Indulgent food and big flavours at long-running city Italian restaurant
- Credit: Lauren Cope
In the buzz and evolution of St Benedicts Street, Pinocchio's Italian restaurant has remained a quiet constant.
The area has become a go-to for food-lovers, and the restaurant's steady presence has seen all manner of changes.
In the early 1990s it was taken over by restaurateurs Jayne and Nigel Raffles, who ran it until 2015, when it was sold to Italian brothers Andrea and Gonario Villa.
Today, it's a cosy spot popular for first dates and anniversary meals, with plenty of choice.
And I mean plenty - the menu is vast. There are pizzas, pasta dishes, baked pasta dishes, risottos, meat and fish dishes and even 'volcano' steaks that diners cook on hot rocks.
Normally that would set the alarm bells ringing, but I'm yet to have anything other than a lovely meal, so perhaps their chefs are master multi-taskers.
I started with the gamberoni all'Aglio (£9.95), which our server said had become a strangely popular order in the last few months. Perhaps we're all dreaming of meals by the sea.
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Six plump king prawns arrived, having been cooked in olive oil, garlic, white wine and parsley, with bread and salad.
The juicy prawns were delicious, and the garlicky sauce savoury and with a very slight tang. Mopped up with warm bread, it was excellent.
Over the table was the antipasto spread (£7.95 for one or £14.95 for two), which included Milano and Napoli salami, Prosciutto, mortadella, mixed olives, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and buffalo mozzarella.
It was certainly worth ordering for a taste of the flavours you'd hope for at an Italian restaurant - the combinations of salty and creamy, oily and acidic, all perched atop fresh bread, was a great start to the meal.
For our mains, we both looked to pasta - my friend went for the tagliatelle al funghi (£12.95), while I chose the seriously indulgent gnocchi al Gorgonzola (£14.95).
The tagliatelle comes with Porcini and champignon (button) mushrooms, sage, butter, white wine and parsley and was umami-packed, creamy and incredibly moreish.
The gnocchi is cooked with sliced chicken, mushrooms, olives, Parmesan, cream and Gorgonzola sauce.
It was intensely cheesy - if you don't like the kick of Gorgonzola, this isn't for you. Luckily I do, so tucked in, the gnocchi pillow soft and the saltiness of Gorgonzola and acidity of olives breaking up the dish's richness.
It was indulgent and did end up beating me on the last few bites, but was a real treat.
I was far too full to even consider a dessert, but there's plenty of choice - home-made Tiramisu (£6.95), affogato (vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso) and panna cotta (£6.95).
Pinocchio's, 11 St Benedicts St, Norwich NR2 4PE. 01603 613318
It's a cosy, welcoming restaurant, with elaborate murals on the walls and colourful tiles. While it might not be for minimalists, it's homey and creates a relaxing atmosphere.
It's on the special meal out end of the scale. Most dishes aren't above average, though a few of the starters hover at £9.95, which might be a bit more than you'd expect to pay. Portions are generous, though, and the service and experience also sits in the special meal out category.
All that you'd expect from a restaurant - we had a glass each of the house white and house red, the latter of which was fruity and mellow.
They're upstairs, clean and nicely decorated. There's individual cubicles for men and women.
There is plenty of space in the downstairs restaurant, but there's a flight of stairs up to the first floor and toilets. Allergens and vegetarian dishes are marked up on the menu.
Friendly and attentive. We arrived straight after work when the restaurant was quiet, but it filled throughout the evening. Service was prompt and not overbearing, but we did have a nice chat with our server.
The indulgence of the menu - it feels like rich, upmarket comfort food and a real treat.
For those after a venue for a first date, special occasion or anniversary meal (a couple opposite us where marking their fifth anniversary) you won't go wrong with Pinocchio's. And if you've always wandered down St Benedicts but never nipped in, give it a try. You won't be disappointed.
If you like that, try these
- Benoli, Orford Street
Benoli is an Italian restaurant which was opened by Masterchef finalist Oliver Boon. It serves home-made, delicate pasta dishes with clever combinations, and has become a sought-after spot.
- The Bridge, Fye Bridge Street
The restaurant opened in October 2020, hoping to bring authentic flavours of Tuscany to Norwich through dishes including wild boar ragù with pasta and wild boar slow-cooked in tomato sauce.
- Wiveton Bell, Wiveton
The restaurant, which is featured in the Michelin guide, is not an Italian eatery, but certainly has a cosy, welcoming feel and, of course, excellent food.
My next order
- I'll definitely be trying the lumache al forno (£8.95), shell-on large snails, baked in a garlic herb butter with shallots, cognac, nutmeg and a spicy tomato sauce. Something a little different.
- The butter-fried fresh cod fillet, topped with mussels, brandy, cream and parsley and tomato sauce (£17.95).
- And I'd definitely choose a dessert - most likely the tartufo alla nocciola (£6.95) - hazelnut ice cream with a runny chocolate centre, covered in hazelnuts.
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.