Sitting down to share stories – and food

Restaurateur Richard Bainbridge of Benedicts on how to enjoy Norfolk’s delights, from freshly foraged nettles to blackberries.

We are so lucky in Norfolk with the abundance of quality seasonal ingredients that we are perfectly placed to reduce our carbon footprint by the food choices we make. 

From my childhood growing up in Norfolk to my career as a chef, I have almost come full circle.  I grew up with my nan cooking from scratch, home comforts using fruits and vegetables from the local market. 

A bit later in life that people were wanting to enjoy ingredients from further afield and for a time, restaurants were sourcing ingredients from around the world to satisfy a worldly palate.  

Nowadays climate change is a very real and growing issue and if we want the world to still be here for  future generations we need to take action. As a chef and restaurateur, responsible sourcing and menu planning enables us to do our bit and take a sustainable approach. 

For us at Benedicts, buying local means sourcing local and buying only what we need. 

County’s bounty

Out of all our produce purchasing we spend that little bit more on local seasonal vegetables delivered daily. There is no airfreight or refrigeration involved.  We look at the bounty of what our county has to offer throughout the year and have become more versatile with our menu; Norfolk produces the most amazing quail and duck and so we showcase the wealth of our county rather than focusing on ruminant meats wholeheartedly. 

Changing customer palates and a conscious approach means that beef and dairy are used less and less on the Benedicts menu. We work with Fen Dairy Farm, known for their free-ranging cows who produce quality beef from retired dairy cows that would have otherwise been minced for cheap supermarket products that are not only bad for the environment but our bodies too.  

We’re blessed along the stretch of Norfolk coastline, so we take advantage of this using seasonal fish and seafood; Cromer crabs, Blakeney lobsters, oysters from Thornham and mussels from Morston. 

Wild herbs

From wild garlic to nettles, samphire to sea purslane, blackberries to elderflower; chefs get excited when we can get out and pick our own ingredients that are on our doorstep. These are the types of things that we can don our welly boots and forage for ourselves rather than buying it in supermarkets packaged up in plastic and driven miles for convenience. From here we can give these wild seasonal herbs and fruits longevity of life through preservation; homemade pickling juices, chutneys and jams are easy and delicious ways to make the most of local ingredients all year round. 

I got into food because it was all about the experience of sitting down together as a family and sharing our day over home cooked meals.  Nowadays with the invention of mobile phones, which are often at the table, people having busier lifestyles, the idea of sitting around a table to eat with family has somewhat been lost. It’s one of the simplest primitive things that needs to be restored to share in each other’s memories for years to come.  

Staff eat together too

At Benedicts, staff food is at 4.30pm every day and we all sit together as a team, no matter what has happened in service, talk about each other’s lives over food that’s been prepared.  It can be difficult with a busy restaurant to make sure this happens at home but at least twice a week we sit down as a family, whether this be at the kitchen table or going out for a picnic, we talk a lot and laugh a lot. 

There’s so much joy especially in younger children, I have two young daughters, who are inquisitive about life and the life of those they love; what better way to give them that platform to do this. I feel it also gives children a healthy outlook on food, in that it is much more than sustenance and that shared family mealtimes, even if it’s once or twice a week, are an important part of growing up. Why not get your friends together and challenge each person to bring something that celebrates a local ingredient or bring something homemade to the table; switch off the phones and enjoy a sharing convivial meal – then make it a regular event throughout the year. 

At Benedicts so much work goes into the story of food with our menus, of provenance, nostalgia, taste and textures. We provide an atmosphere of low music and minimal décor so everyone, from tables of two to larger groups of friends and family getting together can just enjoy the whole experience.  

Richard Bainbridge is chef owner of Benedicts, Norwich,, 01603 926080

Tomato Tart

Tomatoes are the perfect taste of summer. From the smell of the plants in the greenhouses to the beautiful array of colours. To me they are as British as strawberries and you know grandparents across the country are in their gardens nurturing these little beauties.

The sweet, sweet taste of the tomato is neither fruit nor vegetable, but eating tomatoes straight from the vine with my daughter is truly magical. This is a simple recipe to really showcase the English tomato.

My secret breakfast pleasure is slowly roasted tomatoes on toast which for this recipe I’ve made into a tart. This is perfect for a light lunch starter or warmed up for a dinner party. Serve with a few salad leaves or as it is.

1 pack of puff pastry
10 heritage tomatoes (various colours)
3 sprigs of thyme
sea salt
white pepper
olive oil
salad leaves            

Pre heat oven to 185°C.

Line a baking tray with baking parchment, unroll the pastry onto the tray and score with a sharp knife in a criss cross leaving a 2cm border around the outside of the pastry.

Place a large pan of water on the stove and bring to the boil, drop your tomatoes in and blanch for 20 seconds or until the skin starts to peel, then put them into ice cold water to cool.

Once cooled peel the skin off the tomatoes and slice them about 1cm thick, arrange them on the pastry within the border. Sprinkle the sprigs of thyme on top, season well with salt and pepper then lastly brush lightly with olive oil.

Place the tray into the oven and bake your tart for 20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Once cooled slice your tart and serve with dressed leaves.

See the Norfolk Coast Guardian for more recipes including;
New Norfolk Peer Potato Soup
Super Charged Grain and Butternut Squash Salad
Vegan Fruit Crumble