Artistic outpost The King of Hearts was threatened with closure before being saved and revitalised. SARAH BREALEY finds new life breathed into its much loved café too.

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The King of Hearts has been a Norwich institution for years — so when this arts centre, gallery and cafe closed down last year, there was a period of mourning.

But it has now been up and running for a few months as an outpost of the Anteros Centre for the Arts, an organisation that endeavours to support local artistic talent, promoting contemporary exhibitions where people can explore and appreciate new artworks, and is, happily, not all that different.

The cafe element is run by Jonathan Curtis, former head chef at Delia Smith’s Restaurant and Bar at Carrow Road, and it is a popular lunch destination — no evening meals, unfortunately.

Jonathan has a passion for creative and contemporary cuisine that he has developed throughout 25 years in the hospitality industry, during which time he has also worked for The Greenhouse, Mayfair, alongside TV Chef Brian Turner, before rising to become head chef for Delia Smith.

The main menu features sandwiches, panini and jacket potatoes. There are also specials which usually include one or two more complex dishes.

Portions are not enormous – this is light lunch territory, but for a reasonable £5.50 or so per dish I was able to forgive this. We decided to compensate by ordering nearly everything on the menu.

The dishes are not set out as starters and main courses, but we decided to treat the chicken liver paté and the hummus with olives as starters. Karen, who avoids wheat, was able to have the paté with rice cakes instead of toast.

She said the pate was not the fullest flavoured, but she enjoyed it nonetheless. It was a very smooth paté with a layer of butter on top, and came with a rich red onion chutney.

The hummus and olives were pretty good, served with a salad garnish and some wholegrain bread.

Next I had a butternut squash and Binham Blue risotto. Slightly unusually, the squash was served on top rather than stirred in – it made a nice visual contrast, although in terms of flavour I think the squash might have been better as an integral part of the risotto.

Karen had gravadlax on a bed of salad leaves, served with dill-cured cucumber. The salmon was very tasty, if a little overpowered by what the menu described as honey and mustard sauce.

The cakes and scones are home-made and look very appealing, and include wheat-free options such as cherry and almond cake or oat flapjack.

My eye was caught by the white chocolate and raspberry cake but in the end the New York cheesecake won the day.

Wines and local real ales are available, but most people seemed to be having hot drinks. They have all the coffees you would expect, plus a wide range of teas — I had the green tea with orange and lotus flower.

Decor is simple and unobtrusive. In the back room of the cafe photographs by the UEA photography club were adorning the walls. It has had a lick of paint since the old days, but not too radical a makeover. Similarly, the food is a bit more polished these days, but nothing too revolutionary.

KING OF HEARTS

Fye Bridge Street

Norwich

01603 620805

www.kingofheartscafe.co.uk

Open: Mon-Sat 9am-5pm

Prices: Baguettes from £4.95, paninis £5.50, desserts and cakes from £1.95

Vegetarian options: Lots

Wheelchair access: Yes

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