There has been much fevered anticipation of the opening of this new restaurant on Nottingham’s Derby Road over the last year. It has been a project of gargantuan proportions by Alex Bond and his backers. Alex (Chef Director) has been overseeing the complete renovation of a former carriage building and stables at the front of a what used to be the grand townhouse of a local lace merchant. The building has been unused and standing empty for around 200 years. I interviewed Alex last year for Great Food magazine and was astonished to the see the scale of his vision. The building was in a state of significant disrepair with tree roots growing through the roof and centuries (quite literally) of dirt, dust and damp to dig out.
And now he has done it. The former semi -derelict Coach House is now an amazing space, retaining the wonderful brick walls and archways, with new sky lights bringing lots of natural light in. Nottingham can probably boast one of the most architecturally interesting and atmospheric restaurants in England. From the unassuming, unbranded facade to the sweeping entrance that leads you directly into the open kitchen space before taking you through to the arches and alcoves that form the restaurant and bar area. With “living walls”, modern furnishing and a light, spacious feel (the tables haven’t been crammed in, thankfully, so you can whisper sweet nothings or even possibly have a hushed spat with your partner and not have the next table wincing in embarrassment).
The menus are tasting menus, 5 course (only at lunch), 7 and 10. We went fully intending to go with 7, until we saw the 10. It was probably inevitable that we would choose it in hindsight, the road to hell and all that. 10 courses (£60) with wine and beer pairings (£45).
I am going not going to make your ears bleed by reviewing every dish and wine pairing at length as I am pretty sure I will get bored even before you do. I could sum the whole thing up by saying it was “utterly brilliant”, and it was, but I should try a bit harder than that, so I have been a bit picky, but hopefully fairly brief and very fair, and I apologise for the dark photos, it didn’t seem right to be flashing away, (as it were).
I might do a separate blog on the wines (and cocktails and gin).
Bread was offered at the start of the meal, a superb, warm and yeasty sourdough, with a sturdy crust and lovely salted butter, how I miss proper, crunchy salted butter (we had 3 lots during the meal….bread, I mean, not just butter)
First up – smoked shiitake mushrooms with pork fat. Admittedly, probably not the prettiest dish you will ever see, to be fair. I’m going to leave it there and you can use your imagination. As for the taste though – fantastic. The pork fat sort of dissolved into the mushrooms, the combined flavours of pig and fungi were fabulous – if a little rich for some palates, I’d imagine, (the FWD, though, who apparently “hates” mushrooms, and has, for many years refused to eat them, ate the lot).
I was looking forward to the crab, elderflower and rhubarb dish and it was indeed good, a neatly wrapped parcel of crab wrapped in raw (pickled perhaps?) rhubarb, although I think the sourness of the rhubarb pretty much saw off the flavour of the delicate, sweet, white crab meat. Perhaps a bit of more of the robustness of brown crabmeat would help it to stand up against the rhubarb? Not as attractive though, I concede.
This fermented garlic, potato and buttermilk dish won all round accolades from the table, we pretty much picked up the fabulous oversized bowls to drink the last of the buttermilk.
The cauliflower dish came with a Belgian beer. The FWH is a bit knowledgeable about Belgian beer (as we lived there and he consumed vast quantities of it) and we had never thought of combining it with anything other than moules and frites. But this really worked – very clever. (Think that is right picture btw, had consumed rather a lot of achohol by this point – bear that in mind if you order the 10 courses!)
You almost certainly can’t tell from that picture but this is tomato and lovage, which was a great palate cleanser after the yeasty cauliflower. This was swiftly followed by the only meat dish on the menu – veal, gremolata and smoked cream. Discover I love smoked cream, but have no idea how to recreate it at home? Reminded myself I can take or leave gremolata.
Apple, horseradish and dill. Yep, really liked the fresh flavours and dill is one of my favourite herbs, we don’t use it enough in England in my view. It is, admittedly, a bugger to grow. As for apple and horseradish, who knew?
Sweets were just an all round hit – the strawberry hay was perhaps more strawberry than hay, but this probably a good thing, the chocolate, miso, banana and lime was interesting and the cherries woodruff – my favourite.
Alchemilla is something else, my nearest comparison of recent months would be Adam Handling’s Frog in Spitalfields, both exciting, young (by my standards, natch) chefs doing amazing things with new and innovative flavour pairings and textures. I am so glad that Alex’s vision for his restaurant was so bold and that he got the backing to deliver his dream. This place, will I am sure go from strength to strength and must be up for a Michelin star sometime in the future, surely?
And finally, even though Alchemilla was full, and rocking, by the time we came to desserts (and it was a Friday night) I just want to thank Alex for coming out of his busy kitchen to say hello (of course, I was much the worse for wear by that time….), but it was appreciated nonetheless.