On a recent day trip to Derby (yeah, we’re that cool) we did some research on a good place to have a nice lunch. TripAdvisor informed us that the top place to eat in town was Masa and, after confirming they offered an affordable set lunch menu, we braved the freezing cold walk across Derby town centre. £19.95 for 2 courses or £24.95 for 3 is slightly more than we’d pay at our favourite Nottingham restaurant so our expectations were high, especially considering Masa won Derby Restaurant of the Year 2015.
We had phoned ahead to book a table but on arrival we realised that this was unnecessary as we were the only diners there. In fact, there were no other guests the whole time we dined!
The restaurant is situated in a gorgeous grade II listed converted chapel with a bar area downstairs and a mezzanine dining area above – it really is a stunning setting for a meal.
After ordering, to our surprise we were bought a complimentary appetiser: a teacup of celeriac velouté with white truffle oil.
Wow, this was gorgeous – imagine the most indulgent, velvety soup. It was beautifully thick and smooth with the truffle oil adding an earthy, nutty flavour that really enhanced the celariac. Not usually being a fan of soup, even I had to declare this a moreish success.
We were then bought a selection of warm breads, one sourdough and one Cajun spiced, with beetroot butter and a salt and pepper butter. The beetroot butter was a first for us and tasted great, especially with the delicately spiced Cajun bread.
After our bouches were sufficiently amused, we were raring to tuck into the first course.
For starters, I ordered the breaded brie with pickled veg and a dressed micro herb salad.
The brie oozed satisfyingly from the crumb coating when prodded, it was cooked perfectly. This warm, gooey loveliness worked well with its crispy coating and was amazing with the sharp pickled carrot and beetroot. A really good starter from a chef that obviously knows their stuff to take something rather simple and make it sing.
Emily ordered the ham hock terrine, which again was excellent.
Served with apple, beetroot and candied walnuts, the ham itself had an incredible depth of flavour. It was just the right amount of coarse, still moist and perfectly complemented by the sweet nuts and sharp apple. It was a very generous portion too, beautifully presented. Another triumph.
For the main course I plumped for the duo of Derby beef that came served with garlic mash, carrot purée, sautéed cabbage, a sprinkling or girolle mushrooms and a red wine jus.
The duo of beef consisted of 2 medallion fillets and a generous helping of slow cooked, braised beef; both tasted amazing. One of my favourite things to eat is a medium rare fillet of beef with a red wine jus and this definitely didn’t disappoint. It was so tender and flavourful. The braised beef was juicy and not fatty at all with its bold, slow-cooked flavour exploding on the palette – just superb. The garlic mash, cabbage and purée also added to the dish, allowing the beef to remain the star of the plate but still tasting very special in their own right. Big shout out has to go to the tiny girolle mushrooms that added an extra dimension. Sooo tasty, I could eat it all over again.
Emily ordered the sea bass with oyster mushroom, crushed potatoes, cabbage and a creamy sauce.
The sea bass was just beautiful, perfectly cooked with a crispy skin. The whole dish was well seasoned, with the salty pop of the capers cutting through the creamy sauce and the cabbage adding some delightful bite. The herbs added a lovely botanical dimension and the skin-on potatoes had a great texture that elevated it way above mash. Although not at all unpleasant, Emily wasn’t quite convinced by the addition of the oyster mushroom, a flavour she hadn’t had with fish before. A more delicate girolle mushroom, some pancetta or even a poached egg would have been welcome, perhaps.
It’s a good job there was no one else in the restaurant as we couldn’t help but emit embarrassing groans of pleasure with every mouthful.
We couldn’t come all this way without ordering dessert, so we decided to share a creme brûlée:
It came with homemade raspberry ripple ice cream and 2 shortbread rounds. The brûlée lid cracked satisfyingly to reveal the creamy interior which was lovely, rich and smooth. Personally, I prefer a stronger vanilla flavour but Emily thought it was perfection. The only issue was that the sugar topping was a little too thick, so there was still some uncooked sugar on one side and it stuck in your teeth – a delicate, wafer-thin crisp would have been better.
The real star of this show was the ice cream. Oh my god, we’ve never had ice cream so nice – I want the recipe. It was so creamy and smooth, yet had bags of gorgeous raspberry jam flavour. The texture reminded us of frozen custard, a delight we discovered on a trip to NYC this year that is the best ice cream in the world, hands down. We ate it nearly every day and have been craving it ever since, unable to find it in the UK. We were close with Masa’s beautiful home made raspberry ice cream – this means a lot coming from us! This went really well with the shortbread and the brûlée and was a great way to finish out the meal.
Overall, we had an amazing meal at Masa and we will definitely be returning – they 100% deserve their multitude of accolades and awards. We got more than we bargained for with the added freshly baked bread and velouté with good, accomplished dishes. Although rated the top Derby restaurant, Masa is by no means over-fancified or unnecessarily complicated – it’s still relaxed and accessible with excellent service. The chefs combined flavours expertly and cleverly while cooking everything fantastically – which we would expect, seeing as we were their only customers! We were perplexed as to why this was. We walked through town on the way to the restaurant and saw people queuing round the corner out of Greggs and yet this place sits empty. So come on Derbians, have a word with yourselves and check this place out. We promise you it won’t disappoint.
Overall score: 9/10
Atmosphere and surroundings: 7/10