La Rock – Modern European – Nottingham (Sandiacre)
** Summer 2015 update – I had an enjoyable lunch at La Rock with a particularly excellent quail starter. A venison main was also well done and at 3 courses for £27 at lunch it was pretty good value. On that basis I upgraded my score from the initial review.
The restaurant has held a lofty position atop TripAdvisor’s rankings in Nottingham for some time now. Whilst I am a contributor to that most famous of review websites I don’t set too much store by these rankings, everyone’s tastes are different. With over 400 reviews, 350 of which are 5/5, though and calls for a Michelin Star they must be doing something right.
In a dark, dark town there was a dark, dark street and in the dark, dark street there is La Rock. 90’s cartoon references aside, surrounded by the odd shop, takeaway and a residential road there are certainly areas where La Rock would feel more at home. Once you step inside though La Rock doesn’t let you down and you could be anywhere. The theme is wood with beautiful bespoke furniture and features in oaky opulence with exposed brick walls. The lighting was ambient which, hand-in-hand with my lack of skill, goes some way to explain the murky pictures. Food-wise a la carte is currently the only option, although a tasting menu is imminent. There are plentiful options with which to select your 3 courses, though the menu is a little verbose in parts. Before starters arrived we were presented with 2 amuse bouches, a sign of their ambition and emulation of other fine dining establishments. We had been waiting for some time to this point and they would have been better served offering us these at the bar with the pre-dinner drinks. The first was a cheese and pickle number, simple but with good flavours and added texture from the crunch of some biscuit shards. A second was mango sorbet with mango pieces which excited me less, subtle flavours which may have been better lined up between mains and desserts as a palate cleanser.
I was pleased to see pigeon on the menu and had no hesitation in opting for it. My own attempts have certainly shown that it isn’t an easy bird to cook, a moment’s hesitation and it’s an grey chewy disaster. Here they had erred on the rarer side and as fan of brief liaisons between meat and pan I was happy to accommodate. The fruit pudding, a new one on me, and tarragon emulsion didn’t feel the most natural of bedfellows to the pigeon and both crunch and freshness were lacking to really harmonise with it.
My gamey evening continued with a main of duck and girolles. Other elements included parsnip puree and apple textures. Certainly an enjoyable course again, duck well cooked and woody earthy girolles are a favourite of mine. The textures didn’t add too much and again I didn’t quite feel the apple worked perfectly with the duck. Something that was lacking from mine and other main courses was some semblance of a sauce. Where it was promised it was a dribble or the dreaded smear, and where it wasn’t it would have been welcomed. The restaurant also appears to love ‘the stack’. The food was attractive enough but stacking the meat seemed too easy a choice for presentation at this level and failed to showcase some of the hidden delights that were lurking beneath. Another theme was meat and 1 veg as an additional assiette was suggested to supplement the main courses. Again pleasant enough but a little old fashioned and inevitable that some elements would suit one dish better than another. My single favourite component a really good ratatouille, but not something that worked with duck, girolles, apple and parsnip.
Dessert was a black cherry and nougatine parfait and was perhaps my dish of the evening. The parfait showed a lightness of touch and was perfectly made. A sweet white chocolate cream worked better than I’d envisioned, the only improvement a little more cherry tang to cut through the rest of the dish. Service was strongly enthusiastic and passionate but lacked polish. The service could have been a little better paced as starters arrived a significant time after we arrived and we had to request to make a wine order. These are small things though that I’m sure will be ironed out having read they have transitioned to a new front of house recently.
I definitely enjoyed my meal at La Rock. With all the positive comments and reviews had I expected too much? Possibly. I put it alongside Hart’s and World Service with the greater ambition at La Rock vs stronger execution of classic dishes flavour combinations at its city centre competition. Prices on reflection were a few pounds higher too, a lamb rump dish at Hart’s £17.25 compared to £24 in Sandiacre. Starters were a little more favourable at £8/9. My final impressions were that on my visit it felt like a restaurant in transition. Perhaps the impending introduction of tasting menus has had an impact, there is certainly talent in the kitchen I would just like to see it channelled more coherently.
Restaurant website: http://www.larockrestaurant.co.uk/