First look inside MasterChef finalist’s new Norwich restaurant
- Credit: Archant
Oliver Boon, who appeared on the BBC show in 2012, will open the doors to Benoli on Orford Street in Norwich on July 10 – we caught up with the busy chef ahead of the day.
Q: Has cooking always been a passion? And have you been spurred on by your TV appearance?
A: I've been cooking since I was about 10 unprofessionally and since 16 professionally. I got to the final in the competition and came third in the end. The main effect it had was getting a job with Michel Roux Jr who I ended up working for for five years, working my way up to being head chef at his restaurant Roux at the Landau.
Q: When did you have the idea for Benoli?
A: The name is a family name that comes from putting my brother's name and mine together (Ben and Oli). I lived on a boat as a child travelling around Italy and Sicily and it was named Benoli by my parents. So the idea has been a long time coming I guess. I found the premises about six months ago through an agent and instantly knew it was the right one after looking at nearly 30 different sites. I was looking for something with two floors so I could have a restaurant and a casual area for coffee in the day and a bar in the evening.
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Q: What's the concept for the restaurant?
A: It's great Italian ingredients prepared with a little extra attention and creativity than your usual Italian restaurant. There's a strong focus on handmade filled pasta, made fresh every morning. It's a casual setting to come and eat great food with no pretence, reasonable prices and an 'everyone is welcome' attitude.
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Q: Have you been working with any local producers?
A: The truth is no. A lot of ingredients are coming directly from Italy and I'm also growing a lot of the vegetables and fruit in my dad's garden in Suffolk -basil, artichokes, apricots, cherries, squash, courgettes.
Q: Tell us a bit about the menus..
A: We're open from midday until 10pm and because of that the menu is the same all day, reasonably priced and with a variety of options. We encourage people to come in and use Benoli as a great social point for coffee, olives, bread, a glass of wine or settle in for dinner. Benoli is based around what I like to eat, which is simple Italian food and fresh pasta. If I was to eat from the menu I would start with some olives, anchovies and bread, then maybe share a couple of antipasti, followed by fresh pasta. The menu has no set structure and is designed to be eaten in whatever way you choose.
Q: Is there a signature dish? And how often do you see the menu changing?
A: The menu will change slightly every week. It will be constantly affected by the seasons and what the team are feeling inspired by that week. One of my pet hates is returning to a restaurant only to find the menu is the same as the last time I visited.
Q: Tell us about the drinks offering
A: We will be serving an all-Italian wine list, also Italian beers and cider. There'll be a small cocktail menu including a tiramisu martini, blood orange sour, and Sicilian lemon and basil gin and tonic. We'll also be serving non-alcoholic cocktails and beers.
Q: Are you doing anything differently on Sundays?
A: On Sundays we'll have a roast dinner with an Italian twist alongside our usual fare. The first Sunday will be porchetta with all the usual trimmings but done the Benoli way.
Q: What are you bringing to Norwich that's different to the rest?
A: Everything at Benoli will be made on the site fresh every day with great skill and care. We'll be bringing fantastic food at an affordable price in a casual unpretentious atmosphere.