Review: ‘Put this Italian at the top of your list for a lockdown-easing treat’
- Credit: Archant
Food review: We were first wowed by this city centre Italian restaurant, off Timber Hill, last year, so what would Benoli be like with coronavirus precautions in place? Arriving for lunch on the first day of re-opening, Saturday, July 4, we were among the first to find out.
The owners have taken advantage of lockdown to redecorate. The decor is fun and modern with lots of trendy teal. The first thing you notice is the impressive bar, but before you can get there there is a hand sanitiser station.
With clean hands, we go upstairs to the biggest eating area of the restaurant. There is plenty of room so the tables are well spaced out. It is a tribute to the work of the staff that the only obvious difference to pre-coronavirus times are the face visors worn by the waiters and waitresses.
Most of the tables are full, but it doesn’t feel crowded and you are safe without needing pods and lots of plastic screens, so now to the food.
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We’re all very familiar with Italian food, but Benoli has lots of surprises and a very inventive menu.
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Pansotti? Bucatini? Thankfully the waiting staff are very helpful and our waitress takes us through every dish on the menu.
I start with a soft cheese made from mozzarella and cream called burrata.
My wife, Anna, opts for a courgette flower stuffed with three cheeses and covered in chestnut honey (I told you the menu was original).
It looks so inviting, we forget to take a photo for this review.
The courgette has a light batter on it and when you crack through that the cheeses - parmesan, gorgonzola and another I couldn’t pick up, ooze through. It is a powerful yet perfect flavour.
The burrata is a more traditional starter with tomato and a delicious, fresh pesto. All the ingredients taste of the highest quality.
For main I have a pasta called agnolotti stuffed with porcini mushrooms and parmesan, with truffle and hazelnut pesto. It is as indulgent as it sounds; the flavours are rich and the sauce creamy.
Anna orders a beef ragu, hoping it will emulate one we had on holiday in Bologna a couple of years ago. It easily matches it, with a fresh pasta called mafaldine, shredded beef cheek and a salty sauce. We have a side salad of rocket which is dressed with strong Italian flavours of balsamic and a hard cheese called pecorino.
The portion sizes are good, but we have room for something sweet.
The most unusual sounding item on the dessert menu is bay leaf pannacotta with strawberries and a fennel and olive oil torta. The pannacotta and strawberries are refreshing after pasta and the bay leaf flavour in the pannacotta is not strong.
We also have a lemon sorbet with meringue, which again is a great choice after a big meal.
The pricing is very reasonable for the quality of ingredients and cooking. Snacks and antipasti range from £3.50 for bread to £8.50 for octopus. Pasta mains are £13 to £16 and the most expensive dishes, at £18, are lamb shoulder and baked cod. Our three course meal for two works out at £70, but that is without alcohol.
Anna is expecting, so out of solidarity I join her on the sparkling water. We will come back another time to enjoy the wine list. There is a good range of Italian white, reds, rose and prosecco. There is also a wide choice of cocktails from £9 each.
The restaurant has been redecorated so the toilets are very smart and clean. It is easy to social distance on the wide staircase up to the toilets.
There are plenty of gluten free options amongst the antipasti and salad. Pasta is obviously a different story. For vegetarians there are lots of pasta dishes, salads and some antipasti to choose from. There are downstairs toilets and seating too.
The staff all wore large visors, so while you have to listen carefully to hear them, you feel very safe. They are also very knowledgeable and passionate about the menu.
Simply being able to go and enjoy a meal in a restaurant again - and the stuffed pasta (agnolotti).
Put this at the top of your list for post-lockdown treat.
-Our food reviews are always independent. They are the opinion of the reviewer based on their experience of the venue when they visited. The establishment is not aware of our visit, is not informed we intend to write a review and bills are paid by the reviewer. The choice of places reviewed is also independent and is not based on venues which do or do not advertise in our publications.