One of the key tasks I set myself with this blog is to encourage people to eat out in Leicestershire and Rutland. But for once I’m suggesting you consider trying Nottingham over the next couple of weeks.

In the last couple of years the City has staged a food festival of the familiar sort – Slab Square taken over by a variety of street food and farmer’s market stalls. Nice as this was, it didn’t really meet the needs of the people setting it up – Nottingham’s BID (Business Improvement District) team.  This initiative raises money from retail and leisure providers in a defined area of the city for activities to boost trade. And many of the food festival traders were from outside of the area.

So this year they’ve focused on getting people through the doors of existing restaurants and bars.  Key to this is the £10 dining offer being supported during Food and Drink Fortnight (3-17 August) by some 50 venues in the city centre. It’s based on the principle of the hugely successful initiatives run by national newspapers in the past  – you get a cheap meal out, the restaurant gets a chance to show off its strengths to new people who might otherwise not be tempted through the door (and without paying Groupon).

Potted mackerel at Loch Fyne

Potted mackerel at Loch Fyne

Summer pudding at the Hand and Heart

Summer pudding at the Hand and Heart

There’s a wide range of participants from the swanky (World Service – pre-booked lunch, two courses for £10),  to stylish bars such as Sinatra’s, traditional pubs such as the Hand and Heart (three course lunch for £10) and superior chains such as Loch Fyne (two courses, until 7pm, for £10).

I was invited by Nottingham BID to try out a few of the dishes on offer last night and it’s clear there’s plenty of great value around.  You can find out the precise nature of all the offers here. You can also go here to find a handbook for the fortnight which includes details of lots of other events and a selection of vouchers for further freebies and discounts.

Turtle Bay, Nottingham

October 22, 2012

Caribbean food has never made the deep inroads into British culture that Indian food has. You’ll find cafes and restaurant in the big urban centres which serve predominantly people of Caribbean origin, but unless – like me – you’re fortunate enough to have a friend like Dorothy Francis, many people’s encounter with food from the West Indies may be limited to jerk chicken on carnival day.

So I was intrigued to be invited over to Nottingham for the launch of Turtle Bay, the third in a incipient chain of Caribbean restaurants. It’s sited in the Cornerhouse, the big development of cinema, bars and restaurants next to the Royal Centre, neighbouring several other chain staples – in other  words,  right in the mainstream.   And I’m told one of the founders was also behind the Latin Las Iguanas chain. Given the size of the the investment – and the generosity of this launch party  – someone is very confident they can make  a breakthrough.

We had canape versions of the menu and there were some promising signs. Jerk chicken wings had a scotch bonnetty fire about them, and strips of beef had a great tang of allspice that suggests the recipes used are not afraid of using genuine flavours. “Trini Doubles” of stuffed little puffed rotis were gorgeous, as was some citrussy mackerel.  Plaintains were  disappointing and not everything worked and while obviously a place like this will presumably have the strengths and weaknesses of its competitors, there was enough to think I’d like to try the main menu at some point. Staff have been selected for their personality as much as experience and the place wants to develop a party vibe – they certainly gave the place a good launch.

The manager told me that West Indian communities in Southampton and Milton Keynes had given the loal branches a wide berth to begin with, but had slowly come round once they realised the food was ok – well he would say that wouldn’t he?  I’m sure many Jamaicans in Nottingham will be reluctant to admit Turtle Bay can make curry goat like their mum/favoured neghbourhood cafe, but if it can offer people a good time and open the door to a new cuisine it’ll be doing a grand job.

No awards this year

February 26, 2010

I’ve  just been advised that there will be  no Nottingham Restaurant Awards this year,  the organisers deciding to focus on the city’s Food and Drink festival. Sadly this  means my services as a judge are not required.  I’m sure you all gutted for me. This has consistently been one of my favourite times of the year – last year I had three splendid meals at the Tarn Thai in Hockley and Memsaab and Chino Latino on Maid Marian Way. The last two especially are warmly recommended next time you are out and about in the second city of the East Midlands.  

The Leicestershire and Rutland Awards have not run for a couple of years because of the difficulty in finding a headline sponsor. Ok, it’s not exactly the worst thing that’s happened in the recession but nonetheless it’s disappointing the county can’t support community-building initiatives like this which can provide rewards and incentives for good restaurants.

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