I’m a Secret Lemonade Drinker: Jarrolds Benji’s After Hours

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This sign is actually sellotaped to my bedroom door at my family home

On Monday, after the store had closed for the day, Jarrolds invited myself and several other food bloggers to a rather special event. For those of you not from “down the rood” as we say here in Norfolk, Jarrolds which was established way back in 1770, is an independent department store that’s somewhat of an institution – Norwich’s equivalent of Harrods if you like, which is certainly how it felt to me as a child. On my way to the event, it really got me thinking about childhood food memories.

I have two very evocative food memories from my childhood. The first was when I was around six years old. It was the night I discovered that Dad, who would sometimes arrive home late from work, would sample something quite different to the spaghetti blanco we were having for our tea. That evening, long after my bedtime story, I’d had a bad dream about The Daleks from Doctor Who (as you did in the 80’s). I remember tiptoeing down to the kitchen like some sort of secret lemonade drinker, to find my Mum preparing a feast of Duck a l’Orange. Naturally I asked what she was doing at this god-forsaking hour – until that night, I assumed that she went to bed when I did. What took me by surprise was that Mum didn’t usher me back up to bed, but instead asked if I’d like to try some. From the plate being offered to me, I eagerly picked up juicy pieces of sticky, orange scented duck. I think my eyes must have popped out of my head because my Mum offered me more, and more. And then some more. I’m surprised there was any left for Dad. I went to bed shortly after and slept extremely soundly that night. Still to this day, if I don’t eat that well before bedtime, I dream of Daleks.

The other striking memory I have was when I was around five. Dad was looking after me whilst Mum was off doing some shopping. He took me to Jarrold’s tea room on the top floor, with its ornate ceiling and bustling atmosphere of clinking cups, saucers and laughter, I’ll always remember several elderly ladies cooing at me. When we managed to find a free spot, he brought to the table for me an enormous cheese scone, warm and soft with melting butter and a hot chocolate topped with an unforeseen amount of whipped cream. And so began my life-long addiction to cheese scones and hot chocolate with cream. Ever since that moment I haven’t been able to eat one without the other. True dat.

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Above: From Jarrold’s archives, pre-1980s. These days Jarrolds has four cafes: The Pantry Restaurant (floor 3), Café Benjamin (floor 2), Café Metro (lower ground) and Chapers Coffee Bar (lower ground). But on Monday, we were invited to try Jarrold’s new bistro-style eatery, Benji’s – where once again, I could feel like a secret lemonade drinker, sneaking into the kitchen after hours.

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We crept up to the first floor trying not to wake the sleeping toys and books…

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We were welcomed with champagne, elderflower cordial and beautifully presented canapés: Chicken in tempura batter with a smoked chili jam; Norfolk crab cocktail croute with chili, mint and mango and Fielding cottage goats curd with raw beetroot.

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I did break my vegetarianism to try the crab canapés, which were just incredible. I also loved the goat’s curd & beetroot mouth-sized morsels too. No word of a lie, these were some of the best canapés I’ve ever tasted. Benji’s chef is Nick Harris and he’s been at Jarrolds for 18 months now.  Before Jarrolds he worked in the west end of London and cooked at Quaglinos in Mayfair and the 5* Lanesborough Hotel in Hyde Park.

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We watched Nick cook our main meal during a cooking demonstration: Sea bass with Norfolk grown Jerusalem artichokes and samphire, salsa verde and roasted baby tomatoes. His sous chef for the night, Neil, certainly knew his onions. (Sorry, no more ‘Dad gags’ from here on in, promise.) Nick had also cooked for the Queen and Prime Minister prior to joining Jarrolds. (You could tell by the way he flipped the sea bass. Professional.)

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After a behind-the-scenes tour of the homewares department and a delicious palate cleanser of freshly squeezed apple, carrot, orange and ginger juice, we headed back to the first floor for our 3-course dinner. There was literally a room full of starters waiting for us, three tables containing platters, each of which are available on the new Benji’s menu:

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A Vegetable Garden Box: Hummus, sweet and sour aubergine dip, radishes, cherry tomatoes and chargrilled vegetables and flat breads. This is exactly as its served in the restaurant, with real terracotta pots and housed in a wooden box. Magical. (£10.50)

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Fish Platter: Beetroot gravadlax salmon, crayfish, peppered mackerel, avocado, pickled vegetables and flat breads (£12)

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Butcher’s Board: Mini glazed pork sausages, apple sauce, ham hock, warm satay chicken, chorizo and red pepper dip (£12)

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Highlights were for me: the garlic scallops, beetroot cured smoked salmon and perfectly ripe avocado (fish platter) and the sweet and sour aubergine dip and roasted tomato flatbreads (veggie platter). After a foodie natter with the other bloggers and the lovely Louise from Jarrolds, we eagerly tucked into the sea bass main course, which Chef had demonstrated earlier that evening. The fish was cooked to perfection, the Jerusalem artichokes were creamy and buttery with a small bite and the salsa verde had the right balance of fresh herbs and garlic. Beautifully done. For a samphire addict who hasn’t had a hit for two weeks, and who ate around 3kg of it this summer, I can’t tell you what a treat it was to sample the last of the crop after thinking it had completely gone out of season.

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NB: The above sea bass dish is currently on the menu at Benji’s for the next week or so before the next seasonal special is introduced.

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We then headed downstairs for our cheese, port, chocolates and coffee course. I finally met one of my local food heroes from Fielding Cottage.

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Fielding Cottage is based on a farm in the heart of Norfolk and is one of my favourite local suppliers who produce the best goat’s cheeses in the business. Forget French, Norfolk goat’s cheese is where it’s at. We tasted their Norfolk Mardler and brie style goat’s cheese, Wensum White. Both were incredible, especially with the port. They also stock a crumbly Ellingham which is a soft, feta type cheese (possibly my favourite) and a goat’s curd too, which is what we had on our canapés to begin with.

For more info go to www.fieldingcottage.co.uk or call 01603 880865

We then met a lovely chap from Dolce Momento, who last year in Norwich, established the company to produce Brigadeiros – a Brazilian chocolate bonbon. Brigadeiros are very similar to chocolate truffles but the texture is quite different. They were first created in the 1940’s and is usually served as a dessert and at birthday parties in Brazil.

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These Brazilian inspired truffles also incorporate the founder’s Italian influences and rather unusually they use condensed milk, which is what perhaps gives these truffles such a creamy and soft texture that really works.

For more info go to www.dolce-momento.co.uk or call 01603 432918

Both Fielding Cottage’s cheese and Dolce Momento can be found at Jarrold’s deli counter.

Benji Menu

Above: Benji’s Menu

A big hug and high-five to Jarrolds for asking Roots and Toots to come along to sample the menu at Benji’s (and after hours too, so I could relive my secret lemonade drinking tendencies) what a treat. 

See below link for general store info and Benji’s opening hours – 

http://www.jarrold.co.uk/our-stores/jarrold-department-store

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Food Bloggers: Roots and Toots with the ever-so lovely @Absolutely_Lucy and @LaScarpettaBlog

Some more 1980’s Food Memories:

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From left to right: 1) Me pictured, showcasing a table-full of figoli (a traditional Maltese Easter biscuit) 2) Christmas, encouraging Dad to stop with the picture-taking and “eat” 3) I wasn’t interested in lego but loved going through Mum’s ingredients, pulling everything out neatly, examining them and then re-stacking things 4) Lastly, eying up someone else’s food at a birthday party. Standard.

For those of you not familiar with the ‘secret lemonade drinker’ TV ad from the 1980s, check this out: Click Here

Or go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hro4AdTYiTA

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p.s. I’d love to hear about your first foodie memories – things that stand out from your childhood the most? And for those who live in Norfolk, do you have any fond childhood memories of Jarrolds? Feel free to share them here… x

4 thoughts on “I’m a Secret Lemonade Drinker: Jarrolds Benji’s After Hours

  1. Emma

    Couldn’t resist having lunch there today, after reading this last night! Loved the butchers board with the little butchers knives!

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