To me the World Service used to be something that lulled me to sleep late at night, in far distant countries – well until, that is, it started waking me up again. Post marriage I discovered it was run by people who think nothing of ringing at the unsociable fag end of the day, hoping the Mister will drag his sleepy talking head out of bed, and to whose unfortunate researchers I have occasionally and forcefully expounded the joys of uninterrupted slumber using short sentences with lots of ‘f’s in them.
Currently, however I’m back in the land of nod; an empty train carriage, cradling me and half of WH Smith’s, unread on my lap. as I snooze my way up to Nottingham where World Service, is a restaurant, not aural Halcyon. I wasn’t expecting much – it was the other f word – fusion that sent me into a slump, but I have an old friend from my days in bedsit land now living up in Nottingham and she had heard good things about the place.
The surrounding area is like a succession of exitless, multi-story car parks, but the restraint itself is tucked away in a 17th century enclave, which used to house the Nottinghamshire United Services Club - ergo the name “world Service”. Outside there’s a secluded Japanese garden – naturally – what else would you expect in the front yard of a Georgian House - whilst inside the furnishings are eclectic, in the way that Graham Norton is Gay. The stark modernity of blonde wood and obligatory restaurant features such as banquettes and plate glass is warmed up by the wealth of original features such as the ornately carved fireplace and buttery wood panelling; and though the tribal sculptures and Indonesian furniture are scattered around like global confetti, the effect is of charm rather than clutter.
Thankfully the food is also on the right side of interesting, without too many fusion frills. Take foie gras with toasted pumpkin seed bread, Japanese style mackerel with white radish and wasabi, halibut with wild mushrooms, celeriac puree or duck with baked apple and cinnamon sauce – nothing overly pretentious. The FT lunch had swelled the numbers of customers in the dining room, but even their normal set lunch price of £9.50 for two courses is a snip – though the a la carte menu is taking its lofty price lead from the capital with starters at around $6 and main courses costing up to £18.00.
I had the World Service salad which the waiter told me had ‘all sorts of things in it, mainly Parma ham’ before he disappeared with clouds at his heels and skid marks, like a hurried cartoon character. (the place was busy.) In fact about the only thing it didn’t have in it was Parma Ham. There were green beans, frisee, rocket, quails’ eggs, pesto, hazelnuts and possibly two sailors and a pair of handcuffs for the added anticipatory thrill. It was the kind of thing you make at home – a house salad with the gourmet leftovers from the dinner party at the weekend, but actually delicious, not heavy handed, made with precision rather than feeling pulled together. My friend Jane had tuna with lemon pepper crust and pickled cucumber, which was pleasingly light and simple. Main courses were equally impressive – medallions of maple roasted squash and a sharp beetroot salsa to cut the sweet, richness of the accompanying pan-fried calves liver; and a grilled fillet of beef with rosti and red wine sauce, which, despite a degree of tower-itis with one of those supposedly crispy potato things balanced on top, was a fine, classic, unfussy dish.
Add to the experience that we arrived, without prior warning pushing a baby in a stroller, who alternatively wailed, nursed, grinned, giggled and gurgled all through our three and a half hour lunch, which didn’t worry the staff a jot. They immediately found us a table away from other diners with room for the pushchair, and walked a nice balance between attentiveness and discretion.
On to a peanut financier (not a banker, alas, but a little cake) served with peanut ice cream, and vanilla cheesecake, with a perfect lime sorbet; excellent, if pricey, with one of the desserts coming in at £7 quid. ‘Remember that girl with the one glass eye?’ asked Jane, waxing lyrically about our gas metre days in peeling wallpaper hell where she ate taramasalata on buttered toast and no one from the kitchen police arrested her.
‘And do you remember the night you let out a bloodcurdling scream when her boyfriend with the pierced nipples walked into your bedroom, stark naked?’ [Ah yes, and instead of coming to my rescue, you calmly asked‘ did you hear that scream last night?’ over breakfast the next day..] CUT THIS SENTENCE IF IT NEEDS TO BE SHORTER AND KEEP THE LAST ONE.
Yep, that’s another unwelcome way to be woken in the middle of the night. Give me a phone call from the world service any day.