The Bull to Benedicts

Just Regional
Nov 9, 2015 6 mins read

He’s worked for some big names in food, competed in four series of Great British Menu – the most recent of which resulting in no less than two of his dishes making the final banquet – and opened his own restaurant in Norwich, but Richard Bainbridge says he’s still very much that boy from Hellesdon. We spoke to him about his journey from wash-up boy at The Bull to celebrity chef status.

It’s been a big year for Richard! Not only did he decide to give Great British Menu one last try, but he also took the huge step to leave Galton Blackiston’s Michelin-starred Morston Hall after seven years as head chef and set up his own restaurant.

Both risky choices, but ones that paid off and then some!

After three series without success on BBC2’s Great British Menu, Richard took a break in 2014 but decided to give it a final shot in 2015.

“This was my do or die,” said Richard. “It had kind of been niggling at me ever since I did the first series when, if I’m honest, I was too young. We kind of semi knew that we’d be opening a restaurant and made the decision to go full on with them both.”

And the timings couldn’t have worked out better, as an unexplained delay in the airing of the programme meant it coincided perfectly with the restaurant.
“It was amazing for me because we didn’t open until June and I had this fear that Great British Menu would be on and everyone would see me win, but I didn’t even have a restaurant!

“We were really lucky that we had three months of ironing out creases, seeing how the restaurant runs and getting ready for this influx of people that we hoped would come in once it had been shown.”

And that’s exactly what happened. Before Great British Menu came out the restaurant was fully booked on Friday and Saturday nights for about a month in advance – now you’ll be waiting three months!

Customers have been coming from miles around just to try the tasting menu featuring his dishes from Great British Menu, two of which made it to the final banquet.

The starter, entitled All Stand For Jerusalem, is Richard’s take on the famous Women’s Institute anthem. The dessert is probably what people will remember most about Richard’s time on the show, however.

Nanny Bush’s Trifle with Sister B’s DIY Victoria Sponge Cocktail was inspired by the women in his life and was the perfect end to a special banquet to mark 100 years of the WI.

“In previous years I’m not sure the brief ever really hit a cord with me, but I found building a menu around the inspirational women in my life a lot easier. My mum even joined the WI to get me the inside view!

“If it wasn’t for my nanny, my sister, my mum, my beautiful wife Katja and my baby daughter Holly, I would not be standing where I am now. Those guys always believed in me and pushed me to be the person that I am and it was great that I could pay homage to them.”

Richard has always been surrounded by strong women. His mum, Jill Bainbridge, who only recently moved away from Hellesdon – just a couple of miles up the road to Drayton mind – was a single parent and brought Richard and his sister Gemma up on Loxwood, off Cottinghams Drive, with Richard attending Arden Grove, Firside and Hellesdon High School.

“Mum won’t mind me saying she was rubbish at cooking,” said Richard. “But it was the 80s, and everything either came in a packet or frozen. It was really my nanny who inspired me to cook. She would make amazing apple pies, baked hams and things like that when I was growing up.

“Nanny passed away four years ago, so she never got to see me open my own restaurant, but the most amazing thing is that she’s with me every day – I serve her to 40 people at lunch and 40 people at dinner! The tents come out with the trifle and everybody knows who Nanny Bush is and I’m very proud of that.”

Richard’s love of food was cemented when he got his first job as a wash-up at The Bull, the day after his 13th birthday.

“I wasn’t particularly academic at school, but walking into the kitchen at The Bull literally blew my mind, with the clattering of the pans and the buzz. Looking back now, The Bull was almost like one of the original gastro pubs. It was really busy and vibrant.”

Richard went on to train as a chef at Norwich City College and after meeting Galton Blackiston at the Norfolk Show he went to work at Morston Hall for a summer.

“I learned how important it is to use the fresh produce that the county has to offer, and I realised that if I was going to work this hard then I wanted to get to the top and I wanted to see everything that I could see, so I managed to get a job in America.”

At the tender age of 17, Richard waved goodbye to his mum at Norwich bus station and spent 18 months stateside. On his return he worked for the Roux brothers at three Michelin-starred The Waterside Inn for four years, and then went over to Dublin to work for Kevin Thornton.

But Norfolk proved too much of a draw for Richard and he came back to Morston Hall as head chef.

“I always wanted to come back at some stage, to show Galton what I’d learned. It was a difficult decision to leave after seven years. Galton asked me whether I would want a directorship at Morston Hall and shares in the business, but I kept asking myself what if they decide to sell and I’m in my 50s and have lost my ambition?

“This is my time, this is my one push to really make a success of myself. Plus Katja said to me ‘Are you going to be a doer or are you just going to talk about it?’ The next day we had a viewing on Benedicts and nearly six months later here we are!”

Richard fulfilled his lifelong dream of opening his own restaurant exactly 20 years after that first eye-opening experience at The Bull.

“In fact it was pretty much 20 years to the hour,” he said. “We got the keys to Benedicts the day after my 33rd birthday at about 5.55pm, and I started at The Bull the day after my 13th birthday and the shift used to start at 6pm.

“I’m really still that little boy from Hellesdon who struggled at school, only now I’ve got this restaurant that people are really eager to come to.

“My big worry is that I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder. I want to make sure that people want to come back again and again and again.”

For more information visit www.restaurantbenedicts.com

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