In a nutshell
Cooked by a team with Michelin credentials, exceptional local ingredients get imaginative and respectful treatment. Innovative combinations and methods deliver on taste and texture with playful flair. Visitors soon feel they are in good hands.
In the heart of Norwich on a characterful old street, Benedicts is small (34 covers, with a room upstairs for a group). Warm and welcoming, it has a distinctive personality: rustic yet polished, country yet minimalist-Scandi-contemporary with a touch of Shaker.
Tables are refashioned floorboards and well-spaced; chairs are sleek black and comfortable; cutlery is classy casual and napkins are vintage kitchen cloths. Candlelight sparkles on glass, but there is no silver or starched linen in sight. Country music croons softly in the background. Benedicts has a sense of fun.
Richard Bainbridge, former head chef at Michelin-starred Morston Hall and a winner of TV’s Great British Menu, is at the helm in the Benedicts kitchen, pursuing his dream of a ‘family, neighbourhood restaurant serving really good food’.
The menu is seasonal, changing every few weeks. There is a single-choice set lunch of two courses (£16) or three (£20). The a la carte menu for lunch and dinner offers two (£29) or three courses (£36), with four choices of starter and main, and five puddings. The five-course tasting menu (£52) features dishes from Great British Menu, which Bainbridge cooked for ladies of the Women’s Institute – his high-end homage to home-cooking.
Bainbridge brings to Benedicts his relationships with local suppliers fostered at Morston Hall. North Sea cod, Cromer crab and Kings Lynn brown shrimp; Norfolk lamb, turkey and game; barley, pumpkin, even unpasteurised butter, are all locally sourced.
Don’t expect the conventional. One of the best is a Jerusalem artichoke dish with a parsley sponge made by aerating the herbal batter through a siphon before baking. Served with a runny yolk, slices of truffle and velvety potato purée, it was blissful in texture and taste. A potato mousse had an exquisite mouth-feel, too, with a concentrated sausage-and-mash note, both homely and high-tech.
Another dish of genius was a lightly salt-cured North Sea cod loin with pickled swede, and compressed apple balls the size of petits pois. The surprising sweet- sour notes were more than embellishments: they made the most of a fine fish. The venison was bold in flavour and colour – a little too, perhaps, but the fallow loin was faultlessly tender. The Benedicts take on WI trifle was charming, served under a miniature summer-fête-tent, garnished with popping candy and micro-mint.
The wine list is interesting and varied (bottles range from £23 to £122), and changes regularly. The Legras Brut Grand Cru Chouilly was a pleasantly yeasty champagne with a good finish, while an unusual Grenache Blanc from a small Spanish vineyard was spot-on with Norfolk quail, and an English Stopham Estate Pinot Blanc was outstanding with the cod. Like the food, all were served at the ideal temperature. The sympathetic and generous wine flight for the tasting menu is £32 per person
What else we liked
Service was attentive, assured and friendly. There was a convivial buzz and an open, relaxed quality to the interactions between staff and diners, and between tables. Bainbridge made the rounds in the dining room after service with engaging courtesy.
It’s worth a visit to Norwich for Benedicts alone. Fully booked at weekends through March 2016, Benedicts is hitting the mark with local clientele and attracting custom from further afield as a destination restaurant. If its initial success is helped by Bainbridge’s celebrity status, the genuine drive, dedication and talent at its heart should sustain it. Benedicts shows every promise of being a neighbourhood restaurant of national standing.
Benedicts, 9 St Benedicts Street, Norwich NR2 4PE
Words by Laura Donohue (crumbsonthetable.co.uk)