Sample – Modern European – Nottingham
Sample might have flown under some radars but those in the know have been talking about it since opening a couple of months ago, I have been eagerly waiting for the opportunity to make a trip. It’s been a stealthy arrival on the scene with not a huge amount of social media or a website. The restaurant is above Tilt in a nice little space with room for perhaps 30/40 covers, modern and inviting. An open kitchen also allows you to see the scale of the operation, namely 2 chefs and just one front of house at the time we were there.
The concept takes a bit of getting your head around, having been I’m still not convinced I’ve got it. There is a blackboard of 8/9 single ingredients which combine in various ways to make up the dishes on offer. There’s quite a lot of debate as to what this really means but it is not at all clear, it also makes for awkward interactions with the waitress. “What would you like?”, “a chicken thing please, maybe a seabass and pepper thing…if that’s a thing?”. You don’t really know what your options are, or at least I didn’t. This format brings with it the model of a fixed price of £25 and the suggestion that you can eat as many dishes as you like. There is a short but well formed drinks list, cocktails of course given the Tilt connection and some decent beer but only a few bottles of wine to choose from.
Confusing format aside, how was the food? I enjoyed the bread on the table, a well made focaccia that was liberally oiled and salted. Our first course was mostly some roasted peppers with a few capers and breadcrumbs for a touch of binding, I’d have liked some chunkier bits to provide more texture but a couple of deep fried basil leaves were a nice addition. Simple but enjoyable. The second dish focused on tomato and that element looked fab. It had been skinned and stuff with a tomato ragu but held its form beautifully and glistened invitingly. It would have been excellent were it not for the basil sorbet, I could see before I tackled it that it was not right and with only two elements on the plate there is nowhere to hide. When I managed to chip off some the grainy, rock solid ellipse the flavours worked really well, it is basil and tomato after all.
Swordfish, visually, burst off the plate. The fish had been introduced to cajun flavours, nicely balanced and with a handful of fresh samphire. The plate also was dressed with some mango sauce that just about worked, the addition of raspberries and blueberries though was too far, any mouthful was dominated by sweetness and sharpness. Similarly another swordfish dish was served alongside orange segments and a satay sauce. This really didn’t work for me either, sometimes its down to the individual palate of course but my fellow diner had the same opinion on this one.
Further courses were perfectly enjoyable and happily less adventurous. A chicken dish showed off more bold presentation, the bird itself fairly plain but well cooked and well seasoned. The flavour came from a well made chilli jam that had a good rounded warm rather than a more harsh heat which can sometimes happen. The colourful spots on the elaborate plate did at least add something with additional spots of basil and a spiced mayo. A gnocci pot was a strange choice from serving perspective, despite that it was a healthy portion and was by far the most filling of the evening. Classic tomato and aubergine flavours in the sauce, the gnocci itself just a touch flabby. Some mutton meatballs and another chicken dish also fell into this selection that were somewhere around the 7 or 7.5 out of 10 area.
The best dishes were two of the most simple. A lovely piece of seabass was enhanced by a pea pesto that manged to be both fresh of rich with the oil and cheese. A chunk of mutton, I’ve forgotten if they mentioned a specific cut, then arrived upright with some further cheffy touches etched across the plate. Frankly though it could have been served on a slate with multiple pointless smears and I’d still have loved it as the meat was that good. Beautifully cooked and outstanding flavour but still as tender as spring lamb.
This was the most mixed meal I have had for a while, some excellent food a lot of decent food and some misguided flavours. Sample is certainly interesting, with the amount of dishes (I think we had 12 or more between 2 in the end) and work that has gone in from the small kitchen team I don’t think you can complain the £25 price tag. What this does limit is me going back and having a couple of my favourite dishes and spending less than that fixed price. Apparently the ingredients change a little every week or so and if you go back a month later you should find an entirely new “menu”. I could see myself returning but it wasn’t the compete experience I expected based on some reports. There isn’t really anywhere else like it in Nottingham and as it matures and hits begin to dominate misses it has the potential to be really good. I’ll keep a close eye on their progress…
Restaurant website: https://www.facebook.com/SampleMarketKitchenAtTilt/