Restaurant Sat Bains
Nottingham, NG7 2SA
Tel. 0115 986 6566
Food type: Modern British
Nearest train station: Nottingham
Website: Restaurant Sat Bains
There are some restaurants that you have such a perfect experience at that you dare not revisit in case it does not live up to that memory. Restaurant Sat Bains is one of those – a restaurant I had visited nearly 4 years ago for my birthday and had one of those most interesting, thought-provoking meals. I can still remember each and every single dish of that meal which is a testament to how memorable my experience was. This would be my 3rd visit here, having visited once when they held a solitary star. For the complete, experience, we would also be staying in one of the hotel rooms, which are all individually furnished and unique. Nothing beats rolling into bed after a lengthy meal.
The drive up to the restaurant takes you through an industrial estate which is rather unattractive. Energy pylons hang overhead. This is a very unlikely setting for a fine dining restaurant. Yet, the moment you arrive, you are transported into a little tranquil oasis. The property has undergone a bit of development since my last visit. One of the rooms has made way for their new prep kitchen, there is the addition of their developmental kitchen (Nucleus) which doubles up as an exclusive dining room and finally they continue to expand their gardens by growing vegetables on site.
One of my fellow diners used to frequent the restaurant, back when he was living in Nottingham and the restaurant was actually called Hotel Des Clos. Back then the restaurant offered an a la carte menu, with the tasting menu (surprise menu) created spontaneously by the kitchen. By that, what I mean is, they did not actually have a tasting menu so when the customer (on the very rare occasion) ordered the tasting menu, the kitchen would scramble to come up with something. These days, the a la carte menu is gone and there is only a choice of 7-course tasting menu (£85) or a lengthier 10-course menu (£95) which features a few extra dishes. We dined at the Chef’s Table on this visit where the 10-course menu attracts an additional £30 supplement. Sat’s Great British Menu winning dish ‘Ham, Eggs & Peas’ is available as an extra course for a supplement of £15 and cheese is an extra £8. We went for the full monty with all the extras although we opted to skip the wine pairing in favour of a couple of bottles from their excellent wine list.
The meal begins with the signature starer NG7 2SA which is the restaurant’s post code. The origins of this dish is when the restaurant started doing a bit of local foraging and realised that they had a fair bit of edible shrubs growing around the restaurant. The dish itself is more of an idea, and over time, the components of the dish has slowly evolved from perhaps a foraged salad to a soup with panna cotta to its current form of horseradish ice cream sandwich and a lovage tuile. These days, the restaurant also grows a fair bit of their herbs on site. The lovage tuile in particular was very good with the lovage component (in the form a cream) coming through nicely without being overpowering which it often does. It is interesting to compare the lovage component, given that only the day before at Le Champignon Sausage, we were also served lovage cream. I think the version here has the slight edge.
Bread was next and was in the form of sourdough as well as a treacle bread which was the winner. The treacle bread is a bit like an Irish soda bread, except with a lighter texture to it. It had plenty of malty flavour to it.
Up next was the famous ham, eggs & peas which is pretty much a cash cow for the restaurant ever since Sat appeared on Great British Menu. I am told, that about 60% of the customers who visit the restaurant will opt for this extra. I certainly have eaten this dish on each visit here. This is, at the very heart, a classically inspired dish – peas cooked in stock and a runny egg which is pure comfort food. The clever thing that Sat has done is to play around with the temperatures and textures. The pea flavour is amplified with a pea sorbet offering a hot-cold contrast while pea shoots add a raw pea flavour and crunchy texture. While the onsen egg idea (slow cooked egg in a water bath at 62 C) may be commonplace these days, it was a nifty new idea in British (and European cuisine) back when this dish debuted. I am a firm believer that a great dish will always stand the test of time. We will probably look back at this dish in 20 years time and compare it to the Roux’s Souffle Suissesse or Ramsay’s Lobster Ravioli.
After the brief interlude we began the tasting menu with a dish titled ‘Scallop, Japanese Influences’. A fat scallop had been seared and sliced into three, sitting on top of a thin slice of pig’s head terrine and draped with a dashi jelly. A few puffed wild rice added texture to the dish. The scallops were naturally perfectly seared, and coming from a large specimen were a pleasure to eat. The salty sweet nature of the scallops were a natural foil for the robust meatiness from the pig with the umami from the dashi jelly amplifying the effect ten-fold. The few sprigs of coriander cress may look like they are there just for garnish, but its role was of course to add a refreshing freshness to balance all the elements on the plate.
Next was a hot and cold salad of smoked eel, apple and turnips. Hidden underneath the turnip discs were fatty, smoky chunks of eel. The apple provided a natural acidic foil to the eel and the rich sauce that came with it and a dusting of seaweed powder provided a umami hit. Once again, the dish itself was big in flavour and had a huge impact on the palate without being heavy which reflects Sat’s style of cooking.
We followed with a potato salad served with a theatrical burnt potato presented at the table to give off the smells of a potatoes being roasted on the wood fire. This dish was all about showcasing the potato which was helped with the addition of parmesan and truffle. However, as much as my wife loved this dish, I felt it was probably the weakest dish of our tasting menu,
If I was underwhelmed by the previous dish, the following dish absolutely knocked it out of the park. The dish, titled ‘beef and mushroom’ may sound hardly exciting but it was easily the best dish I had eaten all year. In itself, the dish contained very few components – a tartare of beef which had been aged for 230+ days, mushrooms (in the form of ketchup, raw shaved button mushrooms and mushroom powder) and a few nasturtium leaves. Yet the flavour impact that came from the beef was simply out of this world. It had been aged to develop a nutty, slightly blue-cheese flavour with an intense beefy flavour. Pairing this with a glass of Leflaive “Les Pucelles” 2001 made it even more sensational. If you have never eaten this dish before, stop reading and book a table at Sat Bains now. You have to. It is THAT good.
I doubt I would have ordered the next dish it was on an a la carte menu. The kohlrabi tagliatelle hardly sounds exciting to me and would probably be a dish that is there to cater for vegetarians. That is why I am glad with tasting menu only formats because it makes me try dishes I would otherwise not order. Here a small twirl of kohlrabi ribbons cut to resemble tagliatelle (probably with the use of a Japanese mandolin) sat in the middle of a bowl with an emulsion of parmesan. The kohlrabi had been poached to give it an al dente texture much like you would expect from your pasta. One of the chefs would grind the various herbs from the restaurants own glasshouse table side before the dish was dressed with the newly made pesto. This was certainly an interesting twist on traditional pesto and pasta, but one that worked very well.
The last savoury course was a seasonal hare dish which consisted of various cuts – loin, shoulder and a boudin (sausage) finished with a grating of bitter, dark chocolate. The genius element here was the pear and stilton – a combination that normally goes very well together. The juiciness of the pear was a much-needed foil to the richness of all the elements on the plate with the saltiness from the stilton keeping the dish in firm savoury territory when it could have so easily drifted into pudding land with the sweetness from the pear and parsnip.
Before desserts, we tried both the cheese courses on offer. Their signature Beauvale with Banbury cake was not available on this visit but instead there was a Cropwell Bishop ‘Waldorf Salad’ or Brie ‘on Toast’. Of the two options, take on a Waldorf Salad was my preferred choice although I am not really fussed with either to be honest. I guess, I am cheese purist at heart.
We now began our dessert sequence. First was ‘the Crossover’ course, which, like NG7 2SA, is an idea which continues to change over the years. In the past I have anything from Horseradish granita to Curried ice cream. This time around, we were presented with a little miso fudge with yuzu caramel – a concept which perhaps is less challenging since miso is now commonly seen in desserts these days.
The first dessert of sweetcorn and popcorn took me back to my childhood where I would often eat sweetcorn ice cream as a kid. Here, the richness of the sweetcorn element is balanced with the addition of passion fruit for acidity and soy which gives the saltiness you would associate with salted caramel.
I won’t spoil the next dish for you if you have not had it, but the chocolate ‘Aero’ bar dotted with cherry gel contained an unconventional mystery ingredient. Good luck guessing what it is! We finished with a final dessert made from tomatoes (which is of course a fruit). I like Sat’s concept of having a rich dessert like chocolate as the second last course before finishing with a final dessert which is light and has plenty of acidity. As a diner, this leaves you feeling satisfied but not completely bloated at the end of a meal. The final flourish of petit fours included Thai flavoured cotton candy and various chocolate shards with herbs and spices to help digestion.
Once again, this was a meal that I really enjoyed, and as a group we felt was worth the journey to Nottingham for. Sat was away when we visited (on one of the Roux Scholar’s tour of San Francisco) but in John Freeman who has been his right hand man since forever, his kitchen runs like clockwork. At the end of the meal, we got to have a quick tour of the kitchens (they also have a separate prep kitchen) and gardens. John and his chefs not only delivered excellent food but were also excellent hosts.
I am not a fan of lengthy tasting menus, because it often ends up being monotonous and I end up leaving feeling rather bloated at the end. The other problem is for many restaurants, tasting menus dishes are simply pared down versions of their a la carte dishes and can sometimes feel unbalanced. Yet, here, the tasting menu is perfectly crafted and you can see the chef’s vision in delivering his dining experience to you. Sure there will be some dishes which will be better than others, but here, there were no duds and the best dishes were truly memorable. Restaurant Sat Bains may not be the most avant garde restaurant in England but for me, it delivers the best and most complete dining experience.