The last outpost of nouvelle cuisine

Surrounded by wall-to-wall bamboo and colonial knick-knacks, <i>Karina Mantavia </i>tries hard to spot her Lilliputian lunch among the designer crockery
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Indy Lifestyle Online

World Service | Castle Gate, Nottingham NG1 6AF, tel: 0115 847 5587

World Service | Castle Gate, Nottingham NG1 6AF, tel: 0115 847 5587

ourism and good eats don't usually mix. On a slick Euro jaunt or a sticky backpacking trek, you can breathe in the foreign fumes or squash the foreign dirt in between your toes. But unless you've done your homework carefully, you'll be eating food custom-designed for tourists - the real foreign muck. Across the globe, tourists fill the worst eateries, not the best ones.

Opportunism, the lifeblood of tourism, is at its most naked and feral when feeding people. And nowhere illustrates this better than at World Service in Nottingham. Nottingham, of course, is the land of Robin Hood, the prototype prophet of militant caring and sharing. A city that once fulfilled the roughest and the smoothest ambitions of the industrial era - the production of coal alongside the production of lace - has had a serious change of heart. While loft developers and hi-tech firms take advantage of a new urban population keen to do 24-hour living, recently derelict Victorian buildings are being turned into colleges and textile museums. Sherwood Forest and Nottingham Castle still draw the hordes, but Nottingham is now also starting to sell its more recent past.

World Service restaurant is part of this. An armed forces club since the 1930s, its modern incarnation wears this history ostentatiously, with colonial knick-knacks and bamboo a-gogo. In one glass case sits the original ceramic cheetah, a carefully curated lapse in taste. Square brown pouffes. Rugs hanging from the ceiling on flat frames. And on high window sills, bin upon bamboo bin. Everywhere you look, it's Asian Ikea.

Next door is Nottingham Castle, around which visitors absently wander, occasionally distracted by a statue of the disappointingly short Mr Hood. In other words, the restaurant comes perilously close to being a tourist haunt.

One of the principal reasons the restaurant was created was to save the club from financial ruin, so it is alarming to find it all but empty. On a summer lunchtime, only a bunch of bizarre-looking ponytailed men in business suits occupied a table, chests puffing out when they sensed women in the vicinity. A silver-haired gent, obviously from the club upstairs, stood prodding a pouffe with his foot like a lost colonial explorer faced with a new life-form.

World Service is well-intentioned, but you can't live on good intentions - especially if you eat here. If you can get past the sweet but flaky staff, who bring you soup but not a spoon, coffee when you haven't asked for it and who keep forgetting your water, there is a much more serious problem to encounter: the teeny tiny food.

A starter of chicken terrine dressed with walnut pieces and green beans was moist enough, but would starve Barbie. Dotted around it were minuscule bits of walnut balancing atop minuscule bits of bean. Somehow the intricacy of this effort made the portion more insulting - not only is it small, it's proud to be small.

Alongside these nouvelle cuisine flashbacks, the restaurant has another conceit: plate vanity. A baby main course of sole on mash (with a barely discernible lemon grass flavour) arrived on a long aeroplane-style platter, which didn't do it any favours. My main, chosen from the bar menu as an alternative to the risotto or sausage and mash offered on a sweltering day, didn't fare better. The World Service club sandwich with crab and avocado, Lilliputian on a square black plate drizzled with a herb pesto, was unseasoned, thin and made me long for the M&S food hall (and I don't even shop there).

This plate lark works if you're eating at a restaurant like Spoon in the Sanderson hotel and you can follow through with esoteric accompaniments, French affectation and general whimsy. For World Service, Debenhams to Spoon's Versace, it seems like yet another bit of restaurant miscasting.

Wee desserts arrived, a sliver of lemon tart and a tiny pastry tulip in which you could have only two out of the three ice-cream flavours. A nice raspberry ripple came with a coconut one smelling of conditioner.

The light lunch - their words - for two with everything came to just under £42. Stealing from the rich; Robin Hood would have approved.

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