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Whatever you’re out to find there’s nothing better than getting your hands on a bargain. Of all the wine I’ve drunk recently I’ve felt these are the best bang for your buck. Value is relative of course so you may not think a few of these are truly cheap but they still punch above their weight. As I mentioned in my first post about wine the challenge is getting people to be a little more adventurous and try something outside of the common options and hopefully this will provide some inspiration.

Romanian Pinot Noir – £6 – Waitrose

Decent Pinot is expensive, Burgundy obviously the most pricey and even from the up-coming New Zealand you’ll pay £10+ for something not particularly special. I picked this bottle up at the last minute to take to a blind tasting and people were pleasantly surprised. It was recognisable as Pinot Noir, perhaps not quite the rounded length compared to better examples but still refined red fruits, a touch of cranberry zing to it.

Picpoul De Pinet  – £ 7.50 – Tesco

This is a classic, easy drinking, white wine from the South of France. It’s got the citrus and crisp apple notes that you always get in light white but substantially more going on than a more simple wine like Pinot Grigo.

Juliénas Beaujolais 2017 – £ 8 – Lidl

Until recently I had never been a fan of Beaujolais. The really light “nouveau” style is still not for me but there is much more too it as wines like this demonstrate. This wine has a little more body but still plenty of lively red fruit character, it will also keep for a few more years unlike some examples of Beaujolais.

Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – £9 – Tesco

For less than a tenner you will often struggle to get a full bodied red wine from Australia that isn’t just a jammy fruit explosion. This is different, partly due to the age and a good amount of oak. Its got hints of eucalyptus and a smokey complexity that you don’t get with lesser wines, the oak I mentioned taking the edge off the serious body and tannins.

Marc Kent Winemakers Series – £9.74 – Majestic

Ok so this is actually £12.99 unless you’re buying 6 but who buys less than 6 bottles? This is from the wine maker behind the well-known Chocolate Block which will set you back over £20. Majestic commissioned this as a cheaper alternative but its all from the same vineyards so the quality is almost as high. This Syrah blend is full bodied but smoother than the previous Aussie Cabernet with the distinctive peppery warmth of Syrah/Shiraz. Really easy drinking for a full bodied red.

Castelli Martinozzi, Rosso Di Montalcino – £12.99 – Cadman Fine Wine (Online)

At £14.99, unless you buy 6 or more, this is the most expensive wine and for good reason. If you’re not familiar with Montalcino its an area of Sangiovese, Brunello is the special stuff at a minimum of around £30 a bottle too £100+ for Reserva level. Less common is the Rosso which doesn’t spend as long in oak so has a touch more fruit and considerably cheaper though this is probably the lowest priced out there that I’ve seen. Its a beautifully made wine, classic red fruit and cherry that you get with Italian wine and a lengthy refined finish. It would perfectly accompany something like a roast lamb or duck dish for a special occasion.

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Sample might have flown under some radars but those in the know have been talking about it since opening a couple of months ago, I have been eagerly waiting for the opportunity to make a trip. It’s been a stealthy arrival on the scene with not a huge amount of social media or a website. The restaurant is above Tilt in a nice little space with room for perhaps 30/40 covers, modern and inviting. An open kitchen also allows you to see the scale of the operation, namely 2 chefs and just one front of house at the time we were there.

The concept takes a bit of getting your head around, having been I’m still not convinced I’ve got it. There is a blackboard of 8/9 single ingredients which combine in various ways to make up the dishes on offer. There’s quite a lot of debate as to what this really means but it is not at all clear, it also makes for awkward interactions with the waitress. “What would you like?”, “a chicken thing please, maybe a seabass and pepper thing…if that’s a thing?”. You don’t really know what your options are, or at least I didn’t. This format brings with it the model of a fixed price of £25 and the suggestion that you can eat as many dishes as you like. There is a short but well formed drinks list, cocktails of course given the Tilt connection and some decent beer but only a few bottles of wine to choose from.

Sample Blackboard – Sample – Nottingham

Confusing format aside, how was the food? I enjoyed the bread on the table, a well made focaccia that was liberally oiled and salted. Our first course was mostly some roasted peppers with a few capers and breadcrumbs for a touch of binding, I’d have liked some chunkier bits to provide more texture but a couple of deep fried basil leaves were a nice addition. Simple but enjoyable. The second dish focused on tomato and that element looked fab. It had been skinned and stuff with a tomato ragu but held its form beautifully and glistened invitingly. It would have been excellent were it not for the basil sorbet, I could see before I tackled it that it was not right and with only two elements on the plate there is nowhere to hide. When I managed to chip off some the grainy, rock solid ellipse the flavours worked really well, it is basil and tomato after all.

Tomato & Basil – Sample – Nottingham

Swordfish, visually, burst off the plate. The fish had been introduced to cajun flavours, nicely balanced and with a handful of fresh samphire. The plate also was dressed with some mango sauce that just about worked, the addition of raspberries and blueberries though was too far, any mouthful was dominated by sweetness and sharpness. Similarly another swordfish dish was served alongside orange segments and a satay sauce. This really didn’t work for me either, sometimes its down to the individual palate of course but my fellow diner had the same opinion on this one.

Swordfish 1 – Sample – Nottingham

Swordfish 2 – Sample – Nottingham

Further courses were perfectly enjoyable and happily less adventurous. A chicken dish showed off more bold presentation, the bird itself fairly plain but well cooked and well seasoned. The flavour came from a well made chilli jam that had a good rounded warm rather than a more harsh heat which can sometimes happen. The colourful spots on the elaborate plate did at least add something with additional spots of basil and a spiced mayo. A gnocci pot was a strange choice from serving perspective, despite that it was a healthy portion and was by far the most filling of the evening. Classic tomato and aubergine flavours in the sauce, the gnocci itself just a touch flabby. Some mutton meatballs and another chicken dish also fell into this selection that were somewhere around the 7 or 7.5 out of 10 area.

Chicken – Sample – Nottingham

The best dishes were two of the most simple. A lovely piece of seabass was enhanced by a pea pesto that manged to be both fresh of rich with the oil and cheese. A chunk of mutton, I’ve forgotten if they mentioned a specific cut, then arrived upright with some further cheffy touches etched across the plate. Frankly though it could have been served on a slate with multiple pointless smears and I’d still have loved it as the meat was that good. Beautifully cooked and outstanding flavour but still as tender as spring lamb.

Mutton – Sample – Nottingham

This was the most mixed meal I have had for a while, some excellent food a lot of decent food and some misguided flavours. Sample is certainly interesting, with the amount of dishes (I think we had 12 or more between 2 in the end) and work that has gone in from the small kitchen team I don’t think you can complain the £25 price tag. What this does limit is me going back and having a couple of my favourite dishes and spending less than that fixed price. Apparently the ingredients change a little every week or so and if you go back a month later you should find an entirely new “menu”. I could see myself returning but it wasn’t the compete experience I expected based on some reports. There isn’t really anywhere else like it in Nottingham and as it matures and hits begin to dominate misses it has the potential to be really good. I’ll keep a close eye on their progress…

  • Food

    7.5

  • Value

    8

  • Service

    7.5

  • Overall

    7.5

Restaurant website: https://www.facebook.com/SampleMarketKitchenAtTilt/

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I thought I would have a crack at writing about wine. If you’ve been following me on Twitter you will have seen more posts of various bottles and tastings I have been to. I have also been doing some qualifications, I’m planning to do my level 3 in the Autumn which is where it starts to get serious! In talking about wine I have found that many people are interested in what I have been drinking, enjoying and might recommend. I have spoken to a lot of people that say “well I like X wine but I’m not sure why or what it is about it that I like”. This, along with the fact there is so much out there to get your head around, means even people who want to expand their knowledge can struggle to do so. Hopefully my musings will be of interest whatever level you are coming from.

I thought I would write up summaries of the tastings I got to with my thoughts, highlights, lowlights and perhaps what I learnt. The opportunity to attend these came about after a connection made the mistake of inviting me to the group via Twitter and I’ve been almost every week since! Over the Summer months themes are set with people bringing a wine or two meeting the criteria for the group to taste blind and share thoughts. Learning is a big part of this, particularly for me to learn from experienced wine lovers, several of whom are in the industry. In fact someone often says “don’t forget we are here to learn”, though this often coincides with him putting out a bottle that’s less than palatable.

Onto the wine. As the title suggests the most recent week was “The Ashes” and we started off with England’s most famous wine export, the sparkling stuff. On this occasion a 2013 Brut from South Ridge made in the traditional method. Immediately plenty to unpack with regard to terminology. Firstly you will notice no grapes listed, the chap who bought it confirmed it was a chardonnay blend. This is likely to try and produce something similar to a champagne blend; chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. Brut is simply a dry wine as opposed to Sec or Demi-Sec which denote sweeter wines. The “traditional method” is a reference to the method of making champagne where the final fermentation happens in the bottle creating those toasty notes compared to, say, a prosecco (which isn’t made in this way hence the retention of more fruity characteristics). It was enjoyable, retaining good citrus notes and acidity despite those toasty characteristics. Traditional method sparkling has never been my favourite so not one I would rush out to buy. At £24 it isn’t cheap but for English wine and by comparison to Champagne it doesn’t represent a bad value for money at all.

Wine enjoyment: 5/10 – personal preference here taking it down a couple of points to where it should really be

Value for money: 7/10 – good by comparison to similar Champagne

Uniqueness: 7/10 – it’s still English Sparkling with a decent amount of age

Pair with: seafood, rich buttery or cheesy dishes

South Ridge – English Sparkling Wine

The next bottle divided the room with the majority (including me) thinking it may have been Australian. The reason for that was that it was an oaked Chardonnay, to my knowledge (and experience) a pretty uncommon wine for England to produce as we’re typically a climate on the cool side. The wine had also spent time “on lees” which means prolonged contact with yeast (used in fermentation), similar to the champagne traditional method. That process, as well as the wine being aged in french oak for 9 months, produced a wine rather different from your typical English bottle that would be dominated by citrus and green fruits. On the reveal that it’s £30 a bottle a murmur went round the room about it being too much. It is expensive but still the best example of this sort of wine that most of us had had.

Wine enjoyment: 6/10 – again I prefer a light style of wine and not, in general, fan of lees contact wines

Value for money: 5/10 – not one for shoppers on a budget, had to rate value though

Uniqueness: 9/10 – English Chardonnay a new one on me

Pair with: savoury pastry dishes, grilled or smoked foods, fattier fish

Kit’s Coty – English Chardonnay

I bought 3 wines to this evenings proceedings. Two of which I shall gloss over which were from a vineyard tour I went to near Wales and they didn’t show well however one bottle was supermarket procured. A much more classic example of an English still white wine. It is a blend of 6 grapes that I won’t bore you with but the most ones common found in English white wine. The palate that verged on too sharp and acidic but just about carried with enough citrus and green fruits. There was a background hit of elderflower if you looked hard enough. I expected a little more finesse as it came highly recommended from a few publications from the Aldi Signature Collection. At £10 its still relative value for an English wine but it didn’t show as well as I thought.

Wine enjoyment: 6/10 – just too mean, approaching the bad characteristics of a cool climate wine for me

Value for money: 7/10 – can’t complain but I am not rushing out to buy more

Uniqueness: 8/10 – cheap English wine from a supermarket means it scores well

Pair with: fresh seafood, savoury dishes with citrus

Lyme Block – English White Wine

Few wines are as easy identifiable as Riesling. This example was no exception with the floral and petrol notes on the nose quickly giving the game away, even to me. It was also displaying the telltale signs of being from the land down under, namely lots on lime on the finish. I prefer old world (mostly German) Riesling but this was a subtle off-dry style by Australia’s standards and I very much liked it. At roughly £15 I was strongly considering buying some myself.

Wine enjoyment: 8.5/10 – just my sort of thing

Value for money: 7/10 – a good example for that price but you can get better from Germany still

Uniqueness: 6/10 – a lot of Riesling coming out of Aus / NZ now

Pair with: spicy foods, fish

Great Western – Australian Riesling

On to Reds, the youngest was fairly easily to spot though with a purple colour in the glass (this typically moves to ruby and then garnet and brown through the years), a big fruity Aussie Shiraz but quite short in the finish. This turned out to be £25 from Waitrose which seemed pretty punchy. It should soften and develop with age but really nowhere to hide at that price point.

Wine enjoyment: 7/10 – certainly drinkable enough

Value for money: 5/10 – can’t work out where that price tag is coming from with this one

Uniqueness: 5/10 – not quite ten a penny but a lot of similar stuff in supermarkets

Pair with: roast beef, a stew, I’d say BBQ if younger Shiraz like this

The Forger – Australian Shiraz

This group don’t often get flummoxed for too long unless its something really unique but this one was a bit of a revelation for all of us. Nebbiolo usually hails from the North of Italy, most famously in Barolo. Here though, just East of Melbourne in the well-known Yarra Valley was an Australian example from De Bortoli, a producer with Italian heritage. It did drink like an Italian wine which suited me with its ripe red fruits and refined tannins. The price wasn’t known at the time, it appears to be about £25 a bottle with limited availability in the UK. I was much more likely to spend the money on this rather than the Waitrose number.

Wine enjoyment: 8/10 – refined, good red fruit flavour

Value for money: 7/10 – expensive but uniqueness AND strong wine making do make a good case for it

Uniqueness: 9/10 – it’s Australian Nebbiolo!

Pair with: something that works with high tannins, salty or fatty foods. Charcuterie

Nebbiolo from the Yarra Valley

I’m going to highlight a couple more at once, mostly due to age at the likelihood of people getting hold of any is pretty slim. A 1993 Australian Bannockburn Shiraz had held up much better than we thought it might, perhaps a touch better than the Rosemount Estate Balmoral Shiraz from 1999 that actually showed more signs of oxidisation than the older bottle. Both were showing pretty well though, the classic pepper warm from the Syrah / Shiraz there even if a little of the best fruit on the palate had been lost with age. Both very drinkable and enjoyable, though the price tag would be significant given how tricky they are to get hold of now (£50+).

There were a number of other wines across the evening that for various reasons I haven’t included. I hadn’t planned to write this blog so will take more notes in future! As my first attempt keen to hear feedback on whether I have pitched this at the right level for whoever may be reading. What else you would like to know too perhaps. This coming week our theme is wines/grapes of the Loire region of France.

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The best Chinese restaurants often aren’t much to look at and U Canteen is no exception. Down just past the properly fashionable part of Hockley it’s opposite Oriental Mart which I believed which a sister business but now think I am wrong, do let me know on this one! Back to not being much to look at and its a grubby unit outsite and in. With only a few tables and limited space its a bit cluttered, my least favourite addition was a very old fishtank which had some seriously grim water in it. If you can look past that the menu is a pretty vast a difficult read for the uninitiated with various ingredients not familiar to most western tastes. As well as the selection of innards there were a few section and translation issues with “Jelly fish& smoked hooks” appearing under fish alongside “Chicken in red oil”. You can get some Cantonese fare too but I wasn’t here to have sweet and sour pork. Without much consultation I decided on Hunan chicken alongside some noodles and beansprouts.

Hunan Chicken – U Canteen – Nottingham

Almost no time had passed before dishes starting arriving. The noodles up first with a friend having it as a main dish with some roast pork. Whilst this was a little unexciting it was a pretty reasonable price for a well cooked pile of food. My Hunan dish (£7) was exactly what I was after, the dried chilli and chilli oil meant I knew it was going to be a fiery affair. The underlying flavour was really good, all elements coated in the tasty warming oil. The chicken itself decent, flash fried amongst the other elements so could have had a bit more colour but hardly anything to complain about.

For around £15 including a can of 7 up I really enjoyed U Canteen. We are actually fairly well blessed with the likes of Shanghai Shanghai for authentic Chinese food in Nottingham. There they are a little more polished in their options and the execution of the food but also at a higher price point, happily there’s a place for both.

  • Food

    8

  • Value

    8.5

  • Service

    6.5

  • Overall

    8

Restaurant website: https://www.facebook.com/ucanteen/

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My continual search for great working lunches in Nottingham really shows how diverse our options are and in general receiving favourable scores. Part 1 is available here 

Wok & Go

Hot Box – Wok&Go – Nottingham

This really is my “go to” over the years, for some time I lived quite near the Wok & Go in Hockley. If you read part 1 of this post you’ll see that I was less than complimentary about rival Chopstix. On a recent visit W&G proved its superiority. My favourite is the Hot Box. The noodles are much higher quality and freshly wok’ed, one thing that does mean is that things can be a little less consistent depending on which chef you get. They have a great underlying flavour and mix of veg and meat. A regular (£6.80) will fill you up but a bit pricey as they’re a bit mean on anything other than the cheaper contents, I recommend going for a £10 on regular boxes on a Tuesday.

Food: 8.5/10

Value 6.5/10 (8/10 on a Tuesday!)

Roosters

Blog / Twitter followers will know that Roosters has been one of my regular haunts over the years. A meal from there at £6/7 is good value and the quality is always good. On a recent visit their chicken burger (hot level of spice) did the business but was perhaps a touch dry. I still often tell people it’s a better, cheaper Nandos. Sadly one of the problems is that people seem to agree with me and it takes ever longer when I pop in to get something. Not one if you’re in a hurry.

Food: 7.5/10

Value: 7.5/10

Thai 2 Go 

Prawn Pad Thai – Thai2Go – Nottingham

I’d be interested in how long this van has been appearing on Clinton Street, it seems like a bit of an institution and has always been popular on my visits. They have a seriously large list of options for a food van, impressively so though I’ve stuck to an old favourite with their Pad Thai. The prawn version which is quite generous with their seafood is a mere £5. I think they could be more punchy with their fish sauce and base flavours but there’s little to complain about at that price.

Food: 7/10

Value: 8.5/10

Five Guys

Divides opinion this one. It can be seriously pricey, they get you on the psychology of a normal size burger being called a “little burger”. If you get a little hamburger though and “small” fries (no drink) you can do lunch there for £8 and certainly won’t go hungry as the chip portion is substantial. I am personally a big fan of the burgers, you can customise them to your choice and are always well cooked. The fact you can’t really eat for less than £8 means its never going to be a regular choice.

Food: 8.5/10

Value: 5/10

Pokewaves 

Wasabi Salmon Bowl – Pokewaves – Nottingham

I have to admit the poke had passed me by. It is now perhaps the best known dish hailing from Hawaii thanks to the poke bowl becoming a popular dish over the last few years. To my knowledge the addition of the Pokewaves stall in the Victoria Centre was the first time you could get your hands on some Poke in Nottingham. There are a few bowls to choose from though you  could make your own I believe. I opted for wasabi salmon from choices that were chiefly cubes of fish which is the traditional hallmark of the dish. Whilst its another premium lunch at around £8 a bowl you get a good amount of fish and mine was rather delicious. The wasabi was well judged, warm but not overpowering. It was also filling with plenty of rice sitting beneath the toppings, of which the crispy onions particularly bought great flavour and texture. In an attempt to make things more Hawaiian they also chuck some pineapple in. That was by far the worst element, a jarring addition that I don’t feel added anything. I’ll return but I’ll skip the fruit.

Food: 8.5/10 (4/10 for mouthfuls including pineapple!)

Value: 6.5/10

Wolf Street Food

Chicken & Pepper Pizza – Wolf – Nottingham

I really dislike the branding of this place, firstly Italian Street Food when you’re serving pasta and pizza is a bit of a stretch. Secondly their tagline “you cannot control a wolf” is pretty meaningless marketing spiel. Happily on the food front I don’t have such negative comments. I went on day one and some staff faffery I forgave, my only criticism was that it was a little tricky to work out the format. If you’re getting a pizza you get to choose any 2 toppings for £7 and at a fairly generous 11 inches. The base and cooking was a bit disappointing, basic quality and cooked in a conventional rather than pizza oven. That said the toppings were that good (even if their distribution on the pizza was questionable), spicy chicken and roasted peppers, that I didn’t mind. I’d rather spend £7 here on a pizza than £8 down at MOD.

Food: 6.5/10

Value: 7/10

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I was speaking someone recently who lamented the lack of knowledge of Nottingham’s lunch options for the busy city worker. I thought they were quite right. Almost a year ago now I started working back in the centre and have been sampling and refining where I choose to pop out to. Here the focus is on things you can pick up and bring back to the office so no eat-in lunch deals.

Taste of Korea

The selection of street food vans along both Clinton Streets weren’t new to me but I didn’t appreciate how many great vendors operated there. I’ve eaten Taste of Korea’s food at the Street Food Club but it passed me by that they were also available in van form.  A spicy pork bimimbap was one of the most pretty lunches I have had and at £6 came in at good value. Bulked out with a lot of rice but the spicy sauce carried enough flavour that it never got boring.

Food: 8/10

Value: 8/10

Spicy Pork Bimimbap – Korea House

Chopstix

A real disappointment. I went to the one on Clumber Street but the real estate was the only prime thing about it. Rather than the competition that cook their noodles to order Chopstix have trays of items already made for you to create a box with. The noodles were dire, rubbery and containing overcooked green beans for some reason?! You get 2 toppings, I went for chilli prawns and barbecue chicken. Both had some flabby batter attached that I suppose meant it was filling at least. I won’t be back.

Food: 5/10

Value: 6/10

Chilli Prawns & BBQ Chicken – Chopstix

Philpotts – Sandwiches etc.

A staple of Nottingham’s lunch team for some time. It’s polished brass home on Parliament Street always gave me the feeling of emptyness, as if something was missing in what is quite a big space. Food-wise it’s your usual stuff, not terribly exciting but there is a good element of customisation with their make to order counter. At £3.50 for one of them premium sandwiches it’s not bad either but stick a bag of kettle chips on at the counter and approaching £5 it starts competing with the hot food options across the city. There aren’t many decent sandwich options around in Nottingham so it does remain one of the best, it’s just not that exciting.

Food: 7/10

Value: 7/10

Bar Burrito –

I would wager that this is the most frequented lunch spot for our office, primarily due to the location. Their model is a counter of options that you pick as they move you along the conveyor of salsas and embellishments. A classic, which should be enough to fill anyone up, is £7 and does perform well on flavour, aforementioned salsa coming in different heat levels, my favourite is the hottest which manages to pack a punch even through the carbs. It is amongst more expensive options and whilst there are a few choices of fillings its hard to discern the quality of the meat with so much else going on. For the health conscious a burrito “bowl” option without the wrap is a popular choice too.

Food: 8/10

Value:7/10

Hunger Foods

The most polished of the food vans, some proper branding and a bright pistachio green was catching the eye of a few passers by. Anyone tempted to take the plunge would find pleasing results. Firstly the menu is small. I always like that, do a few things well. The day I went was a choice of chicken, beef or salmon . Didn’t spot any veggie or vegan options but I could very well be wrong. The chicken offering I had was “Brazilian” with some “paella”. I won’t dive too much into the authenticity of these but I think I’d have preferred they weren’t so aligned to different cuisines. Perhaps chicken and rice wouldn’t sell so well. It was also drizzled with mint yogurt and served with a lime, introducing even more influences?! Fortunately it was delicious. The chicken and rice both had plenty of flavour and were well cooked. The dressings and salad added to the party too, flavours ultimately in harmony despite my misgivings. A total of £5 for this vibrant box? Somewhere I’ll definitely be back to!

8.5/10

9/10

Brazilian Chicken & Rice – Hunger Foods

Chips?! –

There’s a few of these places now but I just don’t get it. I haven’t been and don’t have the desire too. Having entirely chips, for lunch I can’t get my head around. Please let me know if I am missing out!

No 12 Houndsgate –

I like this café, and the philosophy behind it as they are a fully vegetarian affair. I’ve had a couple of boxes now and whilst they are definitely tasty I didn’t get enough to fill me up. A recent visit I got an extra topping which took the cost to £7 but even then I had the raid the cupboards for some crisps (pictured). I am sure that this might be plenty for some people but I am clearly greedy!

Food: 8/10

Value: 6/10

Potato & “Chicken” salad – No 12 Houndsgate

Reds BBQ –

Their lunch menu surprised me. Options that include both fish and vegan choices come in at a fairly reasonable £7.50, although it’s still more than you would want to spend apart from a treat. For my takeaway I had pulled pork and chicken sandwich with chips. The little sub itself was great, the embellishments of crispy onions, pickles and their mustard BBQ sauce really making a difference and overall one of the most polished lunches I had.

Food: 9/10

Value: 7/10

Chicken & Pulled Pork Sandwich – Reds

Part 2 is already under construction but get your suggestions coming in!

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There have been more yet developments in Sherwood since I wrote about Rikshaw in the Summer. Mostly drinking establishments like the Crafty Teller, Hugo’s and Jenkins. The other new arrival is the Pudding Pantry, much to the delight of those already competing for your breakfast pound. Although they do offer something a bit different from the likes of The Crimson Tree and The Bakehouse. In fact their demographic was not difficult to discern on the weekend morning that I went. Children. This is understandable, it is puddings, pancakes and milkshakes rather than a hipster hangout. In truth I’m not sure where I would feel more at home.

They do offer the whole range of options though, almost too many I thought as I leafed through the menu struggling to choose. I wanted to try something that played to their strengths so I went for pancakes – but I also thought I’d test their traditional breakfast credentials. “The Full Pantry” gave me that opportunity, basically a full English with an added stack. I was offered the choice of egg and plumped for scrambled. I struggle to put into words how bad it was. It was almost solid and I needed a knife to cut some chunks off. When I did manage to get into it there was not a granule of seasoning, certainly no specks of pepper and I am pretty confident salt was entirely absent too. Mushrooms weren’t much better, large button ones that had been cooked whole but for nowhere near long enough. The inside was practically raw, the flavour also lacking having not had time to develop. The truly awful out of the way I am pleased the say the beans were fine, if particularly sweet. The bacon and sausage were pretty decent too. Fortunately the pancakes were excellent, fluffy and light where American-style ones can so often be stodgy.

The Full Pantry – The Pudding Pantry – Nottingham (Sherwood)

I observed that most plates coming out of the kitchen were pancakes, fortunate for those diners given my experience with anything more adventurous. Later I decided rather than their fortune it was my stupidity to choose anything other than what you would expect the Pudding Pantry to be good at. That doesn’t excuse the lacklustre effort of a Full English but I would return again for one of their pancake dishes. As for my bacon fix? Up the road at The Bakehouse is still the place in Sherwood for that.

  • Food

    6

  • Value

    7

  • Service

    7

  • Overall

    6.5

Restaurant website: http://www.thepuddingpantry.co.uk/

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Welcome to a rundown of my favourite dishes of the year in Nottingham. The top of the tree, Alchemilla and Sat Bains were both featured in my “Overall Best Dishes 2018”.  For one reason or another these were not dishes I wrote about at the time so I’m pleased to have been able to report on such a diverse range of great food.

One food experience I’d been hunting for a couple of years was a Rustic Crust pizza. For those not already in the know its a roving pizza truck that pitches up at various East Midlands events, often at Trent Bridge (where I found them). Despite a beastly queue and some miserable weather it was well worth the wait. The base was as good as it gets, those singed bubbles a sign that they were getting something right. Toppings were really on point too, sweet spicy peppers and firey ‘nduja sausage. One of the best pizza’s I’ve had and worth the wait.

Rustic Crust Pizza – Nottingham

Outside the top restaurants in Nottingham the Black Bull has quietly established a reputation cooking some really interesting food. It’s a bit out of the way in a little village North of the city called Blidworth. I was impressed with the whole menu, though not so much the wider experience. The standout dish was cod with a luxurious artichoke dauphinoise, white wine sauce and sea herbs. This could easily have graced a top restaurant, the food here better than my last couple of experiences at Hart’s and World Service. The full review

Skrei Cod – The Black Bull – Blidworth

There’s always the odd returning favourite and somewhere I continually take delight in introducing people to is Shanghai Shanghai. Its Szechuan food remains rare not just across Nottingham but the region too. You can get the classic Cantonese dishes here but that isn’t where the magic lies. From the Szechuan menu my top dish recently has been their double cooked pork belly. First its slowly roasted before being thinly sliced and finished in a wok with chilli oil adding peppers and onions. Heat, salt and fat in harmony. The full review

Pork Belly – Shanghai Shanghai – Nottingham

One establishment that might be a surprise feature is the Four Bells in Woodborough. Not that it isn’t a good pub but I didn’t expect it to make one of my best dishes as I went along for Sunday lunch. It even wasn’t the roast beef that did it for me, instead a starter of wood pigeon. This dish was the pub food you long for, but so rarely get. The stars of the show were two well cooked pigeon breasts (no easy task) that sat atop some high quality bread. Acidity and sweetness of balsamic worked nicely against the gamey meat, a combination I hadn’t expected to be so effective.

Pigeon – The Four Bells – Woodborough, Nottinghamshire

If I was handing out awards Lanzhou Noodles would win the hidden gem. Its rightly had some good publicity from people like myself but remains under the radar. A small unit on Market Street emanates plumes of steam from the slowly and carefully cooked pans of broth. The fact that the menu is just 4 variations on the same dish is a refreshing change from establishments that try to be all things to all people. Quite apart from my enjoyment of the style, those bowls have a joyful depth of flavour. A steal too at £7 including a drink.

Braised beef noodles – Lanhou Noodles – Nottingham

Anyone following me over the year may have observed my most mentioned restaurant has been Kushi-Ya. It began with an excellent pop-up which meant when their full restaurant opened toward the end of 2018 expectations were high. I’ve squeezed in several visits and on each occasion discovered something new that it would be easy to recommend. Their lunchtime £10 deal provided one of my dishes (well, trays) of the year. Perfectly crispy katsu tofu, sticky glazed chicken, rice and a couple of generous prawn dumplings for good measure. The full review

Lunch Menu – Kushi-ya – Nottingham

Nottingham is rightfully renowned for our Indian restaurants, my favourites really remain Cumin, Kayal and Desi. One establishment that had high expectations, as well as subsequent praise has been lavished on is Mowgli. Back to awards that could have been handed out and Mowgli would get my “What’s all the fuss about” gong. As well as not being able to find anything much positive to say on my visit it’s rapid expansion into other cities (with 6 sites now, and another 2 on the way) also makes it less lovable than Nottingham’s own 1-offs. Anyway I was meant to be talking about Rikshaw. Their brand of street food is more of a takeaway model at a lower price point, though there are a couple of tables at their site on Mansfield Road. Curries are decent but the best of the dishes are their chaats in my opinion. The samosa version has the classic combination of crunchy wheat bites, curried chickpeas tangy tamarind and cooling yoghurt. They also cater well for vegans. The full review

Samosa Chaat – Rikshaw – Nottingham

Despite the well publicised struggles of restaurants over the year some have gone from strength to strength. The Bakehouse is certainly one of those, I don’t think I’ve been when the little café on Mansfield Road has been quiet. Their breadmaking side of the business continues to receive plaudits with awards and they have increased collaborations with local restaurants. My full review previously didn’t showcase their Full English, probably up there with the best in Nottingham. The quality of the meat the star here, courtesy of JT Beedhams butchers just down the road. The full review

Full English Breakfast – The Bakehouse – Nottingham (Sherwood)

My final entry (can you tell I moved to near Arnold 13 months ago?) is yet another from Sherwood and Mansfield Road. This time the Turkish stylings of Rikki Rakkas, some may call it a kebab shop but I’m not sure that does them justice. It may be of wider interest that over the course of the year I reduced my intake of meat considerably, particularly when cooking at home. For what its worth my motivation is primarily for welfare and environmental reasons. It has been pretty easy with the great range of options now available in supermarkets that are reasonable, healthy and convenient. Anyway this was just a big plate of meat and I loved it. The quality of the lamb and chicken was good with some char adding to the profile but the addition of the grilled vegetables provided a welcome addition of freshness. The full review

“Special Platter for 2” – Rakki Rakkas – Nottingham

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This list (in no particular order) details the very best dishes I have eaten in 2018. A Nottingham-specific overview will be coming soon!

  • A visit to Berlin in frosty February took me to the 2* Tim Raue. His interesting background was the subject of one of the Netflix series of Chef’s Table and a lot of his influence comes from Japan. My favourite of his dishes was a stunning langoustine with wasabi. The strong flavour of the wasabi tempered skilfully and complimented the perfectly cooked, sweet shellfish.

Wasabi Langoustine – Tim Raue – Berlin

  • Despite visiting Sat Bains on a number of occasions the menu changes so often that great new dishes are always to be found. The creativity of Sat and his team shows no signs of abating and a meal for my 30th Birthday in the summer was probably the best of all my visits. One course that particularly stood out was an aged beef tartar with beetroot, inspired by Anish Kapoor. Quite apart from the striking resemblance it was a delicious plate of food, the soft, earthy, sweet beetroot flavour in harmony with the meat

Aged Beef (Inspired by Anish Kapoor) – Sat Bains – Nottingham

  • Claude Bosi’s Bibendum in South Kensington had been on my radar for some time, his move from Hibiscus has seen the surroundings change from a pretty basic dining room to a fantastic, light space in the old Michelin building, complete with old Michelin paraphernalia which does enhance the experience. The meal itself was generally good, the service a little too formal for my taste and in the odd instance they were simply lacking attentiveness. There was one outstanding dish though, the dessert. A chocolate souffle was perfectly prepared, a cherry ice cream placed on top of it at the table to melt into it was a luxurious combination of flavours, textures and temperatures. The final hurrah were some boozy cherries at the bottom. A very memorable finish to the meal.

Black Forest Souffle – Bibendum – London

  • Perhaps the most surprisingly good meal of the year was at Bohemia in Jersey. It has held 1 star for a little while but whilst no dishes blew us away it was consistently excellent cooking. I would recommend it over several 2 stars I have been to over the last few years. A delicate crab dish utilising both the white and brown meat in different ways showcased the best of the islands produce.

Crab Mousse – Bohemia – Jersey

  • I’m pleased to be able to feature a second Nottingham restaurant on this list. Alex Bond’s Alchemilla has gone from strength to strength. The Guardian visited it gave it a positive review as well as Alex being awarded “Chef to Watch” in the Good Food Guide. The menu continues to change on an impressively regular basis but one dish stood out. A main course of lamb with goats cheese and miso aubergine was easily comparable with 2 star cooking elsewhere.

Lamb with Goats Cheese and Miso Aubergine – Alchemilla – Nottingham

  • Both Alex Bond and Gareth Ward of Ynysir are alumni of Sat Bains kitchen, they have both emerged as some of the best chefs around. Gareth winning the “Chef of the Year” in the Good Food Guide. In my mind the most impressive thing about Ynysir is the impressively distinct style that has emerged from the cooking there. Meat, particularly aged is at the heart alongside some Asian influences. Most impressive was Char Siu pork, one of the best mouthfuls you’re ever likely to have

Char Siu Pork – Ynysir – Wales

  • Late 2017 saw the arrival of Core and immediate promotion to 2 stars in the Michelin Guide in 2018, thoroughly deserved in my opinion. A meal fairly early on in their opening was impressively consistent experience from start to finish. A potato dish with caviar and a dulse beurre blanc was a perfect example of something that appeared simple but serious work and skill gone into balancing the flavours. That sauce itself a highlight of the year!

Potato with Dulse Beurre Blanc – Core – London

Honourable Mentions

Morston Hall has been a place for an occasion for my family over the last few years and has never let us down. October 2018 was no different, the lunch menu outshone many other of the years experiences. There is nothing too innovative about the food and you may not get these truly memorable dishes but consistently great cooking on show as well as it being great value

Midsummer House saw a family friend’s 60th Birthday celebrations. Its private dining room is a great space and the food, particularly one of their now signature spherical desserts was fabulous. I didn’t think the menu was quite as strong or exciting as the full tasting experience but was again an overall success.

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Followers of mine will know that after a successful pop up earlier in the year I have been eagerly waiting for Kushi-Ya become a permanent fixture in the city. An unsuccessful KickStarter campaign fortunately did not stand in their way and in October the former Alley Café site was transformed. It’s still an awkward little unit – as you enter from an alleyway you’re greeted by some dead space before ascending the stairs to the restaurant. Its now a world away from the colourful, busy interior that it was before. What remains is clean simplicity, it could be described as bare but that styling is at home in this Japanese setting. The name Kushi-Ya is a reference to the skewered food that is a prominent feature of the menu, alongside a handful of snacks, 5 small dishes (£5-6.5) and 5 skewers (£3-£4.5). This doesn’t include a regularly evolving specials board that has had up to 6 more dishes depending on availability.

Salmon Tataki – Kushi-Ya – Nottingham

I’m fortunate enough to have visited on a few occasions since it opened. Those who have eaten at their pop ups will find familiar food, and familiar quality. The beef skewers with black garlic mustard remain a star attraction, the umami-rich sauce a great accompaniment to the flavourful meat. A personal favourite are the tofu katsu, the crispy coating enough to convince even the biggest tofusceptic, especially at a very reasonable £3. Salmon tataki was not quite as enjoyable as the tuna equivalent I first enjoyed but the jalapeño ponzu was still a winner. Warmth from the chilli and citrus working well with the rich, clean fish. I was also informed that skewers of mackerel with wasabi were excellent, a favourite of my girlfriend’s. I was a touch disappointed with a previously excellent dessert, Tira’miso’. The dish is still well made, lightness of the cream and sponge still particularly impressive. The miso adding a different dimension whilst staying true to what makes a tiramisu great. To my taste the addition (and amount) of nori powder, a seaweed power used widely at Kushi-Ya, detracted from my overall experience. The best thing I have eaten across all meals were probably some prawns simply cooked in their shell with Szechuan chilli oil. I was more than happy to part with my cash for £2 each from the specials menu. In fact the specials were consistently excellent and captured my imagination more, perhaps the excitement of new dishes compared to having had the majority of the main menu previously.

Szechuan Prawns – Kushi-Ya – Nottingham

I have also tried their lunch offering. You get a snack, 2 skewers and rice for £10. Prawn shumai are probably the best of the snacks, the dumplings generously stuffed with the shellfish. The dressing of chilli and garlic are nice but I would prefer more punch. A new one on me was tsukune. A form of chicken meatball that was wonderfully glazed and served alongside a tare and egg yolk sauce that combine to a enhance the rich, saltiness of the skewers. Their rice is a good example of sticky rice, as standard served with a sprinkling of flavoured flakes and powders that again included nori. It remains a little plain but if you choose a skewer with a sauce of some description then you can combine them to good effect. The £10 deal is certainly a good value way to experience Kushi-Ya. My only criticism would be that you cannot chose one of the specials skewers as part of the deal, despite them being no pricier.

Lunch Menu – Kushi-ya – Nottingham

My first meals in Kushi-Ya’s permanent surroundings have been enjoyable and promising. I was asked recently what excites me most about a new restaurant. My response was that, having eaten at so many restaurants, I long for something “different”… and Kushi-Ya is certainly that for Nottingham. In some respects I wonder if the menu might be too challenging or inaccessible to some. I know a little about Japanese food but most dishes had an element, ingredient or technique I had never heard of. While I wouldn’t want their elegant menu to become overly wordy, the odd note, or more proactive information from servers would go a long way to combating any fear of the unknown. On that note the service was charming and friendly throughout but its early days and the team’s knowledge is still building. There is already great food here with dishes changing and specials being introduced frequently, (my nori problem aside!) I imagine I’ll become a regular.

  • Food

    8.5

  • Value

    8

  • Service

    7

  • Overall

    8

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