Sat Bains' restaurant is in the unlikely setting of an industrial estate in the south of Nottingham. Once safely within the gates you are in a comfortable oasis, with a gravel drive and smart, modern rooms for diners to stay at if they choose. Sat Bains and his wife Amanda opened here in 2005. The premises used to be Hotel de Clos, where Sat was chef for six years before becoming the owner. He went to catering college in Derby and then worked very briefly at several restaurants, including Petit Blanc, but essentially is self-taught, being an avid reader of classic cookery books, such as those of Escoffier. The property was originally a Victorian outbuilding with a stables and granary. The original house is still standing but is not part of the Sat Bains property.
There are two dining areas, the main room and a conservatory next to it. There is a no-choice set menu of two different lengths (seven courses cost £75, ten courses £89). They used to have an a la carte but discovered that just 4% of guests ever took the a la carte, so after three years they dropped it. The dining room had a stone floor and white walls, and had some music playing quietly in the background.
The wine list started at £29, with around 150 wines on offer. There is a lot of choice in the mid range, with very few wines over £100 on the list. Examples include Allegrini Valpolicella 2009 at £33 for a wine you can pick up for £9 in the shops and Planeta Santa Cecilia 2006 at £48 for a wine you can find for £18 in the shops. The unusual Malatinszky Cabernet Franc 2006 was priced at £85 for a wine that costs £35 retail, and the list extends up to choices such as Grand Puy Lacoste 2005 at £190 compared to a shop price of around £62. We drank Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve Personelle 2006 at £60 for a wine that you can buy for about £22.
Bread was made from scratch and was a choice of two: a light roll made with stout, and a dark treacle roll. The stout bread had quite a hard crust and I wonder whether this might work better as a larger roll (15/20). I much preferred a dark treacle bread (17/20), which reminded me of a very similar bread served to me in Paul Prudhomme's restaurant in New Orleans many years ago (though I should emphasise that this bread was developed here rather than having anything to do with the Prudhomme version). Butter was excellent, made with 3 per cent Anglesea sea salt, and made to order for the restaurant by the company that makes Lincolnshire Poacher cheese.
Our meal began with cucumber jelly with croutons, basil, goat cheese, grapes and fennel gazpacho. I found this a rather peculiar mix of flavours, with croutons that were too hard, not enough fennel flavor for me but the basil coming through nicely. For me there were just too many elements in this dish, though overall it was still entirely pleasant (15/20).
Next was a lovely dish of duck egg slow-cooked for 90 minutes at 62C, with ham and “textures of peas”: braised peas cooked with chicken stock and a pea sorbet, with pea shoots as a garnish, and a thin slice of toast providing some firm texture. This was a very successful dish on The Great British Menu series and it is easy to see why: peas, ham and eggs work well together and the alternating textures are enjoyable (comfortably 18/20). I would love to see this dish made with really top quality peas such as you can find in the markets in the Mediterranean.
Mackerel was served with belly pork, salt-baked beetroot, beetroot puree and chickweed, with parsley oil and horseradish cream. This was a good dish and I liked the bite of the horseradish, but for me the beetoot was too dominant, and the mackerel itself could have been of better quality (16/20).
Next up was organic salmon with sea purslane, pickled radish, cucumber, miso caramel, stone crab, rock samphire, crispy wild rice, shimeji mushroom, passion fruit and oyster sauce. Again this had an awful lot of elements, but the salmon had good taste and the assorted flavours actually came together quite well (16/20 pushing 17/20). Next was a simpler dish of braised leeks, with hazelnut powder, wild garlic and Jack by the edge (a hedgerow wildflower). The leeks had excellent flavour and the other elements worked harmoniously with the leeks without distracting from them (17/20).
Cornish crab was served with crab bisque, peanut brittle, pickled kohlrabi, sukiyaki mushroom and avocado. The crab had nice flavour but I found the peanut and crab to be a rather odd taste combination that did not really work (15/20).
Next was English duck with duck liver parfait, duck ham, crispy shallot and calamansi lime, the dish being served cold. This was a refreshing dish with good balance, the duck itself having lovely flavor, the lime adding the necessary acidity (17/20).
Next was the memorably named NG7 2SA, (the post code of the restaurant, hinting at the fact that the ingredients were foraged locally). It turns out that the development chef here is a forager, and she has found no less than eighty edible species of plants in the local area, some even growing in the restaurant car park. In this dish was horseradish panna cotta, lentil puree, lovage tuile, blueberry and sorrel. The panna cotta was nice but the tuile was both too hard and rather tough, though the herbs worked quite well (15/20). Next was oxtail with asparagus and wild celery with seven year old aged Parmesan. I enjoyed this rich dish, which featured good quality asparagus and harmonious flavuors (17/20).
At this stage my wife had turbot with mushroom ketchup and red wine sauce with morels, green beans and vanilla. I am not a fan of vanilla with fish at the best of times, but here the vanilla came through too strongly, and I did not think that the morels were of great quality. The turbot itself was good but the beans had a rather doughy texture (15/20).
Better was roe deer, served with kofta, cucumber, lemon confit, burnt aubergine cream, beetroot juice, onion, cream and yoghurt. The deer had good flavor and I thought the kofta worked effectively, though again this dish had a lot of elements (16/20).
Pineapple “cheesecake” with compressed pineapple and pineapple chutney rolled in shortbread was pleasant enough as a pre-dessert, though hard to get excited over (15/20). “Sweet curry” consisted of curry caramel, fresh apple and cucumber sultana with yoghurt foam, mango sorbet and fresh coconut with cumin, garnished with coconut crisps. This combination tasted better than it sounded (16/20).
Chocolate cream with candy flowers of rose and violets was served with olive oil pesto. There was nice chocolate but I really found the olive oil a bad idea (14/20). Lemon was served with lemon meringue, fennel and basil cress, which was fine as the lemon was still the dominant flavour (16/20).
Espresso was genuinely excellent (19/20). The espresso was capably made with a lovely crema. The espresso itself was a blend of three coffees: Indonesian 30%, Sumatra 40% and Brazilian 40%. All were single vineyard coffees and all were arabica pure blend. This blend was put together by someone who really cares about coffee. The wittily named “Has Bean” is the coffee supplier.
Our Hungarian sommelier was excellent but I thought that the service throughout was exceptionally good here from an international team of waiting staff. Not only was everything delivered properly, and topping up occurred faultlessly, but the waiters were both knowledgeable about the food and seemed genuinely enthusiastic.
There is a lot to like about Sat Bains. The chef is clearly interested in ingredients and cooking technique, and has creative flair; he varies the menu in tune with the seasons and seems to have assembled a team who care about food. For me his cooking will develop to the next level when he subtracts elements from his dishes rather than adds more to them. At present some of the dishes seem to just have too many elements, and not all the flavour combinations work equally well. However this is definitely interesting and at times exciting food, and there are not that many UK restaurants where that is true. Overall I was torn between 16/20 and 17/20 as a score.