Friday, 28 March 2008

Sat Bains

It was our first wedding anniversary and we wanted something fitting to mark the occasion. We had originally wanted to go to the Fat Duck and Him Indoors had spent 2 hours, two days in a row trying to get a reservation to no avail. Then we thought of Petrus, but it was booked up till September, so we settled on Sat Bains. Now, this makes it sound like our last choice which it wasn't. Sat's restaurant has been on my list for quite a while, but it's location in Nottingham made it the sort of place we were unlikely to go to, until now that is. We decided to make a trip of it and to stay overnight in the rooms attached to the restaurant. The idea of waddling back to our room after a large meal rather appealed.

We booked our flights and even that was a bit of a faff. It seems that there is only one flight on Saturday and that gets in at 10.30 am and then the flight on the Sunday leaves at 4.30 pm. It looked like we were going to see a lot of Nottingham.

I was quite excited by the whole trip. I had watched Sat on the Great British Menu last year and had been intrigued by his Duck egg dish, as many people have been. He has also been getting a lot of press and indeed is on the cover of this month's Food Monthly. As any foodie does, I did my homework on Chowhound and egullet to get some idea of what to expect. We debated long and hard about which menu to pick. I was inclined to push the boat out, this being a special occasion, and do the bespoke menu. £150 for anywhere up to 16 courses, tell them your favourite ingredients and they create a dream meal for you. This appealed to the control freak in me. I get to tell the chef pretty much what I want to eat and he makes it for me in his own interpretation. Ideal. Him Indoors had other ideas: ' I am going to a fancy restaurant. Why would I tell them what I want to eat. I want them to surprise me, to make me eat things I might not have had before'. We therefore went for the surprise menu at £95.

In my excitement I had called a couple of times and had actually spoken to Sat who had picked up. I had also emailed with some queries. I remember thinking that the replies I received by email were a bit 'business-like', maybe my excitement did not transmit through the ether? A few small things irked me. In some of the reviews I had read it seemed possible to request dishes whilst doing the surprise menu, so I did the same. The reply was that as it was a surprise menu, that's how it would be. The only concession was that the duck egg was available as an add on, so I said we would both like to do this. The next thing is a bit nit picky but here goes. Given the fact that we were arriving at 10.30 am I asked if we could leave our bags and if our room was ready any earlier could we be called on our mobile so we could check in early. The response was that no, the earliest would be 3pm. Now, I know this is not a hotel, just family run restaurant with rooms, but they could just have said yes, even if the room ended up not being ready till 3 pm. It made me feel as if there was no flexibility and that it didn't really matter that we were wandering about Nottingham killing time before we could check in.

Anyway. Onto the meal. I did not take any photos, there are some on egullet that will give you an idea of the style of things.

We started off with a roaring meg for HI, and a ok G&T for me.
Then there was the issue of wine. I enquired as to what we would be served so I could pick a couple of glasses accordingly. I was told that as it was a surprise menu we would only find out once it was placed in front of us. I was a bit flummoxed, I have to say. I explained that I could not pick my wine without knowing what I was eating, and the lady although concerned, was unable to help us any further. The best we could do was to ascertain that the meal would be white heavy. I found this a bit odd. I couldn't believe that they didn't know by at least 6 pm what they were serving us and therefore not able to tell us. It would still have been a surprise, just a bit sooner. It's just as well I am not an Oenophile otherwise I think I would have been quite upset.
So, I ended up picking glass of white and of red that we like to drink and went with it.

The fact that I had said via email that we both wanted the Duck egg seemed not to have been passed on to the staff and we were were asked if we wanted this option, to which an affirmative was given. I was also a bit surprised that we were not offered the normal menu to whet our appetites and stimulate conversation about what we might be served. But hey ho.

This is what we had.


Tinned Tuna, Salt Cod Croquette, Pumpkin Soup, Artichoke Soup

The tuna came in cool tin and was refreshing, salt -cod croquette ok, soups good, the artichoke having the edge for me.

Ham, egg, peas

This was good, I especially like the 3 ways of peas- pea puree, fesh peas and pea shoots. I couldn't distinguish the slow cooked egg from a runny egg though.

Scallop, apple, oyster emulsion, tempura

Scallop perfectly seasoned and cooked, worked well with apple. Never have understood why you would Tempura an Oyster, still don't - I prefer them raw.

Foie Gras, fig, apricot

As I have mentioned in other posts, you can have too much Foie Gras. A very rich, decadent dish.

Wood-pigeon, langoustine, cauliflower

This I liked. Langoustine perfectly seasoned and cooked again. An interesting combination which I have never had before. Cauliflower seems to be making a revival and quite right too.

Wild hare, nuts, watercress, chocolate

A classic combination, Hare and Chocolate, which I have enjoyed many a time at Martin Wishart and probably would have again had I not thought been so perturbed by being served 'hare' for a second time. Doh! (see later for an explanation)

Rose, veal, onions, morels, carrot, truffle

Probably my most favourite dish. Tender moist rose-veal, with a delicate interpretation of veg that complimented it well. I could almost see the calf gamboling happily in the woodland forest. And truffles, how can you go wrong with truffles?

Cheese on toast

I had heard about this before, and know that they serve a version in Tapac24 Carles Abellan's place in Barcelona. I was a bit disappointed by it finding it too greasy and the bread a bit sodden. Even the truffles didn't save it.

Moving on to the puddings. These were beautiful, each in their own way. Light, delicate, interesting. Particularly the first and last, which I don't think can be attributed to primacy and recency effect, but more to the inspired combinations. It takes a truly inventive mind with a delicate palate and a reservoir of taste memory to create these.

Yoghurt, pear, liqucorice

Chocolate textures

Creme brulee, plum

Pineapple, coconut, Hibiscus.

Each dish was obviously carefully thought out and there was no lack of technical expertise. Each dish in it's own right hung well together but I didn't think the meal was well balanced. Wood-pigeon, hare then veal. All very decadent and lovely to have, but all powerful and heavy. I could feel my big toe aching but then maybe I am a woose? I found myself clocking what the other diners had and thinking 'that seems a better balanced meal', and feeling a little whistful. Now, to feel this way when, by rights we were meant to have the superior eating experience seems churlish, I know. Maybe it's a case of the grass is always greener. Maybe more expensive is not always better. £65 instead of £95? Who knows.

It was also not helped by the fact that our server told us that two dishes in a row were hare, when in fact one was wood-pigeon and the other hare. Without a menu to consult it was 2 hours later that we realised the mistake. In the meantime we had been sat talking about how odd it was to get two hare dishes in a row and coming up with fantastical explanations for it, including that maybe it was a fancy two-dish 'interpretation of Hare'. But, as HI observed, such a thing would have worked better if served together at the same time, on the same plate. It must be the power of suggestion, I usually have sensitive taste-buds, but at the time I couldn't tell.
One thing I will say is that 12 courses is a lot, even for me and I think we lost steam half way through. I have had meals that have lasted 3-4 hours, RHR, Per Se and Martin Wishart etc, but they were 8 courses max. By the end I could not even take up the offer of looking round the kitchen, something I normally love to do, as all I wanted to do was to lie down.

Breakfast the next day was great. I did not think that I would be able to after the excess of the night before but I did, and I am glad. The highlight for me was the museli, which I think they should package and sell.

It was a fun weekend, but would I go again? Well, I don't think I would make a trip down specially. All the issues I had were minor and about the process itself. The food could not be faulted, the menu planning, maybe. If you lived in Nottingham I could see it would easily be a top choice. However, to have to spend money on flights, taxis and a hotel room in addition to the meal itself makes me want it to be perfect, and the small things niggled at me. That said, Him Indoors has a sister living in Nottingham so never say never.

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