Benedicts owner and head chef Richard Bainbridge: 25 of the best restaurants in East Anglia

Richard Bainbridge at Benedicts on St Benedicts Street, Norwich.
Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Richard Bainbridge at Benedicts on St Benedicts Street, Norwich. Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Being asked to write a top 25 best restaurants in Norfolk and Suffolk was a daunting task. As you can imagine, I have friends and colleagues all over the place, and, of course, if you own your own restaurant you want to put yours at the top of the list but I have been thorough with my decision.

Shiki restaurant in Tombland, Norwich Photo: Bill Smith

Shiki restaurant in Tombland, Norwich Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant � 2008

You will see that I have not made all the most obvious choices as I wanted to do a list that comprised the real gems of Norfolk and Suffolk, some unsung heroes and some just starting out but with real promise as a big name of the future on the restaurant scene.

It has also been curated from a consumer's point of view, taking in all aspects of the restaurant from wine, hospitality, food and ethos.

So, anyway, here's my list - in no particular order. What do you think? And which ones have I missed?

1. The Neptune Inn, Old Hunstanton

THE weekend retreat. This beautiful former coaching inn is now a Michelin-starred boutique hotel and restaurant offering fresh, local produce in relaxed surroundings. It's run by Kevin and Jackie Mangeolles who are there serving you every night, so you really feel part of the family. For me, the best all round dining experience in our fine counties. Typical dishes: Braised Dexter short rib, potato puree, parsnip, crosnes, wild mushrooms

2. Darsham Nurseries, A12 northbound near Yoxford

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One of those places that has been under the radar for a while, it is slowly gaining attention and rightfully so. Lola (chef) and Tom (sous chef) do great things with vegetable-led treats from the nursery itself (every chef'sdream!), producing amazing food to rival the best in the country. Typical dishes: Cod cheeks with green chilli and mint. Rabbit and trotter ragout with salsa verde. Sand sole with seaweed butter

3. Shiki Restaurant, Tombland, Norwich

Richard and Katja Bainbridge, owners of 'Benedicts' restaurant in Norwich. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brow

Richard and Katja Bainbridge, owners of 'Benedicts' restaurant in Norwich. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown - Credit: Archant

Some of the best Japanese food in the country, I truly think it stands alone in Norwich as one of its hidden gems and best restaurants in town. Shun and his wife Maiko have created a special place I wish I could go to more often! It's the jewel in Norwich's crown. Typical dishes: Bento boxes. Shime. Hosomaki. Nigiri. Sashimi

4. Morston Hall, Morston

What Galton and Tracy have done for this county in restaurants and hotels will never be equalled in terms of classic luxury hospitality on the beautiful north Norfolk coast. They won a Michelin Star in the late 90s and have held it to this day - the longest in the county. Typical dishes: Confit loin of Norfolk horn lamb, pearl barley, swede puree, curly kale, sage oil and pine nut lamb jus

5. Maison Bleue, Churchgate Street, Bury St Edmunds

Pascal Canevet chef-owner has created something really special, serving amazing fish dishes. He is a guy who really knows how to cook! And as I asked people about their top Norfolk and Suffolk restaurants this came up time and time again. Typical dish: Fillet of Cornish John Dory, buttermilk, lemon confit, samphire grass, grilled spring onion

6. Market Bistro, Saturday Market Pl, King's Lynn

The somewhat silent warrior of the Norfolk and Suffolk food scene, it has just had an amazing review in the FT weekend supplement and works so hard to create something special in beautiful Kings Lynn. I love going north of Fakenham as it is an excuse to drop by for a bite.Typical dishes: beetroot and goat's cheese with toasted hazelnuts and the smoked salmon scone with crème fraiche

7. Tuddenham Mill, Tuddenham nr Bury St Edmunds

Pea Porridge, Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Gregg Brown

Pea Porridge, Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Gregg Brown - Credit: Gregg Brown

Tuddenham Mill is one of thoseplaces you wish was at the bottom of the road. If you want to forget where you are and drift away to the sound of the rolling water or just treat yourself, this place is for you, with one of the most beautiful dining rooms in Norfolk and Suffolk.Typical dishes: Chicken liver parfait, roasted wing, black radish, rock samphire, onion.

8. Benedicts, St Benedict's Street, Norwich

Of course I have to mention my own restaurant! Benedicts opened in June 2015 and I run it with my wife Katja. It has gone from strength to strength and is a contemporary bistro style restaurant with classic values, serving modern, sophisticated food in a relaxed environment. Typical Dish: Norfolk Quail cooked with East Anglian Barley, Thornage Hall Carrots and a Garden Herb Jus

9. Roger Hickmans,Upper St Giles Street, Norwich

If you are looking for an air of sophistication then Roger is your man. A beautiful intimate restaurant, it serves great technical food in a environment ideal for special occasions, with a wine list to match. Roger is a true patriarch of the Norfolk and Suffolk food scene.Typical dishes: Roast lobster with pasta, confit kohlrabi, orange and fennel. Greek yoghurt and vanilla ice cream.

10. Woolf and Social, Nelson Street, Norwich

Exactly what I thought! Who? But what these guys are doing is phenomenal, even if they have only been open a year. They offer creative food in a stripped back environment, including serving ants! If you fancy brunch, lunch or tea like no where else in Norfolk and Suffolk, these are your boys. PS definitely try the smacked cucumbers.Typical dishes: Smoked pigeon breast, beets, orange, watercress, hazelnut

11. Stoke Mill, Mill Road, Norwich

The Unruly Pig, Bromeswell. Picture: Simon Parker

The Unruly Pig, Bromeswell. Picture: Simon Parker

Stoke Mill has been on the Norwich food scene for over 20 years and is known for its Italian flair. In recent years, it has been further rejuvenated with the help of Andy Rudd in the kitchen. Andy brings his experiences from working in London to Stoke Mill makes this place a real treat.Typical dishes: Salt cod, soft quail's egg, chorizo, roasted red pepper. Passion fruit soufflé with rich chocolate sauce and passion fruit sorbet

12. Titchwell Manor, Titchwell, near Brancaster

On the most stunning stretch of the North Norfolk coast, Eric and his family run this fantastic hotel and restaurant. Walks on the marshes, drinks in their bar and dinner in their beautiful conservatory restaurant showcase Eric's technical skill against a beautiful backdrop. Typical dishes: Barbecued sweetcorn, mashed potato cake, husk mayo, popcorn, Turbot with marsh vegetables, Marcona almonds, broad beans and yuzu

13. The Duck Inn, Stanhoe

Ben and Sarah Handley's ethos is to provide a warm and inviting place to enjoy great pub food that celebrates the seasons and where we are in the country, in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. I love to go there with my mates. Yum yum food makes it a must. Typical dishes: Simon Letzer's smoked salmon, gingerbread, black pepper, cucumber and keta. Kahlua, chocolate and coffee cheesecake, praline ganache.

14. Pea Porridge, Cannon St, Bury St Edmunds

This place is a true inspiration to us at Benedicts, as it was the true first neo-bistro in the county which at the time was a real break from the norm. This simple unfussy restaurant with great hospitality and amazing creative food is hidden in the back streets of Bury town centre. Typical dishes: Lightly curried lamb sweetbreads, kohl rabi, young spinach. Breckland muntjac loin, fondant potato, butternut puree, beetroot, golden raisins, harissa.

15. Gunton Arms, Thorpe Market

Leaping Hare, Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Archant

Leaping Hare, Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Yva Brackett, an art dealer from London, bought a run down hotel in Gunton Park four years ago. After a re-fit, Yva welcomed amazing head chef, Stuart, who earned his stripes with Mark Hix. After opening to high acclaim, and rightfully so, the place is high end, unfussy, refined English pub grub at its best. Typical dishes: Dressed Cromer crab. Sirloin steak from the Elk Room fire with goose fat roast potatoes and Bramley apple and béarnaise sauce.

16. Ingham Swan, Ingham, Norwich

Daniel Smith is an established name in the region and his beautiful pub is a must. He uses premium local ingredients, cooked in a simple way. He even has his own farm where a lot of the produce comes from and has a few pubs under his belt, so if you can't get to the Swan, you're sure to love one of the others.Typical dishes: Pan roast cod with morteau sausage, curly potatoes, pickled cucumber, coriander cress and carrot ketchup.

17. 1921 Angel Hill, Angel Hill, Bury St Edmunds

Still a baby (it opened in October, 2014) but chef patron Zack Deakins is doing a great job. The restaurant has relaxed service, great local produce and beautifully-presented dishes. It's also in the heart of Bury – a town increasingly known for its restaurant scene.Typical dishes: White Nancy goat's cheese fondant with salt baked celeriac, walnut and apple cake

18. The Unruly Pig, Bromeswell

A fine restaurant disguised as a pub, serving seasonal British food with an Italian influence. Unfussy food, with some great quirks. Typical dishes: Cavatelli of chorizo, cockles and brown crab. Pork T-bone with dripping chips. Lemon thyme panna cotta with roasted peach and raspberries

19. no.10 Sheringham, Augusta Street, Sheringham

English strawberry Eton mess, The Turks Head in Hasketon. Picture: Amy Gallivan

English strawberry Eton mess, The Turks Head in Hasketon. Picture: Amy Gallivan - Credit: Archant

This place is so endearing, from the music to the fabulous Sonya and Mustapha who run and own it. The food is simple in the best way, all cooked to perfection in a tiny kitchen by Mustapha on his own, using fish caught straight from the boats that day. It's a place to let the night drift away and enjoy each other's company. Typical dish: Cod fillet with spring onion risotto and red pepper sauce

20. Bildeston Crown, Bildeston, near Ipswich

Chris and Hayley Lee returned to the Crown last year. Chris has a passion for good food, and sources everything as close as he can to the pub – from local lamb and beef, to vegetables grown up the road. These are cooked with imagination and care. Host Hayley is so warm and friendly, she makes everyone feel at home.Typical dish: Local pigeon and duck liver wellington with plums and Roscoff onions.

21. Leaping Hare, Wyken

Set in the beautiful grounds of the Wyken vineyard, this amazing split barn has a cafe area for tea and cakes and a restaurant of true star quality. It's so good, I went there two years ago for my birthday. Nothing better than starting with a glass of wine grown literally metres away - it does taste that little bit sweeter.Typical dish: Wyken venison carpaccio, white truffle oil, rocket, Parmesan.

22. Aqua Eight, Ipswich

Upstairs, with its coloured lighting and clean lines wouldn't be amiss in London. This award-winning Pan Asian spot cooks creative dishes that span China, Japan, Malaysia and more.It's beautifully presented, almost like art. And the wine, spirits and cocktail lists are enviable. Typical dish: Fried soft shell crab with red chilli and curry leaf. Stir fried scallop with asparagus and cloud ear.

23. Easton White Horse, Easton, near Wickham Market

Richard Bainbridge, Chef and owner of 'Benedicts' restaurant in Norwich. L-R Ashley Williamson, Ric

Richard Bainbridge, Chef and owner of 'Benedicts' restaurant in Norwich. L-R Ashley Williamson, Richard Bainbridge. - Credit: Archant

Recently taken over by the Chestnut Inns group (who also operate The Rupert Brooke in Grantchester and The Packhorse in Moulton) this refined country pub has hit the ground running and already become a diners' destination. The unpretentious interior sets the stage for food that is very fine indeed. Typical dish:Salad of beetroot, horseradish, cocoa nib, compressed pear, ginger ale.

24. The Lighthouse, Aldeburgh

This family-run restaurant has a loyal band of regulars thanks to its charming service (which recently won an award). Fish comes straight from the beach, Five Winds butchers in Melton provide steaks, and salad leaves are picked fresh in Thorpeness.Typical dishes: Lighthouse fish soup with rouille and crouton. Grilled Aldeburgh Dover sole with ratatouille, spinach and new potatoes.

25. The Turks Head, Hasketon, near Woodbridge

Situated in the pretty village of Hasketon, this country pub has fast made a name for itself as being great for food and ale. On the menu is a mix of British favourites, as well as spicy infusions, thanks to the pub's head chef, Mauli, whose Indian background and training in classic French cooking influences the fabulous dishes he creates.Typical dish: Gressingham duck breast, duck faggots, Swiss chard, root vegetable dauphinoise roast with jus

Where is your favourite restaurant in East Anglia? Let us know in the comments.