I was invited down to The Lace Market Hotel to try out the taster menu in the Merchants restaurant and have a pre drink in the Saint bar. The Saint bar is by far my favourite cocktail venue in Notts, it’s understated with classic recipes rather than sugar-filled recipes of newer concoctions. View all my favourite bars here.
I’ve been to Merchants before, a few years back for their Valentine’s menu. It’s one place that I always forget about in terms of food though, so I’ve never actually made it back for another standard night. This invite gave me that opportunity as they have a new head chef who’s created a new 5 course taster menu dedicated and set around his life and experiences.
First Impressions of Merchants
To start the evening we were sat in the Saint bar where we were given a cocktail (or two) to try. It was a smaller menu for the night but they promised traditional cocktails with a twist. I opted for a gin and cucumber tonic and my boyfriend went hard with a smoked old fashioned. Cocktails from the bar can be added to the taster menu for an additional £22 if you wish.
To get into the restaurant you have to walk through the Saint bar, it acts as a little reception area. The bar is to the left and there are seats all against the walls. It’s quite a small venue but it’s decorated nice and simple and the bar staff are extremely good at what they do.
At the far end of the room there’s a Merchants podium which acts as the check in area for the restaurant, you make yourself known and walk up a couple of small steps to get into the dining area. Here it’s a relatively small space, square with large colourful paintings and artwork hung above the seats. Again, there’s seating all around the outside with a couple of smaller tables in the middle of the room. It’s quaint, sophisticated and promising.
Before we even entered the restaurant we were given an amuse-bouche. There wasn’t any menu with it on and I can’t for the life of me remember what the descriptions were. One was like a black cracker with some salsa and guacamole, the other was a bread puff with some cream. They did tickle the tastebuds, getting me ready for the meal ahead.
We were given our menu and the choice of red or white wine. As there was steak and lamb on the menu we opted for red. Each course was titled with a memory from the chef’s childhood and a little information about what has inspired the dish. The night was as follows:
Fishing for mackerel (1996)
Going out on the Wash in Grandpa’s rowing boat, aged 7
Mackerel, green tomato, radish, nasturtium and lime
A very fresh dish to start the night with. The fish surprisingly wasn’t very fishy, it was flakey and tasteful but not nearly as powerful as what I was expecting. On top were the pieces of salad, the green tomatoes were delicious, without the overpowering fresh taste of red tomatoes. The sauce on the side worked well and none of the flavours overpowered one another, they worked in unison. A decent start to the night.
Summer BBQ with the boys (2007)
Days spent in the Royal Marines
Aged beef, mustard, shallot, apple, charcoal
So this one, was described to us as raw beef which has been coated in oil and smoked with shark oil (something I’d never heard of before). I was a bit dubious about the uncooked element of this but the smoked flavours of the charcoal and the oil meant it tasted like it was cooked on a BBQ. This raw beef genuinely tasted like cooked BBQ’d meat. This was amazing. So, so good. I’d order this again if I could.
Home sweet home (2014)
Setting up home in Melton Mowbray
Spring lamb, broad beans, asparagus, morels
Next up was the lamb. This was cooked to a point where it was still so soft when you cut into it, but it could have probably sprung back to life if you resuscitated it a little, beautiful. There’s a lot of stuff happening on this plate but much like the first mackerel dish, everything worked together. The morels were something I’ve never had before, they are the honeycomb mushroooms in the centre of the dish (if you are unsure). For me, a fantastic third dish. I was excited to see what the desserts would bring.
Picking apples in the orchard (2015)
Autumn evenings spent picking apples
Apple, tarragon, liqourice
This was designed as a palate cleanser but was not my cup of tea at all. This is quirky, one of those that is a little Marmite for diners in my opinion, but for those who love it they’d be floored with the different approach. For me, it was a very strong liqourice taste that made it seem like I was having a shot of sambuca with my dinner. I ended up having one spoonful and passing as it’s not a flavour for me.
Grandpa’s greenhouse (2016)
Remembering Grandpa – memories of helping in the greenhouse
Garden pea, white chocolate, water mint, coconut
Finally we had the dessert. So, this was another strange one. If you read the description, you’ve not been tricked. It’s a pea and chocolate dessert. It was weird. Everything told me I shouldn’t like it, but my hand just kept on moving and I kept on eating. I can’t say I really enjoyed it but I liked all of the different flavours which came through different parts of the dish. Firstly you’d get the strong pea taste, then it was followed by mint and coconut. When you got to the middle there was an iced selection of white chocolate which added some creaminess into the mix. When I got to this section I couldn’t help but go back for more, the frozen texture amongst the mousse style of the rest worked in parallel. I still can’t make up my mind on this. It was nice but weird. Would I order it again? Probably, just to give it another go.
We were told at the beginning of the night that the service would be exactly how a customer would receive it. There would be no extras here, it would be lifelike. If that was the case then it was brilliant. The bartenders we had were excellent (as I said before, it’s my favourite bar) and the waitress we had in the restaurant was as good. Everyone was attentive, explaining the dishes as they came out as well as making sure we had enough drink at all times. Having been previously, I didn’t see anything different in terms of the service, I think they’ve got this on point.
merchants rating: 8/10
£62 pp / £124 in total for 5 courses plus a bottle of wine and a cocktail each.
For me the last two dishes went downhill in comparison to the first three. The palate cleanser was the opposite of what it was supposed to do, however, I do like that they’re trying something different, I just don’t think it works. The final dessert was quirky but not quite what I was looking for in a dessert. Even though I couldn’t stop trying it (to try and figure it out) the flavours just weren’t dessert-like, and I have a bit of a sweet tooth.
Will I be going back? Definitely.
Recommended for: couples, friends, date night
Not recommended for: groups, veggies, vegans
Why not try: their house wine, it’s very complimentary of the food.
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Love for you all x