by Chrissy Iley
I love Nashville. There are so many things I love about it. Sad songs, singing cowboys, 80 per cent of the population wearing boots all year round, endless coffee shops where no matter how bad your hangover or what you did the night before, the work ethic and the coffee is so strong that you meet your writing partner and you write songs about heartbreak, boots, or what you did the night before.
In Nashville there’s a weird spontaneity and brazenness that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the planet. There’s a really easy way of life without self-consciousness. Several celebrities relocated there because no one notices them. No one cares. Not in a disrespectful way, but the opposite
Since the celebrities started communing there – Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban, Sheryl Crow, Jack White – the restaurants all over Nashville have upped their ante. Places like The Whiskey Kitchen and Burger Up do high quality farm to table food – meaning they can practically rear the cow, give it its lunch every day before it became lunch.
Fresh, tasty, and on trend. Nashville is full of these sorts of places. Some of them even feature in the show Nashville where you glimpse the cosy chic.
Beyond all of these places is one amazing standout. It’s called the Watermark and it’s in the Gulch area – where a lot of new nightlife and eateries have sprung up.
The barman at the Hermitage Hotel – the best in the city – helped us with this choice. He told us that it was his hands down favourite and talked dreamily of the quality of the food and the deliciousness of the execution.
So the Watermark is where we went for our first big dinner in Nashville. There’s a cocktail bar downstairs and upstairs there’s a lovely outside patio and inside its modern and clean designs are inviting.
The menu was amazing. The appetizers included.
Heirloom yellow tomato gazpacho with Tennessee goat’s cheese.
Pan-seared diver scallops with buttered yu choy and roasted cashews in a Chardonnay and ginger reduction scented with yuzu.
Gulf shrimp ravioli with garden sage butter.
American blue crab cakes and wild shrimp galette with saffron whipped potatoes.
We went for the Gulf shrimp and crab cakes which were heavenly delicious – subtle and heavenly exquisite, flavours that had never been in my mouth before.
We had cocktails made especially for us involving tequila or vodka because we deemed the ones on the cocktail list too whiskey based and too masculine.
The waiter told us that Reba McIntyre usually sits at the table we had. We realised it was a starry place. We saw the chef Bob Waggoner in his chef whites sitting at a table of blondes, being the life and soul. His look is larger than life and his smile is wider than his life.
He also has a TV show – Sing For Your Supper With Bob Waggoner – an extraordinary combination that’s a cross between X Factor and Masterchef.
I had ordered a main course without bacon. It arrived with bacon. That single smoky strip was to change everything that night.
I sent it back and my friend Caroline didn’t want to look at her food while I sat with an empty for the situation to be reversed when my food was redelivered. The chef honed into view. ‘Empty plates. That can’t be good.’
I told him that if he paid more attention to his bacon and less to the group of blondes we might be happier. He immediately went to recook the delicious diver scallops personally, but that wasn’t the end of it.
The group of blondes turned out to be members of the cast of Nashville and the one brunette a new country singing star. He invited us to drink with him afterwards. Then to cross the road to the Station Inn to see some exclusive yodelling and fiddle playing. He explained that they only served beer over the road so we would take our own bottle of red and prosecco.
After that closed we came back for a lock-in at his own bar. By this time Sylvia Jefferies, who played Hayden Pannetiere’s drug rehab mother, was my new best friend. It turns out she’d known Bob from his very first restaurant before he went off to France to hone his fusion of Southern and French cuisine.
Sylvia and I wrote a song together called Unreliable Jeans. She sent me the lyrics of it the next day and I was impressed how articulate people who’ve had lots of prosecco could be.
Sylvia is amazing company and a brilliant actress. Bob is a genius in so many ways. He turned an evening around. He made my complaining about bacon into a full force fantastic event.
The next time I visited Nashville it was with other friends. One of them had a birthday. Bob made him a surprise cake of chocolaty gorgeousness. And then we proceeded to have every dessert on the menu: The dark chocolate flowerless cake was an intense delight. The buttermilk panna cotta with rhubarb compote was so gorgeously wobbly, possible the best panna cotta ever.
Desserts are $9. Appetisers from $10. Mains from $26.
The mains are a perfect example of old school meets new. Tennessee creamed corn comes with a jus of local chanterelles. Venison comes with blackberry and walnuts in a port rosemary glaze. Hickory grilled local lamb comes with local squash in a caper and garden thyme jus.The portions are large and hearty. The menu and the restaurant are stuffed with delights. There’s a sense of wonderment and craziness all around and the waiting staff know how to have fun and extraordinarily, be funny. Which makes Watermark essentially loveable.
* Watermark, 507 12th Avenue South, Nashville, Tennessee. Tel: 001-615-254-2000.