World Service – Modern European – Nottingham – Review by Sarah
I promised my husband I wouldn’t take any photographs at World Service, as the meal was a birthday gift for him and he feels even more strongly opposed to the mobiles-everywhere-photos-of-everything culture than I do. Delightfully I didn’t see one person snap their food last night, not even surreptitiously; there’s nowhere to hide in World Service, with mirror strips around the dining room walls so at any time you can watch everyone else. It’s a little disconcerting, and something I would happily send to the skip along with the cheap lighting / hanging frames on the ceiling. Although the building has a considerable history and place as a members’ club, the restaurant could do with a facelift, which would be achievable whilst keeping the sense of tradition.
On arrival we were seated in the lounge bar, which occupies half of the venue’s floor space and is considerably more attractive than the restaurant itself. It is somewhat odd that a place with such a lengthy and unusual cocktail menu is not actively advertising itself as a cocktail bar, at least as far as I am aware. My husband started off with a Basil Fawlty (£8.50), which was a bright green, foam topped affair that featured a) Gin and b) egg. He loved it. The wine list shares the same over-extension problems as the cocktail menu; it would take you half your evening to make a considered decision, although credit is due for the substantial number of options priced below £20 a bottle.
We had an amuse bouche in the cocktail lounge of crisp curled slivers of thick poppadum with a mango chutney and a cauliflower foam, the latter of which achieved that trick of being a foam and yet being dense and oily. Delicious. We were given menus to browse which were of the ideal length of five to eight options per course. Three individual courses here would leave you little from £50 but there is a set menu for half that price, if you will trade monkfish for cod, or beef for chicken. We chose just to go for mains, which were described by the main component of the course and a list of other elements in the dish. The husband opted for belly pork while I chose rump of lamb, both of which were priced around £18, and we were then shown to our table by the suited female maitre d’.
A choice of a wholemeal treacle or thyme infused white mini loaf kept the wolf from the door as we waited for our dishes. Apart from the internal cringe of seeing dishes on slates, a practice that surely must end soon, I was pleased to see impressive and colourful dishes arriving in the dining room, and not a single complaint was being raised (which remained the case for the whole evening). When our food arrived, we were each delivered a sizeable portion of animal, living up to their headline billings on the menu. Belly pork sat in six alphabet block cubes, accompanied by cabbage and miniature apples on the plate, and a doll’s house copper pan of roasted potatoes and onions. This was one occasion where this separate serving of the carbohydrate element worked well, allowing the meat to just sit there and say, hey, you ordered belly pork, well here I am. It had been cooked slowly and softly, and my husband was very happy.
My lamb was a more complex dish with several more components, and it makes sense to evaluate it as such, since it was impossible to eat them all together as one meal. So: a small lamb rump in four slices was pink, tender and almost really good; an over-seasoned merguez sausage which nevertheless had a great texture, being neither greasy or chewy as a Pepperami; aubergine semi-pureed which was completely tasteless and stayed largely untouched; a smatter of plain-as-you-like chickpeas which served no accountable purpose; a sprinkle of almonds which were even worse than the chickpeas, since they only served in to disrupt the enjoyment of the lamb with their brittle insistences; courgette julienne, which delightfully absorbed juices from the lamb; one piece of red roasted pepper; a smear of spiced tomato puree and several globules of an apricot sauce, the latter of which was excellent; a gravy that smelt curiously beefy; and a saucepan of cous cous, so heavily dressed with olive oil that it simply overwhelmed the taste of whatever I desperately tried to get it to act as the wingman for on my plate. Somewhere within this souk run was the unmistakeable presence of a good chef, but like the drinks menus, someone seemed to have taken the brakes off when really, reining everything in would clearly result in something better for the customer.
And yet… I still rather enjoyed it. Perhaps I was feeling good will because of the celebratory nature of the evening, but I suspect it was more the delight of seeing the stars of both dishes, the meat, really standing out.
We returned to the bar for coffee and petit fours, both of which were excellent, but I had cause to get back on my slate highchair – why would you serve two magnificent giant chocolate buttons and two feather light raspberry meringues on a slate? A tremendous disservice to carefully crafted confectionary.
There are clearly the bones of a longstandingly good restaurant here; like an acer, it needs to be trimmed every now and then to keep its beauty, rather than just becoming another big tree.