Restaurant Sat Bains is Nottingham's only Michelin starred restaurant and is one of the places that Location Location Location researchers might have missed when they voted Nottingham as the fourth worst place to live in the UK. It's not surprising that they missed it given that it's situated near a flyover, adjacent to a industrial estate, underneath a line of electricity pylons. Location Location Location? Phil and Kirstie would not be happy, and they'd make it known with their annoyingly chipper, overly scripted banter.
We are shown to our room which would doubtlessly be described as "well appointed" in a brochure or travel guide, although I have to admit that I have no idea what this actually means. I imagine there's some government department, staffed by registered officiants, charged with organising room appointment ceremonies for new builds and refurbed properties.
'I, Sir Douglas Ponsonby-Smythe, by the powers vested in me, do officially appoint thee, a room!" at which point a crowd of onlookers clap politely and mutter their approval amongst themselves.
'Didn't he appoint that room well, Margaret?'
'Yes, Joan, terribly well. Masterful I'd say. Would you care for another scone?'
Conversely, how are rooms badly appointed? Perhaps elsewhere, a spotty 16 year old who has patiently been shadowing a registered officiant for a week, finally gets to have a go for himself. Full of enthusiasm he bounds through the gates of a property like an overexcited labrador, and waving his arms around proudly proclaims,
'I, er, Danny Wilshire, by the power of my vest, appoint you, a room!'
After a moment of silence, his mentor turns to him and says,
'No Danny, I think you'll find that's a wheelie bin.'
You sense there's as much opportunism going on at Restaurant Sat Bains as in a Heather Mills marriage. There's no question that the restaurant owes much of its current success to Sat's appearance on Great British Menu last year, where his duck egg poached at 62 degrees for 5 hours scored 10/10 from all three judges and was chosen as the starter to represent British cooking at a banquet in Paris. Great British Menu cookbooks are stacked high on the reception desk and available to buy for £20 (Amazon price: £13), and they have rather cheekily removed the famous dish from the £67 eight course tasting menu and offer it as an optional extra for a wallet-busting additional £15. Ch-ching!
Despite not taking the eggy extra, the menu is crammed with exciting flavour combinations - foie gras with corn icecream, poached figs with parmesan, salmon and plums, and magically they all work well. There are enough savory ice cream variations to start up a modern Mr Whippy van business, in fact I can see it now, driving around the gun capital of the East Midlands, with tinkling chimes broadcasting its arrival to the cascading notes of the Great British Menu theme tune. Ok, mister, stick your hands up and give me more of that pine-nut ice cream.
The cooking is adventurous, scientific and for the most part perfectly executed. The only let down was a course of foie gras which was served to our table of four in two different ways. Unfortunately the two dishes were markedly different in quality and execution and left those that had not had been served with the better one feeling cheated. One used 100% foie gras and the other didn't, one contained a leaf of thai basil but the other did not, one was served beautifully on a plate and the other in a cumbersome terrine pot. Why not just serve the same dish to everyone? It's the dumbest idea I've ever seen in a restaurant. Apart from that the food was glorious.
One of the hardest things things with these tasting menus is finding appropriate wines to go with the food. It's often a relief when you're given the option of matched wines with each course and adds an interesting dimension to the meal. This wasn't an option at Sat Bains and so naturally, I asked for help. Unfortunately instead of help, all I got was obstinate condescension and some of the unfriendliest service I've ever received in a restaurant. It went something like this:-
"Could you recommend wines to go with the tasting menu?"
"Well what wines do you like?"
" Well I like lots of different wines, but I don't really know what would go with the different dishes on the menu, I guess I need something versatile right?"
"Yes, that's right."
"So.....your recommendation would be.....?"
"Well as I said, it depends on what you like....."
"Mmmm, wellI like Malborough Sauvignon Blanc, I like reds from the Rhone Valley, I love Beaujolais when I want something light and fruity, I love a crisp Chablis, Champagne, Aussie Shiraz - it depends on what I'm eating!!!!"
"Well, you're never going to find a wine that will match with every course."
"Yes, I know that, that's why I want you to tell me the most versatile wines on your menu. Oh I give up!"
In the end I just went back to the wine menu and chose a Macon ("oh, that's very dry you know") and asked for a recommendation on what I deemed a versatile red, a medium bodied Pinot Noir ("were you thinking of the Central Otago Dry Gully, I drink it at home on a Sunday night.") No I wasn't thinking of that one actually as it costs £59 a bottle, but hey, you're doing my head in so let's just go with it shall we?
Not a good start and not really what you want from your head of front of house, a supercilious lemon-sucking, impersonal madam whose focus is on selling books and extra egg courses rather than mirroring the quality of the food being created in the kitchen. It's an example of how food is just one part of a dining experience, and it's a shame that it marred an otherwise great meal. I won't go into the fact that we weren't invited to taste the red wine, weren't offered the cheese course, had to pour our own wine all the time. These faults are so unnecessary and easily rectifiable that I hope they'll improve them and win the two stars that the cooking merits.