I’ve paraphrased James Herbert’s Dune novel to make a point. If you live in the East Midlands (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire) you will be a rare breed indeed if you had not grown partial to Indian and south Asian food. Any restaurant deemed one of the best, let alone the best, is hallowed ground here. I know Birmingham and Bradford are both often cited as the capital of curry, but just take a walk around the town centres in the region and witness the breadth on offer and you may just change your mind. I think it’s the longevity of the Asian communities here and simply the lofty level of competition that restaurants have to contend with. With so many Indian restaurants in each centre, they have to be good in order to survive.
I was genuinely delighted to have been offered an invite to Memsaab last night. This restaurant is the jewel in a cluster of high-end Indian restaurants adorning Maid Marion Way in Nottingham. (Incidentally this road, built in the early 60s to ease congestion, cut a swathe through many of the city’s medieval buildings and now separates castle from centre. It does make a great thoroughfare though to catch hungry restaurant goers and is improved by the restaurants that line it).
I’ve eaten at Memsaab many times. I tend to politely perch myself on a seat facing the wall. My friends think I’m being generous and allowing them to sit facing outwards, affording them a better view of all the comings and goings of the restaurant and to people watch. That’s not true (even though I do tend to be that magnanimous elsewhere). Here I have an ulterior motive: I adore drinking in the Peter Thornborough artwork on the walls as much as I love devouring the food.
So. Last night…
Thanks to my good friend Rosie Guthrie over at the Freycob blog, I was suggested as a guest in her stead for this evening celebrating Memsaab winning Nottingham Food and Drink awards‘ Indian restaurant of the year. I was allowed a plus one; not often have I heard my husband say yes to an invite so quickly.
What I enjoyed most, apart from the glorious delicately but exquisitely spiced canapés that were served, was the staff themselves and the skilful sitar player and drummer. As a guitarist, I’ve always been in awe of the complexity of the sitar and how tricky it looks to play. The live music enhanced Memsaab for us, while we were there no other guests went over to talk to the musicians – a great shame and I hope others during the night did rectify that.
I loved that many of the canapés were being prepared in front of us, giving a chance to see the chef’s skills and techniques and the ability to quiz them what spices were going in. Regally dressed staff swooshed efficiently past, ensuring no one went without something for long. (See the Memsaab menu). I tried everything. Nothing was not delightful, and the watermelon mint salad bites served as refreshing palate cleansers between the different tastes. I did have rather more than one each of the keema mutter on crispy roti and the til mil jhinga (prawns) so, measuring favouritism by consumed volume alone, these ‘won’. The last few times we’ve eaten at Memsaab I’ve been a creature of habit, ordering the Chicken Karahi. So, not only enjoyable to taste a range of flavours, but this pushed me out of my comfort zone in a good way.
Visiting Nottingham gives you a huge spectrum of choice to eat out. A friend working in marketing for a local restaurant group recently told me that it’s now believed there are a greater variety of nationality-based restaurants in Nottingham (by area) than anywhere else in the country, including London. This means you are spoilt for choice for cuisines. Even just for restaurants based on sub-continent cuisine there are literally dozens to choose from.
Last night was delightful, but I am never going to be someone who would recommend a restaurant just because I was given some canapés and a glass of something fizzy to try. So, believe that I am genuine when I say that, even before last night’s reception, when stopped and asked by someone where can they find a great curry in Nottingham I’ve always said go try Memsaab.