A few years back, my mostly wonderful girlfriend took me to the sleepy village of Cartmel in the Lake District for a weekend. The sole reason for the trip was the cooking of Simon Rogan at L’Enclume – an old blacksmith’s turned temple of gastronomy. Rogan had made a name for taking the bounty of nature on his doorstep and turning into something magical, which has now accumulated two Michelin stars and number one spot in the Good Food Guide. Over four hours we dined on shrubbery and bits of animals that we never knew existed (pineappleweed, anyone?). We left with a massive bill, an even bigger hangover and an admiration for what the beauty the seasons offer when imagination and talent align. Not that you care, but it was L’Enclume which led me to start this blog. It was too good to not share with people. I’ve been fortunate enough to eat in many great restaurants where I may have had better meals, though none have left the same mark as that night.
In many ways Nomad reminded me of L’Enclume. The ultra seasonal cooking. The love of foraged bits of greenery. The obsession with produce being at its very best (Rogan has several farms for freshness of vegetables, Nomad it’s own allotment. Everyone has to start somewhere). Mostly it was that the chef had the same Wonka style approach to food where ingredients would be contorted and twisted, yet still retain their integrity. It’s a brave approach which pays off with aplomb on the opening cheddar brulee. The familiar crack of the torched top gives way to something far more luscious and soothing. The strong cheese flavour is cut through by pickled mushrooms which cleanse the mouth with every spoonful. That use of acidity as a counterbalance would be present all evening.
Little cubes of pickled beetroot are tempered with teeny balls of mild mannered kohlrabi and then perked back up by dots of elderflower vinegar. As a dish it masters texture perfectly. I prefer it to folds of cured halibut which are too pure a taste of the sea for my liking. Roasted red onion, all soft and caramelised, is served with a shard of chicken skin and a leaf of ramsons, which whispers the astringent flavour of garlic. The three together are a delight; simultaneously salty and sweet, crisp and soft. I close my eyes and I am back in the rolling landscape of the Lake District. Except I am not. I am in Birmingham city centre, two doors away from a sex shop.
Lightly crushed potatoes are purple in colour and waxy in texture, with sweet braised red cabbage and a slow cooked hens yolk that bound the dish together with its not-quite-set consistency. Its a dish that I would never have ordered given the option, though that choice is taken away here and we are all the more glad for it. Cod is perfectly timed so that the flakes collapse upon themselves at the smallest suggestion. It’s topped with puffs of fried potato and beer braised onions which are dotted around the plate. Its fish’n’chips for the stylistic, with the whack of tartar replaced by a salsa verde at the base of the plate which owns everything that it comes in contact with.
A fillet of venison is a victory of cooking skill; seared and rested so that it is rare with a crust full of umami from the malliard reaction. The baked artichoke and alexander puree with it again showing a purity of flavour and respect for ingriedients. I’m not sure that anywhere else in the city does vegetables as well as here.
There are two desserts courses to finish, though dietary requirements dictate that we end up trying three between the two of us. My white chocolate mousse may have been over gelatinous, but the pickled rose petals and walnut oil combination with it are nothing short of genius. I much prefer it to my partners parsnip ice cream with grated stilton. I recall having a cornetto filled with parsnip ice cream as a petit four at, yep, you’ve guessed it. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now. Fortunately we end on a high. Apples compressed and in a flavoured set cream, with Italian meringues that have taken on a chewiness of their own after an afternoon in a dehydrator. Sweetness, acidity, texture – it’s all here. It’s a one star dessert.
I am perhaps a little late to this show. Nomad may have only been in its permanent fixture since November, but the team have been honing their skills at various pop-ups for some time before this. I cant help but feel like I’ve been missing out. Its inventive cooking with their boots firmly on the ground that they harvest food upon. The price of £50.00 for the multi-tasting course already feels far too cheap for the quality coming out of the kitchen. Nomad is not by any means the finished article, but its impossible to leave without the feeling that something very special is happening.