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hart to hart in nottingham
It goes wrong at the first hurdle. Our hotel for two nights, once the home of Lord Byron, is by the racecourse; a smart Georgian mansion but there is no one to greet us, no proper welcome at reception, no offer to help with our bags up two flights of stairs and down a long corridor to a disappointing room; bad feelings are hard to dispel and wafting up the stairs a lingering smell of stale food adds to the gloom; thanks but no thanks; we say our goodbyes to an open mouthed receptionist. “We would have helped you with your luggage if you’d asked, “ she tells us as we scuttle away.
Back in the car we check on line for something else. Alastair Sawday, who has long recommended good places to stay, recommends Hart’s. We get through to the manager who is gratifyingly sympathetic to our plight. And what a contrast; as we draw up to the door there he is, grabbing our bags and guiding us to our room. And as we talk the penny drops. The eponymously named Hart’s, perched like an eyrie in a lovely Georgian part of town on the site of the old General Hospital (Hart’s Restaurant is in the old accident and emergency building) is all about Tim Hart of Hambleton Hall fame in Rutland, the smallest county in England.
A cool breeze is blowing through the open window of our bedroom. Below us is a spectacular view of Nottingham and far away the cooling towers of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station are steaming like giant Toby jugs. Best of all good vibes have returned as my wife and I relax and take stock. Our youngest daughter Chloe has flown in from Sydney and is tucked in to her own room down the corridor. The new plan is to have dinner at Hart’s, so there is time to walk round the nearby castle. The trouble is it’s not there any more, much to the chagrin of many a visitor to Nottingham. Instead of a medieval walled castle, where deadly bowman Robin Hood plagued the life out of the local Sheriff of Nottingham, there is something else; a replacement that came soon after the original was demolished some 350 years ago following the English Civil War. What you have now is something called a palace, built for the Duke of Newcastle. Even that was burned down by rioters in the 19th century but eventually it was restored and opened as a museum. We latch on to a guide who gives us a quick tour and we find it surprisingly interesting and well worth a visit.
Back at Hart’s we are looking forward to our dinner. Daughter Chloe is well travelled and loves her food and we all agree that there is an instant feeling of well-being as we enter the restaurant. Pleasant seats, and an excellent waiter guides us through the menu. We choose a tartare of Cornish mackerel, which sparkled with freshness, chicken liver parfait, cherry and almonds and toasted sourdough from the Hart’s bakery, rock octopus, chorizo and grapefruit.
For mains a roast rump of lamb is perfectly cooked and rested; it comes with charred courgette, artichoke, tomato and red pepper ragu and plenty of red wine jus. A picture perfect, whole lemon sole accompanied by Jersey Royal potatoes, samphire and hollandaise sauce is too good to be true and the roast monkfish with Tai broth, pickled red onions and mushrooms a delight. For puddings a mango and lime soufflé is light and silky, while the chocolate and cherries with a lemon verbena ice cream is rich and satisfying.
Tim Hart, owner of the eponymous Hambleton Hall country house hotel, and a long standing Relais & Chateaux member has something of a magic touch. He moved into Nottingham some 20 years ago. “There was nowhere to eat,” he tells me, “And nothing in The Good Food Guide so the old General Hospital, with its excellent location, seemed a good place to start.” Five years later he bought the remaining piece of land next to the restaurant and built his hotel. He called that Hart’s too. “It’s only 35 miles from Hambleton and together with my wife, who does most of the decorating, we set about putting our stamp on it.”
They don’t like low ceilings and windows that don’t open. But they do like interesting lighting and bathrooms with plenty of shelf space and good quality beds. But there is something else to celebrate within the Hart’s empire and it comes in the form of their remarkable bakery. Started in 2008, after teeming up with baker Julian Carter, they wanted to supply their own bread for both Hambleton and Hart’s. It would be simple and uncomplicated bread with the true flavour of unadulterated flour, salt, water and yeast. And forget all those extras like cheese, onions, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, poppy seeds and the like.
Today there are six Hambleton Bakery shops and a list of delis, cafes, gastro pubs, restaurants and farm shops that can’t get enough of it. Bread such as wholemeal, spelt, low in gluten with a unique flavour, white crusty round, Borodinsky, a bread based on a Russian rye recipe, granary, baguettes, rolls, sourdoughs, teacakes, fruit loaves, and, a real joy, English muffins!
0044 (0) 115988 1900
Nottingham Castle has received a £29.8 million Heritage Lottery Funded grant so the castle is now closed until 2020. During the two year development new features will be added including a land train, adventure playground new exhibitions and a visitor centre. Meanwhile Nottingham, has plenty more on offer. Explore the website for more details: