There are many good reasons to live in Nottingham. Its rich history and culture, its vibrant city centre with excellent shopping and nightlife, or its sporting heritage. Not least amongst these is its proximity to one of the finest restaurants in the country - Restaurant Sat Bains.
We've been lucky enough to have dined at Restaurant Sat Bains a couple of times in the past, but not for a while now and not since it acquired its second Michelin star in October 2011. With this in mind we were excited to see what improvements had been made to an already brilliant experience which would have persuaded the Michelin inspectors to part with another star.
The first of these improvements was apparent as we pulled up to the door, where we were greeted by a cheery front of house member. A little thing, perhaps, but not one that had happened here before, and the sort of nice touch that makes a customer feel valued and wanted.
After being seated in the cosy lounge and ordering pre-dinner drinks we were presented with the menu to choose from. We'd already decided to opt for the seven course tasting menu rather than the ten (there is no a la carte here), and I supplemented mine by also ordering the famous Ham, Eggs and Peas starter which won maximum marks from the judges in the Great British Menu a few years ago. An early start the next morning made us choose not to have the wine pairing menu - where a glass of wine is chosen by the restaurant to match each specific course. Instead we selected a light, sharp and buttery Chardonnay which was also very reasonably priced.
Choices made, we were whisked through to the dining area. Another improvement was noticed where the staff politely seated us, pulling out chairs, elegantly plopping down napkins and ensuring we were comfortable. Again, a small touch, but appreciated nonetheless. So, firmly ensconced in our seats, it was time for the food.
Our amuse-bouche was esoterically titled 'NG7 2SA' - the postcode of the restaurant itself. Elements of the dish had been foraged from within yards of the buildings and these came in the form of a rich, green nettle soup which was poured over a horseradish panna cotta. Before these was a delightfully sharp and refreshing chunk of horseradish ice cream contained within a mini wafer. My Ham, Eggs and Peas was up next and it was the same sweet, gloopy, salty and delicious combination it had been the other times I'd tried it. We were also delighted to see the sweet, gooey treacle bread we'd enjoyed so much in our previous visits was still in attendance.
The first course proper of the tasting menu was simply called 'scallop curry' (Sat doesn't give a lot away with his dish names). Some of you may remember Vesta Curries - oddly sweet ready-meal style curries popular a number of years ago. This dish brought back memories of those and was pretty much all the elements of a curry on one plate. A perfectly seared and spiced scallop provided the core, and was joined on a plate by small cubes of cucumber and apple, a tangy smear of mango chutney, a crunchy mini bhaji and even a shard of poppadom. A fantastic start to the meal.
Next up was cubes of pink, squishy salmon in an oyster broth, with mushrooms pickled in passion fruit. This dish for me summed up exactly what Sat Bains's cooking is all about. A clever combination of textures, temperatures and tastes, with every mouthful offering something different. A smear of miso caramel offered saltiness and some crisped rice - which looked disconcertingly like maggots - provided crunch.
Following this was textures of celeriac. An earthy mix of celeriac cubes with a puree of the same vegetable, it was topped by thin slivers of sweetly pickled celeriac. Our waiter gave us some insight of the work involved in producing even this relatively simple dish, describing in great detail how the vegetable is cut, cleaned and prepared.
Our main course followed, and this was Scottish partridge with root vegetables and a thyme gravy. I'd not had partridge before and was surprised at the lightness, having expected something more 'gamey' like pigeon. The meat was moist and springy, the root vegetables crunchy and sweet. A stripy slice of crispy bacon was wonderfully salty and looked nothing so much like a Frazzle had been included on the plate.
The 'crossover' dish was next, usually a halfway house of sweet and savoury offering a bridge between the main and dessert courses. This was a lollipop. A lollipop of beetroot sorbet covered in white chocolate which, in turn, was coated with freeze-dried raspberry chunks. Whilst tasty, my personal preference would have been for something saltier and less sweet. It was certainly still delicious though.
On top of the improvements in service, we really felt the dessert courses were superior to those we'd had at Sat Bains before. That isn't to say the previous ones were poor - quite the opposite. But the two dessert courses we received were very, very good indeed.
The first of these was just called 'chocolate,' and chocolate it was. A rich disk of smooth, dark chocolate coated with a creamy frozen yoghurt. This in turn was topped with a small blob of cumin caramel, while the whole dish was sprinkled with fine shavings of lime zest. Once again, a wonderful combination of sweet, sour and a hint of saltiness.
Finally we had 'apple,' which really didn't do the dish justice. A portion of caramelised Bramley apple was joined in a bowl by a paper-thin cinnamon wafer, before our waiter sprinkled over hailstones of apple and cream ice cream. The mix of warm and cool temperatures and spicy and sweet flavours was a fantastic end to the meal.
Our coffees (not part of the tasting menu) were accompanied by a chocolate log. Not the Swiss Roll style Christmas staple, but an actual wooden log, sliced to contain five squares of thinly tempered chocolate. Each of these had a different flavour, from lemon and ginger to fennel, with a bit of cardamom and hibiscus in between. These were all chosen to help aid digestion apparently. Amazing attention to detail again.
We'd already decided not to ask to visit the kitchen, but when kindly offered the opportunity we weren't about to say no. Sat was his usual charming and cheery self, showing off his recently expanded pastry kitchen and - rightfully - praising the fantastic team he's got around him before signing our menu as a memento of the evening.
This was definitely our best visit to Restaurant Sat Bains. The improvements on an already brilliant experience were obvious and impressive, and we look forward to seeing if it can push on toward the pinnacle of fine dining classifications - a third Michelin star. With Sat at the helm, we wouldn't be surprised.