Sat Bains: Celebrity Chef, born in Normanton,Derby
PUBLISHED: 13:09 29 April 2010 | UPDATED: 14:05 15 September 2015
Amber Locke meets the Derby-born celebrity chef and restaurant owner Sat Bains.
Tucked-away in one of the most unlikely locations (next to a dual carriageway flyover, under an electricity pylon and on the edge of an industrial estate) sits the jewel in Nottingham's dining-out crown, Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms.
This Michelin star restaurant is owned and managed by husband and wife team Sat and Amanda Bains and although this is a well-recognised Nottingham venue Sat is actually a Derbyshire boy.
Born in Normanton, Derby, to a Punjabi family Sat states that he took up cooking merely as a way to meet girls. Sat, who started out at Wilmorton College in Derby, says 'I just joined the queue with the most girls in and it happened to be for the cookery course!' From such unauspicious start to his career Sat has enjoyed an amazingly rapid rise to fame and at the age of 36 has a host of prestigious industry accolades to his name, not to mention his celebrity-star status with his role in BBC 2's The Great British Menu programme.
Sat's first notable job as a chef was as part of the team to help open Le Petit Blanc in Oxford. In 1996 he moved became head chef at The Martin's Arms in Colston Bassett, Nottingham, before moving to the restaurant at the Ashbourne Art Gallery, then run by Phil Tregoning.
In 1999 Sat won the Roux Scholarship and spent three months working at the esteemed three Michelin star Le Jardin de Sens in Montpellier, France, before returning to Nottingham to work as head chef in the restaurant at Hotel des Clos. In 2002 he was made a partner in the business and the venue was re-named Restaurant Sat Bains at Hotel des Clos. In 2003 Sat won Nottingham city's first ever Michelin star and in 2005 Sat and Amanda took over the whole hotel, completely refurbishing and re-branding it as Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms. By the next year the restaurant had gained four AA rosettes for its unique and innovative style of cooking and had also won the 'Best Fine Dining Restaurant' category in the Nottingham Food and Drink awards.
The accolades continued this year when the restaurant was named the AA 'Restaurant of the Year' and the Square Meal BMW's 'Best Out of Town Restaurant'. Sat also made his first mainstream TV appearance taking part in The Great British Menu TV series and cooking his way to success for the chance to prepare the starter for the English Ambassador to France's banquet in the final programme in Paris.
This momentous year also saw the installation of a special 'tasting room' at the restaurant in Nottingham. An innovative idea, this is a private dining room for four to six people located just off the kitchen, which allows diners to peek into the kitchen and experience the excitement of seeing the chefs at work. The 'accidental' chef from Derby certainly hasn't done bad!
Over the years I've heard many great things about Restaurant Sat Bains but have never actually managed to persuade my partner to try the (slightly unusual sounding) menu. I had visited many years ago when I was a student in Nottingham and the venue was known as Hotel du Clos, but the former Victorian farmhouse has now been unrecognisably transformed into a stylish, modern restaurant with eight beautifully refurbished bedrooms and a simply stunning menu. Having tried Sat's cooking, I now know why the restaurant holds such highly-esteemed credentials!
Sat presides over the kitchen with his head chef John Freeman and Amanda looks after the front of house team. Their philosophy is of striving to be the very best at everything they do: using the best produce (sourced from over 160 suppliers), giving the best service and even sourcing the finest cutlery and stem ware to complete the whole overall dining experience. Sat explains that they try to keep evolving the menu, offering customers completely unique dishes that they wouldn't cook at home and aiming to exceed expectations all the way down the line.
The food certainly is a surprise! I had anticipated that it would be interesting and innovative in a fashionable molecular-gastronomy kind of way, but so frequently (unless handled by an expert) this style of cooking can lead to muddled flavours with a clumsy teaming of ingredients and methods of cooking. Sat, however, treats his ingredients with the utmost respect, pairing tastes, textures and temperatures with such skill and precision that his dishes just sing. His tasting menu carefully balances each course following richer dishes with palate cleansing tastes and sizing portions so that they satisfy but cleverly leave you wanting just one more mouthful. By the end of the meal you feel sated but not uncomfortably replete.
Sat's cooking makes you think. You have to pay attention here, tasting, smelling, interacting and appreciating the different highly-skilled creations that are placed in front of you. These are not dishes you can just sit passively and munch through, this food takes you out of your comfort zone and demands that you pay attention. A rich breast of duck is topped with a fragrant grating of extra-dark chocolate, and compressed chunks of melon, feta cheese and mint are served with strips of purple carrot and zingy grapefruit sauce supplied in a pipette so that diners can distribute it where and in what quantity they wish. 'Cheese on toast' is a slightly melted strip of Brie de Meaux, served on a finger of toasted Polaine bread and topped with a shaving of fresh truffle. A disk of chocolate mousse is served partly frozen on the base and still warm on the top and explodes in your mouth with tiny, chocolate crackling crystals - this is food that can't fail to raise a smile and definitely exceeds expectations.
Sat explains that he undertakes a lot of research when devising new dishes, looking into the roots and history of ingredients and the context in which they grow and the possible applications for this. For example the milk for his goat's milk ice-cream is infused with hay as this would have been one of the food stuffs eaten by the goat. It's such attention to detail, combined with Sat's imagination, great front of house service and his amazing skills in the kitchen, that have built the outstanding reputation the restaurant has today.
Sat has no intention of resting on his laurels, however, declaring that a chef is only as good as his last meal and that standards have to be maintained at a constantly high level. Sat and Amanda take great care with their front of house training, enthusing staff with their passion and ensuring they try all the dishes served and know the provenance of all the ingredients.
When asked about the future, Sat sees himself remaining 'hands on' in the kitchen rather than an absent 'executive' chef with just his name above the door. Indeed, when the Nottingham restaurant awards were held last year he allegedly wasn't there to collect his trophy but in his characteristic down to earth way had sent a note - 'I can't be here tonight, I'm ****ing working, just like you all should be.'
So if you've never been, Restaurant Sat Bains is certainly worth seeking out and you'll be well rewarded with a truly outstanding meal. If you've far to travel, it might even be worth booking one of the boutique bedrooms and staying to enjoy breakfast the next day.