My favourite restaurant in the whole city, Hart's, is a regular winner at the Nottingham Food Awards. It's modern fine dining at its best, but completely unpretentious too. Parking at the place itself can be tricky – there is some metre parking on the surrounding streets but if there's something good on at neighbouring Nottingham Playhouse, you may have to park in the city and walk.
From the outside, Hart's doesn't look that spectacular – it's a cubic building that you could easily miss. Inside, though, you're met with spectacular views across The Park (an area of Nottingham that's Narnia crossed with Switzerland, for the uninitiated). It's also got a lovely, relaxed atmosphere – the other guests will either be whispering couples celebrating something or cricket duffers there for a Trent Bridge Test Match. If it's summer, try asking for a window seat when you make your booking. They do pre-theatre dining, a set menu and a la carte. The food is all very approachable – there's nothing to scare non-gourmands. My experience is that they cook fish and mashed potato beautifully and, if you're stuck on pudding options, go for a bowl of ice cream – it comes in a rainbow selection of hand-made flavours.
Even people who have lived in Nottingham for years struggle to find Sat Bains' Michelin-starred restaurant. It's located, bizarrely, under the city's ring road (yes, UNDER it), just off an industrial estate. My advice is to look out for the tobacco factory chimney (can't miss it) and come off at the adjacent roundabout. You then take a sharp left before the golf course. If you get to either the Queen's Medical Centre hospital, the Nottingham Knight Pub or Boots HQ, you've gone too far. If none of this sounds terribly promising, once you do find it, you'll be delighted you went to all that trouble.
Sat Bains, like many Michelin places, is a must-book destination – not only to ensure you get a table, but also because they like to chat to you about your menu preferences. It's a taster menu, so you get little morsels of deliciousness. Each course surpasses the last, so if you're lamenting one plate being whisked away, never fear – another will be on its way. Of course it's pricey – he's a famous, Great British Menu-winning chef – but if you're celebrating something really special, or if you've just got loads of moolah burning a hole in your pocket, it won't let you down. I'd particularly recommend the "unique menu" which allows you to select your favourite ingredients from an online list, after which Sat fashions a menu just for you.
Now this may be an unpopular opinion, but I'm not actually a fan of World Service. Lots of people are, and it's won loads of awards, but I've always been a bit disappointed (and I've been three times now). As a fish-eating vegetarian, I wonder if perhaps the restaurant caters better for less selective eaters. There is no parking at World Service – it's a townhouse on a street adjacent to Nottingham Castle, so you probably need to take your chances with the city multi-storeys. Inside, I've always found the interior a bit chilly and colonial (which, admittedly, is its style) but I prefer the warm bustle of Hart's. And I've twice had meals there that have been, in my humble opinion, a bit disastrous.
Once I had fish that was a tad undercooked. The other time I had hummus which had been overwhelmed with lemon juice – to the extent that my mouth felt like it had been "Jiffed". As I say, don't necessarily take my word for it. But if you don't eat out in Nottingham that much, I'd suggest the other two on my list provide far trustier high-end experiences.