Huge congratulations on being named Restaurant of the Year and Front of House winner at the Norfolk Food and Drink Awards. How did it feel to hear Benedicts' name read out twice on the night?

We had an amazing time at the Norfolk Food and Drink Awards and we were absolutely blown away to have won two awards. It is an incredible boost for our hard-working team, especially as we have been open for eight years now, to be recognised as relevant enough to win these top awards. Also, to attend the awards alongside all your local peers, created such a celebratory atmosphere.

Please tell us about your background in the food and drink industry...

I fell in love with the food and drink industry at the young age of 13 while working in my local pub in Hellesdon where I became a wash up. From that moment I realised that making people happy through food and hospitality was something I wanted to explore.I was very lucky to work in some incredible places learning my craft from London to America to New Zealand to Ireland back to London. When the opportunity arose to return to Norfolk, I jumped at the chance. I was head chef at Morston Hall for many years and then my wife Katja and I decided we were going to go it alone and open our own restaurant. We opened Benedicts on a shoestring budget, not really knowing what we were doing, but knowing that at the core of our ethos was to create a hospitality venue that tried to make people happy through food, great conversation and a beautiful glass of wine, and that has never changed.

Tell us about the ethos behind the menu at Benedicts…

We are firm believers that when you dine with us, you should be able to close your eyes and identify what season it is and where you are in the world. So using prime local ingredients and suppliers is paramount. The produce we are lucky to have here was one of the main draws that brought me back to Norfolk.

Great British Life: Richard checking out produce on the market. Richard checking out produce on the market. (Image: Benedicts)

What, for you, are the ingredients that make a great front of house experience?

When we opened Benedicts, our core objective was to create a space where people could come and forget the world for a couple of hours. That has to begin with a warm smile from the person who welcomes you, the way they ask for the name on the reservation, how they take your order and serve your food. And also, learning your customers and understanding that every customer is individual, being able to read each customer is an intrinsic part of what we do on a daily basis. Some people come to the restaurant for an experience, and we are a part of their evening. Other people visit who prefer not to engage so much with our staff. So it’s gauging our patrons' wishes, gaining that experience of learning the tells from our customers and what kind of experience each and every customer desires. We perfect our customer service on what we would want and hope that that comes across to our customers.

Great British Life: Plating up in the kitchen.Plating up in the kitchen. (Image: Benedicts)

What have been the highlights and challenges of running Benedicts?

Running your own independent business especially in hospitality over the last few years has not been an easy ride. From the 24/7 worry from Brexit to lockdown to the cost of living crisis, there have been many challenges to trip us up along the way. Winning Great British Menu in the early days of running the restaurant was massive and winning the Norfolk Food and Drink Awards Best Restaurant and Best Front of House Experience twice now is remarkable. Having Ainsley Harriott and Grace Dent eat and film at Benedicts a couple of years ago is a fond memory. The customers we greet and those who come back to us - it really feels like we become a small part of their lives. Finally, the incredible staff who have worked with us since we opened, seeing them going on to bigger and better things after us or opening their own restaurants, becoming head chefs or going down a different path altogether is truly humbling to Katja and I. As we are small and independent, Benedicts does feel like a family and supporting the team while they are with us and afterwards is really important to us.

The pandemic was incredibly hard but it forced us to diversify and create a new business, R Bainbridge Dine at Home and Provisions. Now the cost of living crisis is here we just need to make sure that we can weather the storm just like we always have.

Who are your favourite Norfolk food and drink businesses/produce?

I love Norfolk beer - Ampersand Brewery that we work with are fantastic, Flint Vineyard I love. Meadowsweet in Holt is a fantastic restaurant. I really like Store, which is over on the other side of the city - they are doing great things and creating a real buzz.

Great British Life: The Benedicts team, with Richard and Katja pictured centre. The Benedicts team, with Richard and Katja pictured centre. (Image: Benedicts)

And are there any up and coming chefs in Norfolk that we should be looking out for?

I'm biased, but I do think one of the best young chefs at the moment is our head chef Ashley Williamson, who has worked alongside me for 10 years. Also, Gareth Rayner up at The Gin Trap Inn is doing amazing things, a great chef and a really lovely guy who is cooking some incredible food. I’m really looking forward to The Last Wine Bar opening up again in Norwich. Tatlers is opening up again too, so during 2024 I’m interested to explore more of these incredible chefs who’ve worked under some amazing mentors and in great businesses and seeing how they do standing on their own two feet.

What ingredients do you particularly enjoy cooking with in spring?

Spring gives us the holy grail of seasonal produce - wild garlic. We have an abundance of it in our county and foraging for it is a total pleasure. Rhubarb then starts coming through on local allotments which is another highlight. And finally, spring lamb - again we produce some incredible lamb on our land in Norfolk and I always look forward to the first of it coming through just after Easter and getting that on the menu as and when we can.

READ MORE: Restaurant review: Benedicts restaurant, Norwich, Norfolk