You won’t find Nicholas Road – or ‘Notting Dale Village’, where this restaurant is found – on anything but the most spankingly new maps. That’s because Nicholas Road is a new address, carved out of an industrial estate sandwiched between a dual carriageway and council estates.
The month-old Nottingdale Café has River Café aspirations, at first evident in the striking architecture: a modernist wave of glass over concrete, overshadowed by the (also new) Monsoon and Talk Talk offices. The café is a joint venture by the owners of the two companies, and – like the River Café when it opened – the conceit is that it’s a ‘staff canteen’, in this case open three times a day, Monday to Friday. Staff get a 15 per cent discount on meals.
The interior continues the modernist theme, with elegantly simple wooden chairs, long wooden shared tables and a ceramic counter partioning off the open kitchen. It’s a beauty, and altogether unexpected.
The menu reads well: brief, Italianate, changes every ten days. The wine list has lots of carefully considered bottles from Spain, France and Italy, mostly, at reasonable mark-ups.The staff are welcoming, upbeat, accommodating. It’s just that the dishes, on our visit at least, were of such variable quality and such steep pricing that we’re in no rush to go back.
First, the triumphs. A starter of three scoops of fresh white crab meat was served on a layer of cucumber jelly which had a kick of chilli set into it, and the dish was topped with pea shoots; a winning combination, well executed (£8.50). Also good: from the tapas menu, a soft white polenta the consistency of scrambled egg, served on bread.
But too many other dishes were off-register. An elementary mistake: our platter of breads was heading for stale, the cut edges unpalatably dry. The charcuterie platter (£7) would have been looked better had the slivers of pata negra not looked as if they’d been butchered with a Boy Scout’s penknife. Worse still: one slice of cured meat tasted a bit ‘high’ – we wondered if it had been sitting around for too long.
The pricing of some dishes is also off-whack. Our chargrilled squid at £17, a ‘main course’, was a starter-sized portion of two squid bodies served on a simple salad of rocket, dressed with shavings of (good) pecorino and a chilli dressing (ingredient cost: under four quid). And a granita – wonderfully saturated with the intense sharpness of Amalfi lemon, but with the ice crystals too lumpy – cost £5 for a small tumbler (ingredient cost: pence).
During our meal the chap running the show, caterer Harry Hensman, spent his time chatting to mates who were popping in to try the new venture. Perhaps we’d have had a better meal if he’d spent a little more time behind the counter, checking dishes before they left the pass.