The Harts 100

Last night to the Hart’s 100 Spring Party.  Tim Hart, owner of the eponymous restaurant and hotel as well as the stupendous Hambleton Hall, runs a group called the Hart’s 100 who meet at the restaurant several times a year to feast, network and socialise.  It’s all at Tim’s expense in an extraordinary act of generosity towards the city that his restaurant has done so much to transform.

I remember when Hart’s first opened.  I had just moved up from London and was suffering in the bleak culinary landscape that Nottingham provided at that time.  Hart’s catapulted us into the world-class league overnight and unleashed a pent-up demand that saw it packed out even mid-week.  Today things look much brighter in the city and Harts is still with us, seemingly achieving effortlessly what others can only dream of in terms of food, ambiance and service.

Tim made a brief speech and it was inspiring to hear articulated exactly my own philosophy for restaurant food.  Quoting a TripAdvisor reviewer who had bemoaned the lack of a “wow factor” at Hart’s, Tim explained that “wow factors” were not his business – Hart’s seeks only to excel at the fundamentals.  If only more restaurants understood that.

I was jolly hungry when I arrived and accidentally scoffed the “Tomato essence, spring vegetables” without photographing it.  But here are the rest of the courses:

Fricassee of morels, wild garlic & asparagus

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This was excellent and really generous with the morels which were whoppers.

Seafood Salad

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Beautiful and once again generously proportioned with scallop, octopus, prawns and more.

Spring lamb, pink fir potatoes, piperade, burnt onions, lamb belly, sprouting onions.

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Rich, tender and perfectly pink lamb.  Warming and delicious with the 2013 Zweigeit, Zero G Austrian wine Tim had chosen for this course – possibly the first Austrian wine I have ever tasted.

Elderflower panna cotta, strawberries, consomme

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Light and summery and not too sweet – the perfect dessert.

Chocolate & olive mouuse, salted caramel, candied peanuts

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Complex and unusual – my least favourite course but I seemed to be the only one on our table of six who felt that way.

We had an interesting table and it was fascinating to hear about what is happening at Nottingham Trent University, how they are encouraging entrepreneurship amongst their students, to the point of bringing in the venture capitalists to get them started in business.  I came away with a great sense of optimism for our city.

EatNottingham.com rating 9/10

EatNottingham.com dined at the expense of the Hart’s 100 but that does not make any difference.  EatNottingham.com will be honest in its reviews without fear or favour.

Calcutta Club

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The photo does not do justice to what was an excellent dinner at the Calcutta Club.  It’s a delightful addition to Maid Marion Way which seems to be developing into Nottingham’s own version of the The Curry Mile back in the Northern Powerhouse where I grew up.

It’s hard to say which of the mighty triumvirate of Cumin, Memsaab and the Calcultta Club has the edge at the moment- mainly because it’s a while since I visited all of them but the vegetarians in our party put the Calcutta Club ahead.  I went carnivorous (unusual for me) and was greatly satisfied.

It’s an elegant space and reminds me a bit of the Tollegunge Club as I remember it in Kolkata many years ago during my travels in India.

You can tell a lot about a restaurant from its bread and the Calcutta Club has the freshest naan breads I have ever tasted – straight from the tandoor to the table.  The photo above shows the abundant use of fresh herbs and spices and is making my mouth water just as I look at it.

The Calcutta Club has deservedly won “Best Newcomer Award in the UK” in the British Curry Awards, a glittering event attended by the Prime Minister and (bafflingly) by Nigel I’m-not-racist-because-I-like-curry Farage.  This can only be a huge boost for Nottingham and must be applauded.

EatNottingham.com rating 8/10

EatNottingham.com dined at their own expense.

Happy 2nd Birthday to The Calcutta Club

Calcutta Club Birthday Cake RS

It was nice to get invited to The Calcutta Club for their 2nd birthday celebrations, particularly since I have yet to dine there.  I’m going to rectify that appalling omission as soon as possible because:

  1. Everything I hear about them is good.
  2. The nibbles were fabulous.
  3. The other guests had a kind of missionary zeal to convert me.
  4. They just won Best Newcomer in the British Curry Awards.

Chatting to owner/manager John Dhaliwal seemed to confirm my suspicions about a turnaround in the local economy, business is booming.

Oaks

Oaks

Oaks Nottingham

With increasing frequency, as I pass through Nottingham, I find myself doing a double-take as some previously forlorn and vacant shop front is suddenly revealed as expensively refurbished and crammed with diners and/or drinkers.  It is this phenomenon that has awoken this blog from its almost decade-long slumber.

One minute Bromley Place was a dark and empty side-street and the next it was packed with students from all over the world and two new restaurants, Zaap and Oaks.

Zaap will have to wait as I add it to my burgeoning “to-do” list but Oaks was my first experience of the new breed of Nottingham restaurant and I have to say that I was very favourably impressed.

My criteria for judging restaurants is now based almost exclusively upon value for money as it would be understood by a normal person in Nottingham.  Thus, Sat Bains, arguably the finest chef in the UK at present, does not score particularly highly in my system since any normal denizen of Nottingham would judge his prices to be absolutely ludicrous.

So what I look for is good quality, local ingredients and a commitment to do at least one thing well.  And that’s exactly what you get at Oaks.  My steak came perfectly cooked and nicely scented with wood-smoke.  Oaks is a grill room but their grilling is done over natural wood-embers so that everything has that gently smoked flavour and nicely caramelised fat. It’s sustainable and responsible, with partnerships with the The Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust as well as with our wonderful Castle Rock Brewery.

This is not pub food.  Oaks elevates grilled steak and chips to the level of a proper occasion.  Yet, with prices still grounded in the realm of what we all understand to be reasonable, I would not hesitate to recommend them.

EatNottingham.com rating 8/10

EatNottingham.com dined at Oaks as a guest of Tank PR but that does not make any difference.  EatNottingham.com will be honest in its reviews without fear or favour.

Hiking in Madeira

Brocken spectre

A Brocken Spectre

In a bid to escape the winter gloom we spent a week in Madeira in early March. In actual fact, in the North of the island and at lower altitudes the gloom was worse than at home and resembled North Wales in November.  But climb up though the drizzle and a very different world is revealed. We witnessed a spectacular cloud inversion, I saw my first Brocken Spectre and am now nursing sunburn.

The best hike is undoubtedly the poular trek between Pico do Ariero and Pico Ruivo.  Hiking there and back gives almost 3000ft of ascent in about 6 hours on a superbly engineered path.  The picture below looks back from Pico Ruivo to Pico do Ariero where you can just see the dome of the military radar installation which you can drive your car right up to.

The levada walks of Madeira which follow the old irrigation channels are, of necessity, pretty lacking in gradient.  But the area of the central mountains looks full of promise for further exploration and now you can fly direct from East Midlands to Funchal with two carriers Madeira could well become a regular winter destination for us.

Cloud inversion. Pico do Ariero

Pico do Ariero

The cuisine of Madeira is not well known, at least by me.  Hot Limpets seemed to be a local speciality and one which surely ought to be better known in the UK.  Limpets, as any student of the British seaside rockpool can tell you are widely and freely available.  They have a tendency to stick to the rocks like, well, limpets.  But a kick with a sturdy boot can dislodge them.

They seemed to have at least as much merit as escargots – the taste being predominantly from the garlic butter and the lemon, but there was a fresh, seaside saltiness which I liked.

Hot Limpets

Hot Limpets at the Quinta do Furao

Hello world, goodbye Twitter.

I’ve deleted my Twitter account.  After two years I finally had to acknowledge that I just don’t get it.  What the hell is point of Twitter?  Stephen Fry has apparently abandoned his millions of followers (again) after some people were nasty to him.  Personally I would have been happy with any kind of reaction at all.  It seems to me that, unless you are a celebrity, everyone is tweeting and nobody is listening.

My epiphany came on a long haul flight when the stewardess handed me one of those little sachets of milk that you pour into your coffee.  Mid-atlantic boredom led me to examine the packaging.  They are called DairyStix, a product of Freshways Dairystix Ltd.

dairystix

DairyStix

Dairystix are clearly a modern, forward-thinking company, wise to the importance of engaging the public through social media and their packaging invited me to follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

Bored as I was, I looked out over the endless sea of cloud and tried to imagine just how empty my life would have to be before I followed the manufacturer of DairyStix on Twitter.  But when I got home and checked, I found that DairyStix had more followers than me.

Therefore I quit and advise everyone to do the same.  Twitter is hemorrhaging users and burning cash at an unfathomable pace.  They’ll be lucky to last another year.

DairyStix meanwhile, may last a little longer.  They haven’t tweeted anything in the last two years and are presumably focused on the task of efficiently pouring milk into little plastic sachets – something which is likely to be a far more profitable use of their time in the long run.

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