Nottingham for Foodies: Great Places to Eat in Nottingham
From a beach hut in Brighton to a ranch in Montana via Barcelona tapas, the food scene in Nottingham takes interesting destinations and turns them into fun dining experiences. We ate our way around the world in a weekend visit to the East Midlands city when we went in search of great places to eat in Nottingham with the help of Experience Nottinghamshire…
The spirit of independence
This is this city that gave birth to Friar Tuck. And now I know why. In a whistle stop tour of seven restaurants in the city over three days, we expand our waistbands exponentially. But this isn’t Sherwood Forest food. (Although the Robin Hood wild boar burger is as good as it gets!) Unlike some UK cities where chains rule at the expense of everything else, Nottingham has managed to retain its independent foodie spirit. And there are some imaginative themes emerging to feed and entertain shoppers and diners. And families are welcome too.
We begin in the best fish and chip restaurant in town.
Seaside in the city
Yes I know. There’s no ocean for miles and the National Water Sports Centre on the River Trent is the closest you come to running water. But then George’s Fish and Chip Kitchen isn’t really your typical fish and chip cafe. 50’s seaside nostalgia tastefully meets luxury fixtures and fittings throughout this city centre restaurant, from the magnificent fish door handle to the beach hut booths named after British seaside towns. With even the salt and vinegar coming in exotic flavours. George’s Kitchen manages to match a traditional ‘I do like to be beside the seaside’ atmosphere with modern and creative food. And there’s pretty much a twist in every dish. Who knew onion bhaji batter, curry sauce and coriander yoghurt raita would complement haddock? Whoever realised you could create a Mediterranean version of this traditional English dish by dressing it up with paprika batter, drizzling it with red wine and honey vinegar and serving it with spiced roast pepper aioli? Hannah’s child size portion of fish and chips arrives in a bucket with a spade on the side. And her pudding is sprinkled with all the colours of the fairground, with a side of candy floss so light we have to snaffle it before it floats away. The restaurant was started by two local guys who believed in ‘proper fish and chips.’ It’s not cheap for a family but it’s a winning formula. And it has a gin bar. The best of British all round.
Proper burgers and chips
The restaurant owners I meet on our tour of Nottingham believe that due to some canny decisions by the council to keep rent low and traders operating, the city centre has retained its food identity. While it does have all the chains, there is a growing network of food enthusiasts and chefs who know and respect each other. One of these is Anmarie Spazanio from USA’s Rhode Island who set up an American burger joint in Nottingham in 2009. While it has reinvented itself a couple of times and moved to the Lace Market part of town Annie’s Burger Shack has always stuck with its core concepts.
“Annie’s is just good food and real ale. It has come out of Annie’s own heart and identity,” says General Manager Rob Firth. There are 32 variations of handmade burgers (not all meat, each burger choice has a veggie and vegan options) and new ideas come from the owner and the head chef Leo. “Leo is a genius with his weird and wonderful whacky creations.”
The monthly special on our visit is the Robin Hood burger; wild boar marinated in red wine, black olive and rosemary with grilled parsnips and potato, and Rob promises next month there will be a brand new special. “I can’t tell you what as unfortunately I’d be shot at dawn,” he jokes. “We keep it secret until the day of the launch.” And local people really care about what it will be? “We’ve had people who’ve gone through the menu and now they come back on a monthly basis for the specials. They come back for the joy of it.”
Dinner on the ranch
If good quality meat is your idea of foodie paradise then you should head directly to Missoula Montana Bar and Grill and book the circular booth that’s lined with cow hide. Well perhaps not directly. Maybe you should leave a few hours in between. Maybe a walk to the castle and a drink at the oldest pub in England might build up your appetite again? This traditional Montana restaurant is part of a chain but the building lends it a unique atmosphere. It’s a bit like dining in a ski lodge; all candlelight, wood walls and mounted antlers. Nottingham may be a world away from the Montana plains but the menu is straight from the ranch. “Steaks are really big here. Burgers are really popular too and people seem to like the ribs,” says Chris the Deputy Manager who adds that the restaurant is particularly popular with families. Our kids love the children’s menu with the mini portions of steak.
A taste of Brazil
If you like this restaurant then you’ll also like nearby Tropeiro. Sticking with the meaty theme but moving to Latin America for its influences, the restaurant offers Brazilian Rodizio style dining. Tropeiro’s Assistant Manager Josh Wheelhouse takes some time out to explain the concept. “We work really hard to get that Brazilian authenticity into everything we do. From the delicious flavours of our many cuts of meat to the traditional accompanying side dishes you can really immerse yourself in the Brazilian dining culture – not to mention the choice of Caipirinha cocktails we have on offer!”
It all combines to provide a vibrant, buzzing atmosphere, but the real ‘experience’ doesn’t come from what you’re eating but how it’s served. “Having the gauchos bring the meat straight from the barbecue and carve it directly to your plate brings you as close to a traditional Brazilian Rodizio as you can get,” Josh explains. The most fun part of the whole thing for the kids is the green and red card system. You might find the novelty of the whole thing gets them eating everything off their plate so they can order some more. For a family like mine that eats a lot, it’s a stress free option.
Tapas Barcelona style
European flavours are a staple of the Nottingham food scene too. Locals point us towards Baresca for a taste of Spain. Owners Jon and David Perkins had a clutch of successful restaurants and hospitality ventures to their name when a trip to Barcelona prompted them to create a tapas bar over here. This was achieved first with West Bridgford’s Escabeche, and then with the more centrally located Baresca. The brothers have a reputation for fine dining but what Baresca achieves is a relaxed introduction to tapas where everyone from kids to granny happily join in and share dishes. From noon through to early evening the Menu del Dia fills people up for just £9.95 in the smart three storey tapas bar, market café and cellar bar. With flatbread and dips, two tapas, one side dish, coffee and dessert, it’s very good value and very good food.
“Baresca works because it’s all about fresh flavours and quality produce served in a really warm environment,” says Emily Neary, Baresca’s General Manager who recommends we try signature dishes including Moroccan lamb stew, baby chirozo in a honey and sherry vinegar and chargrilled octopus. We do, and before too long we are channelling our inner sunshine.
Coffee and latte art to finish
Before leaving Nottingham we call in on a coffee house that specialises in… well… in coffee. You might think that should be standard but not all coffee shops are made alike. Not all of them have their own roastery that delivers freshly roasted coffee twice a week. Tim Moss is in charge of the roastery for the 200 degrees brand and he talks me through what I should expect from my latte.
“Locally roasted means fresh. It should be as fresh as possible. It should be a nice smooth flavour without tasting bitter. With the blend we’ve created you get a complex flavour which cuts through the milk. You should get the subtleties of the flavour.”
Latte art is a buzzword at the brand’s 200 Degrees coffee shop on Flying Horse Walk. The night before our visit it hosted a latte art competition. Baristas from all over Nottingham came along to compete in a head to head knock out. But it’s not just trained baristas that are welcome at the coffee shop. Tim teaches classes in making coffee and in advanced latte art upstairs, “We have a chat about the coffee, the origins and the process. Then we get everyone behind the machines and have a go at making expresso or latte. Families can do it too.”
As we leave and head to the car park the Robin Hood jacket potato van on the high street is doing a deal and a roaring trade. For a fixed fee you can have all of the flavours on a single potato should you wish. Friar Tuck would love it. But we can’t fit in another thing. Which, I suspect is exactly how each of these dedicated food producers planned it.
Disclosure Note: We visited Nottingham in a collaboration with Visit England who arranged for us to check out these family friendly places to eat in Nottingham. Our thanks to Experience Nottinghamshire and the staff at George’s Fish and Chip Kitchen, Annie’s Burger Shack, Missoula Montana Bar and Grill, Baresca and 200 Degrees for taking the time to talk to us about their businesses and inviting us to sample their menus. The experience, opinions, photography and expanding waist lines are, as ever, entirely our own.