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Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Culinary Arts near the New Arts Exchange

view from my seat in the tram

Yesterday morning I thought that I would get out of Nottingham city centre and head off, by tram, to a district called Hyson Green next to Forest Fields. I boarded the tram at the Station Road stop by the main railway station and stayed on until the stop known as Girls High School and walked down through the wooded paths leading downhill to the ‘park and ride’ area and across on to Gregory Boulevard. It was bright and sunny and there were no leaves on the massive oak trees due to the time of the year.

I made a short diversion as I came down the wooded path as about twenty yards away were two men in hoodies. Yes, I know I shouldn’t judge people by their clothing. It was cold so they had every right to cover their shaved heads from the chilly wind. They were having a small, but intense, row with each other. Most of it was swearing (the C word was a favourite part of their mutual vocabulary) and they were violently throwing glass bottles at each other. I think it was a fun game of ‘catch the broken bottle in yer face yo bitch’. Oh well, boys will be boys even if they are wearing hoodies and out of their heads on smarties. As I say, I mustn’t be judgemental. I also didn’t think standing there in full view making detailed hand-written notes on their behaviour would be a good thing either. I do hope that they are going to recycle those bottles though. If you are not sure lads, the green bins are behind ASDA. Thanks.

Moving away from these jolly youngsters I hot footed it away from danger, zigzagging through the parked cars gleaming bright in the dazzling morning sun. In the distance I could see the tall white coloured tower block that dominates the area and was excited to witness for the first time the New Art Exchange building at 39-41 Gregory Boulevard. Ah, a tea stop and a good place to blog. Yes dear reader I was coming to my usual subject of food and drink, honest. I like to set the scene first.

The building was going through some repairs to the kitchen yesterday so they weren’t serving their seemingly very good value hot meals: beef stew and crusty bread: Thai curry and rice; beef chili and rice; all at an excellently uniform low price of £3.50. So I had a mug of tea and was offered a couple of free custard cream biscuits. Custard Creams no less! Can life get any better! The old wacky performance art student in me wanted to take a photo of the biscuits and ask – but is it art or am I taking the biscuit?

I asked the woman who served me if it would be OK to take a couple of photos of the Arts Centre café for this blog and I had to wait until a meeting on another table was over to speak to someone for permission.

Eventually, a gentleman came across and he turned out to be the Chief Executive Officer no less. His name was Skinder Hundal and was a very pleasantly spoken man. He apologised for not having much time to talk and I briefly ran the idea about my blog by him and a little about my theatre and performance art background. He took my details and suggested that I put myself on the mailing list and if I wished ‘add in some ideas for improvements’ on what the centre currently sees as a rather sterile/clinical looking café and foyer. Big plants, strapping leaves etc immediately came to mind. Just an idea, to add a bit of exotic greenery to the black, white and silver surroundings. I also spoke to a guy called Mike in the café and he said that they were also looking to adjust the menus to appeal to all and especially the multi-cultural population surrounding this centre.

After my tea and bikkies I went over to experience the two art exhibitions/installations in their main, blacked out, studio. Both had references to the sea and the concepts were by the award winning international artist Zineb Sedira of Algerian origin. Both pieces – Floating Coffins and Middlesea explored the notions of displacement and exile through photography, video and sound installations. My favourite was the Floating Coffins work, a new commission from NAE. It was about the world’s biggest shipping graveyard outside the harbour city of Nouadhibou, West Africa. This also happens to be a departure point for West Africans hoping to reach Europe. I liked the sound effects and the rich rust colours of the rotting ship hulls and the perversely beautiful poisoned waters and the multi-screen effect and the fact it was constantly shifting before me, like the tides. The sound effect of dogs barking in the dark was particularly scary. I was only able to stay for ten minutes into the other piece so can’t really comment. To see more about this fantastic arts centre’s programme for now and the future visit Their live Indian music programme looks especially appealing and they have also got a comedy event coming up this weekend.

So, not much about food really in this blog yet, excepting that I did go to an Asian supermarket on Radford Road and confused the hell out of a young halal butcher there by asking why there was no skin or fat left on the burgeoning trays of mutton legs. Many years ago I used to be a butcher by trade and was merely curious. The poor young fella looked terribly puzzled why a middle-aged white guy should be asking such odd questions and one of his elders came to his rescue and explained that generally the Asian customers aren’t keen on the fat element and so they skin it off. Simple as that really.
I had a good look around their exotic supermarket and saw plenty of familiar things and also plenty of garlic bulbs and ginger roots and other spices like paprika on sale in bulk that their Afro-Caribbean, Greek Cypriot, Indian, Pakistani, , Kurdish, Zimbabwean and Polish customers would use much more in their daily cooking than most non-immigrant customers. It was an example of ethnic foods diversity in action. I saw lots of differences in the supermarket styles (albeit this was a family run affair not a conglomerate like Tesco or Morrisons) and mostly it was the ability to buy plenty of fresh organic vegetables – peppers being foremost along with mounds of Bámnia or okra (ladies fingers) – and that one could buy huge sacks of rice and flour that would need someone with strong shoulders to carry out of the shop. It also had a real foodie smell to it that I doubt that I have ever smelt in any of the boring chain supermarkets I frequent. If it wasn’t so far from my home I would be shopping in there regularly for my food.
I came away with some ginger, multi-coloured bonnet peppers and garlic and some canned cannelloni, flageolet and adzuki beans and satisfied with my visit I made my way back in the city centre on the tram from the Hyson Green Market stop.

There is a good website on the regeneration of the Hyson Green area anf local traders at


French Fancy said...

Lots of interesting things in this post but do you know what stood out for me...the custard creams. I love those biscuits so much and in fact can buy them in a supermarket here. The thing is that I recently blogged about my biscuit addiction and I've decided never to eat biscuits again.I've not had one for over a month now.

Phil Lowe said...

So FF I shouldn't mention fig roll biscuits, custard creams, plain chocolate digestives, bourbons or anything like that then? That would be cruel wouldn't it? Well done for your dedication to not eating biscuits. I have to say it is rare that I eat them myself. When I was a kid I did have a bad addition to those rectangular pink ones though. Forgotten what they are called now.

French Fancy said...

Not those wafer things? I hated those. Actually the bikkies you've mentioned do nothing for me (she said, trying to convince herself)

Phil Lowe said...

Yes, those wafer things. I couldn't get enough of them.