Richard Bainbridge, Chef Proprietor, Benedicts

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th April 2018

Richard Bainbridge is chef proprietor of the three AA rosette restaurant Benedicts in Norfolk.

Richard Bainbridge is the chef proprietor of the celebrated Norfolk restaurant - Benedicts. He has previously worked for Michel Roux Senior at the 3 Michelin-starred Waterside Inn as well as working for Kevin Thornton in Dublin and he was head chef at Galton Blackiston's Morston Hall.

The Staff Canteen caught up with Richard to find out more about his menu style, why he considers food as the 'king of manipulation' and how he leaves his heart and soul is on every plate.

Nanny Bush's Trifle
Nanny Bush's Trifle

Can you talk me through your process of menu and dish creation? 

Normally, when we are coming up with a new dish I always start with a base idea, whether that is ingredients or a story. We are very lucky that we have a wealth of local suppliers in Norfolk so that it can inspire a dish and really get me thinking.

Another way is that with my dishes, it comes with nostalgia, a thought process of what I remember growing up, so, for example, we have a canape which is a mini prawn cocktail. I remember my Nanny would make a prawn cocktail and when she added tomato ketchup to the mayo, I thought she was Houdini! How can I incorporate that into my restaurant without it being too cheesy or old school? 

Food is the king of manipulation, with that one mouthful of prawn cocktail you have got people on your side. With that, you can afford to be a bit more adventurous on the menu as a start like this is reassurance, something that everyone knows and loves. It feels like a hand on their shoulder saying ‘you’re alright you are in safe hands’ and then you can take them on that journey.

Nanny Bush’s trifle was your winning dish on Great British Menu, it is clearly really important to you to have this on your menu.

Yeah, it’s huge. I think it does signify who we are and where I have come from. If it wasn’t for my Nanny, I wouldn’t be a chef and I wouldn’t be into food and making people happy. I wouldn’t have any of that, so to have a homage to my nanny on the menu every single day is incredible for me and now I get to talk about my nanny every single day of the week. What more could I do for my nanny than that really? She would hate it obviously! I am very proud that this is on the menu and that people enjoy it. She never got to see me open my own restaurant and never got to see the trifle as the success it is, but being able to talk about her legend every day is a great thing to have, so I am very proud of that fact.

asparagus and wild garlic

Seasonality is a focus at Benedicts -

 asparagus and wild garlic

How often do you change your menus?
It can be anytime because it’s my own restaurant and we can print the menus ourselves. It can be monthly, weekly or daily. We try to be very fluid in terms of the menu moving forwards.

If you are bored of a certain dish being able to create a new one on that afternoon is phenomenal and fills me with excitement each time. When it is your own restaurant and has your name above the door, your heart and soul is on every plate so a new dish is like a new baby. If you put it on and you don’t get the reaction that you are looking for, it does really hurt and cuts deep because you know how much time and effort that the guys have put into it.

 It’s nerve-wracking but super exciting but that’s what keeps us on our toes and trying to keep everything consistent is one of the things that gets me giddy at the moment.

You describe your food style as describes as ‘contemporary English food with classic undertones’ can you tell us a little bit more about that?

I am French classically trained which really meant something twenty years ago. Spending four years at The Waterside Inn was a massive learning curve and my cooking style is rooted in the French classics and that kind of thinking. I am very seasonal and local produce led so we use English and British ingredients, but we have got this classic undertone, it's having the modern technique and use as local as possible but keeping the roots of what I have learnt – that classical French cooking and giving it a delicate modern touch from things that you have learnt along the way.

Info Bar

Off the menu

Starter:

Salsify Spaghetti, Confit Egg Yolk, Truffle
Slowly Braised South Creake Pork, Lavender, Homemade Crumpet

Main:

Gressingham Duck, Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb, Salted Turnip, Brussels Sprouts
Skrei Cod, Jerusalem artichokes, Chanterelles, King’s Lynn Brown Shrimps

Dessert:

Nanny Bush’s Trifle, Milk Jam (Winning Dish of BBC 2’s Great British Menu)
Dark Chocolate & Praline Tart, Hazelnut Ice Cream

Favourite ingredients

• Wild Garlic - Pickling the capers, the leaves are perfect laid raw on top of warm buttered sourdough

• Samphire - Gently blanched in unsalted water and finished with butter, the perfect accompaniment for fish or spring lamb dishes but also is delicious with a poached egg nestled on top.

• Kohlrabi - Peel the kohlrabi and slowly roast off in a reduction of apple juice, served with kale drenched in butter

• Mallard - Stuffed with wild herbs and brushed with honey, roasted whole and served with new season rhubarb

• North Sea Plaice - Perfect roasted whole on the bone and gently peeling off the fillets serving with sea herbs and a champagne sauce. Nothing tastes more of Norfolk!

Signature dishes

• Nanny Bush’s Trifle

• Slowly Chamomile Roasted Carrot, Baron Bigod, Dill Oil, Lemon Puree

• Whole Roasted Stuffed Norfolk Quail, Pearl Barley, Roasted Vegetables, Garden Herb Jus

How important is it to you that your restaurant uses local produce?

Huge! I learnt that from Galton (Blackiston) at Morston Hall that local people are key to what you do.

At Benedicts, I know the man that looks after our cattle, you know the boats that go out to fish - we use their fish. The guys that grow our vegetables are at a home for the mentally disabled. They grow their own vegetables to support their own house, it’s all organic and biodynamic and it's incredible but on top of that, it’s the story that goes with it. It’s that ‘I want to do you guys proud’ for the hard work that they put into their produce.

New Richard image (2)
Richard Bainbridge

I think that’s a massive thing for chefs. I am not an ego-led chef restaurant. I don’t find Benedicts is about me, it’s about the produce the suppliers that we use as without great products our job is pointless.

Seasonality seems like a strong focus for you - do you have a favourite season?

I love them all of them, from a chef’s point of view you love all produce. But as a chef, I love Spring as you are at the end of Autumn and Winter and there are only so many things that you can do with a parsnip and a swede and all that. You are just looking for that little crack of the green leaves coming through to get you excited, you’ve got the wild garlic coming through getting everyone giddy – it inspires you for the year ahead.

Having won ‘EDP Norfolk’s Best Restaurant 2016’ and been included in the ‘Times Top 100 Restaurant’, ‘SquareMeal Top 100’ and the ‘Good Food Guide’, how important are these accolades to you and how do you maintain this level of success?
When it comes to the accolades and when you have worked at certain levels of restaurants you do have them in the back of your mind, you have your mini goals. We have a saying that I put on the wall upstairs so that everyone sees, it that says ‘small achievable goals’ my whole entire life is built on small achievable goals. 

My big goal was to open my own restaurant when I was 13 and I first walked through my first kitchen I was like ‘I want my own restaurant one day’ and it was all the small achievable goals along the way of learning this and learning that and getting better and better.

I want my customers to be loyal and to enjoy what we do and to come on the journey with us and if that entails accolades and getting in the Top 100 in The Times (which is insane and getting three Rosettes, which is mind-blowing) then it’s incredible, but it’s not a driving force.

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Richard in action

The ‘Guest chefs’ collaborations with the likes of Tom Kerridge, Kevin Mangeolles, Daniel Clifford and more seem incredibly exciting! How did you come up with this list and how important is it to undertake these collaborations?

To be honest, when I was choosing it I just went through my phone book!

Doing these chef collaborations is great for the team, they get to see another chef come in they get to work differently and I get to learn from them, to talk to them, to pick their brains and they get to pick our brains and help each other and grow from each other in that sense.

Plus, I wanted to give the people of Norwich something different and not to get bored of who we are. I want them to see that we are exciting and current and that I have got good friends who want to come to Norwich and help me out. I love that they are willing to come down and want to be part of that.

Do you have a favourite dish to cook from the menu? Is it Nanny Bush’s trifle?

Obviously, Nanny Bush’s trifle is huge and it still gives me lots of joy when I make that. Butchery is a really big thing for us we do everything in-house we take whole carcasses and break them down and do all our own fishmongery – we do everything.

shop front low res
Benedicts

There are two dishes on the menu now that I really love mallard brushed with honey and we serve that with a rhubarb compote, some celery and a duck egg sabayon on the side and a really beautiful jus as well. That’s an incredible dish, it represents where we are in the season and where we are in the country in terms of real local seasonality.

I’ve got another dish, a potato ring, some confit potatoes, spinach and a beautiful truffle mousse on top. It’s luxurious, but really simple and earthy at the same time.

Do you have a vision in advance of how a dish will look?

I normally have a vision in my head and then I will plate it up and I will put it to my general manager, my wife (who is cut throat!) and to my sous chefs as well and we will all taste the dish and look at the dish and we’ll take pictures of it and we will analyse it from that point. As I start serving it, it evolves and it might be too complicated or we dress it differently - it kind of evolves naturally.

What's next for you and Benedicts?

We are going into our third year in the next few months and Michelin has been really supportive. If we got that, it would blow my mind It would make me very happy but at the same point, I don’t want this to be my focal point.

I think it can be a chefs Achilles heel in terms of what they can become slightly obsessed with accolades they can lose the goal of what their restaurant could have been which is making people happy and serving them great food so I am really focused on not making that an obsession.

By Emma Harrison

@canteenemma

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th April 2018

Richard Bainbridge, Chef Proprietor, Benedicts