3rd May 2018

Head Chef, Luke Holland, used to be a Royal Marine.  After sailing the high seas, he's now cooking up a storm at Nottingham's Merchants Restaurant and has created an exciting new 5 course Taster Menu.

Luke has drawn on his life experiences to put the menu together and his Taster Menu 'A Chef's Life: 1987-2018' is a wonderful mix of his childhood memories.

We started the evening with one of the new cocktails on offer.  Mine was gin-based and perfectly prepared by the lovely lads behind the bar, who are very adept at mixing and shaking to make amazing concoctions.  The Lace Market Hotel's bar area is a little gem and probably doesn't quite get the recognition it deserves on the Nottingham bar scene these days.  Cosy and elegant, it's a lovely spot to relax with a drink and well worth a visit.

Comfortably ensconsed in the 'sleek and contemporary' surroundings of Merchants Restaurant, our server for the evening was the lovely Kieran, who had made a huge effort to learn and understand the Taster Menu and convey the cooking methods, ideas and personality behind the food.

After being presented with some absolutely delicious Black Treacle Bread, we started the menu proper with 'Fishing for Mackeral 1996', which was derived from Luke's memory of going out on The Wash in Grandpa's rowing boat. The combination of mackeral, green tomato, radish, nasturtium and lime was perfectly mixed and provided a tasty start to the evening's proceedings.  

Course 2 was Luke's kickback to his days of cooking on the BBQ for the Royal Marines and was especially interesting because of the complete lack of any cooking.  Sounds a bit odd but the raw mix of aged beef, mustard, shallot, apple and charcoal really enabled the flavours to emerge and the dish was actually very enjoyable - I would never have guessed that the meat had not been cooked.

Course 3, Home Sweet Home, came from Luke's memory of setting up home in Melton Mowbray and concentrates on local seasonal produce.  Spring lamb, broad beans, asaparagus and small mushrooms called Morels are combined to create a dish which is both appealing and flavoursome.  The lamb was tender and the vegetables were the ideal accompaniment.

The palette cleanser was the next to be served and was, for me, the most curious course.  'Picking Apples in the Orchard' married apple, tarragon and liquorice, was something entirely different to the usual offering of lemon sorbet and as strange as it was tongue-tingling!  Surprisingly moorish, the liquorish jumped out but the overall mix was excellent and it really does work.

Finally, Grandpa's Greenhouse completed the evening's menu in some style.  A dessert of garden pea, white chocolate, water mint and coconut does not sound right, especially as a dessert - but this is another course which shows the Chef's talent for mixing textures and flavours and the overall result was mouthwatering.  It was a tough call but, being a bit of a pudding fiend, this was probably my favourite course.

Chef Luke has created a wide range of individual and unique dishes that are an absolute delight to discover.  I'm not a Taster Menu regular but I am now converted.  I loved being able to try a variety of dishes in smaller portions but not having the 'Mr Creosote' feeling at the end of the meal.  Would I recommend it?  Absolutely.  The Team at Merchants are friendly, helpful and knowledgeable and, if you're wanting to expand the experience, they can advise you on the best drinks to complement each course.  Merchants is a stalwart Nottingham restaurant and has a lovely feel of elegance and style.  The food is delicious and well worth the £45 price tag for 5 courses.  

You can find out more about Merchants Restaurant and their new menu here.


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