Nott a bad food journey

I’ve long been a fan of the city of Nottingham having spent three disreputable years at uni there, supposedly studying geography.

Back in the day, it was the city’s pubs and inns that caught my eye – Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem and the cavernous students’ union bar being particular favourites.

And when it came to food, culinary highlights on the menu in our shared house included the predictable beans on toast, and exotic-for-the-time couscous.

So an invite to sample the finer foodie delights of the city and its surrounds really whetted my appetite now that I’m all grown-up and love good food and wines.

The city certainly has a great reputation for its quality gastro offerings – and even its own Michelin-starred restaurant, the legendary Sat Bains. Sadly, I left it too late for a weekend booking on this occasion.

We checked into the St James Hotel, an independent chic boutique hotel in a central location, perfect for exploring the city on foot.

Our penthouse suite really had the wow factor and is said to be the choice of visiting celebrities. It’s such a stylish retreat so it’s easy to see why. It comes with dining room, burr walnut floors, Jacuzzi, The White Company toiletries and baby grand piano, making it a very luxe affair indeed. These are rooms with some views – Nottingham Castle and the city’s skyline among them.

When your hotel’s so inviting the temptation is to mooch about your rooms savouring the experience, but it was mid-afternoon and lunch beckoned. We popped in to the nearby Crafty Crow bar and restaurant, one minute’s walk from our hotel. A large sharing platter of delicious goodies – locally-sourced cheeses, including Colston Bassett Blue, meats and the most delicious home-baked beer bread, oatcakes and mixed olives – made for a delightful pick-and-mix. The Magpie Brewery’s tap house, it flies the flag for beer-food pairing and champions small-batch independent food and drink producers. A glass of English Three Choirs wine slipped down very easily, while my other half supped Summer Visitor brew.

The legendary drinking haunt of Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem is just a few minutes’ walk away so a stroll down memory lane and mooch about the cosy confines of this characterful pub was in order. Thought to be the oldest inn in England, and dating back to 1189 AD, we were given a guided tour of the ancient hostelry and its clammy cellars occupying atmospheric caves.

Dinner that night at Fothergills pub and bistro on Castle Road offered views of the city’s famed Robin Hood statue which stands in the shadow of Nottingham Castle. Its stripped-back, relaxed interiors and bistro-style food using ingredients from local producers are clearly a hit with the locals.

Our dishes were just delicious: pan-roasted cod loin served on pea and mint risotto and freshly-steamed mussels in creamy madras sauce with chunky rustic chips, were both standout meals. Lemon posset to follow was tangy and creamy.

Nottingham is a vibrant city with much in the way of cultural offerings too, and it’s fairly compact so you can pretty much see everything on foot.

The next day we took a stroll across the town over the market square and had breakfast at Delilah Fine Foods deli, a 10-minute walk away. Recently awarded the Local Gem accolade in the Good Food Guide, the multi-award-winning foodie emporium is one cool place, occupying a stunning building, once home to an HSBC bank. Delilah’s is an independent fine food and wine merchant situated on Victoria Street, sandwiched between trendy Bridlesmith Gate and the Lace Market/Hockley. It’s well worth seeking out and is run by a dedicated team of foodies, serious about good food and drink.

My home-made granola served with natural yoghurt and organic honey was a quality offering and made for a healthy start to the day. Across the table, the Delilah gourmet breakfast of Boston sausage, Italian pancetta, Lincolnshire black pudding, local fried eggs and all the trimmings, similarly went down a treat. We also had a great bird’s eye view from the first-floor dining area of the deli below.

Later that day, more gourmet sampling was on the menu as we’d coincided our trip with the excellent Festival of Food & Drink weekend at Clumber Park in Worksop, a National Trust venue about a 50-minute drive out of the city.

The food and drink exhibitors’ marquee was impressive with plenty of local and lovely offerings such as pies from Melton Mowbray, Stilton and plenty of good local brews. The cookery theatre featured a host of celebrity chefs including Phil Vickery from TV’s This Morning.

That night a memorable dinner at the landmark Ye Olde Bell Hotel and Restaurant, at Barnby Moor, Retford, was special as we got to sample some seriously skilful cooking.

Roasted figs starter stuffed with Brie, leaf salad and red wine reduction and scallops with squash puree, crispy pancetta and chilli oil, a case in point.

Mains of venison loin with black pudding, and damson jus, and seared monkfish tail with samphire, lemon mash and olive tapenade were both excellent and rounded off a very indulgent foodie weekend.

The 17th century coaching inn is situated on the borders of Notts, Lincolns and Yorkshire so there’s much to explore on the rural doorstep.

A break from food was in order – and a trip to the Harley Gallery on the Welbeck Estate is highly recommended if you’re in the vicinity.

The gallery is home to the historic Portland Collection of fine and decorative art, accompanied by exhibitions from leading contemporary artists.

Situated on the ducal estate of Welbeck in North Notts, the three gallery spaces at The Harley show exhibitions of top quality contemporary visual art and craft which change five times a year. It’s a light and bright space, the perfect backdrop for the artwork.

On a mooch around, we did spy a fab looking eaterie next door – the Lime Tree Café – but we really couldn’t even contemplate!

More gourmet places on the list for next time.

St James Hotel, Rutland Street, Nottingham, NG1 6EB.

Ye Olde Bell Hotel & Restaurant, Barnby Moor, Retford, Notts, DN22 8QS.