Eye on the prizes

August 13, 2014

A very quick post offering congratulations to a couple of local producers. Firstly, Oakham Ales (a Peterborough-based brewery now but one I still think of as local, not least because I often drink their beers in my local bar Babelas) have come second in overall search for the UK’s Supreme Champion Beer at Camra’s Great British Beer Festival with their pale, refreshing, grapefruity ale Citra200citra.

This beer single-handedly turned my mate from a lager-lover into an ale-admirer. It’s a great transitional beer for those looking for hoppier flavours but put off by darker beers.

And then there’s another success for Archer’s Butchers on Queen’s Rd (whose owner Sean – below – can on the odd occasion be found in the bar mentioned above). His hugely popular biltong won a Gold Star in the Great Taste Awards announced this week.

IMG_0666Having a very quick look at the awards, there was more local success in the form of  a coveted three Gold Star rating for Northfield Farm’s 21-day aged mutton and single stars for their merguez and pork and herb sausages and for Woodhouse Farm’s Tamworth sausages. A couple of Long Clawson cheeses also picked up awards.

 

Great Food Club

August 8, 2014

Many, maybe most, readers will know about Great Food Club. It’s a great initiative for the East Midlands, providing a great source of information about the region’s best independent restaurants, cafes and food producers and supplying handy discounts too. Founder Matt Wright, for whom I do the odd bit of writing, has produced a short (74 second!) film that explains what it’s all about.  Membership is free so if you’ve not yet joined, have a listen to Matt and see what you think.

 

You can also find out more at www.greatfoodclub.co.uk

You may remember a few months back my enthusiastic review of Loughborough pizzeria “Peter and that’s enough” (and I’ve heard plenty of excellent feedback since).  At the time it seemed they were close to getting premises for a Leicester branch in Clarendon Park. While access and other problems scuppered that, it seems that they have now secured premises in Leicester – and it’s the magnificent Welford Place.

Herb forests adorn the communal table at Peter and that's enough

Herb forests adorn the communal table at Peter and that’s enough

This former Gentlemen’s Club (from a time before the phrase had seedy connotations) was home  in 1990s to a lovely restaurant run by Sarah and Lino Poli. It was a great loss to the city when they retreated out to Kibworth to open Firenze (now seafood restaurant The Lighthouse) and later Boboli.   I have particularly fond memories of the venue and being best man at my pal’s wedding there. We serenaded the happy couple with a version of Cotton Eye Joe, led by Leicester music legend Kevin Hewick.

I digress. But I reckon the restaurant has every chance of being more successful than the marriage turned out to be. It may be four or five months before they open,  but if they stick to the formula that has made Loughbrough such a success – simplicity, authenticity, quality, fun, value – it will be worth the wait.

 

I caught up with Maiyango founder Aatin Anadkat on Friday  and had an interesting chat about new developments for the business.

With the Jubilee Square development finally nearing completion and the Richard III visitor centre opening around the corner last week, Aatin recognised there was an opportunity here for the restaurant and boutique hotel business to have a bit of a rethink. Over the last nine years the fine dining restaurant has developed into one of the city’s best, but there’s a limited lunchtime market for a smart restaurant. With a bustling new public square right outside the front door the time was right to develop a more informal all-day breakfast and lunch menu that could appeal to tourists, shoppers, serious lunchers and hotel residents alike.

Atin Anadkat at Maiyango

Aatin Anadkat at Maiyango

So the first step was to abandon the traditional buffet breakfast served upstairs in the hotel and create a funky brunch approach that is open to all and served in the restaurant.  Aatin was inspired by informal, quirky diners sprouting up in areas of London such as Kings Cross and Smithfield – “all that over complicated, pretentious stuff – that’s gone!”.

One look at the breakfast/brunch menu – which runs until 2pm – and you can see that this stands a good chance of sweeping up a big chunk of the city centre’s  breakfast market. Standing out immediately for me was huevos rancheros – jalapeno and tomato compote, fried eggs, tortilla, sour cream refried bread and chorizo. I secretly snuck back on Sunday morning to give this a try but they’d sold out  – disappointing, but at least suggests a freshness in preparation (I wonder how often they run of things at Coast to Coast). Instead I had Maiyango Benedict, a beautiful prepared version featuring lip-tingling jalapeno cornbread, poached free-range eggs, two hefty tranches of ham with  creamy hollandaise given a little sharpness from, I think, gherkin. Very good indeed. There’s also, of course, the full English, a vegetarian version with grilled asparagus, slow roasted tomato, flat mushroom, sautéed sweet potato and eggs, plus healthy options such as organic granola or a fruit board with water melon, pineapple, seasonal berries, greek yoghurt, blossom honey and fresh mint leaves. There’s also choices of smoothies and pastries from the in-house bakery.

The lunch menu, available until 5pm, reflects the international cast of the restaurant’s evening menus, with the likes of an Asian tasting plate with sweet potato and coriander bhaji, tandoori paneer skewer, moong lentil dahl, squash and spinach samosa, and kohlrabi and shallot pakora. Then there’s small plates such as sticky pulled pork with kimchi flat bread and celeriac slaw. The more substantial lunches include Moroccan lamb burger, spiced root vegetable fries and slaw, or lemon grass and chilli infused salmon with coconut and basil broth.

Prices? More than nearby Wetherspoons for sure, but that’s hardly the point. This is quality stuff and you could have a light lunch and drink for around a tenner or a bit of a blowout for £20.

With other tweaks, such as the reintroduction of draught beer (including Freedom lager), I think there’s a compelling case for now considering Maiyango as a classy daytime cafe as well as a stylish destination dining venue.

Eating at Highcross

June 27, 2014

If you’re in Highcross this weekend and looking for a bite to eat, I think I’d head off to an independent café or restaurant. However, if you’ve always wanted to try one or other of the chains there, this could be the time.  The centre’s Summerdine promotion sees tastings, freebies with a foodie bingo game and discounts such as 25 per cent off food at Pizza Express and 20 per cent off at Nando’s, Yo Sushi and Coast to Coast. Visit the website for details.

Next Monday also sees the opening of Red Hot Buffet, which at £2 million is possibly the biggest ever single investment in a Leicester restaurant. It’s located on the corner of the High Street and the Shire’s Lane entrance to Highcross, where the late, unlamented Litten Tree pub once was. I remember this business when it was first set up in Nottingham, and this branch is the first to open since serial restaurant entrepreneur Luke Johnson’s Risk Capital Partners (oh the romance!) bought the business. It’s great that people want to invest in Leicester and that 70 people now have jobs serving the 420 covers, but this all-you-can-eat Italian, American, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and British restaurant will need to be a lot better  – an awful lot better – than its counterparts I have visited in Leicester if it is to tempt me in.  Actually I think it probably will be.

I hope people like it, but most of all I hope that its effect is to draw in more potential diners to the city centre, rather than to hoover up all business. Dinner with a large glass of wine on Friday night is £20 – cheap, but of course it’s only a bargain if it’s any good.

Also coming soon to Highcross is Byron, the upscale burger joint beloved of George Osborne (but I won’t hold that against it), Chimichanga – which served meh-Mexican food on Silver Street for a couple of years, Stone Baked Pizza and the Australian juice bar Boost.

 

 

 

Grainstore Brewery Tour

June 10, 2014

Many of my pals could not organise a piss-up in a brewery. Fortunately Jamie is not one of them – and he did the honours by getting us all out to Rutland’s Grainstore Brewery, a handy 10 yard stagger from Oakham Station.

BeerThis was a perfect way to spend one of those awkward post-season, pre-World Cup Saturdays when you’re really not sure what to do, but you’re definitely not going to Highcross. Grainstore put on a range of tours – we went for the full monty which, for £20 involves a little film, a comprehensive tour of the building and introduction to the brewing process, a tutored tasting, an excellent ploughman’s lunch and, oh, yes, two hours free beer.

Grainstore is a kind of in-between business, bigger than the new breed of micro-breweries, but still tiny on a national scale. Located in a fine old Victorian building it still has the basic layout of an old tower brewery and an engaging feeling of an overgrown brewpub mixing modern equipment with bodge-ups.

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Our tour guide Iain was a lovely host, even if some of his jokes had a well-worn feel about them. He was funny, well-informed and exhaustive, and it was pitched well for the beer enthusiast. I came away with a greatly enhanced view of what goes into making a pint. What was particularly pleasing was to see how the “waste” products such as spent grains and excess yeast get put back into the food chain with other leading local food producers such as Northfield Farm, Hambleton Farms and Hambleton Bakery.

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Grainstore has around 10 ales, around six of which were available for us on the day. I liked them all but found a relatively narrow flavour palette – there was strong family resemblance from the dark Rutland Panther through the hefty 1050 bitter, the session ale Cooking, and the lighter Gold. They went down very well with a ploughman’s featuring local stilton and red Leicester, bread from Melton Mowbray, pickles from the allotmments over the rail line, and of course, pork pie.

So if that sounds like your thing  – highly recommended.

 

 

 

I received invitations from friends to both lunch and dinner at the Queen of Bradgate yesterday. Given the relative rarity of such events, I accepted them both.

And I was glad I did, because the food was without exception well-cooked, nicely presented and full of flavour. My lunchtime chilli wouldn’t have done much for the hard-core heat addict, but the slow cooked beef shin was really tender and tasty, coming with zingy guacamole and rich, thick sour cream. Emma’s ham hock and gruyere fritters were well-cooked and flavoursome too, though the main course portion probably need more than the  slight puddle of mustard sauce.

chicken, ham, leek

In the evening  a bigger group of us tucked into the likes of a hefty chicken, ham and leek pie and a beautifully seasoned pork chop cooked with apples, saute potatoes and a light cider sauce. It might sound like the bulky, comfort food of “pub grub” infamy, but these were well-made dishes done with a light touch and a real regard for a balanced plate.  The vegetarian option on the printed menu was perfunctory, but a conversation with staff soon rustled a  couple of further options and those who chose the pasta with asparagus and spring vegetables seemed absolutely delighted with their offering.

lemon bakewellDeserts too were traditional but done with a touch of quality. My pain au chocolat bread and butter pudding was exactly what you’d want when ordering such a dish, while the lemon curd bakewell was another success.

It’s not food that pushes boundaries  then – it’s just really nice, well-prepared food that cares about the diner. It’s very much in launch mode right now  – they are still trying to work out issues such as how to balance the music in the drinking areas and the dining area, and staff were, let’s say, keen rather polished. All in all,  a welcome addition to eating and drinking scene in the city centre and one that has obliterated the memory of its previous incarnation.

(Thanks to Mike for the pictures).

 

 

 

The Queen of Bradgate

May 21, 2014

Excellent news about The Queen of Bradgate. One of a pair of very low rent megaboozers that opened on the edge of the Shires/Highcross development and quickly shut because, well, they were horrible and they were 20 yards from a Wetherspoons. Since then the pair have really stunk out one end of High Street, so it’s marvellous to find the new operators are Moleface, who operate several good pubs in Nottingham including the Larwood and Voce at Trent Bridge.

Have a look at the website and you get the idea. Not groundbreaking but tasty sounding  food that will keep the neighbouring Orange Tree on its toes (though I’m sure there’s space for both). There’s a decent selection of beers too from the likes of Freedom and Meantime Breweries and, locally, Castle Rock and Oakham plus a selection of Belgian and other bottled beers bottles.  I like it that are not calling themselves “fine food evangelists”, just people who like to have good time – when Peach Pub’s The Almanack flounced out of town last year it told us we weren’t ready for a gastropub as cool as them.  Well, we will  see. There were things I liked about the Almanack – I think the new Queen of Bradgate could replicate that and offer more besides.

It’s set to open any day.

Smokehouse here to stay

April 29, 2014

Sorry about the radio silence all – hope to get my blogging mojo back soon. One quick piece of good news today  – the Smokehouse at the O Bar (which  I’ve written about enthusiastically a couple of times now) is to become a permanent fixture. “Customers have really voted with their feet, so we’ve opted to keep the Smokehouse open,” said Orange Tree Group director Ben Hings.

Congratulations then to chef Liam Watson who has developed the American barbecue concept over two periods as a pop-up. He and his new sous will also be taking their smoker out to a number of events this summer, starting with the Westival street music festival around Braunstone gate this coming weekend and the Summer Food and Drink Festival at the Leicester market on  25 may.

Those of you have been enjoying the Smokehouse pop-up might also be attracted to a special Rib Nights event being held on 3 May at The Parcel Yard. Based on US-style cook-offs between barbecue teams this event will see Miss Piggy’s versus the Barbecue Barons.  Miss Piggy’s (run by Scott and Lyndsey Lane from Hugglescote in the Deep South of, erm, Coalville) are regulars on the US competition circuit and are keen to build a scene here too.  There have already been successful events run in Birmingham.

The format of the evening is simply the teams setting up their grills and diners getting ribs from each competitor, plus sides including fries, slaw and bread plus a Pickleback cocktail (whisky and pickle brine apparently). There’s a DJ and close-up magician on hand to build up the atmosphere too and diners will choose the winner on a blinding tasting basis.

It all sounds fun (but note over 18s only and no veggie options). Tickets are £20 plus a booking fee and can be ordered here.

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