Michael Sindall says that Mansfield is a gastronomically deprived area. Apparently, the Nottinghamshire town is home to precious few restaurants - or, at least, any that serve home-made food, use local produce and employ local talent to prepare it.
Luckily, Sindall is doing something about it. He was appointed head chef at 54-seat restaurant No 4 Wood Street when it opened in September 2003. But in April this year he and his wife, Jane, became sole owners of the restaurant. It can also accommodate 14 in a private dining room downstairs, and this has allowed him to apply a much more personal touch to his menu and construct an offer that is "more robust and more rustic".
Of course, Sindall has to be mindful of his clientele: what he serves is a compromise between what is available in the kind of restaurants that have proven popular locally and the style of cooking that he was exposed to during his early years as a chef. Sindall trained both with Michel Roux Jnr at Le Gavroche, where he was a chef de partie, and later at Marco Pierre White's Criterion.
Many of the dishes he offers mirror the simple brasserie-style approach of MPW, blending traditional British ingredients with a Mediterranean influence. For example, there's cod fillet wrapped in prosciutto ham (£14.95), or a starter combining streaky bacon and black pudding into a contemporary warm salad with quail eggs and beef strips (£5.95).
His classical tutelage from Roux Jnr (and Roux's then-sous chef, Brian Maul) is still evident in his preparation techniques. The duck breast served in a salad as a starter (£5.95), for instance, uses a method Sindall picked up at Le Gavroche. "The duck is rolled in black pepper and then wrapped in clingfilm and poached," he says, "so it comes out pink." It is then served in a salad with tomatoes, crotons, Parmesan and a pine nut dressing.
As a contrast, Sindall also puts a chicken Kiev on the mains list, served with tomato and shallot salad (£12.95). Again, this is popular with the local business types who eat lunch at the restaurant and with families in the evening. But there is also a sensible kitchen strategy at work - Sindall employs many young, inexperienced chefs and such simpler dishes can provide a welcome respite during a full-on service.
The Kiev, though, is handmade in the kitchen, and Sindall is keen on sourcing organic, GM-free produce. His meat is bought from a butcher's shop 200 yards up the road, and vegetables are bought at a local market. Bread, pasta and biscuits are also made on site as much as possible.
Sindall encourages his younger chefs to have a significant input into the menu. The rump of lamb with chargrilled vegetables and an olive sauce (£15.95), for instance, comes with Delmonico potatoes - long strips of grated potato mixed with cream, milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg and fried before being baked with cheese on top. The potatoes were suggested by "one of the young lads".
The desserts served at No 4 also conform to the pattern of using traditional concepts in a less traditional way. For example, the summer pudding is served with cheesecake sorbet (£5.95), fusing two popular desserts in a new and different style.
The restaurant itself is a renovated listed building, which balances period features, such as stone walls and beams retained from the original structure, with a new stained glass window designed by a local student, and modern wooden furniture. The result is a light and spacious atmosphere, and this, combined with the balance of accessible but well-cooked food, means that No 4 is on to a good thing, attracting approximately 200 covers per week.
If it offers a niche in Mansfield, it was a niche which needed to be filled.
What's on the menu
- Asparagus spears with truffle emulsion and Parmesan shavings, £6.50
- Tiger prawns with gazpacho and green pepper mouse, crispy basil, £6.25
- Ham hock, black pudding, and foie gras terrine wrapped in prosciutto, truffle vinaigrette, £5.95
- Fillet of beef, oxtail ravioli, pea purée, horseradish butter and rösti potato, £18.50
- Wild mushroom, artichoke, aubergine and courgette open ravioli, garlic nage and Parmesan, £13.95
- Chocolate roulade with raspberries, vanilla sauce and pistachio, £5.95
- Pineapple tarte tatin with toasted coconut ice-cream, caramel sauce, £5.95
- Peach clafoutis with lemon ice-cream and red fruit sauce, £5.95
No 4 Wood Street, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire NG18 1QA.
Tel: 01623 424824. Website: www.4woodstreet.co.uk.