Swing Gitan at the Hand & Heart – Nottingham, August 14 2012
By Charles Agar and Leah Ungless
With the grand opening of their new roof terrace, the Hand & Heart on Nottingham’s Derby Road is (hand on heart) establishing itself as a unique venue for lovely grub and lively music, while giving itself the edge for those summer evenings.
Starting out as a brewery in 1866, the Hand & Heart has undergone many changes over the years, but remains one of the most characterful and distinctive pubs in the Nottingham area. Known locally for being partially set in one of Nottingham’s historic caves, the new roof terrace is an added string to their bow. Providing an open, naturally lit contrast to the downstairs areas, it literally lifts the pub up to embrace the balmy summer’s evening of our visit. The terrace itself is decked out with beautifully carved (and rather comfy) wooden furniture, and provides an unexpected summer refuge from the busy main road below. Shielded from unwanted traffic noise by the glass side, the open roof allows a cool breeze to filter in as we take our seats. The staff are warm and accommodating, instantly making us feel relaxed and offering up a tasty, refreshing Pimms.
Want to know another big draw to this new addition (for this reviewer at least)? It skirmishes past the smoking ban by the skin of its teeth, meaning come winter you can light up, sit back and feel as though it’s still 2007 (although you also need to remember back then you probably smoked more on a night out, and I ended up sending my other half down the road to replenish stock levels). Want to avoid other people’s fumes? No worries, the architect has designed the terrace so it blends almost seamlessly into the main pub, yet at the same time keeps the smoke at bay.
The food served perfectly suited the evening: homemade nibbles included smoked salmon crostini, summer vegetable quiche and tomato bruschetta, laid out on crisp white linen to mark the occasion. The setting, with landlady Dawn dazzling in her eveningwear, perfectly unveiled her philosophy towards her many dedicated regulars: nothing is special enough, make this your home from home. As you descend the stairs into the bustling, warmly-lit, cavernous main room you feel like Alice stepping through the rabbit hole into the Hobbit’s Shire – all real local ales, noisy background chatter and big smiles.
The original band scheduled to play, Maniere Des Bohemiens, are a regular fixture about town, and have been delighting Nottingham audiences with their lively brand of gypsy folk-jazz for some time now. Unfortunately they had to pull out of this event, but we are instead treated by jazz guitar combo Swing Gitan who prove no less virtuosic with their playing. Inspired by Django Reinhardt’s innovative style, each of the three guitarists take it in turns to launch into effortlessly improvised, swinging solos while the rest of the players keep the songs anchored, but naturally “loose” sounding. It’s not a genre of music I’m overly familiar with, but the informal ambiance and easy-going musicality of their playing makes it very easy to get swept up and mesmerized. The musicians look like they’re all having a blast, and their enthusiasm is infectious. Occasional smoky jazz vocals help create an almost speakeasy atmosphere – like we’ve somehow found our way into an exclusive club performance. Indeed, to the casual Derby Road passer-by it would probably seem like stumbling across an off-the -track hidden gem, lured by the feel-good sounds emanating from within. The cave, which stretches back some considerable distance into the downstairs area of the venue, really does provide a unique setting, while enhancing the intimate nature of the music. A seated dining area slightly off to the side allows the sound to filter through while you eat. Having already had canapés, we opt to position ourselves in the packed out bar area with a good view of the band, and easy access to more refreshments. A good selection of local real ales and ciders are on offer, but spurred on by the giddy abandon of the music, I decide to go with an old (but rather alcoholic) favourite: Belgian Leffe.
From the cosy confines of the downstairs cave bar and upstairs restaurant area, to the new roof terrace and adjacent conservatory bar, the owners of the Hand and Heart have created a versatile venue, making excellent use of the space available.
The Hand & Heart comes thoroughly recommended if you’d like to enrich your dining experience (from homemade Scotch eggs and speciality steak and ‘Round Heart’ ale pie, to mussels in white wine sauce and beef cooked in red wine, served with a Stilton baked potato) with unusual, skilfully performed live music from a wide variety of genres. Previous and upcoming live music at the pub ranges from the high-energy French swing and gypsy-folk stylings of Maniere Des Bohemiens, to the Latin and afro-beat groove of Salmagundi. With regular folk nights and Sunday afternoon piano performances, you really are spoilt for choice for repeat visits. Check out the pub’s website for live music listings and their full mains, lunch, and Sunday lunch menus: http://www.thehandandheart.co.uk/