Small but perfectly formed, with menus featuring exceptional local ingredients, Benedicts is about more than just food – it’s about the whole experience. Owner and head chef, Richard Bainbridge, chats to us about how he selects his suppliers, foraging for food, and more… in his own words.
“Asking a chef ‘What is your favourite dish’ is one of those great questions that’s so tricky to answer, like someone asking you ‘who’s your favourite child?’ or ‘what’s your favourite book/ film’! It’s so hard to pinpoint and besides, it’s always changing. At the moment it’s a fantastic asparagus dish on the menu, but next week it could be something completely different. The menus are always changing and with new produce coming into season in spring there’s a whole host of new flavours, ingredients and combinations to enjoy. If I had to pick a dish it would probably be the trifle I’m so well known for – my nanny’s trifle that’s so dear to me. It’s full of nostalgia and memories, and if it weren’t for my nanny I wouldn’t be where I am today. In fact, childhood memories are what shapes a lot of my dishes. The fact that people come from all over the country to try my nanny’s trifle is fantastic – and, of course, it helps pay for my restaurant!”
“The whole concept and art of foraging has, in recent years, become somewhat of a fashion statement, and much more popular which is brilliant! It’s a natural way to eat what’s grown around you, and live off the land. It requires an open mind to look all around you and see what’s on the ground; that’s one of the great things about foraging: you have to really open your eyes. You can’t just wander around aimlessly; you need to be constantly looking and assessing whether something is right to be picked.
My wife Katja actually got me into foraging; she’s from East Germany and would often go foraging with her father and grandfather whilst growing up. It’s a big thing over there; it’s natural for people to forage as they walk. They’d hold family parties where they’d go out and pick produce like wild blueberries together, and Katja has really inspired me to do the same. Now we have a three year old daughter who we can take along with us! She often looks like – in the loveliest way – an adorable little cow, with wild garlic sticking out the sides of her mouth, chewing away!”
Richard’s foraging tips for beginners:
“Wild garlic is a great one to start with because it’s easy to notice and identify, and simple to pick, and Norfolk Samphire is easy to see and find too. Jack by the Hedge looks like nettle leaves but tastes like garlic! Really you want to go for the simple, obvious options when you’re just starting out. There are some great courses available in both Norwich and North Norfolk, but another way I’d recommend to get into foraging is to pick up the River Cottage Handbooks. There are 10 of them and one is focussed on foraging in particular. They’re great because they have pictures of what you should be looking for, making them ideal for beginners.”
“I found that, 20 years ago when I was starting out at Morston Hall, it wasn’t so much about where the food was from, it was just about creating great tasting dishes. Now there’s more and more emphasis on the stories from customers – where the food comes from, how it was made and why it was picked to be used. There’s also more emphasis on what’s in season; customers are much more savvy now – they know what’s at its best and so many people are already creating great food at home! This is great because it pushes me to keep challenging myself, to work harder to impress customers and think about what I can do differently. At the end of the day restaurants are effectively cooking other people lunch and/ or tea, so I really think about how I can create food that they’ll be comfortable eating but which still challenges what they’d create at home, with a few curve balls along the way! It stops me ever resting on my laurels and it’s so exciting!”
“For me, the food we use is about more than it looking great – it has to both taste amazing and be really fresh. As we know, customers care about where food is from more and more nowadays. I focus on local suppliers and enjoy trying smaller local producers who might come to the door on the off chance with something that tastes great! One great example is a guy who came to us with some shitake mushrooms that he grows at home; I tried and loved them and now we regularly take 5 kilos off him. It’s about the personal connections with suppliers and customers; they want to supply the very best to ensure we’re happy and we want to create the best dishes to show off their produce to the highest degree. We want to make each other proud! “
“We love to try other restaurants, and it’s very inspiring to do so, but the problem is that most restaurants in Norwich are open when we're open! The rest of the week I’m in the restaurant cooking lunch and dinner every day so it’s hard to be able to try some of the local independent restaurants. However we are taking my mum out for her birthday to The Gunton Arms, which isn’t too far out of Norwich, and Stoke Mill is open Sundays so we often head there for Sunday lunch. We live in North Norfolk so try a lot of restaurants around us.”
With carefully crafted menus featuring local produce and quality ingredients, friendly and helpful staff, and a real passion from its head chef, it’s no wonder Benedicts is the place to be to enjoy a fantastic ‘eating out’ experience in Norwich – and has been voted in the Sunday Times Top 100 restaurants! They offer a set lunch, a la carte and 6 or 8 course dinner menu, with pescatarian and vegetarian tasting menus available too.
The restaurant also offers cookery demonstrations on certain dates, where you can watch Chef Bainbridge cook up a storm and enjoy a 3 course lunch and a glass of wine for £60 per person. The dates in 2017 for these are: 10th of May, 11th of October, 8th and 29th of November.
Greater Anglia have Advance fares from £9 one way between London Liverpool Street and Norwich. Trains run every 30 minutes. Greater Anglia also serves Colchester, Ipswich and Diss on the Norwich line. Direct trains also run from Cambridge.
East Midlands Trains runs services from Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham.
Flights into Norwich served from Edinburgh, Manchester, Exeter, Aberdeen, Jersey*, Guernsey* and Amsterdam.