A couple of weeks ago Favourite Tables was in Norwich to meet with BBC Great British Menu “Veteran” guest chef Richard Bainbridge. When we arrived Benedicts Restaurant was not open. however, the greeting we received from the front of house staff who were preparing the venue, was warm and very professional. We immediately felt “at home”.
Chef’s Table with Richard Bainbridge – Chef Patron at Benedicts Restaurant in Norwich
It may be a bit of an old cliche but Chef Richard Bainbridge really is Norwich “born and bred”. In fact, he grew up within 5 miles of where his Bistro style restaurant Benedicts now stands. Richard and partner, wife Katya, opened the restaurant in 2015. Which was almost 23 years exactly from when his first job in a kitchen started.
Coming from a single parent family, not much money and being a Dyxlesia sufferer throw up its own challenges, which he dismissed as “the old sob story”. However starting at age 13 he worked hard took himself off to College where he had a chance meeting with and then started to work for the Chef Patron of local Michelin Stared Morston Hall. After Morston Hall and having never been on an Aeroplane, Richard left the UK at age 18 and took on a role at the Red Lion Inn, a 500 room hotel, in Stockbridge Massachusetts. The difference between the 32 covers at Morston to the mass catering of two dining halls at the Red Lion taught him a number of important lessons. When 9/11 happened one of only three people who called him from the UK (His Mum and Sister being the others) was Galton Blackiston from Morston Hall. Richard returned to Morston Hall two months later.
Later that year he moved to The Waterside Inn starting as a Junior Commis and left 4 years later as a Sous Chef, one of the youngest to work there at that time. He categorises this period as like going to University
Q: Before you chose to be a chef did you have another career in mind?
A: I wanted to be a Postman… But I’m Dyslexic so I could not read all the postcodes. It would have been my dream job because I could have got up early and be done by lunchtime that was in my head, plus my Mum told me they did a great pension.
This is a good story, well not really a story as it’s true. My mum did the books at a local pub/restaurant and my sister worked behind the bar, this was when I must have been thirteen, in fact, it was the day after my thirteenth birthday I did my first shift as a kitchen porter at the same pub. I immediately felt “at home” I really did. I felt this is something I can do. It may be because I realised that I could watch a chef put a dish together, I did not have to write anything down, and I could make that dish. So I watched everything I could to learn and still do. The end of that story is that twenty years later almost to the hour, so I was 33 and at six o’clock the day after my birthday Katja my wife and I got the key to my own restaurant.
Q: Who influenced you in the past? Who influences you now?
A: My Grandmother, she cooked in a very homely way and that has stuck with me. I want people who dine at Benedicts to have an experience that when they leave be it one or two hours later, they feel that they have just spent time being immersed in something that feels almost homely, a pleasurable time that evokes memories as much as creates memories. They don’t need to think its the best food they have ever had, but as they walk down the road after leaving us and if they think that was really lovely and a couple of hours well spent with the family or friends they are with, that’s perfect for me.
Also, a big influence in my career was and still is, Michel Roux Snr and my time at The Waterside Inn. Everyone worked really hard for 11 months without a break and would be flagging by the end of the year. He could have 70 staff in a room, talk in three different languages and by the end of a meeting we would all be skipping back to work full of his enthusiasm, which at the age of sixty-something which he was then, was inspirational.
and Galton Blackiston who still plays a big part in my career. I worked for him at Morston Hall between the age of 16 – 18 and then I went back when I was 26 and was his Head Chef for 7 years. It was a chance meeting with him while I was at Catering College that lead to me working a couple of summers in his Michelin Stared kitchen, not really knowing at that time what a star was and how important it was. Starting off at the age of 16 working with a team of 4 chefs, Galton being one, and having that 1-on-1 time with him was a real springboard for my career.
Q: How important is a Michelin star? A chef in France, who has 3 Michelin stars, recently asked that they are removed because of the pressure – your thoughts
I’m not sure we fit the perfect model for Michelin. Benedicts is just my wife and me, no big backers and no millions in the bank. So we will have to be around for awhile to even think of a Star. They have visited several times and have been really supportive of us as an independent restaurant, as have the AA and we think that Rosettes, could, be on the cards maybe next years. Which is incredible when you think we opened with just four members of staff two and a half years ago, to now where we have a team of 20 members of staff. Just knowing the guidebooks are paying an interest into us is massive. I would love to put Norwich on the culinary map much as North Norfolk is now. It would be great to have people come to the city for a foodie break and sample all of the great produce we have access to not just from around the coast, but from the farms and estates just outside Norwich.
Q: What would be your last dish (to eat) “the death row question”
A: It would have to be my mum’s roast chicken dinner. Even thou it is a bit bland overcooked and the greens are grey, sorry mum… but without doubt, the one thing we would have every Sunday, we would sit down and have a roast chicken it would be the highlight of the week, I would want peas and my sister would want sweetcorn, the Bisto would be wiped up and poured over. All that gives a sense of what food is all about and that represents to me now everything that food is about and what families are – Food is family and family is food and all the rest of it, and you can tie everything to one dish and that’s the one thing now that if I knew my time was coming to an end I would say mum cook me one of your roast dinners and bring it in to me… and I know I would say you’ve overcooked the chicken again. But something in my head would say this is so simplistic but perfect I would be ready to go then…. oh and a Muller Fruit Corner a Strawberry one
Q: How did you feel about being called a “Veteran” when you were a judge on the BBC Great British Menu. From the Central Region Chef’s Pip, Ryan and Nick who’s dishes impressed you the most.
A: I know right.. I have to be honest I was immensely proud, from being 26/27 when I first did the programme and I was too young and I wasn’t ready, I messed it up. But then to have the opportunity and be invited back on was incredible. I can remember Glynn Parnell sending me home on the Thursday and me saying to myself, I’m gonna prove you wrong and I will get to the banquet, alright it took me a few more attempts than I would have liked, but I got there and I remember halfway through when they judged me thinking I’m going to be you one day, I’m gonna have that position. Then to get the call to go on as a veteran, thinking this is brilliant. Getting to the banquet was great but this was the pinnacle of everything I’d started.
As for the Chefs from the central region, the minute Pip put up that starter I knew it would go all the way to the banquet, from the minute I tried it. Not saying the others did not put up some incredible food it’s just Pip’s dish had everything for the brief and the banquet. Then later sitting at the banquet next to Angella Hartnett and seeing Pip’s starter come out first, I felt good to have been a small part of that.
Q: What is your favourite dish on the current menu/s in which you use produce from your most local supplier?
A: The supplier is Thornage Hall which is an amazing place that provides supported Living, work & learning opportunities for Adults with Learning Difficulties on a biodynamic farm in the beautiful Norfolk countryside. The organic vegetables we get from them changes throughout the seasons the quality is incredible and consistent. At the moment as we go into winter some of the dishes on the menu become more simplistic, more wholesome. So we have a carrot dish on just now that uses a nobbily looking carrot that is so pure and nurtured by the guys at Thornage. We roast that in Goats Butter with Chamomile and we roast it off, roast it off so it’s almost deep-fried in foaming butter. Then we finish it off with Chamomile Mayonaise, a carrot top sauce so we make an emulsion from the tops and then some pickled carrot discs, then we have some deep fried carrot tops and some raw carrot tops, some chickweed, that grows around the carrots, so they work together. It just shows perfect respect for the carrot and how it is grown for us by the people at Thornage Hall.
We know that everything is picked during the day and then drop it off at my house in the evening and we cook with it the next day and we respect every part of it.
Q: If you could invite any Chef past or present to cook alongside you for one night who would that be and why?
Wow that’s a bit like what’s your favourite album or film. But I think to get the chance to work alongside Escoffier or to even just get a coffee would be incredible because the way that we cook in this modern world is based on his structure, the way that a kitchen is set up is because of him. A lot of the base things we use or expect in a kitchen today were revolutionary in his time.
Again someone like Paul Bocuse just to spend a little time to understand how things have changed. It would be incredible, the industry has changed so much and I think we do need now and again to just remember that.
I have just bought a book about Eugénie Brazier this first woman to have a three Michelin Star restaurant and the first chef, male or female, to have six stars across her two restaurants. Who then went on to set up a school for chefs that produced some of the top French Chefs including Paul Bocuse.
My Favourite Tables – Two restaurants I have visited and Why:
Restaurant 1) would be La Grenouillere just outside Calais http://lagrenouillere.fr
Head Chef Alexandre Gauthier
We closed Benedicts for a couple of weeks in the summer and headed to France. La Grenouillere is built inside an old farm building, just beside a stream. A magical place filled with “Steam Punk” ironwork (your phone doesn’t even work) with incredible classical French cuisine and regionality turned on its head, but at the same time we felt very “at home”
Restaurant 2) would be St. John’s this place is not about the Glam-Rock of cuisine just great tasty food. St. John’s is my go-to place for a Sunday lunch.
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What a beautiful view I had at the weekend – the bar at Titchwell Manor – in gorgeous Norfolk countryside – looks out to sea, white sails bobbing about on what was a stunning day!
Working up an appetite with a long walk along the beach in Hunstanton, the drive to Titchwell took us past Eric’s Fish & Chips the group’s casual dining restaurant, renowned for some of the best fish dishes in the area. *Note to self… The Cod and Chips looked amazing, must try next time*
Arriving at Titchwell Manor the welcome of the cool decor, country house feel was delightful. Alfie, the FT dog, was also welcomed! He is of course, exceptionally well behaved, so welcome in most places….but not necessarily with home made biscuits and a silver water bowl…..he wants to live there!
Eric and his team have obviously worked hard to create a beautiful place – it’s cool interiors, high ceilings, a gorgeous conservatory and walled garden. Eric was having a well deserved day off but it was great Eric – your team were warm, friendly and nothing was too much trouble.
Andy brought over the Sunday Lunch menus and organised the drinks for the humans…
A perfectly created amuse bouche arrived together with some of the freshest bread we have enjoyed in a longtime.
My starter of Norfolk asparagus with poached egg and hollandaise was scrumptious – the asparagus, slightly charred but still firm, were beautifully prepared and the poached egg was cooked to perfection. I may be changing back from sous vide eggs to the old fashioned way!
My Chauffeur, sorry Mr FT… had the Brancaster Crab with Dill, Sable, Watercress and a lime gel. Very fresh and full of flavour, the quenelles of crab matched the buttery Sable exceptionally well.
In honour of #FTbadboys, it was inevitable that Beef with Yorkshire Pudding was ordered! In deference to the badboys, the Yorkie came first! I have decided that there must be a secret piece of kit that inflates these huge yorkshire puddings that only chefs know about…but I digress. I had been told about the deliciousness of Dingley Dell pork so I had to try it for myself.
Everything said was true – it was matched with barbequed beetroot with crushed hazlenuts which was divine.
There is a truly lovely feel about Titchwell Manor and I am already looking forward to another visit soon. It’s warm and welcoming and next time we will stay over in one of the beautifully appointed rooms and will sample the Conversation tasting menu
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