Food - for some it is merely part of surviving, of living from one moment to the next, and fuelling all your endeavours along the way. For others, it is a constant quest for new mouth-watering flavours and alluring aromas to tempt the palate and excite the senses. As a bit of a foodie, I'm always searching for a new lip-smacking experience and as you can imagine, I was in my element when the team at Jarrolds department store, in Norwich, invited me along to join them for their food blogging event to mark the opening of their new bistro restaurant, Benji's. Offering a whole new dining experience that is a step above that of the other three restaurants and coffee shop within the store, the restaurant has a fabulous menu designed to entice even the fussiest of eaters. The restaurant has such a sophisticated feel and the fine decorative touches really make it feel warm and welcoming, as well as exclusive and a real treat.
Upon arrival, we were welcomed with champagne and canapés - a warm greeting if ever there was one - with the intricately designed snacks artfully arranged on platters decorated with flowers. Each platter showcased the fantastic array of flavours evident throughout the menu, with some delicious battered smoky barbecue chicken served with a fiery sweet chilli sauce, plus a wonderful goats cheese and beetroot stack (cheese provided by local Fielding Cottage), and finally some crab towers that were packed with flavour. All of these delectable delights left us wowed by the combination of flavours that perfectly complemented the other tastes. Shortly after the introductions, we were treated to a cooking demonstration by the head chef, who has years of experience working in top London hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants. He swiftly whipped up a treat for the nose and the eyes with pan-fried sea bass on a bed of artichokes, samphire and salsa verde, with seasonal vegetables. It smelt absolutely divine, and looked so simple to prepare, although I'm sure mine would not look half as presentable as his. Reflecting the constant changes to the menu, this dish will only be available for a couple more weeks as samphire goes out of season. Using only local produce and producers, the restaurant's menu is dependent on what is available within Norfolk.
After the demonstration, we headed downstairs for a look around the deli and home-ware department, both of which had us all drooling over treats - both of the food and kitchen-ware variety! We moved between the shelves, checking out everything from chocolate pasta to parsnip and chilli chutneys, lusting over everything from Emma Bridgewater mugs and egg cups, to Artisan mixers. We were lucky enough to have a demonstration of one of the Sage by Heston Blumenthal smoothie makers, which was so easy to use and made the tastiest ginger, apple, orange and kale smoothies - a perfect palate cleanser before we headed back upstairs for our dinner. On the walk back upstairs, I finally got to indulge in that dream of having a department store closed just for you and yes, I did feel exactly like Topshop's Chloe Green, it was great to wander around the shoe department without any shoppers in my way!
There are not enough words in the English language to do justice to describing the amazing spread that awaited us back in the restaurant, with multiple platters lined up and packed with the most incredible selection of seafood, meats, vegetarian and even floral treats! I can't list everything that was there, but you'll be able to see from the photos the delicious piles of scallops, smoked salmon and mackerel, prawns on the fish platters. On the vegetarian plate, there were various raw vegetables, plus roasted aubergine and peppers, hummus and an onion chutney, with pitta and even edible flowers! Over on the meats platter, there were piles of chicken with peanut and barbecue sauces, mini sausages with a tomato sauce, terrine which went beautifully with an apple sauce and much more. It's making my mouth water again just thinking about it - and I haven't even added the photos yet! The food was accompanied by a great range of wines and soft drinks, for those of us who were driving, plus plenty of foodie chat about our favourite restaurants and dishes - thanks for the recommendations guys!
Shortly after, the main came out and although we already knew what it was, we once again marvelled at the beauty of the colours on the plate, before tucking in excitedly. It was an amazing dish, so tasty and I would really recommend trying it before it disappears off the menu! I'm a big lover of seafood dishes anyway, but this was a particular treat and I loved the sea bass - one of my favourite fish - with the salsa verde, it really enhanced the flavour, as did the delicious artichokes. It was so lovely to sit round with other bloggers who love food and local produce as much as I do, and how better to finish the evening than with a selection of the very finest local cheeses and chocolates?
We had a fantastic talk by Sam Steggles of Fielding Cottage, a family business based in Honingham who create their very own goats cheese, meat and skin care products. We tried two types of delicious cheeses, the Norfolk Mardler and the Wensum White, and I have to say the creamier Wensum White was my favourite, with a texture rather reminiscent of Brie - one of my absolute favourite cheeses. This was followed by one of the creators behind Dolce Momento, a company with a passion for the tastes of Brazil who develop an exciting and varied range of gourmet brigadeiros, cakes and treats. The chocolates were gorgeous in appearance and you really could see why them were such a hit at weddings with such stunning presentation. And the tastes were truly out of this world, with an amazing chilli and cinnamon one, plus delicious milk and dark chocolate treats - all sweeter and gooier than the average ganache thanks to condensed milk, good taste and a lot of love. A perfect end to an amazing evening.
A huge thanks to the team at Jarrolds for inviting me along, I had the most amazing night and loved meeting all the other bloggers. I look forward to more events in the future, but in the meantime, you guys should all get yourselves to Norwich and check out this amazing hidden gem - have fun working your way through the menu and enjoy the fact that you are eating local and supporting local businesses. They're much more important than eating out at yet another boring, soulless chain restaurant!
Have you eaten out at Jarrolds - what did you think? Will you be checking out the new menu at Benji's?