The bill was paid, the plates cleared, and the last of the wine gulped down at Mesa when we started discussing the score I should give it for this pathetic blog. I was over excited by it all; the gutsy no-bullshit cooking that reminded me a little of the attitude Gareth Ward took when he first opened Ynyshir, so much so that I was saying “it’s a nine” over and over again like a German parent telling their child that they couldn’t have sweets. My dining companion was less sold on such a high score, pointing out that I wasn’t mad on the cooking of the lamb ribs, and that, if I am going to be pedantic, the makhani sauce on the cod dish was a touch metalic. “Give it eight” they said like they were Millwall fans encouraging one another on a day trip to Bradford. We decided to order dessert. I don’t know why. Dessert isn’t really my thing. Wine is, which is fortunate given I ordered another glass. It arrives, a miso caramel panna cotta, quivering like it is scared and the sesame tuille atop barely holding onto the crest like it is surfing. It is beautiful; a buttery, nutty, work of art that has found its place in Nottingham via Japan and Italy. My mind is blown. Mesa gets a nine. I was right all along.
Well, truth is, I wasn’t. Despite being told to go by people I trust, I almost never went to Mesa on account that the owner has an Instagram account (@Marcus_cooks) which I have been aware of for some time and occasionally popped-up on my feed. Devoid mostly of the oversaturated images, generic Instagram bullshit talk, and emojis which make me see red, Marcus used the platform to cook fusion food. I don’t like fusion food unless it’s been cooked by Skye Gyngell and someone else is paying. His food looked good; he can clearly cook a steak and knows his way around a burger, but the cynic in me wondered if that could translate to a restaurant. Mesa, as we have already established, gets a nine. It clearly does translate.
It works because he understands when to have fun with something and when to leave it be, which, I am guessing comes from a deep understanding of how to treat protein. Take his burger: the patty is made from cuts of aged beef and lots of trim. It is fat heavy and oozing umami beefy notes. It comes lacquered in molten American cheese slices and burger sauce. I think they’ve rinsed the fat ring of onion under a tap to take some of the rawness out of it like MeatLiquor used to, and the pickles are simple bread and butter stuff. The result is a tribute to the quality of the beef reminiscent of the legendary Red Hook Tavern in NYC. It is the best burger I have eaten all year. It might be the best burger I have eaten in the UK.
The good stuff doesn’t stop there. Wedges of hispi cabbage are charred and basted in a marmite butter and coated in crispy garlic. Umami laden with lots of contrasting textures. Absolutely beautiful. Croquettes of kimchi, cheese and bacon, like some kind of David Chang wet dream, ooze dangerously and probably don’t need the gochujang mayo, but it is there to add more loitering heat and purpose. There are overly generous slabs of pork belly with crisp skin that come alive when dredged through a burnt apple ketchup and topped with folds of brightly pickled ginger. Even when I don’t love it there is so much to admire; the lamb ribs have a black garlic hoisin which I tell Marcus himself could have been made in Ynyshir, and the cod is beautiful timed even if that sauce is my least favourite thing we eat. It seems to me that he is a man who is obsessed with food; both the eating and the reading of it. The lack of professional training has only created a bigger canvas for those inspirations to come to the forefront.
The first bill is circa £70 with some wine. The second, with the dessert and more wine is just over £20. It is, as it was described to me when being recommended, as “small plates that are not small”. We could have eaten less and not had to resort to doggy bags but what is the point when dishes coming out of the kitchen are so good? Oh, and one more thing. I always thought that Nottingham was a one stop shop for quality drinks and that stop was Cottonmouth, which can be found directly opposite Mesa. Add Six Richmond House to that list. The mixed drinks are class and the ambitions to be on the top 50 lists a mere matter of time. Not a duff drink on the list. Nottingham, what a fucking great city.