19/20. Top food. Top chef. Top man. Top wife.
Or you could say –
A sequence of brilliant, perfectly resolved dishes. Sat Bains’ immense technical skill is entirely at the service of a masterly understanding of what makes food fabulous to eat.
Or you could say –
‘So what goes into the sauce bourguignonne with the monkfish?’ I asked Sat Bains. That sauce had been a thing of singular beauty, lustrous, precise, intense, vivid, profound and elegant. It drifted over the tongue like airy velvet, moving from one level of flavour easily onto the next, gently filling mouth and head. In short, it was the cat’s whiskers, the dog’s bollocks and the bee’s knees rolled into one.
‘Take the monkfish bones and roast them in a little oil,’ Sat Bains began,’…. You need to dry them out as much as possible….They’ll release some milky fluid that’ll stick to the bottom of the pan ….take the bones out and deglaze the pan with white wine …. scrape the residue from the bottom to the pan … Put two-thirds of the dried bones into a second pan with a little oil and caramelise them slowly on the hob. ….When the bones are a golden brown, add tomatoes, shallots and mushrooms…brown stock….chicken stock ….…veal stock…keep scraping the pan …bottle of white wine …. reduce ….two bottles of red wine …reduce …wipe the sides of the pan….
At the Stage 24 twenty in the process I gave up. This, I thought, is why you pay a great deal of money in a restaurant of the highest class. Such attention to detail is a form of madness that few of us are capable of.
Sat Bains has always been a technically brilliant chef with a very distinctive culinary personality. Perhaps, in the past, occasionally it might have been said that technical exuberance triumphed over the coherence of a dish as a whole. Not any more. That command of technique is wholly at the service of each dish. Each mouthful of food has been carefully considered and honed to a point where nothing is superfluous, nothing is out-of-place.
Take the dish simply labelled ‘scallop/pied de cochon/lentils/red/green’ on the sparsely worded menu. A plump, sweet cushion of shellfish rests between two slender, lacy slices of gelatinous pig’s trotter, with a little stew of green lentils and tiny apple cubes bound in a mousse/foam of red lentils as the base, and a dash of garam marsala to perfume each mouthful. I think it was the saintly Shaun Hill who first teamed up scallops and lentils, but Sat Bains takes that combination as the foundation on which he builds a dazzling edifice of gratification.
Every element conspires to make the scallop taste more of scallop than you might have thought possible, and it’s a pretty fine scallop to start with. That earthy graininess of the green lentils; light tartness of apple; smooth, soothing cloud of puréed red lentils; evanescent puff of spice; and, above all, the gentle, pliable, almost silky, porky slice of trotter. Oh heavens. It seems quite simple. There is a seductive unity about the whole, but, my, oh my, there’s a lot going on when – if?- you think about it.
There’s no ostentatious display in any of the dishes, no gratuitous showing off. An acknowledged master of contemporary wizzardry,, Mr Bains knows just when to harness to effects of traditional cooking techniques, using butter and cream where necessary. And when he chooses a luxury ingredient, he does so with acute intelligence and precise effect – truffles to intensify a dish of veal sweetbread and celeriac; caviar to season a potato (Maris Peer) that has been poached in kombu and then its skin blackened over embers; decking out a voluptuous Anjou pigeon with carrot, date, black olives and Moroccan spices ; adding a blizzard of six-year old Parmesan to pot roast turnip with little nuggets of chestnut.
While there is an easy seriousness about the cooking, there is wit and humour, too. The very last dish of the twelve that made up the menu was candy floss whipped around a little clump of ice cream on a stick. Ah, but such candy floss, such ice cream, the one flavoured with kaffir lime leaf, and the other with Thai Green Curry – funny, clever and utterly delicious, a proper jeu d’esprit to end on.
For three hours Tom and I sat side by side at the table/bar in the kitchen, watching each plate coming together in front of our eyes. It was like watching master alchemists at work. The sommelier, Laurent Richet, led us a merry caper around the world’s vineyards – China, Chile, Japan (ok, sake) Greece, France, even Thailand, although that might have been a joke. The whole place runs with that soothing sense of calm and order, when the team are utterly in command of what they were doing.
How much? £95 for 7 courses or £130 for 10 courses. Double that if you want to drink properly. That may seem a lot, but it’s still a snip when you consider the love, labour, skill, imagination experience and judgement that have gone into each dish, and the exquisite pleasure of eating them. This is fine dining food of the highest quality. There’s a good deal of food for thought, if you want parse each mouthful, sift and analyse each taste and flavour, or there’s a universe of pleasure if you simply surf along on a breaker of sensuous delight.
The restaurant is tucked away just outside the Nottingham ring road, hard by an industrial estate, although you’d never know it from the tranquillity of the place. It’s success is a testament to the resolve of Sat and his wife, Amanda. The Restaurant Sat Bains has been tipped for third Michelin star by fellow chefs for several years now, and why it hasn’t been given it is a complete mystery. The man and his restaurant are national treasures.
Restaurant Sat Bains, Lenton Lane, Nottingham, NG7 2SA.
Tel: 0115 9866566