Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham: restaurant review
We try 140 day-aged beef tartare, smoked eel with crisp shards of roasted chicken skin and miso fudge with passion fruit gel at this Nottingham restaurant
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Restaurant Sat Bains in a nutshell: Masterful technique, intense flavours and much-replicated style have top billing at Sat Bains’ eponymous (and two-Michelin-starred) Nottingham restaurant. But, Sat’s laudable and continued commitment to sustainability also pricked our interest at olive, gaining him a spot on our inaugural olive Chef Awards shortlist in 2018.
The clue’s in the name. Sat Bains has been at the helm for 18 years, after winning the Roux Scholarship, with John Freeman as his long-standing head chef.
What's the vibe?
The location might surprise those visiting for the first time – it sits in a quiet spot on the city outskirts, in the shadow of the A52 flyover – but inside the decor sticks to script. This is a destination restaurant of the highest order, more than “worth a detour” that Michelin decrees for two stars. It’s moody and serious with its dark woods, starched tablecloths and stone floors. Outside there’s a greenhouse brimming with micro herbs and the best of the season, along with a bountiful allotment you can wander around, various wood-fired ovens/Big Green Eggs, and a rabbit hutch for Sat and his wife's two bunnies.
What's the food like?
The restaurant’s been open the best part of two decades and Sat and his team have developed a formula that works. There’s no à la carte – this is all about Sat’s interpretation of the perfect balance of salt, sweet, sour, bitter and umami – so buckle up and get set for seven or ten seasonal courses of Sat’s choosing. Each plate tells a story, tells of years of refinement, and has a complete sense of place. The first arrives in a wooden bowl, with a nook for its own little wooden spoon. It’s an introduction to the restaurant, with everything sourced from the garden or foraged from the surrounds – a delicate dance between horseradish and nasturtium via ice cream, crumbs, tuile biscuits and a vibrant herb oil.
Puck-sized bread comes two ways – one made with Cotswold flour, another enriched with treacle – served with buttercup-yellow Oxfordshire cultured butter with (this is the level of detail to expect here) a just-right 4% salt.
Next, beneath a blanket of dashi jelly, smoked eel gets friendly with crisp shards of roasted chicken skin, crunchy apple, truffle and a sophisticated chicken and riesling velouté. There’s a lot going on but it’s as successful a gathering of flavours as you’re going to get.
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Sat can also show (relative) restraint, too. Course number three arrives – it’s a fat jersey royal (poached with kombu, roasted in embers) split and topped with shallot butter and caviar, sat on a bed of soured cream and chives and chive oil. Such purity of flavours – it’s one of the most memorable dishes we’ve ever had.
With every course, the drama and the richness cranks up. There’s 140-day-aged beef tartare under a stained glass window of beetroot jelly (inspired by the artwork by Anish Kapoor) complete with puffed tendon, capers, potato crisps, croutons, shallots, oyster leaf, smoked mayo and more truffle.
There’s tagliatelle made of turnip bound with a sauce made of parmesan rind, dashi and nutmeg. Delicious, you might say. Incomplete, says Sat, who gets his team to finish the dish by making a pesto table side, with garden herbs and four-year-old parmesan that they age themselves.
Then come corn tacos and an assiette of lamb (with deep-fried anchovies, ratatouille, dramatic onyx splatters of olive tapenade and plenty more besides). And then, a ‘crossover’ course of miso fudge with the tiniest blob of fermented chickpea and passion fruit gel with one singular flake of sea salt, painstakingly positioned with tweezers.
Pace and attention carry through to the desserts. There’s a chocolaty ‘Lenton Lane’, each element of the dish an ode to the area; and, our favourite (and supremely palate cleansing), a frozen elderflower meringue with peppery Tuscan olive oil and ingenious Madagascar vanilla foam shards, so crisp, and sandwiched with sharp raspberry jam. There’s more yet, but we’ll leave that as a surprise.
And the drinks?
As you’d expect, the wine is as carefully considered as the food by a team of ‘merry men’ headed up by master sommelier Laurent Richet. The wine list is ever evolving, but order wine pairing for a thrilling line up of unexpected wines, sakes and drinks to complement the pretty much perfect food.
olive tip: Book a seat on the Chef’s Table or Kitchen Bench (open for lunch and dinner, Wednesday to Saturday) for a truly unique experience, and see the inner workings of a two-Michelin-starred kitchen.
Restaurant Sat Bains, Lenton Lane, Nottingham NG7 2SA
Words Laura Rowe
Photos John Scott Blackwell