Restaurant review, Cheers, Thetford: ‘Colossal portions and simple, tasty food’
PUBLISHED: 19:30 01 October 2020 | UPDATED: 09:01 02 October 2020
Take a veggie to a steak house serving all you can eat meat? Our food reviewer risked it.
Cheers is tucked away on White Hart Street, opposite the flint tower of St Peter’s Church and across the road from the Bell Hotel – one of the oldest buildings in Thetford. This is the old part of town and a pleasant place to be. The restaurant’s large front window lets you look inside, where leather-faced chairs flank tables and there’s a bar, as well as access to the kitchen and to a further dining area at the back of the building.
I grew up watching cult comedy Cheers, so found it impossible to approach without the theme tune running through my head: “Where everybody knows your name…and you’re always glad you came.” Sam’s spot in the TV show was a Boston sports bar, frequented by hard-drinking regulars, but the atmosphere in Thetford is much more family-friendly. There’s a TV screen showing pop videos rather than sports, but the pictures don’t match the music filling the restaurant – up-tempo Latin beats.
There’s a hand-sanitiser station by the door and staff have face-shields – clever clear ones covering the lower half of their faces, so you can see and hear them clearly. Masks aren’t required for customers.
When reviewing a restaurant, it’s really helpful to have someone to eat with. Not only for the conversation and to avoid looking lonely, sat in the corner on your own, but also to get a second opinion and to be able to try twice as many dishes. But it could be tricky when you’re asked to review a steak house and your partner doesn’t eat meat. However, my girlfriend Ali does eat fish and there were enough options on the Cheers menu to make it safe to take her.
This was actually our second meal out in a few days (very unusual) as, for our anniversary, I’d taken Ali to The Brewers in Rattlesden, a fine-dining pub where Suffolk chef of the year Sam Sturman seems to be plotting a course towards a Michelin star. It was clear from the outset that Cheers would offer a very different kind of dining experience.
Cheers has two all-you-can-eat two-course special menus (which include unlimited wine, sangria or soft drinks) as well as main menu. However, as the main course in both cases is steak, Ali and I opted for the regular a la carte menu.
Now, I confess I made a tactical error as we selected the simple-sounding starters. I had a moment of “is that enough” doubt and blurted out “And bread and chorizo too..” I was thinking about the fine-dining approach to portions, you see… That was wrong.
I also made fine-dining assumptions about the bread (I thought Ali could have a bit of that while I had three or four pieces of chorizo). Instead we got five oven-bake white rolls of the type you buy in the supermarket to finish off at home, with individual Flora portions, plus a huge bowl of chorizo. Which sounds quite negative – and it is, if you’re expecting fine dining. But if what you want is simple, tasty food and lots of it…
The starters that followed the chorizo were much better: spice fried king prawns; and clams. The prawns came in rich sauce, hinting at tomato but mostly tasting of garlic. The prawns could have stood a fraction less cooking for me, but they tasted utterly delicious.
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I’d opted for the clams as they’re my favourite shellfish (though I wasn’t selfish about sharing them). They came with a rich mustard and olive-oil dressing and were simply divine – though every now and then I’d get a lump of unadulterated mustard, which would overwhelm the hapless clam. Overall, though, it was delicious.
It was also a huge portion. Ali and I were already worrying about the size of the meal when her main course arrived – traditional Portuguese cod loin, served on the bone, topped with onion sauce and served with fried potatoes and olives. It was the size of a whale. I’ve never seen my girlfriend scared by food before, but this daunted both of us.
It was delicious – at least, the fish was, though the sauce didn’t have much flavour. The potatoes were also excellent but there was no way Ali could clear the plate. She did justice to the fish, but barely managed to dent the accompaniments.
I faced a similar issue. I’d gone for the “steak on stone” that the restaurant is famed for and it came with coleslaw, a delicious black-bean stew, basmati rice and chips. That’s two lots of carbs (three if you count the beans). For me, that’s one lot too many.
The steak itself was nicely prepped: sliced into easy-to-fry chunks and heavily seasoned. A few seconds on each side seared it beautifully and it was ready to eat: simply fabulous. This was when I remembered the best bit about taking a veggie/fish-eater to a steak house: you don’t have to share your steak…
The rump steak I’d ordered is another all-you-can-eat option and I confess I did pack away two of them (they weren’t huge…) but there was no way I could do more. And I barely scratched the surface of the rice and chips, though I polished off the beans and slaw. Delicious.
There was a slight pause before we plucked up the courage to check out the desert options. The home-made Ferrero Rocher would either be sickly or wonderful, so I decided not to risk it, going instead for the traditional Portuguese biscuit cake, while Ali had the passion fruit mousse.
Portion sizes were, again, gigantic – but as with every great meal, the deserts were the highlight. The biscuit cake – layers of thin sponge and cream – was delicately flavoured, but for me it came with too much cream and out-of-a-bottle chocolate sauce. The passion fruit mouse was faultless: sweet but not sickly, light but satisfying.
We both really enjoyed our meal at Cheers Restaurant – though we might not if we’d gone for our anniversary dinner. It isn’t a fine-dining experience, but it is a good one: simple, tasty food, especially for meat eaters as the steak on stone is both fun and delicious. It’s great value too: three colossal courses was less than £70; if we’d done the all-you-can-eat special menu we’d have saved a fiver. For a relaxed family meal or a night out with friends, it’s a great option and a good-value one too – you will be glad you came.
We pay for our meals and restaurants do not know they’re being reviewed, to ensure we have an authentic dining experience.
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