Walking up Derby Road to the Hand and Heart public house, we were searching for food on behalf of the Nottingham Food Blog and also taking the opportunity to drink at one of the pubs in the “Discover the Route to Real Ale Guide” our trek took us up from the Tram Stop in the Old Market Square to the Hand in Heart Pub at 65-67 Derby Road. On their website there is a little potted history that I will reproduce here for you;
“The Hand & Heart started its commercial life in 1866 as a brewery. The building comprised of a Georgian House with stables to the back and a cave below. The beers were brewed in the converted stables and dropped through, for storage, into the cave. Soon after, when the Victorian shop front was added, it started to retail beer as a public house. Later, in the early 60′s, the roof terrace was replaced by a glass conservatory. Whilst it has seen many changes the building has retained its character and atmosphere.”
The Hand and Heart is a strange but lovely hybrid of a place, half pub, half resturant and having been in there a few times now I am not even sure that it really knows itself. At the front is a small traditional pub, nice bar, a large chalkboard featuring a number of good sounding real ales, and another chalkboard listing the food on offer, one of those boards where each item has it’s own small black plank (so that you can switch and swop easily as items come and go). The night we walked in our waitress was also our barmaid, and I had some sympathy for her (not because she was serving us) as that was quite a tricky job to juggle.
We could have eaten in the bar, but instead we asked to sit in the resturant, and instantly the scene changed from real ale pub to an almost French bistro setting. The Cavern felt a bit weird, although I loved the fact that it was carved deep into the sandstone, it had blue fairy lights hanging from the roof like some sort of grotto and it was filled with an assortment of elderly wooden furniture, tables, cabinets, pictures and the like. In a totally inpolitically correct way I felt as if I was in some sort of cellar where the nazis were hiding antiques and gold, or a cave where some Pirates of the High Seas were hiding out with their ill gotten gains and doubloons.
I was keen on the Pork Belly, but as the menu board just said simply “Pork Belly” I really needed a bit more information, is it a rolled piece of belly?, is it a strip? How is it cooked?, what comes with it? I suppose the answer that I did not need was that “Is is one of our most popular dishes” I chose the Pork Belly anyway and figured that I would find out soon enough.
Having ordered we settled down to sup our pints of “Little Weed” a pale ale from the Maypole Brewery. They describe this as “Bronze coloured fruity and wheaty with a crisp and crisp and dry malt finish”. It is quite fruity and while it is a clean pint it is a little bit sweet on first sip and then with a sour taste towards the end. Perhaps that is what a “dry malt finish” is?
After a reasonable amount of time our food arrived, we discussed that the 20 minutes it took was probably a good sign. My Mate Martin was having the pie and I thought that was a good sign for his pastry, I also thought that it was likely to be good for my pork, but we also in a somewhat more comedic fashion considered that maybe the chef was having a fag and a pint for 15 minutes and then just making us wait for a bit. We really did not seriously believe that but it made us chuckle while we counted out our golden doubloons that we found in the cabinet next to our table (please note there is no hidden Gold here, this is just one of those very random comedic themes that occur during a food hunt for which I make no apologies, )
There is a very good reason why the picture of the food is a small thumbnail size, that is because it is such a terrible photo, it was very dark within the cavernous resturant carved into the Nottingham sandstone, so dark that my camera was very unhappy. I could have used a flash but I always think that is a bit rude to my fellow diners. I know that some people have indicated that taking pictures full stop is a bit rude, but my opinion has always been that it is my food and I will do whatever I chose with it, take a photo, stick it down my trousers, and even on occasion eat it. The only decent reason I read recently for not taking photos was by Giles Coren who, apart from pointing out that the pictures never do the food justice, notes in his book “How to Eat Out” (a damn good read by the way) that as a reader “we’ve tended to rely on whoever’s writing the review to describe what he’s eaten more or less faithfully, in three dimensions, and with smells, tastes and sound into the bargain“. I have to be honest I actually agree with that and I am as guilty as many of relying on a nice photograph, having said that I use them most of the time I am sitting in a pub before, during, or after a meal to encourage my friends and family to go somewhere to eat and often just to make them hungry so that I can persuade them to come with me on some sort of food hunt. I also often have to use those photos the next morning to remind me of the nights previous events.
I could just delete the photograph, as it is so bad, but despite it I am going to try and be a little more verbose in my descriptions of the meal so that you do not even need to pay any attention to it. The “Slow cooked belly pork” came with Spiced apple, mashed potato & a cider gravy for £11.95. It also came with a larger mound of carrots, red cabbage, and some broccoli. I think that someone in the kitchen has been eating in America as the carrots and broccoli were very hard, verging on raw but I actually like my veg like that and not boiled to death like some places do. The mash potato was an interesting affair, there was a smear of apple sauce that merged into the soft creamy potato sauce, a very thin mash, and within that mash were thinly cut slices of spiced apple. You might imagine that it would all be too much apple, but it was not there were hints of a mulled wine element from the spiced apple and a sweet cider taste in the sauce. Now I hear you thinking who cares about those accompaniements! what about that Pork Belly?
The Pork Belly was really good, there was a good crispy crackling top that was just that perfect crunchy bite, beneath that was a soft almost tissue like layer of white fat, then the pork itself which having been slowly cooked was tender, moist and just falling apart. The meat was seasoned well and there was a hint of sage from the sauce. To be totally honest although I did enjoy this meal I would have rather just had a piece of Pork Belly twice as big on top of some plain mash with a nice bit of gravy and I would have paid a bit more as well. Still it was a decent plateful and I had no complaints.
I like the Hand and Heart and it seems that I am not the only one, it won the Nottingham CAMRA pub of the year in 2012 and it is stop number 13 in the Discover the Route to Real Ale guide. The nearest two tram stops are those at Old Market Square, and at the Royal Centre, but it is about a 10 minute walk from either of those two stops. It is worth the effort though.