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My 65th birthday at Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham I managed to grab a room-and-dinner package for the 17 January 2008. Sat was one of the stars of the BBCís Great British Menu, and we were really looking forward to comparing his tasting menu with Heston Blumenthalís at The Fat Duck, where we celebrated my 64th. See further down and here. Now Sat has won the Best Restaurant category in The Observer Food Magazineís 2008 Readersí Awards.
My 66th was celebrated, belatedly, in June 2009 at Morston Hall, Norfolk - see below.
Also at the bottom of this page: our next big celebration...
The Good Food Guide
One of my Christmas 2007 stocking-fillers was The Good Food Guide 2008. This is published by Which and relies heavily on reader input for its restaurant reports. It gives each restaurant a score on a scale of 1 to 10 for cooking (1 isnít actually bad - if the restaurant wasnít at least good it wouldnít be in the book at all!), and it also contains a Top 40 listing. Given that we are far from wealthy and donít actually eat out that often - rather a great meal now and again than an expensive one every week! - I was delighted to find that we have eaten at Number 1 (The Fat Duck, cooking score 9), number 17 (Restaurant Sat Bains, cooking score 7) and Number 24 (Fischers Baslow Hall, cooking score 7), where we were married and have stayed and eaten on two other occasions. Even better, Winteringham Fields, where we went on the 1 May 2008 (see bottom of page), is Number 4, with a cooking score of 8. Raymond Blancís Le Manoir aux Quatí Saisons, where we would love to go but have been put off by the high cost of accommodation, is Number 3, cooking score 9.
What is great is that the list isnít heavily loaded with London restaurants. I hope Iím not contravening Whichís copyright by publishing it, with additional information, here.
One restaurant that I remember with affection was back when Wife Number Two and I were renting a friendís house in the Morvan forest in Burgundy. My ílittle French brotherí Philippe and his partner Nathalie (of whom more in The Big Holiday) came up from Auvergne on one of Philippeís countless motorbikes to spend a couple of nights with us. Philippe, the eternal gourmet, had brought his Michelin Guide Rouge and went hunting for a one-star restaurant. He found Chez Camille (website in French only), where we had a stunning meal. This is a long time ago, but Iíll never forget the Galantine de Canard et son Foie (literally duck stuffed with its liver). I didnít realise until much later that this had been my first taste of foie gras. There is a funny convention in French menu-writing which was apparent in my first knowing encounter with foie gras - Notre bloc de foie gras et ses toasts - of labelling the garnish as if it belongs to the main item. So the liver in the boned-out duck may have been its own, but given that it was a small duck, this seems unlikely! Incidentally, Philippe was shocked to discover that since the publications of his Michelin guide Chez Camille had lost its star - good thing he didnít spot that before he booked, because the meal was superb.
Another astonishing restaurant that we found by accident, while desperately seeking a bed for the night in the Lot valley, on the way home from Mougins, near Cannes, was called Chez Camillou. Itís in Aumont-Aubrac and is part of an otherwise undistinguished Logis de France hotel. Our meal there was full of grin-inducing surprises, and I really would like to go back. There was also a wonderful little restaurant called Le Petit Fouet (website only in French) in Mougins itself, run by a delightfully funny gay couple - great food and great fun.
Yet another meal which I never got round to writing up was for Patriciaís birthday in May 2005. I managed to get a booking at The River Cafe, and we had a superb evening in this huge, bustling restaurant on the Thames in Fulham. The food was delightful and the service, despite the enormous crowd, was highly professional - everything Ruthís and Roseís TV cookery programmes had led us to expect. When I emailed my thanks, they kindly replied with the menu for the day we were there. Click here to read this email. Not sure about a restaurant run by an British woman and an American married to a British lord that prints its menu in Italian, though...
Then thereís Fischerís Baslow Hall in Derbyshire (also one Michelin star): Patricia took me for a deluxe night with dinner for my birthday in January 2006, and we were so impressed we got married there the following May! We went back for a night in May 2007 to celebrate our first wedding anniversary and Patriciaís birthday - I think this might become an annual event. We also discovered that the proprietors and their head chef have a bar/restaurant, also in Baslow, called Rowleys, and we intend to try a Sunday lunch there soon.
On Tuesday 23 January 2007 we had dinner for another birthday at Heston Blumenthalís Fat Duck restaurant (three Michelin stars and recently voted The Best Restaurant in the World!). Given the restaurantís awesome status and the fact that we tried for a booking just at the end of Blumenthalís TV series In Search of Perfection and the parallel series in the Sunday Times Magazine, this must rank as a major achievement - we hear that calls for reservations average 380 a day, and we got a cancellation within five days of my birthday! We knew the bill would be scary, but our guest-house room in Maidenhead cost a lot less than Baslow Hallís £180 per night. Anyway, the Tax Man had just coughed up what he owed me for running all my business ventures at a considerable loss - failure has its compensations! You can read all about it here...
Since moving to North Nottinghamshire we have found a few very good places to eat locally. Ziniz, in nearby Bawtry, is run by a native of Florence and offers beautifully-presented Tuscan cuisine in an elegant bar/restaurant. It had a very elegant website, too, but it seems to have vanished. He has very recently opened a fish restaurant and wine bar called NordEst in Tickhill, even closer to home. At the last Google, this didnít show as having a website, but thereís plenty of contact information. Patricia, stepson Alistair and I had lunch there on my birthday (a few days before going to The Fat Duck) and were impressed with the surroundings and the food on the small lunch menu. We had a slightly early Valentineís dinner there on the 13 February 2007 (never go out to eat on the 14th - your chosen restaurant will be full enough to strain service to, if not beyond, the limit, and the íspecial menuí will probably be ridiculously expensive) and were favourably impressed.
The confusingly-named village of Wales, between us and Sheffield, boasts a really good Chinese restaurant called Ka China. We have been several times and have always thoroughly enjoyed the food and the service. Bawtry has The China Rose, which is much bigger and - while very good - would be our second choice of the two. Neither have websites, but a Google search for either produces masses of information.
We found a little excellent food on our fortnightís holiday in Scotland in April 2007. Please read this page to find a seafood restaurant worth a trip from anywhere north of Inverness.
Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham
We spent the night of the 17th/18th January 2008 celebrating my 65th birthday (and blowing more than my first four weeksí State Pension) at Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham. Sat, who was a winner in the BBCís 2007 Great British Menu, is a friend of Heston Blumenthal, and very much part of the same movement. We had a superb meal, and Sat was kind enough to annotate a copy of the tasting menu weíd eaten before we left because, again, itís very difficult to remember all the details of meals like this. Unfortunately I left this at the house of a family member and by the time I got it back my memories of the meal were a bit hazy!
Sadly, Sat didnít get beyond the Central England heat of the 2008 Great British Menu - I suspect his overly modern dessert, using Stilton as a seasoning for strawberries and adding some bizarre jelly pastilles made from, of all things, rapeseed oil, was a pudding too far for Matthew, Pru and Oliver.
Winteringham Fields, Lincolnshire
Sometime in 2008 Darren, my fishmonger at Worksop market, told me that Winteringham Fields was his favourite restaurant. This is another írestaurant with roomsí - a format weíve grown to love - about an hourís drive from home, quite near the Lincolnshire side of the Humber Bridge. I had a look at their website and decided to book a midweek break (£395) for our wedding anniversary and Patriciaís birthday. I landed one of their top suites, the Thomas Westoby, normally £205 a night. We were there for dinner - the Menu Surprise with the sommelierís choice of a glass of wine with each course (eight, if you count the refresher!), bed and breakfast on the 1 May, and my report can be read here.
Just before Christmas 2009 Darren gave me a copy of Lincolnshire Pride magazine with a special offer from Winteringham Fields. We didn?t hesitate, and had another excellent night there on the 19 January 2010, the day after my 67th birthday. Read all about it...
Winteringham Fields has won some fairly serious awards, and has the same score for cooking in The Good Food Guide, 7, as Sat Bains - two less than The Fat Duckís 9 and one less than The Waterside Innís 8. It also featured in a Hairy Bikers programme in 2009.
Darren gave me a copy of Loncolnshire Pride magazine just before Christmas 2009 because there was a special offer from Winteringham Fields: book the Menu Surprise (£79) with the sommellierís recommended wines (£55) for two and get a room and breakfast worth up to £222 free. Thatís equivalent to dinner and wine for two for £46 - too good to miss. I phoned and managed to book for the day after my 67th birthday - report coming soon. Meanwhile, a few days before our second visit, I have re-read and edited my report.
The latest celebration
We actually leapfrogged our wedding anniversary and Patís birthday (1 and 4 May respectively), celebrated back at Fischerís Baslow Hall in Derbyshire, with my birthday celebration (18 January). This finally happened on the 25 June 2009 at Morston Hall, chef/proprietor another TV star, Galton Blakiston, and - yet again - a restaurant with rooms. We combined this with a five-night holiday at Church Cottage in the quiet Norfolk village of Langham, less than two miles from Morston and even closer to the delightful ícoastalí village of Blakeney - the quotes are because Blakeney Quay is quite a long way from the sea, from which it is separated by a wide band of salt marsh. My report can be read here...
Hambleton Hall in Leicestershire, also a 7, is on our ídefinitesí list. Itís actually cheaper than Winteringham Fields - a break for two is £270, but doesnít include wine - and the chef, Aaron Patterson, has won a Michelin star. I think he was the fourth man in the Central England eliminator on Great British Menu, with Sat, Glyn Purnell (who won the heat) and Rupert Rowley of Fischers, but that information seems to have dropped off the BBC website.
Then there are all other the guys in Great British Menu to go at. We really liked Nigel Haworthís food (and personality!) in the North heat of GBM, and his Northcote Manor (another restaurant with rooms) looks wonderful. I think weíll give Anthony Flinn a miss, though, regardless of who wins the heat.
Personal site for Paul Marsden: frustrated writer; experimental cook and all-round foodie; amateur wine-importer; former copywriter and press-officer; former teacher, teacher-trainer, educational software developer and documenter; still a professional web-developer but mostly retired.
This site was transferred in June 2005 to the Sites4Doctors Site Management System, and has been developed and maintained there ever since.