Carol Emmas is desperate for something to dunk her dinner in
It’s 11 years since Nova opened in the centre of Heswall and 11 years since I ate there last. The time lapsed has nothing to do with the food - that was first-rate. Chef patron Moyo Benson is classically trained in French cuisine and worked under Pierre Koffman, London.
Nova has a strong customer focus and the aim to please stands out
It was more the jarring zebra-like striped decor that rubbed. It’s bizarre how an interior can make a difference. Fast-forward to 2022 and I’m pleased to find that success has allowed the wife and husband team at Nova - Jana and Moyo - to expand their modern gastro offering and up-sticks to a larger gaff.
I was even more chuffed to find they’ve opted for a more inviting interior. Think, warm sunshine, sunsets, dark skies, and just the right amount of a twinkly glow to make you think you could be somewhere significantly more clement than Wirral.
Nova has a strong customer focus and the aim to please stands out on this particular night as it is day three of a new monthly menu.
"Any feedback is welcome, so we can tweak where necessary", says our restaurant manager.
To welcome us to the table, melt-in-your-mouth smoked mackerel and apple canapés with a sweet and sour kick. Plus, gorgeously soft home-baked seeded bread, zesty olive oil and balsamic vinegar. A not too shabby start.
The wine list is comprehensive. I order the lychee-scented Cave de l’Ormarine, Picpoul de Pinet (£4.75 - 125 ml) to pair with the fish from the two-course set menu (£24.00)
King scallop, with black pudding, truffle potato and barley, looks voluptuously inviting. I’m not a massive scallop fan to be honest - it’s a texture thing - but its caramelised flavour plays along well with the earthy black pudding and lush truffle puree. I have to stop myself short from running a finger across the plate to mop up the last of it.
I’m compelled to do the same with my OH’s starter of Spanish egg, chorizo, paprika potato mousse and beetroot. This may look like an alien has landed on a plate, but appearance aside, it does taste divine.
Perhaps not one for Edwina Currie, the egg in this dish is cooked at 64 degrees - the lowest temperature an egg can be safely and legally cooked - to give a particular softness and finish. With the spicy warmth of chorizo and paprika and a sweet hit of beetroot, it works its warming winter magic.
One bugbear for this meal is the presentation; white food on a white plate does not excite. The cod loin of my main course is cooked perfectly and flakes off the fork but the rest of the plate is a bit of a desert.
A piece of roasted cauliflower and a miniscule blob of puree fails to excite visually or palatably, even with crispy capers and piccalilli thrown in. I want the mother of mother sauces with this.
“There is no point in being precious about this dish,” says OH, tucking into his main course of venison sausages, mash potato, slow-cooked fennel and medjool date brown sauce.
“The more ladened the forkful, the better the multi-flavour experience.”
You’d think the sausages would be full-on, muscle-flexing venison but they’re surprisingly delicate. Pairing well with the Paparuda Pinot Noir (£4.20) this dish of creamy potato puree, crunchy fennel and gourmet bangers on top, does all manage to come together.
We agree to share a dessert which means an upgrade to the three-course set menu (£27). Truffle goats cheese, parsnip sponge and salted apple sounds like an unlikely flavour pairing, but it’s a gorgeous gooey hit.
The sweet cake, distinct barnyardiness of the cheese and the luscious stewed apple is definitely quirky in a good way. Only one thing missing - you guessed it - a bit of something creamy to dunk it in.
It sums up much of Nova’s food this evening - lacking in sauce, debatable on the aesthetics, but up there on flavour. Perhaps the blips are down to new-menu nerves?
There are clearly quite a few regulars in here and I mention to the manager how great it is to see people out eating midweek.
”It’s actually quieter than usual - it always is when the football is on”, he says.
Proven right, we step outside and there’s a metaphorical whoosh of tumbleweed blowing up a dark, cold and empty Telegraph Road. Yet, around the corner, there’s a bar pulsating with bodies, pints in hand, eyes fixated on a large screen.
All power to Nova then, it must be doing something right by continuing to get people through its doors - against the evening’s odds.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
King scallop 7, Spanish egg 7, cod loin 5, venison sausage 7, truffle goats cheese dessert 7
Chilled on a chilly match night