Going to an eatery solely for dessert is almost never a good idea. I cannot begin to account for the amount of times I’ve gone to a dessert-only establishment and nearly passed out mid-course, or felt the effects of my digestive tract clogged by sugar and dairy on the way home: milky burps, bloated belly et al. Just don’t do it. It may seem like some sort of eureka moment, an epiphany to would ameliorate the crap day you are having, but it is a lie. If the first experience does not scar you, and you think to yourself, ‘this time I’ll moderate better’, hunger get its way in the end and you will always order more than is sufficient and your day will get shittier.
With the exception of an occasional cone of gelato from time to time, I vowed never to enter a dessert restaurant ever again, and it has now been a couple of years of happy abstinence.
At any given time, I very rarely ever bother with pudding. To order a dessert, for me, is to sacrifice an appetizer which I would much rather have. I love chocolate, especially the darker strains, but I’m more than happy to carry an eighty percenter in my carryon and nibble on it after a meal on the train. Money more efficiently spent.
In terms of the sweet department, Maddy is the opposite of what I am. She enjoys most sweet things, especially the sugary tricoloured Angel Cake you get at Sainsbury’s, but detests dark chocolate, mint and coffee in desserts, and can often be found, after a hard day’s work, huddling somewhere with her nose in a packet of Magic Stars. But despite our differences, we do bond over her mum’s cheesecake and a box of Magnums on occasion.
So, when Maddy suggested we visit Figbar, it was tactfully timed for just after we’d had our customary Chinese from the Norwich Market, and I had mentioned a desire for something sweet. I was still sceptical, but was swiftly reminded, with suspicious forethought, that the vow I made was for restaurants and not necessarily for bars – which was a fair point indeed. She’d also been there before with one of her foodie friends, and since Maddy is perhaps the most attuned person to my palatal tendencies I erred on the side of trust and decided to give the place a go.
Though small, Figbar seemed tighter than it was because of how many people were already inside when we arrived. Don’t get me wrong, the place is smaller than your average coffeeshop, but you get the impression that it is just right the way it is. Its dark walls, with one with an emblematic scrawl of a halved fig, accentuated the woodiness of the tables and bar counters. The naked warm bulbs, with their orblike glow, though prevalent theme in most restaurants, cafés and bistros these days, were pleasant to look at and heightened the cosy ambience of an already relaxed and comfortable setting.
Just like a regular bar, we had to go to the counter to order. On it, lay a creative assortment of cakes and pastries on stands of varying heights, and behind that was the kitchen with a solitary pastry chef running the show. While the dining portion of Figbar was neat and kept pristine, the kitchen looked in disarray. Dishes, both empty and half-filled completely covered the central table like a haphazard mosaic, equipment and cutlery were indiscriminately strewn occupying the rest of the kitchen space, and a large fridge stood midst it all like a lighthouse in a storm. To his credit, the chef and owner of Figbar, Jaime Garbutt, looked like he had everything under control, but his only waitress who was running about serving and taking orders did not seem as convincing. To be fair to them, they were just two people catering to twelve diners who had more less walked in at the same time, with more popping their heads in through the door. I suppose it might have been better to have the kitchen separated from the dining area, but to me had its own charm and I wouldn’t change a thing.
We ordered the Delice and the Melba, which are two of the five plated desserts on the Figbar menu, the others being: Copperhouse Strawberries, the intriguingly named “The ‘Harry Nilsson’” and the rather familiarly evocative Snickers. Both the plates we ordered were stunning, demonstrating vibrant confluences of colour and artistic floral accoutrements that expressed laudable finesse and attention to detail.
The Delice was a deconstructed version of what is traditionally a rich dark chocolate tart with a brittle nutty base. The soft luxurious chocolate was rested without its platform, but instead was dusted with fennel crumble strewn over the top, alongside a scoop of hay milk ice-cream that completed most of the company. I enjoyed the smooth and thick consistency of the delice, but was slightly disenchanted by the crumble, simply because it was missing the aniseed notes that fennel is known for. The hay-milk ice-cream had an oat-like almost earthy sweetness to it that sat very much like a salted caramel ice-cream would, with it being slightly heavy on the palate. A streak of stirringly acerbic blackberry gel gently aligned the other components, and were garnished with fragrant pink fennel flowers and obsidian blackberries.
Combined in one spoonful, the Figbar dish exhibits an eye-widening harmoniousness of texture, temperature and flavour that demands revisiting. There are a lot of exciting things happening in one bite: the lukewarm richness of the delice, coupled with the chilled ice-cream, texturally counterpointed by the crunchy crumble and finally balanced by the sharp mellifluousness of the gel, berries and delicately scented flowers, all in all, producing a special experience of pure delight.
Immersion into the Melba was a slightly different experience, though championing the same orchestral synchronisation: The dark pink sharpness of the neat raspberry sorbet quinelle, nestled into depression of sweet and lightly savoury mallow-like whipped feta; soft caress of roasted peaches, and an embellishment of pistachio frangipane (a compelling consistency between cotton candy and Victoria sponge); and a christening a golden amaretti crumble and fresh raspberries, all had their part to play. Though presented like a spectral aftermath of vehicular collision in a confined space, I was once again astounded by the quality and coherency of every single flavour deliberately put together.
I do not think I have ever left a dessert place so happy and fulfilled as I did from Figbar. These guys do just enough to provide for memorable dessert course and a conversation over coffee, ensured through with an evident respect for precise portion and balanced compositions that are as easy on the belly as they are on the soul. Figbar does what matters correctly, and I am thoroughly excited to try more of Chef Garbutt’s innovations on my inevitable return.
23 St John Maddermarket, Norwich NR2 1DN
Dessert Mains £5.5-7