Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Larder on Goosegate: Nottingham, UK

I wish that I could do more reviews on here; sadly a combination of finances and locale make it difficult to eat out, let alone at places that are interesting enough for a review.  Since we got back from Iceland (in February!), we've only eaten out maybe 4 times until this weekend: once at a really quite nasty curry place after drinking, once at a Thai restaurant for my birthday (good, but not really review-worthy), once at the nice curry place near us (also good, but not review-worthy), and at The Larder (this review).  We also ate at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem twice this weekend, so that might warrant a review down the road, but wasn't that exceptional.  The good news is that in a few weeks we'll be in San Francisco, Napa, and then Eugene (with probable trips to Portland and McMinnville), so if I'm quick on the draw, lots of reviews may be coming your way!

A group of eight of us ate at The Larder on Goosegate for Sunday lunch.  The first problem is that they lost our reservations, but they quickly made good(ish) on that by a round of free soft drinks.  Since most of us didn't want alcohol--five of us had been at the beer festival the night before, and four of us the night before that--it was fine, if a bit cheap.

The second problem was a bit bad, but I wasn't as bothered by it as the others were.  Whenever you eat out in a group, the service tends to be slow.  So far as I can tell, that's because a) large groups often tip badly (assuming that someone else in the group will make up for it--usually me), and b) large groups are too busy talking to each other to actually pay attention to the menu and the staff.  Tips are less of a problem here in England; service staff are paid slightly better here, though I always add some sort of tip to a bill at a decent restaurant (not at a pub, though).  The Larder also includes a 10% gratuity on top of the bill for groups of 6 or more, which is something I absolutely agree with, especially in the US (see a) above).  So in short, our service was slow.  VERY slow.  Enough to really irritate everyone else, and to bother me slightly.  It was slower than necessary for the number of people in the restaurant, and we were actually paying attention.

But the food was quite tasty.  Claire recommended it, and she used to eat there often while she was living in Nottingham.  It's a cute, upscale, quasi-bistro style restaurant located up a flight of stairs, with huge windows and exposed architectural features.  Lots of light, rustic but clean.  Quite lovely and chic.  And comfortable, stylish chairs (which is extra-nice after two days spent largely in camping chairs).  The food was delicious, with a menu that changes daily.  Food is primarily seasonal and locally sourced.  It's essentially traditional British food, but done in a more modern, clean, and upscale manner.  One of our group, for example, ordered the puy lentil shepherd's pie, which came in an individual, very deep bowl.  She said it was excellent (though she complained that her gravy smelled like warm wine, but I just assume it was a wine gravy, which means she probably wouldn't like most of the gravy I make).  That's a cleaner, more modern take of the traditional shepherd's pie.  Or at least pretty much any variant I've had at home, which when made in a big dish, serves out as a messy pile.

Because we were in a group, it would have been awkward to ask everyone for a bite of their meals; this is something I can do amongst family and a few friends, but as we were with Adam's friends, whom I'm not as close to, I didn't think I'd be able to get away with it.  As such, the only comment I can make about the other dishes is that Claire's salmon appeared to be perfectly cooked.  It was a large slice off the fillet, firm and pink, served skin side up.  It appeared to be moist and not over-cooked, as is so often the case with fish.  It came with a mussel sauce, which included 3 mussels in shell, which also looked delicious.  With the salmon was an interesting looking side of cauliflower.  I'm not sure what they had done with it, but it had clearly been shaped in a ramekin or ring mold, possibly with some potatoes, and baked.  I don't think it was a gratin, as I saw no evidence of sauce or cheese, but it was rather in the style of an individual gratin.  Quite pretty, if a bit reminiscent of white brains.  I'm sure it was good, because Claire ate everything on her plate.

Adam and I split a starter of fried British seafood with a garlic mayonnaise.  The seafood included some anchovies (we think), chunks of salmon, and what purported to be balls of skate.  I say purported, because I don't remember the waitress mentioning salmon or anchovies in the list of fish included, but I'm sure I heard the word skate; however I couldn't hear well, since we were at the opposite end of the table.  We're fairly certain on the anchovies though, and salmon is clearly salmon.  All the fish was lightly battered, and fried perfectly.  Crispy and light batter that clearly wasn't tempura, but resembled tempura in it's lightness, and not at all greasy.  The anchovies maintained their rich oily flavor without becoming overpowering (I find heat makes oily fish like anchovies and mackerel overpowering and unpleasant), and the salmon was not overcooked, remaining firm and reasonably moist.  The probable skate chunks were probably my favorite; sadly, there were only a couple in the bowl.  They were also moist and nicely flavored, flaking apart nicely when bit, but not falling apart.  A slice of lime was provided in lieu of lemon, which I felt to be a very nice change.  The garlic mayo was also nice; very creamy and rich, but not greasy.  However, I felt that it could have used a bit more garlic flavor, or if the kitchen was afraid of overwhelming with garlic, a bit of citrus (lime to match the lime on the plate, perhaps) would have boosted its flavor tremendously.  Still, the fish was supposed to be the center, and it was.  I just happen to love a good condiment/sauce, and think that the quality of those is where a chef can really show off his or her skill.

Our main course was the same; Adam and I both had the roast pork belly.  I love pork, and I really really love bacon, so pork belly should be my favorite thing in the world.  Oddly, it's not, because as much as I love streaky bacon and all that crisp fat, I find pork belly is often greasy.  The Larder's was no exception, except I didn't mind it as much.  Instead of cubes of pork belly, or a slab, this was rolled, resembling either a roulade or a very thick slice of rolled panchetta.  It was maybe 8 centimeters/just under 3.5 inches across, and probably 4 centimeters/1.5 inches thick.  It was very crispy on the outside, just the way I like it, and the inside was so moist from the fat that it shredded apart perfectly.  It was also exceptionally rich from all the fat, and I couldn't finish mine (Adam persevered, but he was unsure for a while).  It came with 3 or 4 pieces of roast potatoes, and a Yorkshire pudding approximately the same size and shape as the pork belly.  Lightly poured on the plate (too lightly for my taste, but again, I like sauces, condiments, and gravies a bit too much) was a jus, which I think was a cider gravy.  It was superb, but I could have used more--I'll drink gravy, though.  The plating was quite attractive.  On a plain white round plate the gravy was poured, with the potatoes laid in the center with the pork belly leaning on them.  Leaning on the pork belly was the Yorkshire pudding, and between the two (I think it was supposed to be on top of the pork belly but slipped) was a small slice of baked apple, tart and soft.  I could have used more apple; not only was it a surprisingly simple but delicious addition to the plate, but it cut through the fat of the pork very nicely.

Served family style was a bowl (two bowls, actually) of wilted rainbow chard.  I'm not normally a huge fan of chard--I don't hate it, but I'm not going to actively seek it out, either--but this was a perfect match for everything ordered at the table (shepherd's pie, salmon, pork belly, and steak), and it was nicely warm and wilted without being limp or unpleasant.  It wasn't salty, but had been nicely salted as well.

The only real concern I had was that Adam and I are both unsure of the provenance of the potatoes and Yorkshire puddings.  Specifically, we think they might have been frozen.  They didn't taste bad or anything, but the potatoes were a little too perfect to be coming out of the kitchen (they looked like clones of each other on both Adam's and my plate), and the Yorkshire puds were tasty enough (I'm not picky when it comes to those, however), but not exceptional, and they held their shape creepily well.  I'd like to believe that's not the case, but Adam and I both got a hit of inauthenticity off of those.  It saddens me that they might have been frozen, since The Larder prides itself on local, fresh, and authentic foods.  Additionally, I hate paying for frozen when I'm supposed to be getting local and fresh.  But we're not sure.

For dessert, Adam and I--thankfully--split a Cordillera Chocolate and Honeycomb torte.  If you don't know what cordillera chocolate is, don't worry, I didn't either (it's Fairtrade and manufactured where grown, though I don't know where that is).  Honeycomb is not an actual honeycomb, but a type of candy.  Were it actual honeycomb, I probably wouldn't enjoy it so much.  Regardless, the chocolate tort was rich and dense, but not so rich as to make you feel ill--though had we not split it, I'm not sure that would have been the case--and the crust was crispy and crunchy and nicely lightened the chocolate.  And the outside edge of the torte had a big piece of honeycomb candy in it, that Adam and I split, by virtue of marriage being all about sharing things when you'd rather just stab the other person and take it all.  The torte was a nice balance of rich and light, and a nice end to the meal.

Overall, Adam and I really enjoyed The Larder, and we'd be very happy to eat there again.  However, we would not be inclined to eat there with a large group (in fact we won't next year, but that was primarily due to transport issues), as the slow service was verging on painful.  Definitely a place to check out if you're in Nottingham and fancy a nice meal that's not pub-cheap, but certainly won't break the bank.  Beware, however, that there's very little signage at ground level for The Larder, but if you find the area, just look up at the buildings until you find a glass-fronted section with "The Larder on Goosegate" written across it, then find the stairs under that and head up.

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