Perfectionism, apparently, is over-rated.
So says British super-chef Sat Bains, the chef/patron of the much-revered two-Michelin-starred Nottingham restaurant that takes his name.
The secret to success, for him, he tells MailOnline Travel over coffee in his restaurant, is aiming for 90 per cent success.
Chef/patron Sat is pictured here on the left with some of his team, including head chef John Freeman (centre)
He says: ‘You’re never going to please everybody. You’ve got to be realistic. I aim at 90 per cent. I allow 10 per cent failure. Because that keeps me sane.
‘If I start going 95, 98, no one would work here, because I’d be intolerable. Suppliers wouldn’t be happy, customers wouldn’t be happy, I wouldn’t be happy, the staff wouldn’t be happy. By allowing 90 per cent success rate, you’re allowing 10 per cent failure for suppliers, customers not liking it, your staff f*****g up. It’s realistic and you can cope. That 10 per cent is a coping mechanism for striving for perfection.’
He continues: ‘If we aimed for 100 per cent nothing would come out of the kitchen. It would be the world’s longest service, everyone would be stressed. You’d be an egotistic maniac. Your staff wouldn’t be able to see what’s wrong with the dishes and you’d keep saying “no”. You’d become an artistic t**t who’s missed the point that it’s just food… you’d get into a rabbit hole. I’d rather stay out of it on the grass and allow everything to have a flow and the staff to enjoy themselves.’
Sat’s modus operandi involves not obsessing over whether his food is, or isn’t, Michelin-star quality. Pictured is one of his incredible dishes
Sat’s head chef, John Freeman, reveals that being less strict with timings is part of this philosophy – and something that’s led to a much happier team.
He says: ‘Back in the day we used to be really strict on the timing and if it wasn’t out within five minutes, or ten minutes for the main course, we were kicking off, but that was putting everyone on unnecessary pressure.
‘We still do the times, but we don’t put people under so much pressure. So we say for example “two duck away” and the guys know internally that they’ve got 10 minutes to get it out. If it goes a couple of minutes over and it’s not quite ready we don’t scream at them anymore. We’ll just say “guys, how long for the duck?” And we noticed that the dynamic changed, taking away the stress of time meant that everyone was cooking 10 times better than they were before.
I think it’s healthy to get a good telling off, but everyone’s now mollycoddled. A good b********* adds layers of skin
‘It stopped us screaming and moaning all the time, it reduced the pressure on the chefs and now, nine times out of ten, the food is going out within the time frame. Urging them to get the dish out was throwing them off. So, the dynamic changed, everyone was happier because there was less stress. And the cooking and the dishes ultimately became better. So now, it’s amazing.’
It’s an enlightened approach that stands in stark contrast to Sat’s experiences at the beginning of his career.
‘Cheffing was medieval back in the day,’ he says. ‘It wasn’t about food. It was about being stitched up. It was about who’s the better chef, who’s more efficient, who’d stitch you up in service to make them look good. It was never about a team sport. It was brutality. Someone would nick your mise en place [prepared sliced and chopped ingredients] or hide something when you’re in the s*** and the chef’s b********g you, but they’re not getting b*******d, so that’s good. It was medieval.’
Sat says: ‘Cheffing was medieval back in the day. It wasn’t about food. It was about being stitched up. Pictured is the main dining area at Sat Bains, with a section of the kitchen in the background
SAT’S STUNNING CAREER
Sat Bains has been at the forefront of the British food scene for 20 years.
In 1999, he won the prestigious Roux Scholarship and, in 2002, launched Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms. The following year, Restaurant Sat Bains became the first restaurant in Nottingham to be awarded a Michelin star.
Since then, Sat has gone on to receive the AA’s ultimate award of five rosettes, two Michelin stars and 9 out of 10 in the Good Food Guide. He has also been the recipient of two Catey Awards – Menu of the Year (in 2003) and the coveted Chef Award (in 2015).
In 2017, Sat was the only British chef to be named in the 100 Best Chefs of the World, a list produced by French magazine Le Chef and compiled from the votes of two and three-Michelin-starred chefs. He has been awarded four honorary degrees and remains committed to training young chefs and improving the working environments for them. His book – Too Many Chiefs, Only One Indian – has won nine international awards.
Sat emphasizes that there’s nothing wrong with a good telling off, though. But balance is the key.
He says: ‘You’ve got to be strict, firm – and nurturing. I’m a child of the 70s. We grew up in tough times where you got a good b*********. It never hurt us. I think it’s healthy to get a good telling off, but everyone’s now mollycoddled. A good b********* adds layers of skin. It makes you stronger for the future.
‘But at the same time chefs don’t want to work in a medieval kitchen where they’re b*******d every two minutes. A happy team makes happy guests.’
Sat’s modus operandi also involves not obsessing over whether his food is, or isn’t, Michelin-star quality.
He says: ‘If you start worrying about the stars, you hinder yourself. You might put something on the menu that’s delicious but more rustic and then worry that it’s not “two star”. How do I know what two-star food looks like? It’s down to the Guide. I don’t look at the food and say “yep, that’s two-star food”. I look at it and say “I hope the guests really like this”. The star thing has never been an obsession for me. It’s part of the journey. Ultimately, if you’re striving every single day to be better than you were yesterday you’re going to get the accolades.’
Money is something else he’s struck off the worry-list.
He continues: ‘I could open six restaurants and make more money. But how much money do you need? How many cars do you need? I’ve never been driven by money. Life is simple. We have a house. We have a car. We go on a nice holiday, we have a restaurant that earns enough to make a living. What’s wrong with that? I mean, how many watches do you need?’
Inside the restaurant that refuses to serve vegan food: From fried potato with caviar to duck-heart skewers, MailOnline tries the £120 tasting menu at two-Michelin-star Sat Bains (and stays the night)
By Ted Thornhill
To say Restaurant Sat Bains is in an incongruous location is an understatement.
This Nottingham eaterie with rooms, named after the charismatic chef/patron, has a dazzling list of accolades – two Michelin stars, five AA rosettes, rated No1 restaurant in Britain in 2018 by TripAdvisor and named fourth in the 2019 Harden’s Top 100 Best UK Restaurants.
Yet it sits next to a dual carriageway flyover down a frankly dodgy-looking lane (we have to swerve around broken glass when we arrive) and underneath an electricity pylon.
Restaurant Sat Bains has a dazzling list of accolades – two Michelin stars, five AA rosettes, rated No1 restaurant in Britain in 2018 by TripAdvisor. Yet its surroundings are a tad drab
However, once you pull into the gravel courtyard, the drab surroundings melt away as if Harry Potter-style sorcery is at work and you become lost in a mini realm of breathtakingly fine dining and world-class hospitality in exquisitely furnished renovated Victorian farm buildings nestled next to an urban garden. With beehives.
So yes, spoiler alert – it lives up to the hype.
Though vegans note this caveat – Great British Menu winner Mr Bains won’t cater for you as his business model is based around seven (£105) and 10-course (£120) non-vegan tasting menus. And that’s not something he’ll ever change, partly because he believes that serving vegan food in his restaurant would be ‘a rip-off’, that the cost of the ingredients would not be the same and he feels that it would be wrong to charge a vegan guest £120 on that basis.
Anyway, we arrive at 3pm to check-in – we’re staying the night – and our table isn’t until 7.30. However, we don’t have to wait until then for a demonstration of the kitchen team’s prowess because the receptionist gives us two ‘welcome’ homemade chocolate brownies – and they are utterly heavenly.
‘That’s proper chocolate for sure,’ proclaims my foodie French other half.
Ted enjoys a 10-course tasting menu that he describes as ‘a roller coaster of highly technical culinary delights’. Pictured is the main restaurant
There are seven recently refurbished individually styled double en-suite rooms in total. We’re in Room Three, in a separate building from the main block.
And it’s rather super – spacious, and an impressive and thoughtful blend of modern, glamorous and luxurious, boutique-y elements in greys and whites, with furniture whittled from rich dark woods. And it’s all so clean I half wonder if we’re the first-ever guests.
There is a clawfoot bath; Aesop toiletries; a super-sized wall clock, a comfy L-shaped sofa; a vast, beautifully thick blanket to snuggle under and a smart TV with Netflix and Apple TV that extends out so you can watch it from the plush bed.
Ted stays in Room 3 at Sat Bains, pictured. It features a smart TV with Netflix and Apple TV that extends out so you can watch it from the plush bed. And it’s ‘an impressive and thoughtful blend of modern, glamorous and luxurious, boutique-y elements in greys and whites’
Pictured here is Room 3’s stylish L-shaped sofa, the ‘vast blanket’ and the dressing area to the right
A TASTY BMW
I drove to Sat Bains from London in a mouthwatering new BMW 1 Series – an F40 118i (below, outside my room) with all the sporty and tech-y trimmings.
It proved more than a match for the potholes outside the eaterie. And looks saucy to boot. So perfect for a foodie road trip.
For more information click here.
I also like the refreshments tray that contains jars of ground roasted coffee and a filter jug – Sat Bains is not an instant coffee kind of establishment – and the dimmable filament lights.
A gentle foray into the wines-by-the-glass list helps pass the time, with a prompt room service operation delivering a crisp Schloss Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner, from the Kamptal region in Austria (£11); a Philippe Alliet’ Chinon Tradition’ Cabernet Franc, from France’s Loire Valley (£10); a Weingut Moric Blaufrankisch from Burgenland in Austria (£11) and a velvety Masseria Li Veli Susumaniello, made in Puglia, Italy (£12).
All great, especially, the peppery Loire Valley offering.
At 6.30 we put our room’s dressing area to use and don our dining attire, then head to the bar for an aperitif and the main event – a 10-course tasting menu and paired wines.
After a lovely glass of Le Chapitre Champagne – the table next to us opt for sake, which impresses the restaurant manager – we’re shown into the restaurant for an experience that’s as much an event as it is a meal.
The bar, pictured, is where the Sat Bains dining experience starts. Here guests sit in beautifully upholstered chairs
Ted has ‘a lovely glass of Le Chapitre Champagne’ in the bar, pictured, for his aperitif. But there are plenty of options – including sake
Mr Bains takes your taste buds on a journey that incorporates the five tastes – salt, sweet, sour, bitter and umami – and the menu has a key that denotes the flavours in each dish, many of which are made using ingredients from the onsite garden.
To highlight the differences and engage you with the concept the first course, simply called ‘Introduction’, comprises five exquisite savoury morsels that are pure examples of each taste – a samphire, bonito and seaweed fritter (salt); deep-fried onion textures in an onion consommé (sweet); balsamic ice cream on a sourdough cracker (sour); a tapioca cracker flavoured with seaweed, avocado and olive oil puree, green tea and seaweed salt (bitter), and a gougère with pumpkin puree, crunchy parmesan and a soya glaze (umami).
Pictured is an example of one of Sat’s stunning dishes – black pudding of pigeon with shawarma spices, samosa, melon, feta, mint, yoghurt and barbecue sauce
And at the end, for a dish called ‘Conclusion’, we’re given five dessert morsels that demonstrate the tastes once more, to book-end the experience – a salted caramel chocolate truffle (salt); a white chocolate and mandarin ice cream cone with pine gel and pine sugar (sweet); dehydrated pineapple with mint sherbet (sour); a ‘mushroom trifle’ made from mushroom and chocolate puree, candied mushrooms, mascarpone mousse, dried cep and cocoa powder (bitter) and miso-flavoured fudge with fresh lime zest (umami).
In between these is a roller coaster of other highly technical culinary delights.
Venison from deer culled at nearby Wollaton Hall with beets and truffle is a sensational flavour bomb; the partridge ragu comes with ‘tagliatelle of turnip’, a clever sleight of hand that sees the turnip cooked in such a way that you momentarily think it’s actually pasta and Goosnargh duck is presented as a ‘mixed grill’ – complete with a mini-kebab stick of meat.
One dining option is a seat in the kitchen (pictured) – where guests are served by the chefs and have the chance to chat to them as they cook
The menus appear on table lanterns so guests can follow their culinary adventure course by course, left. Pictured right is the Sat Bains ‘Nucleus’, where guests can ‘taste dishes being put through their paces before they make it to the main menu’
WHY SAT BAINS WON’T SERVE VEGAN FOOD
Sat feels that serving a vegan menu in his restaurant would be a rip-off to his guests, because he charges £120 per head for the tasting menu and his business model is based on that.
He says that the menu would, of course, ‘be produced with the same love, care and research’ that all his food is created with, but the cost of the ingredients would not be the same and he feels that ‘it would be wrong to charge a vegan guest £120 on that basis’. He has ‘a carefully structured business employing 48 people that’s open four days a week for dinner only’. The pricing structure of his menus ‘are pitched at a certain level with those running business costs and responsibilities in mind’. Hence his decision not to offer a vegan menu for the past 20 years.
No part of the duck goes to waste, with the dish comprising wood-fired breast, sausage made from the minced neck, a rillette of the legs wrapped in potato and a brochette of the heart and liver served with a roasted mushroom and glazed in teriyaki. There’s also a black pudding made from the minced offal, plus mandarin segments, and dehydrated and roast tomato.
We also savour a mushroom quiche skillfully sliced and assembled to resemble a rose bud, a comforting steam-fried potato with Baeri prestige caviar, a scrumptious chocolate marquise, a delicate lattice of cinnamon-coated potato that resembles a waffle, with crème pâtissière, vanilla ice cream and blackcurrant jam – and pieces of bread that resemble muffins, accompanied by seriously delicious butter.
Every step of the way Sat uses temperature and flavour combinations and texture contrasts that wow and surprise.
The wines, meanwhile, are the perfect accompaniment – the standout bottles being a 2016 Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir by Louis Michel & Fils from Burgundy; a 2017 Pictus VI by Painted Wolf Wines from South Africa and a 2014 Chryseia by Prats & Symington from the Douro region in Portugal.
Our sommelier describes them and explains how they complement the food with passionate expertise.
The Sat Bains urban garden, which produces around 40 per cent of the plants, salads and herbs used in the restaurant
In April 2019 Sat Bains installed two beehives in the garden, pictured. The honey the bees produce is ‘quite citrus-y and light in colour’
Ted concludes: ‘Add my breathless hyperbole to the reams of praise Sat has deservedly received’
Sat Bains, left, is a past winner of the Great British Menu. Pictured right – one of the retro-chic bathrooms in the main building
TED’S 10-COURSE WINE-PAIRING
NV Brut Classic Reserve, Hattingley, Hampshire, England – 70ml
2016 Verdejo Carravinas, Bodegas Felix Cachazo, Rueda, Spain – 70ml
2016 Grenache, Willunga 100, McLaren Vale, Australia – 70ml
2016 Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir, Louis Michel & Fils, Burgundy, France – 70ml
2017 Pinot Noir, Verum, Bodega Del Rio Elorza, Alto Valle Del Rio Negro, Patagonia, Argentina – 70ml
2017 Pictus VI, Painted Wolf Wines, Coastal Region, South Africa – 70ml
2014 Chryseia, Prats & Symington, Douro Portugal – 125ml
2010 Ice Cider, Domaine Leduc-Piedimonte, Quebec, Canada – 50ml
2016 Torrontes Tardio, Familia Zuccardi, Mendoza, Argentina – 50ml
We even get a brief geology lesson, learning how 200million years ago the Burgundy region was underwater, with the salt left behind helping to give wines grown there a delicious minerality.
His colleagues are also top drawer, combining gentle banter with Savoy-level efficiency and politeness.
The furnishings? Refined, generally incorporating dark wood, and bespoke. I particularly admire the beautifully upholstered lounge chairs and the tables, which are covered in Wollaton Hall deer skins.
I also love the lamps on the tables that display the menu so that you can track your odyssey course by course.
One bonus of staying the night is that you get to experience the Sat Bains breakfast, which is served in one of the main dining rooms and is sensational in its own right.
In the morning we’re thrilled to see that the delicious butter has returned, this time accompanied by wonderful homemade jam and honey from the RSB hives.
As I tuck into a beautifully presented fully flavoursome full English and pour coffee from an enormous Le Creuset coffee pot, I ponder the Sat Bains experience.
Mr Bains, and his wife, Amanda, who oversees the rooms, have most certainly created something special.
Our room comes close to full marks and represents exceedingly good value (see the Travel Facts box for the prices).
Still, there is room for a soupçon of improvement.
I’d replace the cheap plastic loo seat (that doesn’t stay up) with wooden ones to match the beautiful wooden furniture elsewhere, and the plastic rain shower head with a stylish metal attachment to blend in with the rest of the industrial-retro-chic plumbing. A shower hose would be good, too (other rooms have them).
And if Michelin stars are ever distributed for ironing boards, the wonky-legged number we were given is in the running for minus two…
As for the restaurant… well, add my breathless hyperbole to the reams of praise Sat has deservedly received for it.
The whole operation is sheer class – thrilling, fascinating, run with military precision, verging on genius.
Will you notice that it’s a step up from a Michelin-star restaurant? Yes you will. Is it Britain’s best restaurant? It surely must be a contender.
Compliments to the chefs!
Ted was hosted by Restaurant Sat Bains, which offers packages that include a room, tasting menu and breakfast from £185 per person. The seven-course tasting menu is £105 and the 10-course tasting menu is £120.
Visit www.restaurantsatbains.com or call 0115 986 6566 for more information and visit www.instagram.com/satbains1/ for Sat’s Instagram profile.
Room 3 gets 4/5, the restaurant 5/5, and the overall experience…
Rating key: one star – poor; two stars – ok; three stars – good; four stars – very good; five stars – exceptional.