Dinner At The Recently Opened Emerald Wine Bar In Derby
The Man and I had a serious case of Déjà Vu last night when Boris decided to announce another national Corona Virus lockdown as we were due to dine at Emerald Wine Bar in Derby. Last time we locked-down we were supposed to be dining in Derby, but got turned away from the venue, so we were desperately hoping that it wouldn’t happen again! Fortunately, this latest lockdown wasn’t coming into effect for another 4 days (?!), so it was still all systems go for our dining plans.
We parked the jalopy on a nearby street and wandered past the other eateries on Midland Road as we made our way to Emerald Wine Bar, remarking happily that Albatross Taxis were still open – they’ve been going some years, let me tell you! There was hand sanitiser just inside the entrance so we doused ourselves in that before being greeted by Georgina Eccles, the Restaurant Supervisor, who took us to our table.
Emerald is veeeeery slinky in its modernity, with several shades of green incorporated in the decor scheme to reflect its name. Emerald’s owner, Nisha, has chosen THE perfect shade for the painted walls and I instantly fell in love with the striking feature wall paper. Rather than overwhelm the senses with bold colours and fussy artwork, Nisha decided to simply have large potted plants dotted around for some visual appeal, and it works really well.
The Man and I were seated at one of the teal banquette booth tables, the closed end of which had dark wood panelling to its bottom half and a mirrored top half that extended for the entire length of the venue; told you Emerald was rather swish, didn’t I? The fabulous parquet flooring was a warm brown shade that was picked up by the table tops and some of the chairs at the free-standing tables (all of which are more than adequately socially distanced).Lighting came via some trendy recessed ceiling lights and back-lit edges: no cumbersome lamps or wall fittings here to ruin the sleek, razor-sharp setting!
Now that I’d had a good squizz at my surroundings my attention turned to more pressing matters: drinkypoos. As luck would have it, the Emerald team were trialling their version of a Mojito so all the diners were their libatory guinea-pigs; let’s face it, there’s worse things to do! Both The Man Bird and I loved this take on the Mojito as there was plenty of punch to it: fresh Mint and Lime juice had been blitzed together then combined with citrus Vodka and Bacardi white Rum, and the result was an intensely tangy and refreshing tipple. Having finished the Mojito, I ordered a large glass of Rioja (wonderfully fruity) and His Nibs had a pint of Moretti.
Lady luck was certainly shining down on us as Emerald Wine Bars Development Chef, David Mao, himself was in the kitchen to cook! Not to be deflated by the lockdown news, David came out and asked if we would mind if he cooked up a storm for us (or a ‘blow you, Boris, blow out’ as I put it!) of all the starters and desserts, as well as two of his choice of the mains. Well, who am I to argue with such an esteemed, accomplished Chef?!
Our trio of starters were: Crispy Duck ‘Lollipop’, Goats Cheese Tart, and Smoked Salmon Fishcakes; priced at £7.95, £6.95 and ££7.50 respectively. I won’t bore you with the intricate details, but suffice to say that the presentation was absolutely exquisite; colours burst all over the plates and textures and aromas stimulated the senses wonderfully.
The Salmon fishcakes had a crisper-than-crisp crumb coating that surrounded an unusually open textured mix of Smoked Salmon, soft Potato and Shallot, and fragrant Dill. What I liked (and there was a lot to like, even in this starter dish!) was how the oily nature of the fish was balanced by the sharp tang of the cloud-like Lemon foam that topped each sphere.
The fresh micro herbs added a little crunch in the mouth as well as an extra ‘zip’ on the palate, which seemed to be enhanced by the cool cucumber that had been peeled, deseeded and halved. Providing a base for the stars of the show were thin length-wise strips of Cucumber and a gently golden emulsion of honeyed, floral-yet-curiously-earthy Saffron.
Whilst I had had the lions’ share of the Salmon fishcakes, The Man was claiming ‘dibs’ on the Crispy Duck Lollipop with David’s own top-secret Hoisin sauce – I couldn’t really deny him this though, could I? What struck us both was the sheer size of the duck portion; underneath the lightly crisped skin there was certainly no shortage of succulent meat to tuck into that was for sure! David’s Hoisin sauce was a proper minx, a skilful blend of rich, smoky tones that released a light kick after a second or two to keep the taste buds on their toes.
To balance out the richness was the crisp character of fresh, segmented Orange and Pomegranate seeds, along with slivers of Radish, fresh Herbs and earthy Ruby Beetroot towers. Colourful, yes, and sublimely tasty.
Regular readers of the blog will perhaps recall, a while ago, that we visited the lair of Mr Grumpy Farmer (the Bull Shed, Shottle) and I got to fuss the herd of Goats that produce a jolly good cheese; well, Emerald Wine Bar source their Goats’ Cheese from here and I was about to get reacquainted with its taste!
A ridiculously good pastry case housed a mix of deliciously creamy, lightly musky Goats Cheese and oniony Chives and it all melted like silk in my mouth, making me sigh with delight. To echo the muskiness was the dependable earthiness of Beetroot; here in solid and emulsion forms, both equally flavoursome. Tang came courtesy of fresh Orange and Radish, with crunch from Cucumber completing the circle of scrumminess.
As we were immersing ourselves in the starters, Georgina and Ian Murray (Emeralds Licensee/Manager) had both checked that things were to our liking and discreetly checked that we were ok for drinks. They were both more than happy to see a spotlessly clean trio of plates when we laid our cutlery down and after removing our plates, whilst refreshing the cutlery and napkins, informed us that Chef had begun to cook our mains.
It wasn’t long before we were presented with our main courses: Award winning Lamb from local butchers Price and Fretwell and Churchill Farms Chicken (£20.95 and £14.95 respectively). David efficiently talked us through the dishes before leaving us to savour the fruits of his labour, something we didn’t delay in doing!
The Lamb dish consisted of Roasted rump and slow cooked, Crispy Shoulder coated in a crunchy mix of Breadcrumb and Parsnip. I cut into the shoulder morsel first and it was spectacular, it really was! Divinely rich in taste and gorgeously moist, the lamb had been paired with a deep coating that crunched thickly when I bit into it, releasing the unmistakeable fragrance of Parsnip into my mouth.
As I experienced the first bite of the Lamb fat Potato, I instantly got what David had said about the flavour he got from cooking the Lamb Bones and using the juices and Marrow therein to augment the Potato and the sauce; there was something rich and indulgent about the normally humble spud here.
This indulgence continued within the mind-blowingly intense Lamb sauce that had been reduced to the most concentrated (yet not overly salty) liquid I have ever had the pleasure to taste.
There is something deeply comforting about a tender, pink-middled Lamb rump when it’s been allowed to properly rest after cooking; the intrinsic sweetness of the meat shines through and frolics over the tongue in the same unbridled manner as the animal itself did in the green pastures it grazed upon. Allowing meat to adequately rest allows the fibres within the muscle to relax and soften, exponentially increasing the eaters’ joy, and yet it is a step that’s all too often rushed – not on David’s’ watch though! This was utterly glorious. Crunchy rounds of Carrot and courgette and perfectly al dente Green Beans and Broccoli florets provided a super textural element to the dish, with an ultra smooth emulsion of Caramelised Swede cosseting the tongue nicely.
When is Chicken not Chicken? When award winning Chef David Mao cooks it, of course! The juicy breast is poached and roasted in Thyme and Garlic butter to augment its natural creamy flavour, with the Allium theme continued by the crispy, shoestring fried Leeks adorning the poultry rounds, Cheesy Leek Arancini, and the Leek Chlorophyll that shyly lingered underneath the chicken. Both His Nibs and I were blown away by the oft-overlooked Arancini; these risotto rice based bites are much neglected in terms of the praise they deserve, in my opinion.
At Emerald Wine Bar on Derby’s Midland Road, Chef David Mao elevates them to something quite sensorily spectacular by combining softened Leeks and unctuous melted Cheese, then frying their rice covering to crispy perfection. As if the dish wasn’t mind-bogglingly good enough, the mesmerising Mustard and Pancetta sauce added yet another stunning layer of flavour. Our palates were set to swoon with glee by this stage - and pudding was yet to be served!!
Georgina and Ian had diligently been keeping a discreet eye on our progress through the dishes (smiling at our praise when we responded to their enquiry as to our satisfaction) and soon had our clean plates whisked away, ready for our surprise, palate-cleansing sorbet course.
Masterfully demonstrating his skill and craft, David had casually ‘whipped up’ the sorbet in 20 minutes with his own Liquid Nitrogen (as you do!!) and proceeded to thrill us with a bit of Hallowe’en table theatre. Two bowls of Lemon Verbena foam topped, Lemon sorbet were housed within a larger bowl that David gently poured Liquid Nitrogen into, and we watched, mesmerised, as streams of vapour stealthily issued forth across the table in a fittingly spooky manner. Our mouths were eagerly appreciative of the sorbet’s sharp, clean taste; it wiped the gastro slate clean perfectly for the sweet course to come.
Georgina brought over more wine and lager then placed our dessert cutlery and fresh napkins down on the table, and soon after Chef David was presenting us with a trinity of temptation: Raspberry and White Chocolate Cheesecake, Signature Sticky Toffee Pudding, and Mango and Lemon Verbena Eton Mess (£6.50, £6.75 and £6.50).
By now we were used to David putting his artful spin on dishes and the Cheesecake was perhaps the ultimate example of this. Vanilla Crumble, Puffed Rice, and Homemade Popping Candy were scattered liberally over the plate, providing a base for the Raspberry Sorbet quenelle and White Chocolate dome whose contents remained a mystery at this point. Ruby hued coulis and marinated Raspberry pieces encompassed it all, with verdant flashes of Lemon Verbena twinkling sporadically amongst it all.
Where to begin to describe this wondrousness? I’ll start with the happy memories awakened by the popping candy riotously exploding on my tongue, making me giggle as they fizzed ticklishly in my mouth and progress onto the merits of the comforting softness of the vanilla crumble. My taste buds leaped to attention at the intensity of the raspberry sorbet, and then lazily bathed within the velvet creaminess of the white Chocolate dome.
Parting the dome gently, I could see each half contained the pair of elements that combine to produce the body of a cheesecake: denser cream cheese in one cradle, softer whipped cream in the other. Separately, they were both delicious with the sorbet, but in combination they rose majestically into something extraordinary. David, I salute you!
His Nibs is somewhat a connoisseur when it comes to Sticky Toffee Puddings, so I let him take the lead with this morsel. I did, however, snaffle the raisin gel; I had a dab on the end of my finger and was so entranced by its rich perfume that there was no way I was letting Him Indoors have it! The aerated date sponge was lighter than many of its counterparts but, to be honest, given the richness of the other components it was perfect and the crunchy tuille on top popped against the soft sponge too.
The Yoghurt Espuma was deliciously airy and refreshingly sharp against the sweetness of the sponge, and the Salted Caramel sauce (in a separate jug) also gave some relief against the sweeter notes. Yummy, cold Butterscotch Ice cream contrasted starkly with the warmth of the pudding, enlivening the senses.
Meringue and I have a complicated relationship as you know, but thanks to the pieces being clearly visible, I could pick them out and let The Man Bird have them whilst I dug in to the other parts of the Mango Mess. There’s something hypnotic about a good Mango sorbet and yet again David delivered a sublime balance of sweet and tart here, although my face still scrunched up as the intensity of the fruits’ flavour pounced on my taste buds. The slow cooked Mango was possibly the most exuberant thing I’ve ever tasted; its tigerish intensity was almost over-whelming. The Vanilla Foam tamed it though, transforming it into a silky, creamy kitten through some sorcerous alchemical happening!
The pair of us sat back, reeling from the pleasure of the unrelenting sensory onslaught of the evening. We jumped from moment to moment, babbling about one mouthful of gastric wizardry then another, not quite able to settle on an outright favourite.
Emerald do a superb set menu offering that gives you two courses for £20 or three for £25 per person (this offer will be running for the foreseeable future , yay!) and the dishes that we ate are all on here, so go get you some as they say!! If you have a special occasion that you’re celebrating, mention it when you book your table and the team will ensure that you remember the night for years to come by providing intimate touches, such as playing your ‘first dance’ song from your wedding if it’s an anniversary meal.
Before I award Hot Wings, I just want to wish David all the best for his desserts’ imminent ‘Great British Menu’ appearance; I know what he’s got planned, but my lips are (uncharacteristically!) sealed. I will say though that, Liverpool, you are going to be so proud of this particular son of yours.
Hot Wings enthusiastically awarded here!! Oh and customers of Emerald Wine Bar also get 10% discount off Albatross Taxis if they book one, as well as getting 20% discount on treatments from Timeless Beauty and Nails, both of whom are Midland Road businesses too.