We really enjoy eating out, but rarely get the chance these days with two small children. When we do, because we value the time so much, we often end up going to the same reliable places; places where we know we can guarantee good food and good service (a good restaurant must have both or it may as well have neither).
Below can be found a list of our favourite restaurants, places we’d go back to again, and again, and again… The star rating is unscientific and is purely my stab at indicating what I think of the place (to get a star means it’s already good so don’t mistake 2 out of 5 as a poor reflection). I’ve also, for your protection, flagged up a few places to avoid if you want an enjoyable evening, with a respective exclamation mark rating to indicate the scale of our indignation. We will add to this as time goes on and we have new experiences or have flashbacks to old ones.
Tom Brown’s, 5*: Gunthorpe, nr Nottingham. Mostly European food with occasional leaps out to Asia. Fantastic theme nights, great entertainment, cannot remember a bad night here.
Two sister restaurants, including the Riverbank, 4*, on Trent Bridge; not found this quite as friendly as TB’s but possibly more suited to the city location, and the venue is lovely. I’m not fond of their desserts and have now taken to opting for their excellent cheeseboards, always ask for extra crackers though as I invariably run out of cracker before I run out of cheese!
My favourite Indian restaurant is 4550 Miles From Delhi (reviewed here), 5*, on Maid Marian Way in Nottingham, which I thought had closed permanently in 2010 reopened around Easter 2011. No other Indian has been able to match this for me, but getting a merit is the Cinnamon Club, 4*, in Westminster. Odd environment – it’s a former library, but fantastic food. Pricy though, being so nearby for all those MPs with expenses burning a hole in their pockets.
There must be something about restaurants with Brown in the name as on a couple of journeys to Oxford we have found Brown’s Brasserie, 4*, to be excellent, and the best source of Bloody Marys I have come across – again this is European food, particularly French. It is part of a small chain, but its sister in Cambridge is not up to the same standard, feeling a bit Café Rouge by comparison.
Brasserie Blanc, 4*: Milton Keynes, believe it or not. One of a small chain owned by chef Raymond, the food is very good as you would expect, and the service was friendly. The restaurant is a bit of a goldfish bowl though so don’t head here for any secret trysts.
World Service, 5*: Nottingham. I have, to date, no experience of restaurants having the accolade of a Michelin star; but I cannot imagine this is far from gaining one. The food and drinks are superb quality. You get what you pay for and it ain’t cheap, but they do have a limited set lunch menu for £14. Service is professional and discreet but could not be described as friendly.
Georgetown, 3*: Nottingham. We first came across Georgetown in Stratford-upon-Avon but that branch appears to have closed. I don’t often like restaurants with discrete menus from different cuisines, but this place makes the Chinese, Indian and Malay dishes in its portfolio work well together, and the environment is very pleasant. Beware the hidden seafood in many dishes (particularly shrimp paste), it has caused me unpleasant evenings on more than one occasion. Does still have a sister restaurant, Raffles in Kenilworth.
Jaipur, 2*: Milton Keynes (yes, again – I spend a lot of time there!). Actually two restaurants – an Indian downstairs and Thai upstairs. Pleasant food and amenable surroundings, but the service is erratic. Good for an agreeable meal on a limited expense budget!
Ginza, 3*: Nottingham. Now I’m biased because I absolutely adore teppanyaki done well, and the theatre of sitting in front of your knife-wielding chef as he expertly prepares your (admittedly predictable) meal. We went here for an atypical Valentine’s meal a number of years ago but were as impressed with the green tea ice cream as with the main course. Unfortunately it’s not great for veggies as the menu will evidence so we are unlikely to make a return trip.
Jitrada, 3*: Sale, Manchester. Best Thai I have been to, although it’s nearly 10 years since we last went. Only restaurant I have eaten in where I have had to reach my table via a bridge over a river – inside the restaurant.
Another from our days living in Manchester is Franc’s, 3*, in Altrincham, where one meal was followed by my proposal to my wife. Again many years have passed since so it might be crap now!
Lakeside Tower, 1!, is to be avoided. Beautiful setting, but the food is of questionable quality, the menu caters minimally for vegetarians, the wine list is not especially thoughtful, and the service is intolerably slow. On the whole it felt like a middling quality gastropub posing as a fine dining restaurant.
Ti Amo, 1!: Gedling, Nottingham. Having had a less than perfect experience two weeks into the life of the only restaurant we can sensibly walk to from home, we decided to give it another shot a year or so later. Unfortunately some of the basic errors evident in our first visit have not been eradicated through experience, with poor drinks stock, inattentive service and inconsistent food more than outweighing lack of taxi fare.
Home, 2*: Arnold, Nottingham. We have not yet had the pleasure of an evening meal here but our lunchtime visits have been very positive: good quality, quirkily-presented variations on well-loved dishes, in a decorative environment. We hope to get there and experience some of their live music one evening; they share some of the same acts that frequent Tom Brown’s, so I’m optimistic.
Las Iguanas, 2*: national, including Milton Keynes and Nottingham. Being a chain doesn’t necessarily equal risible service and not-so-funny food, although there are plenty such examples. The branch in Nottingham has hosted us twice in quick succession; I thoroughly recommend it to parents, as the kids are made welcome and one eats free for each paying adult. Tasty Latin American food and attentive service, this may even rival Pizza Express as our kids’ favourite. Speaking of which:
Pizza Express, 2*: national, including Southgate (London), Uxbridge, Lincoln, Nottingham (x2), West Bridgford (which pretends it isn’t Nottingham but it is really), Beverley, Cheshire Oaks, Didsbury (Manchester). Lots of people are a bit snotty about PX but they’re mostly non-parents, although we were fans long before we even thought about having kids. Having been in (as you can see) branches across the country, I’ve found the quality and service to be equally sound wherever I go; and it guarantees a cheer from my boys, which earns them a lot of points.
Artisan, 5*, in Crosspool, Sheffield: having researched heavily for a suitable venue to celebrate our tenth anniversary while staying away for a wedding, we were not at all disappointed with this lovely restaurant which had plenty in common with the Tom Brown’s family. This is also part of a burgeoning local food empire and I would love to have occasion to try the others; the food was excellent and the service very friendly. Only the view from the window left something to be desired.
More to come!