It is run by a MasterChef finalist, but how good is this Italian restaurant?
PUBLISHED: 10:55 30 October 2019 | UPDATED: 12:08 30 October 2019
Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk
One of the newest additions to Norwich’s culinary scene, Benoli is bringing a modern taste of Italy to the city.
Benoli has only been open for a couple of months, but this restaurant, which specialises in modern Italian cooking is steadily climbing up the city's TripAdvisor rankings. It's run by Oliver Boon, who has been cooking professionally since he was 16. He's a former MasterChef: The Professionals finalist and has worked for Gordon Ramsay, Bryn Williams and Michel Roux Jr.
Oliver's love of Italian food goes back to his childhood. He lived on a boat named Benoli (a portmanteau of his and his brother's names) as a child, travelling around Italy and Sicily, and named this, his first restaurant, after it.
The menu is small but perfectly formed, with a focus on quality seasonal ingredients, cooked really well. The pasta is handcrafted, with some of the ingredients coming from Italy and some produce picked from much closer to home - Oliver's dad's garden in Suffolk.
The menu is divided up into snacks, antipasti, pasta and meat and fish. To start my friend and I ordered a trio of snacks - plump Nocellara olives, pillowy pagnotta bread with olive oil and zingy balsamic and 24-month Parmesan croquettes. The croquettes were little clouds of joy. Cheese and mashed potato is one of the ultimate comfort foods and I could have happily eaten them all evening. They were demolished before photographic evidence of their existence could be taken.
The menu changes regularly and when we visited there was a decidedly autumnal feel. We both ordered main courses from the pasta menu. I went for the cocoa casarecci - casarecci is a short pasta, somewhere between fusilli and penne - with porcini and girolle mushrooms, rosemary and stracciatella, a buffalo milk cheese from Apulia. It was a satisfying, rustic bowlful with a really deep, moreish flavour.
My friend went for a similarly autumnal dish: spiced ricotta tortelloni, pumpkin, sage butter and pecorino, which was reported as being hearty and delicious.
For dessert we both went for the dulce de leche tiramisu - a pleasingly boozy take on my favourite Italian dessert.
Right in the the city centre, Benoli is tucked away on Orford Street, just off Timberhill.
Benoli is open from noon-10pm Tuesday to Sunday and offers the same menu all day. Downstairs there's a casual bar, where you can perch with a coffee or a cocktail and some snacks, and a few tables, where we were seated. The main dining room and a private dining room which seats up to eight are upstairs.
The decor is pared back and stylish, the low lighting makes it feel cosy and the background music was pitched at just the right volume to create atmosphere without you having to shout across the table to be heard.
We visited on a busy Saturday evening. Booking is definitely recommended at weekends - and as word spreads it's getting busier in the week too.
Flawless. We were greeted and shown to our table as soon as we stepped through the door. Our coats were taken away and hung up and a carafe of tap water for the table was offered automatically. Service was attentive but unhurried. At the beginning our waiter explained the structure of the menu - there's the option of mixing and matching snacks and antipasti small plates, which would make a fun and sociable meal for a bigger group. We were given plenty of time to deliberate our choices and with every course the knowledgeable and enthusiastic team were happy to explain if we didn't recognise any of the ingredients or cooking styles - there's quite a lot of Italian on the menu. Although the restaurant was busy there wasn't a noticeably long wait for our food to arrive. And as we were leaving our coats magically reappeared without us having to give a description.
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It was a wine sort of evening - and there's a wide choice of Italian by the bottle and glass, including bubbles. I had a glass of the Torre Alta Pinot Grigio Rose 2018 and my friend went for a glass of the Crescendo Pinot Grigio 2018, plus we had a Pococello Limoncello and an Americano at the end of the meal. But I would definitely like to head back to sample the cocktail menu soon. The Benoli twist on an espresso martini - the tiramisu martini - caught my eye and I also liked the sound of the non-alcoholic Sicilian lemon and basil G&T.
The main restaurant is upstairs, but there is a selection of tables of different sizes on the ground floor. Gluten free dishes are marked up on the menu - advise the service team of any allergies or intolerances. Most dishes can be altered to suit dietary requirements and there is a dedicated vegan menu.
Basic and clean.
If you're driving, the Castle Quarter car park is right next door and a few minutes' walk away the Rouen Road pay and display is another option.
The quality of the cooking is great and portion sizes are ample. Snacks range from £3.50 to £5, antipasti plates from £8-£9, pasta from £11-£15, meat and fish £17 and salads are around the £5 mark. Desserts are £6-£8. Our meal for two, with drinks, came to just over £63.
It has to be the Parmesan croquettes. I'm still thinking about them now.
This is modern Italian cooking in stylish surroundings.
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.
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