Richard Bainbridge

Richard Bainbridge

Richard started at The Waterside Inn as a junior commis, but worked his way up to junior sous chef – the youngest they’d ever employed. Armed with an unshakeable foundation in the classical basics, he returned to the US in 2007 to work with Günter Seeger, where he learnt about modern cooking and lighter, fresher flavours. After three months, however, his visa was rejected, so he decided to spend a while working in New Zealand as a restaurant manager whilst visiting his sister. During his travels back through Europe (where he met his future wife Katja) he was offered a sous chef position at The Waterside Inn, so he returned to the UK.

‘I lasted for about six or eight months, but left because the place had changed,’ he says. ‘I moved over to Dublin where Katja was working and met another really influential chef – Kevin Thornton. He was the most eccentric guy I’ve ever worked for, but he always made sure his food had a story behind it. He had this scallop dish with squid ink sauce, green beans and seaweed. The scallop and the seaweed represented Ireland’s amazing coast, the green beans were the grass of the land and the squid ink sauce represented the dark, black times of Ireland’s history. Most people when they got that plate of food wouldn’t know any of that, but it worked in his head and it really resonated with me.’

When he was twenty-six, Richard got a call from his old mentor Galton asking if he’d like to be head chef – the first time he’d been offered the role. The next five years saw Richard return to his home county and cook at a Michelin-starred level alongside Galton, truly honing his craft. However, Richard’s dream had always been to open his own restaurant, and after some persuasion from his wife, he took the plunge and the two of them opened Benedicts in June 2015 – twenty years to the day after he first walked into a kitchen on his thirteenth birthday.

‘We started off quite safe as we had no money, but over the past three years the diners started to trust us more and we now cook some more interesting things,’ he explains. ‘For example, when we first opened game wasn’t a big thing – we’d put a bit of partridge on and that was it. I tried putting mallard on with the foot left on the leg and it instantly got sent back. People said it was disgusting! Now in autumn most of our menu is game – we’ve got teal, mallard, venison – and they all fly out of the door, foot and all.

‘I think we’re in a really good place now where people come in expecting something a bit more,’ he adds. ‘When you’re a small independent restaurant in a small city with no money behind you then you have to listen to your customers. Once people trust you and are wiling to try something different, then you’re able to really express yourself. All I want is for them to leave after a meal knowing they’ve had a really lovely evening.’

After all the graft, sleepless nights and long hours it took to open Benedicts, it has become Norwich’s most famous restaurant and a reason for visiting the city in its own right. Richard’s success comes from cooking dishes that, quite simply, everyone likes to eat, while his classical training and love of nostalgic favourites such as trifle elevate his menu to another level. There’s no better place to eat in the city of Norwich than Benedicts, and it seems quite right that its chef-owner was born and bred in the city.

Three things you should know

Richard has appeared on Great British Menu four times, and won a place at the banquet in the 2015 series with his dessert, Nanny Bush's Trifle (a dish he credits for making Benedicts the success it is today). He returned as a veteran judge in 2017.

Richard is particularly passionate about Norfolk's incredible produce, championing local ingredients such as game, seafood and vegetables on his menus.

Richard puts an emphasis on training the next generation of chefs at his restaurant, giving them the freedom to be creative and improve their skills.