Because we enjoy eating out, we have taken care to ensure our kids have been regularly exposed to eateries of the sort that we like to frequent, i.e. starting at Pizza Express and working up from there. This hasn’t been without trauma: a particular lowlight being the noisy rebellion of my then two-year-old at one of my wife’s favourite establishments resulting in her spending most of the meal standing outside with him, considering in rapidly diminishing jest whether to throw him into the adjacent ravine. On the whole though the strategy has been successful, and although they are rarely the quietest patrons in the house, we are able to take our boys to most of the sorts of place we like to eat without attracting the silent disapproval of the other diners.
We have thus been able to eat out fairly regularly this year but it dawned on me recently that as a result we haven’t had a meal out as a couple since we had a few days away in Chester at Easter. I looked at the calendar and noted with mild horror that Christmas was a mere eight weekends away, the majority of which are scheduled for visits to or by friends and family, meaning our last realistic opportunity to go out as a couple this year was that very Saturday.
Because of the short notice our favourite regular haunts were unavailable, so I booked an earlyish table at the “Asian fusion” restaurant Chino Latino, which I’d had recommended to me on a couple of occasions and whose unusual menu had piqued my interest. I adore the salt and spice of Oriental food, and this place had the added temptation of serving its cuisine in a tapas style. As I’ve mentioned before, tapas is a fantastic way of resolving my innate indecisiveness – can’t make your mind up? Have both! – and somehow makes it acceptable to mix components that you would never normally combine on a single plate.
The last time we got a taxi into Nottingham city centre, for dinner with friends at the lovely World Service, we considered ourselves lucky to have arrived without injury, having been reduced to actually yelling at the feckless driver of the big yellow Peugeot who had, it seemed, not only strikingly poor knowledge of the geography of the city but also a passing acquaintanceship at best with the Highway Code and a total lack of ability to follow basic directions. So we were somewhat relieved on this occasion to have had a completely uneventful journey into town, and got down to the tricky business of trying to decide what to eat.
Chino Latino is a confusingly-named restaurant attached to the Park Plaza hotel. I say confusingly because of the complete lack of anything remotely Latino on the menu, and the corny rhyming is at odds with the apparent sophistication of the menu. In my admittedly limited experience of hotel restaurants they have a tendency to disappoint, which did have the effect of setting my expectations relatively low despite the recommendations. I was also nervous to find the entrance to the restaurant area being via a bar, suggesting that food might be of secondary importance here, in the style of an All Bar One – pleasant enough, but ultimately not the core revenue generator for the business.
I needn’t have entertained any such concerns. The enticing aromas surrounding us from the moment we sat down were happily fulfilled by a meal of exceptional quality. We did struggle somewhat to decide what to order, but only from the point of view of what might work together. The menu is mostly Japanese and Chinese influenced, but featured ingredients such as lamb which are more normally seen in South Asian cooking rather than East. A full section of sushi and sashimi were shunned in favour of more warming dishes on what was a chilly evening, but were attractive from what we saw of other diners’ orders. Wasabi played a supporting role in many of the dishes, including both the scallops and lamb cutlets I ordered.
My wife had somehow managed to reach her late thirties without ever having tried a scallop, and as she has relented on her “nothing with a face” policy to slake her body’s thirst for Omega-3, she managed to snaffle one of my grilled scallops with yuzu (a citrus fruit) aioli and wasabi peas before I was able to wield my fork in defence. Scallops don’t really have anything we would recognise as a face anyway, but lambs are cute and woolly so my cutlets – nicely brown outside and pink inside – went unpillaged.
What really summed up the restaurant for me were the sides, the simplest dishes we ordered. I could have eaten a bucket of the Thai rice noodles just on their own – almost squid-like in texture, seasoned with just the right amount of soy. I only recently discovered the joy of braised lettuce thanks to my fat foodie friend and I assume the bok choi with shaoxing wine and cashews were cooked this way as well as they were very reminiscent. To be able to deliver such simple food so effectively speaks far more highly for me than the more sophisticated elements of our meal.
The only disappointment was my dessert, an uninspiring ginger sponge with ginger ice-cream, neither of which lived up to the excellent spicing of the previous courses. However I quickly erased any memory of those – almost literally – by ordering a couple of cocktails, and thus adding probably the only Latino thing I could see on the menu to our bill – a Mojito, enhanced / sullied (delete as appropriate) by the addition of coconut milk. I quite liked it actually, but they do well enough with the Chino to more than compensate for the lack of Latino.