Lunch at Benji’s, Jarrold
- Credit: Angela Sharpe
Benji’s serves fine food with a fittingly fashionable flourish
Jarrold is one of the most beautiful buildings in a city centre blessed with architectural delights.
So it should come as no surprise that inside the department store designed by George Skipper, sometimes called ‘the Norfolk Gaudi’, is a restaurant serving some of the finest food in the city.
There are marble tables, the choice of comfortable sofas, bar stools or dining chairs, waitress service, and windows looking across the alleys and rooftops, church towers and even a grand green dome, of the Norwich Lanes. Squint and it could almost be Gaudi’s Barcelona. But don’t squint too much because you’ll be wanting to enjoy the décor, read the menu and admire the beautifully-presented food.
Benji’s is the most sophisticated of the Jarrold food family – which also includes the Pantry Restaurant, up on the third floor, Café Metro beside the deli on the lower ground floor and the Chapters coffee bar in the books department.
The approach, via the ladies’ fashion floor, is particularly handy if you are hoping to find (as I was) some new clothes, as well as lunch, but it is certainly not just somewhere to refuel and regroup during a shopping expedition. It is a destination in itself.
The main menu starts with light bites, including artisan breads with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and Yorkshire pudding, pink roast beef and onion jam. It finishes with Prosecco sorbet. In between are lunches, sharing boards, salads and sweet treats. There are also breakfasts and afternoon teas at the appropriate times of day.
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With the lunches ranging across roast cod with artichoke mash, Thai green curries with kohlrabi and fragrant rice, Norfolk mushrooms on country toast, a goats cheese brulee with chestnut and beetroot salad to sharing dishes majoring in fish, meat, bread and vegetables or cheese, it was tough to choose, which is where the joy of the set menu won us over.
Two courses for £12.50, or three for £15.95, including a glass of wine – and the chance to try roast parsnip soup with chestnut cream and chilli oil, followed by warm aromatic duck salad and then mulled wine pear pavlova with chantilly cream.
The soup was earthy, comforting, creamy, topped with a flourish of sweet foam and served with a wonderfully soft and light brown bread. Then came the salad, glowing not only with virtue but also gem-like nuggets of watermelon, feta, red chilli peppers, spinach, beetroot and cashew nuts. It can be a bit of worry when ordering a salad as a main course (for someone as greedy as me, anyway) that it won’t be quite substantial enough. But there was nothing ethereal or limp-leafed about this salad. Its fronds of beautifully roasted duck and fabulously crispy noodles came with chopsticks, (plus knife and fork for the dextrously, or time, challenged) which were ideal for picking out the slightly over-exuberant (for me) shavings of chilli, and spinning out the enjoyment of one of the best salads I’ve ever eaten. The slices of wine-soaked pear for pudding were surrounded by a huge snowball-like confection of meringue and cream – again no skimping on size or taste.
Studying the whole menu again – it really is very lovely – I wonder whether another time we might go for two courses, and then the dessert platter for two, made up of small portions of all the dishes under the sweet treats heading plus two Irish coffees. That would be a chance to taste even more of the food produced by the obviously talented chefs. The drinks list is particularly good too, with a choice of wines from around the world, an impressive range of teas including infusions with cardamom and ginger, and soft drinks and beers making the most of East Anglian talent and produce.
It is fitting that a fine building of exuberant arches, pillars and pinnacles, in a fine and food-loving city, should have a fine-dining department-store restaurant.
Benji’s, Jarrold Department Store, 1-11 London Street, Norwich, NR2 1JF; 01603 660661; www.jarrold.co.ukOpen daily from between 9am (9.30am Tuesdays) to 5pm Monday to Saturday and 10.30-4pm Sundays.
Expect to pay
Lunch – two course set lunch with a glass of wine for £12.50, three courses plus wine, £15.95
Light bites around £4
Main courses from around £5 to £12.50
Breakfast – dishes from around £2 to £7
Afternoon – cakes from £2.95, afternoon tea £13.50