Nottingham, with its castle, canal and caves, is a great place for a weekend break but if all you want to do is to shop and eat then you've definitely come to the right place
Just an hour and a half by train from London, Nottingham was once the centre of the lace-making industry. These days the Victorian salesrooms and warehouses of the Lace Market have been stylishly renovated to provide luxury accommodation and opulent dining. The city, which produced internationally renowned designer Paul Smith, knows all about cutting edge design. Nottingham is a fascinating blend of the old with the new and the perfect place for some retail therapy amongst stunning architecture.
Let's start with the master- the Nottingham Paul Smith flagship store sits proudly at the heart of Lace Market at 20 Low Pavement, in a Georgian Grade 2 listed five-storey building. The contents include a "beautiful mix of unusual antique furniture with each room having its own character" fulfilling the desire for "a shop in a house". The original much smaller store opened in 1970 and continues to flourish at 10 Byard Lane. The enterprise grows and grows.
Lovely Exchange Arcade with its towering ceilings is home to Karen Millen, Kookai and Warehouse among others. Just off Market Square and within the Council buildings, this is a nice place to browse and simply admire, especially in the Christmas season. Market Square never looks or smells better than when the German market comes to town, and the Town Hall lions gaze loftily past the silly nodding moose-head to the ice skaters beyond. The Tourist Information office is conveniently situated on the same block. All of the major chain and department stores are represented within or around the two major shopping centres-Victoria and Broadmarsh- so a day or two’s shopping can be wide-ranging and needn't be expensive. This leads to the need for some serious refuelling stops and at this Nottingham excels. Many of its best eating places are tucked away in the streets that radiate off Market Square.
Where to eat
Hidden away in St. James Street, the Malt Cross Café is both a visual and a culinary feast. A former Victorian Music Hall, built in 1877, it still retains most of its original features, whilst comfortable seating allows you to gaze up past the second storey to the huge glass-domed ceiling. You simply have to sweep upstairs, past the columns topped with golden dolphins, to gaze down again - you can almost hear the swish of the crinoline! In truth, the rest rooms are up there. The food is rather special too - I loved the Summer Roast Vegetable Quesadilla (£6.45) and my vegetarian friends assured me that the Big Orange- a haloumi and sweet potato-based burger- couldn’t be beaten. The website gives details of entertainment and planned events as well as menu and there's a small craft shop too (Tel 0115 941 1048; www.maltcross.com).
A much simpler venue, the Alley Cafe Bar at 1a Cannon Courtyard is the place for serious vegetarians. I was intrigued by the sandwiches - whether to have a Mildred (smoked tofu, pesto and artichoke heart) or a Bert (brie, blueberry conserve and grapes)? I settled for a Black bean and mole burrito which was excellent. The Alley is tiny and you will probably have to wait for a table but it’s worth it. In the evenings the cocktail menu dazzles, with Bollywood Lassi, a mix of vodka, raspberries and yogurt, an outright winner.
If it makes the Guardian as one of the top 10 places to eat in Nottingham it should be good enough for this guide. The Walk Cafe at 12 Bridlesmith Walk (tucked down the passage from Bridlesmith Gate) is a real treat. Tea comes in many varieties and in colourful teapots. The cakes are fabulous. For Valentines Day their slogan is "forget the flowers, say it with cake"- chocolate truffle tart, strawberry and champagne gateau sound good to me! Savouries include enormous and very tasty sandwiches. Prices from £4.50. Tel 0115 947 7574
For a humble pub with character The Old Salutation at 56 Houndsgate dates from the 13th century. Winner of the Best Traditional Pub in 2009, the Sal is regularly an alternative venue for “rock and ale” but is particularly distinguished by the presence of a girl ghost in the hand carved sandstone caves below the pub. Ghost walks start from and include the premises. The food includes traditional pies, a specials board and a large range of baguettes with both warm and cold fillings priced £6- 10.
Last on my list is the Pitcher and Piano pub where stunning use is made of the proportions of this converted church complete with stained glass windows. The menu is not the paramount reason for coming here but the food is fine and it's a good party venue. See for yourself on www.pitcherandpiano.com (The Unitarian Church, High Pavement, Lace Market; 0115 958 6081).
Back to the shopping
I generally come to Nottingham to visit my daughter and am led by her into all kinds of shops, the common theme being "things that sparkle and sumptuous materials to stroke". A visit to The Bead Shop at 7 Market St is a treat. It’s like a tiny sweet shop with temptation everywhere you look - glorious Czech glass, exotic stripey mixes, tiara kits and all the tools for their assembly if you're gifted that way. If you can’t make it in person you can order online at www.mailorder-beads.co.uk.
Another form of temptation my daughter actively encourages is the consumption of chocolate, so a visit to Chocolate Utopia is rarely missed. The name says it all. Order a coffee or hot chocolate and deliberate which of the superb handmade chocolates you want to accompany it at 30 Friar Lane; tel 0115 947 0016.
I’m definitely no seamstress but I do love beautiful fabrics and bedlinen. A little away from the centre at Castle Retail Park on Radford Boulevard, Dunelm Mill provides the perfect place to stroke and admire, and afterwards indulge in the glorious cake in the coffee shop - cranberry and white chocolate topped my last one. This is an area where Asian fabric shops predominate and where I was also pleased to find Iberian Delights - a little piece of Portugal transported to Nottingham, but more literally a coffee shop/deli at 215 Radford Rd. Hyson Green. The bacalhau (salt cod), bean stew and empadhinas (chicken pie) had me back in my beloved Algarve in a trice. Just space for a mini pastel de nata (custard tart) and I’m full again. Definitely cheap and cheerful.
Where to stay
My first option has to be the award winning Lace Market Hotel at 29-31 High Pavement. Featuring the highly rated Merchants restaurant, this boutique hotel often has special weekend offers making it more affordable;from £99 per room per night.
The Park Plaza Nottingham, 41 Maid Marian Way, has an excellent location just 100 metres from Market Square and good standards of service for a reasonable price. The Express By Holiday Inn Hotel Nottingham, (7 Chapel Quarter, Chapel Bar, Maid Marian Way NG1 6JS) offers real value for money, while its sister hotel Holiday Inn Nottingham at Castle Marina Park has a more tranquil canalside setting, but still not too far from the centre.