As a child, I was a very fussy eater. I survived for several years on little more than beans on toast, scrambled eggs, fish fingers, and chips, supplemented by chocolate and crisps. Fortunately I was quite hardy, and it didn’t seem to do me any harm. I was wary of trying new foods, and it was only really when I learned to cook for myself that I was able to get over this – if I knew exactly what went into something, I was more willing to give it a try. I was almost 20 by the time I first tried Chinese food of any description (and it was only a few years ago that I tried Indian food).
This week I was fortunate enough to be invited to lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant: Sat Bains, on the edge of Nottingham. It has not just one Michelin star, but two – I’ve never eaten anywhere like this before, so I can’t tell you what it is that lifts the food from getting one star to two, but I can tell you about my experience. And I can tell you that I feel quite proud to have tried every single dish I was offered – it’s not so long ago that the thought of sitting down to a meal like this would have terrified me.
The lunch, which was yesterday, was being held to promote the Slow Food Movement in and around Nottingham – most of the guests were chefs, as well as representatives from Slow Food. I took a taxi to the restaurant, and as I approached the door, it opened. There was a member of staff always positioned near the door, so that whenever you entered or left the building, they opened it for you – it seemed impossible to get near the door without someone helping you through it.
I was ushered into the bar area (always a good start), and offered a whisky-based cocktail (even better). It was made with local ginger beer, Highland Park whisky, and lime – and it was delicious. (They even sent us home with a bottle of the whisky, so I’ll be making this cocktail again at the weekend!)
Once everyone had arrived, we went into the restaurant proper. There were tables of six, with smart white linens and plenty of cutlery and glasses – I think we were served four different wines during the course of the meal, each carefully matched to the food in front of us. (I was a bit sorry to miss out on the wine – I have an allergy to wine and so don’t drink it, but I had a sip of each one with my food so that I could enjoy a bit of the experience of having wines and foods so carefully chosen.) We were served six courses (!), starting with one I’d read about: NG7 2SA. This is the postcode of the restaurant, and everything in this dish is foraged from within that tiny area. I don’t know what it was that we ate, but it started with something described by the server as an ice cream sandwich. Alongside that, we had a small glass jar filled with something white, and there were also crunchy bits in it. Just before we started to eat it, a server poured a warm green sauce into the jar. (I don’t think there is a career for me as a food writer – but honestly, I think you’d struggle to know what it was as well!)
Next up, while the meat-eaters had scallops, I was served a dish of roasted watermelon – which actually looked like a piece of very rare meat. It was very sweet and had an interesting texture to it. That was followed by turnips and mushrooms, served with goats’ cheese and lemon. I tried the goats’ cheese first, and found it a bit too strong. But when I tried it with each of the other foods on the plate, it blended perfectly. And the lemons were the thinnest slivers of whole lemons I can imagine – so thin you could eat the whole thing, rind and all.
Then there was a cheese course – which was the only thing I couldn’t finish. I found the cheese just too rich and strong for my tastes. It was served with a small fruited bread, which had been soaked in port. We then had a break from food to sample an older vintage of the whisky we’d tried before dinner, learning a little about what made that particular one so unique (it’s made on a remote Scottish island).
If you’ve been reading for a while you’ll know that I have a serious chocolate habit, and I was delighted to see that the first dessert was chocolate based – I had expected the restaurant would be far too grown-up to serve chocolate. And yes, I did say ‘first dessert’ – there were two dessert courses, something I could get used to. It was a small chocolatey disc, topped with a similar disc that was described as being yogurt-based – but it was more solid in texture that a yogurt, and mousse-like. On top of those was a droplet of cumin-flavoured caramel. An odd-sounding combination, but one I enjoyed very much. The dish was dressed with coriander.
Dessert two was blueberries and ice cream – but not as you’d expect. The ice cream had been freeze-dried, and there were tiny little meringues mixed with it. Underneath it all was a spoonful of a gooey vanilla-scented marshmallow, which was a real treat. As the plates were cleared away, I started to feel a little bit sad that the experience was over, but there was actually a bit more to come: tea and coffee were served from pots that resembled old-fashioned metal diving helmets. And I was excited to see they were accompanied by significant amounts of chocolate – thin sheets of five different kinds of flavoured chocolate, with tastes ranging from orange and cardamom to aniseed. Even though I’d already eaten six courses, I still managed to put away more than my fair share of the chocolate…
It was a particularly memorable meal – and as a guest of the event, I was allowed to take plenty of pictures, something I would not have felt comfortable doing if I’d simply been visiting the restaurant for a meal. I’ve stuck a whole set of them on Flickr if you fancy a peek. The room we dined in had rather atmospheric lighting, which wasn’t great for photos, but I’m glad to have pictures as a souvenir of my experience.