In terms of workwear, The Gannet’s needs are simple. A proper jacket is the main requirement: smart enough to pass muster with the Michelin mob, sturdy enough to withstand the rigours of a gourmand’s life (robust buttons are obligatory), and with plenty of pockets to stash pens, reading glasses, a notebook, a vintage chart and tiny bottles of Tabasco, in case a dish errs on the bland side.
Such a jacket is made by Universal Works, the men’s clothing company with emporia in Soho, Bloomsbury and now Coal Drops Yard; it also has a shop in Nottingham. The company’s designer and co-founder is David Keyte, whose tailoring captures a workwear aesthetic of which my Bakers jacket is the perfect example: Keyte’s father was a member of that noble profession.
Universal Works’ head office, in Nottingham, is but a mile or so from Restaurant Sat Bains, the two-Michelin-starred fiefdom of one of Britain’s most highly regarded chefs. In celebration of chefs, bakers and tailors, my jacket and I went there for lunch, taking a table in Nucleus, Bains’ development kitchen.
My lunch was tailored as precisely as my jacket. We were invited up to the counter for the first five dishes, each encapsulating one of the “five flavours”. Yeast crackers dusted with green tea and beetroot powders represented salt; umami came dressed as a steamed bun filled with XO sauce; carrots cooked with liquorice and scattered with sherbet were unimpeachably sour; while red cabbage ice cream with raspberry vinegar (sweet) and shiitake mushrooms with chocolate (bitter) took care of the others.
These, it transpired, were the building blocks for the rest of the meal, the menu colour-coded to illustrate which flavours predominate in each dish. If all this sounds more like a science class than a good lunch, rest assured: didacticism was kept to a minimum and nothing was less than thoroughly delicious.
Of the five flavours, umami punched well above its weight: a dish of smoked eel, for instance, with thin discs of turnip and a shimmering dashi jelly, had a rich, almost bacon-like savour; an ember-baked potato was stuffed with caviar and sauced with kombu, cream cheese and chives; while “Sherwood Forest” was a delightful tangle of venison tartare, cèps, tiny croûtons, cocoa powder and a smoked oak-infused mayonnaise, mushroom ketchup and pine-spruce vinegar. I could hear the crunch of autumn leaves as I devoured it. There was mallard, too, the breast tender and flavoursome, the rest made into an offal-rich sausage roll, soy sauce spiking the gravy: none of which, mercifully, found its way onto my jacket.
Bains combines modern techniques with a Japanese approach to flavour. The techniques he employs are often complex, but the resulting dishes have a beguiling simplicity: he and David Keyte, I suspect, are cut from the same cloth.