My wife, Jan, and I ate at Benedicts on November 5th 2015. We were hoping that this new restaurant would be one more great reason to visit our favourite city. We were not disappointed.
The restaurant looked most welcoming as we approached on foot in darkness and drizzle. Inside the décor is stripped back and functional. Nothing is imposed on you except the obvious task of choosing your food and drink. I like that approach. People and good food are surely enough ingredients to create a successful atmosphere. I had walked in with the person I love most in the world but we were soon to find out that Benedicts surrounds you with special people as well. More about them later.
We had already decided to have the tasting menu. Here it is with my pictures of some of the food. The quality of my photography is rather awful. The quality of the cooking was truly terrific.
Prawn cocktails and Cheese and Pineapple to start... but not for starters. These were delightful amuse-bouches. The prawns had a light smokiness due to some Jack Daniel's in the sauce. The cheese and pineapple had been ripped away from any evidence of halved oranges and cocktail sticks. They had been given new texture and flavour as well. A good beginning.
A more substantial 'snack' came next. The sumptuous potato mousse and the deep, dark, desperately delicious gravy combined perfectly to show what can be done with simple ingredients.
The lamb dish which was served at the Women's Institute dinner followed. Jan loves lamb and this was a treat for her. Yes, the meat was great and the egg yolk added luxury but our talk all centred on the Jerusalem artichokes which were a revelation. Three approaches leading to unexpected textural and flavour hits. Parsley sponge, lovely as it was, fought, along with the rest of the elements, to combat those artichokes. We tucked in and just enjoyed the struggle.
The smoked trout is a sophisticated but gentle course which offers relative respite from the richness of the other dishes. The fish was perfect and the buttermilk began to supply some contrast but the plums were too bland. It was the one time when I judged that the quality of produce had been lacking. Among such excellence, it hardly mattered.
The Norfolk quail prep was posted to @twitter a couple of weeks before our visit. The bird is given royal treatment with a glorious herb stuffing. So easy to eat. Vegetables were just right. A further plus was Richard's conversion of my wife to the pleasures of pearl barley... previously scorned by her due to other chef's mistreatment. It will now appear in my risottos, soups, breads and puddings.
Nanny Bush's Trifle rounds off proceedings. You should be aware that the GBM Tasting Menu is not being served from the end of January but this and other winning dishes will still be available on the à la carte menu. Like any successful chef, Richard will be gladly 'saddled' with these dishes for some time... Glynn Purnell is still serving a version of his own winning dessert five years later! The need to satisfy customers with their favourites while continuing to challenge them with your latest innovations is a task I gladly leave to the professionals.
The trifle is glorious. No-one should mess up a trifle and Richard doesn't. Ah, we did have that lovely sweet 'cocktail' as well. Both will certainly be made in our house after our post-Christmas diets are relaxed and I have bribed chef to give me the full recipes!
My simple black coffee is so often a disappointing end to a meal out. Here it was properly brewed from properly roasted beans. Just as good as this fussy individual makes at home ;)
The People (the best bit!)
Richard is magnificently backed by a great team. Katja, his wife, is there supporting the business and making a fuss of all the customers in the best possible way… by not making a fuss about it. Working in a marriage and in a business with your partner has much potential to strain a relationship. I see every sign that it will instead provide challenging, but lovely, opportunities to bring these two closer together.
They have recruited young people to their cause, some less experienced than others. Each one who we met was very good at their job and made it hard to believe that they are still very much at the beginning of their careers. They must take credit for the fine qualities they already have. I am sure those qualities will be developed, nurtured and refined even more by the very much older Richard… he is thirty-three! The only drawback of Adam Vass joining as General Manager is that he must have raised the average age of this lovely, youthful lot by twenty years! I only fail to mention the names of others who looked after us so well since they are embroiled in a fierce contest to gain the most 'Likes' and 'Follows' on social media... I refuse to get involved!
If you watched The Great British Menu 2015 you will know that Richard also recognises the influence on him of some very strong women in his family; his mother in particular. After plating up Nanny Bush's trifle for television judging he attempted to read his written tribute to their inspiration. The love and passion which choked him into handing the task over to another was completely understood and very moving. All in all, there is great human strength behind the ‘Benedict’s’ venture.
It is heartening, even though expected, that Benedict's is developing strongly in a very short time. There have been well-deserved awards and glowing reviews. I have referenced some of those below. Extra dining space is being offered and a Private Dining Room can be booked. Cookery demonstrations are available and, of course, the menu will change - but only in ways which will further display @ChefBainbridge's passion.
As you can see from the picture above, Richard looks over your shoulder for the whole meal to check that everything is to your satisfaction. It's either that or a clever, looming threat to ensure the bill is paid. I did do the sums before settling up but, to be quite honest, it is silly to put a price on such an experience. The only pain suffered during the evening was the sight of each finished plate. Everything else was perfect pleasure.
The final pleasure was when Richard came into the restaurant for a chat after service. He was genuinely interested in our experience, anxious to find out if anything might be improved. In our opinion the kitchen had been right on top of their game so it was very poignant that he admitted to constantly fretting over each dish as it goes out. Let's listen to Gordon Ramsay here... "The more confident a chef, the less he needs to hide." It's a fine ideal but only a misguided chef would think they achieve perfection time after time with every dish. However, while Richard's humility is a lovely thing, his rich talents really demand that he stand in the spotlight taking the plaudits instead of ever trying to find any hiding place.
Certainly our most enjoyable and memorable meal of last year. I wholeheartedly recommend a visit. I do that with a bit of reluctance. Bookings are pretty solid and I want to go again soon... leave me some dates!
We mentioned that Jan and I had met in Norwich many years ago and this was not forgotten in the short spot of Twitterland nonsense which followed:
There is one thing that has nagged at me since seeing his picture on the telly and meeting the man in person. Just where does Richard get the inspiration for his effortless style and panache from? I reckon I've finally found the answer in this iconic plaything for girls and boys.
Our very sincere thanks, much respect and a lot of love to the entire Benedicts team.
benedicts, norwich: review - olive
Number 3 in The Times 25 best new restaurants in the UK
Richard Bainbridge on Great British Menu and opening his own restaurant By Sophie Witts, 25-Sep-2015
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