It’s a new year and a new month, and that can mean only one thing – time for a new blogger! Marcus Darwent of The Nottingham Food Blog must be the most prolific food reviewer in the city. From greasy spoons to cosy cafes, with the odd takeaway thrown in, his blog is a comprehensive list of shops, cafes and restaurants in Notts – and is constantly growing. Marcus regularly posts at least two or three new reviews every week. If you are thinking about eating anywhere in the city, Marcus has probably been there.
Here, he explains the motivation behind his blog:
Tell us a bit about yourself and your blog…?
I was born in London and raised in Nottingham. My early memories of food were boiled egg sandwiches on the beach with my Grandma, with a tomato, and perhaps a slice of pasty. I grew up in a time when exotic food included spaghetti bolognaise and chilli con carne. We thought chicken supreme from a tin on toast was a treat. They do say that travel broadens the mind, and it also broadens the palate. Over the last 15 years or so I have been lucky enough to have worked and lived in countries far and wide from India to China, closer to home in Germany, and for much of the last 10 years in the USA (New York and Chicago).
My first serious attempt at writing a blog was The Chicago El Stop Food Hunt Project where I spent three years searching for places to eat near to the 144 stations on the Chicago Elevated Railway. I started that blog as a way to discover Chicago and I ended up knowing more about parts of Chicago than many of my friends who were born there. Blogging about food became an obsession and perhaps one that almost saved my life to an extent. I found myself in the depths of severe depression, and then from that moment on, and almost as therapy, I used that blog as a drive and a reason to get up and to keep going every day. Under the guise and alias of MyFoodHunt, “One meal and One blog post at a time” became my mantra and my reason to get up each day.
Roll forward a few years and I found myself back in my hometown of Nottingham looking for a new writing challenge. I wasn’t sure if Nottingham was big enough to use as a blog in MyFoodHunt but there was nothing out there guiding me to my next meal so I created The Nottingham Food Blog as a means to rediscover the city in which I grew up. Initially, I was just going to use the tram system and perhaps write about some of my favourite pubs, but now almost two years on I have written about, eaten food at, and bought food from around 230 places, so more or less one post every three days on average. So I suppose it is a bit of an obsession, if it’s healthy or unhealthy? Well, I suppose that depends on what I eat.
There is a lot that never makes it onto the blog and some that makes it onto other blogs. I try to keep the blog in the niche of a travel/food blog. I don’t do reviews and don’t provide ‘scores on the doors’ I just tell people what I liked and didn’t like about places I have been too. Most of the time if I don’t like somewhere at all it never makes it onto the blog. I try to find the good or at least something positive in all the places I eat at and still work on that principle that if you having nothing nice to say then say nothing at all. I know that for many of the chefs, cooks, and suppliers that I visit that this is their dream, their life, and the thing that they get up in the morning for too, so in general I try to not ‘piss all over their bonfire’ for the sake of it.
What have been the most popular posts?
Purely on the stats, the most popular posts have been those that I have written about Annie’s Burger Shack in Nottingham. When I was an ex-pat in the States I came over to visit family all full of the great burgers that I had eaten all over the place in America and I was taken to visit Annie’s in the Navigation Inn on Wilford Street. Since then I have followed her journey on the blog from that pop-up in the pub to opening her own large burger restaurant in the Lace Market that is widely regarded as one of the places to eat at if you are in the city. Getting a table is as big a challenge as eating one of her huge burgers! Watching a journey like hers and being a part of it just through eating her food is just the kind of thing that I live the blog for.
Why do you think the East Midlands is so good for food lovers?
This is a good question! Two years ago I would have in all honesty said that I didn’t think that it was all that great, as Nottingham and many other places seemed to be choked up with chains and the places that everyone raved about, the ones that always won the aclaim seemed to be standing still. Now though I will tell you that after much research, by which I mean eating and drinking across the fair city of Nottingham and its surrounds, it is getting kind of exciting with lots of good independents popping up and most importantly flourishing. Just take a walk up Pelham Street towards Hockley in Nottingham and you are spoilt with lots of great cafes such as Homemade, Wired, Hartley’s and many more.
What are your favourite restaurants/cafes in the East Midlands?
I don’t really do high end, or if I do I don’t really write about it, my thing is the simpler comfort food and the people who cook it and who provide the supplies. I have few people that I would champion, and a few places that I would take someone from out of town to. So bear with me on this one as I kind of change the question to suit. Over the last two years I have really loved watching some members of our local food scene develop and flourish, Currently I am in love with the pizza from Olly at Oscar and Rosie’s who is based inside the ping-pong and beer shelter known as Das Kino. His pizza is so good it is untouchable and it will take something really special to win my pizza dollars. I usually avoid all invitations to openings or chances to sample food at new places, for Olly I believed so much in his pizza that I actually paid to attend his opening night as part of his Kick-Starter campaign. That is how much love I have for his pizza, as much love as he puts into his pizza. I didn’t have to pay but I wanted his pizza dream to succeed and also needed to know that my access to his Meat Sweats Combination was secured. Seriously you have to go and try it!
What is the best meal you have ever had? a) in East Midlands cafe/restaurant b) anywhere ever!
This is really hard as I don’t want to miss out any of my best tastes, so in Nottingham I am torn on who to mention so I just have to list my go-to places. Brown Betty’s on Malt street for a sandwich, The Cod’s Scallops for fish and chips, Porco for streetfood (has to be the Porchetta sandwich), The New Art Exchange (NAE) in Hyson Green for home cooked local ethnic meals, Mathews Café and Deli in Ruddington for the best pork cobs, The Village Café and Bistro in Keyworth for a light yet awesome lunch. For Pizza it is Oscar and Rosie’s for a Meat Sweats, and Annie’s for a Burger. I think my best single bite was provided by Sat Bains at an EON cooking event a mouthful of Braised Oxtail..lovely!
Best meal anywhere is in Chicago at The Girl and Goat a restaurant owned and run by Stephanie Izard winner of Season Three of the Top Chef TV program in the States. Totally love this place and everything on the menu I have eaten has been amazing. It might not be the most acclaimed restaurant in the city, but to get a table is a feat in itself and if I am visiting the city (my adopted US home) I will plan months in advance to get a table and will dine at any time of the day just to eat there. I also love eating on the boardwalk at Coney Island, it is getting a bit old and tired now, but there is just something about eating a Nathan’s Hot Dog by the beach!
Do you have any favourite East Midlands-based food bloggers?
This is tricky, I don’t really spend much time just reading blogs from the area unless I am sitting waiting for my starters while out MyFoodHunting. Recently (and not just as you asked me to participate) I have found EatMidlands a great place to find out about places that are due to open, in Nottingham ‘Frusher on Food’ has some good stuff as well. I like to look at the Left Lion online, and there are some good blog posts on the local university sites as well. One of my fave blogs at the moment is by Simon Wilson who writes about Life on a Care Farm in Nottinghamshire QuercusCommunity. It is a good read and it is a lot about the EcoCentre at Screveton a place close to my heart as they taught me how to bake bread