past without even looking at the menus.
Making a decision where to go was becoming quite difficult and in the end the final choice came down to which one was the busiest. Being a Tuesday night, in term time, none of the restaurants were going to be heaving but we still thought the amount of diners would be the best indicator.
The restaurant that was the busiest by a mile was the Ocean Spray so the decision was made to eat there.
The Ocean Spray is located on Marine Parade, which is at the bottom end of the "Golden Mile" (Great Yarmouth's seafront). Approaching from the town centre the restaurant is located on the right hand side on the opposite side of the road to the Wellington Pier.
The restaurant has does not have its own car park, nor is there parking immediately in front of, behind or adjacent to the restaurant, but this is Great Yarmouth and there are loads of off road car parks, on road spaces and other spaces along the whole length of the Golden Mile, so parking should not be an issue, even during peak times. After six o'clock there is free car parking in many locations down the Golden Mile, but even when you do have to pay for parking in Great Yarmouth it is very cheap especially compared to places like Norwich.
The location of the restaurant doesn't make it ideal for disabled diners that rely on crutches or walking sticks since you may have to park quite a distance from the restaurant. It is suitable for wheel chair users since there are wide and (reasonably) level and flat pavements on both sides of the road, as well as numerous pelican crossings enabling you to cross the road in safety. Safety has been further improved by traffic calming measures (speed cameras and those awful raised squares in the road), which has eliminated the speeding boy racers that used to be associated with this town.
The décor in the Ocean Spray is very dated and the place could definitely do with a major upgrade. The walls are artexed and painted white making it light and airy inside. In normal circumstances I think white paint makes a room look clean and sterile, which is definitely what you want in a restaurant, but the walls in the Ocean Spray have discoloured and look dirty. The walls look nicotine stained, which is not good.
I think the owners are going for the Tudor style look since there are exposed wooden beams on the walls. I actually like faux Tudor styling and think that this actually looks inviting.
Where the walls meet the ceiling hangs old fishing nets and crab/lobster pots. These nets cover the entire perimeter, and whilst I think they are a bit of a strange decoration they do add character and give the Ocean Spray its own identity, which I guess is vital to make it stand out from the crowd and the numerous other restaurants down the Golden Mile that the Ocean Spray is in competition with. The owners have decided to hang plastic lobsters and crabs sporadically around the room, which I think looks very tacky. I can see what the owners are trying to achieve here, but they should spend a little bit of money and get some life like crustaceans as the ones currently used look really naff.
The carpet is a deep red colour with a confusing pattern and is the sort of carpet you find in curry houses and pubs. You know the ones, patterns that are so 'busy' that you can drop as many things on them as you like and you are never going to see the stains, unless you get on your hands and knees and physically look for them that is.
The red and white theme is continued with the dual layered tablecloths, with the bottom layer being a deep red and the top a crisp white. Whilst the walls may look stained and dirty the tablecloths are pristine and positively glowing, which is nice.
All table are pre-laid, which for a budget restaurant makes a nice change. The problem is the crockery is very dated and looks like it has been around since the late 1970s. It is the sort of stuff you find in your grand parents attic. Despite it being very old fashioned everything matches so it could be much worse. Like the crockery the cutlery is very old fashioned and looks dated. All knives, forks and spoons were dull, suggesting they are very old and in desperate need of replacement. If the owners spent a bit of money modernising the crockery and cutlery it would improve the overall look and give a bit of a 'wow' factor, which would create a much better first impression.
This restaurant definitely doesn't believe in the 'less is more' philosophy of Gordon Ramsey since the menu is huge. There is a great variety and something that will suit everyone. With such a vast menu it is obvious that the food is going to come out of a deep fat fryer, or a microwave but this is to be expected from a restaurant like this and it would have been very naïve to think it was going to be anything else.
The range of starters is vast and includes some dishes that I would never think of as a starter. In my experience starters include things like prawn cocktail, garlic mushrooms, whitebait, fish goujons, soup and things like that. However, this restaurant sells not only what I consider to be the 'traditional' starters but also things like chilli and tortillas, spaghetti bolognese, carbonara and many other dishes that I consider to be mains. It is bizarre but I just had to try one.
I chose a chilli starter and my other half chose spaghetti bolognese. When the starters came out we were both surprised by the portion size since it was the same size as what we would normally eat at home for a main meal. The size was a positive, as was the fact that it was steaming hot as it was put on the table, but a negative was the taste. My chilli had a kick and it consisted of a lot of green pepper (something I never put in chilli) but it wasn't that good and tasted like it had come out of a tin.
The spaghetti bolognese looked good, but just like the chilli, failed to live up to the taste test. The bolognese didn't set the taste buds on fire, but it was more than edible, which is all we were after.
The starters cost from £1.75 (for garlic bread) right up to £4.75 (for a prawns in filo pastry) so there is something there for all budgets. The chilli cost £3.25, as did the spaghetti bolognese, and these were great value for money. Whilst neither dish tasted fantastic both were more than edible and did the job of filling a hole.
Like the starter menu the main menu is vast and consists of fish dishes, steaks and grills, burgers, pies, roast dinners and plenty of vegetarian options. Prices range from as little as £5.25 for fish, chips and peas (that is cheaper than a Brewers Fayre, and looked just as good) right up to £16.25 for the house special fish platter. Most of the mains are in the £5.50 - £8.00 bracket (even the steaks and grills) so they are exceptionally cheap (well compared to eating out in Norwich that is).
Looking at the menu I was quite sceptical of the low prices and thought that portion sizes would be small to compensate for the low prices. I decided to have a C&B burger, costing a meagre £5.50 (which is much less than I usually pay), and a side dish of onion rings (which at £1.50 were also very cheap). Unfortunately, there is no double stacking option, but then given the massive starter I had just consumed maybe it wasn't such a bad thing.
When the mains arrived I was more than surprised by the portion size. Like the starters the quantity was plentiful, and although it is not as big as you'd get at Zaks given it is half the price what could you expect? In addition, the portion sizes at Zaks are too big.
The burger was very good and on par with other restaurants, but then can you really mess up a burger? Unless it is under cooked I think not. The onion rings were homemade, none of those awful frozen ones that are put in the deep fat fryer here, and were fantastic. There were also loads of them and well worth the £1.50. The best part of the meal was the chips. Most places have French fries or the vacuum packed variety, which are edible but not that fantastic. The Ocean Spray has, what I like to call "Chip shop chips", i.e. ones that look like the potatoes have been chipped on site and cooked in dripping, and come out soft and floppy. These are by far the best chips and were absolutely fantastic. The meal was also bulked up with plenty of chips so it was all good.
The atmosphere in the Ocean Spray is great. I felt very welcome and comfortable, and looking around, other diners appeared to be the same. The atmosphere arises because of the clientele this restaurant attracts. Most of the custom is from tourists, who are just out for a good time. They are not dressed up to the nines, they are not pretentious, they don't look down their noses at other tourists (well it is not noticeable if they do) and they are not trying to be something they are not. I have been in restaurants in Norwich where the clientele are totally the opposite and are trying to live the lifestyle without the finances to back it up. I hate this superficial behaviour and think it is pathetic, but there are no such problems at the Ocean Spray.
There was no background music in the Ocean Spray, which I thought was unusual, but then the diners provided the background noise through quiet conversation. I have been in restaurants where no one talks that much and the background music helps to alleviate the awkward silences, but it is just not required at the Ocean Spray.
The Ocean Spray has a licensed bar, selling all the "normal" lagers (both draught and bottled), wines, spirits and soft drinks. Whilst the food is cheaper than other restaurants I have been to the drinks most definitely are not and there is a substantial mark up, although this is the same with all restaurants so the Ocean Spray cannot be marked down for this.
I can only recommend having a drink before you eat so you are not thirsty, but then I make a habit of doing this whenever and wherever I eat out. Call me tighter than the proverbial duck's a**e, a crab's a**e at 12,000 fathoms or whatever saying you may have, but I simply refuse to pay the extortionate mark ups restaurants put on drinks, and the one that annoys me most are the bottles of house wine (for £12 plus) that you know you can buy down the supermarket for a couple of quid.
Some restaurants have a 'specific' type of person waiting on tables. For example, the waiting staff in Zaks in Norwich are all early to late twenty something ladies that are all very 'girly-girly' and attractive. There are no male waiters at all. The staff at the Ocean Spray are nothing like this and are very diverse. The night we ate at the Ocean Spray there was an older gentleman (in his late forties to fifties) waiting on tables, alongside a young girl that appeared to be of college age.
One thing I can say is that all the staff are fast, efficient, very helpful and can't do enough for you. They also appear very happy (there is nothing worse than a miserable waitress) and are more than willing to participate in a bit of banter and they will dish it out, as well as take it which, is a great attitude.
I can remember a hotelier, well she ran a small B&B, once telling me that you can tell a lot about an establishment based on it's washroom and toilets, in that the state of the toilets gives a good indication of the state of every other room. In the past I have found this to be quite accurate and places that do have rank toilets have generally been very poor. There are, of course, some exceptions to this rule (I refer to Zaks in Norwich), and I have to say the same is the case with the Ocean Spray.
The toilet consists of a single cubicle, which is in desperate need of work. There is a single door separating the dining room from the toilet bowl, which I think is quite disgusting, no matter how clean the toilet may or may not be. In my opinion there should be at least a small cloakroom or corridor separating the dining room from the toilet, if not for hygiene reasons.
I also noted that there is a table right up against the wall between the dining room and the toilet. Once again, I think this is disgusting and I would be horrified to be sat at that table, imagine the sorts of noises and potential stenches diners there may be subjected to.
The toilet cubicle is very small and I struggle to see how a wheel chair user would actually use it. There are no handles or anything else like that but given the size of the cubicle I guess it is a matter of sticking your arms out and you can support yourself, but surely there's a bit of an issue here?
Overall the Ocean Spray is a good place to have a feed. If you are looking for somewhere romantic to take a date, somewhere that is a bit special, somewhere that is an occasion place and has a dress code, somewhere that is great for fine dining or somewhere for a real eating experience then the Ocean Spray is definitely not for you. In fact, I would go as far as to say Great Yarmouth is not the place for you.
Great Yarmouth is your typical English seaside town that has had its hey day and is now slowly going downhill and facing ruin. It is old fashioned and has had little Government investment ploughed in to the town to bring it up to date and try to regain the popularity it once enjoyed. Great Yarmouth has become deprived and is considered to be one of the poorer parts of Norfolk. It relies on the summer trade, which has significantly declined and continues to do so in this economic climate, and in the winter businesses barely survive.
It is for the reasons above, and the fact that there are so many restaurants in Great Yarmouth (i.e. competition), that makes it a town where you are going to get cheap food. I can't think of a single restaurant where you will get a 'unique dining experience' but you will get good food in large quantities, that is reasonably priced and the choice of places to go is vast.
The décor in the Ocean Spray is dated, some of the fixtures and fittings are a bit naff and it looks like a 1970s throwback but it is still a nice place to eat (providing you don't get the table near the toilets) and this is down to the relaxed and comfortable atmosphere, as well as the attentive waiting staff that can't do enough for you.
The drinks are expensive (let's not go there again) and I think the toilet situation is quite disgusting, but you have to take the rough with the smooth and there is definitely more smooth than rough at the Ocean Spray and I would highly recommend it.
54 Marine Parade
Tel: 01493 855606