September 18, 2014
Now this I like the sound of. Leicester’s Parcel Yard is showing signs of moving beyond it’s initial offering of great craft beers and not bad pub grub towards something more ambitious. In early October is staging a “seasonal local feast” with appetising food and drink from within 30 miles.
At £25 a head for an aperitif and three courses with matching drinks and this sounds a proper deal, at least if the chefs are up to it. Things kick off with a Two Birds gin and tonic, distilled in Market Harborough. First course is a salad of partridge, blackberries and Colston Bassett stilton, with a glass of Fynbury cider from Rutland, followed by a Cottingham venison stew with a glass of Steamin’ Billy’s own 1485 ale, and then Hedegrow crumble with a glass of Brewster’s APA, brewed in Grantham by CAMRA favourite Sarah Barton.
The event runs on Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th October. For full details book through the website or call the pub on 0116 261 9301.
September 10, 2014
Good to see some food activity around St Martin’s Square in Leicester. Newly opened in what was once a hip clothes store is Gelato Village, an independent business offering “artisan gelato” – two words some will find tiresomely modish. But as far as I can tell, Gelato Village seems the real deal in term of offering genuine gelato (basically a slightly lower-fat, softer textured Italian-style ice-cream), that is hand made on the premises (you can see in the kitchen) and uses fruit from Leicester Market for its sorbets. There’s no artificial colourings, flavourings or preservatives and a refreshing absence of gimmicky flavours.
You can try up to three flavours in any one of three sizes. I found the tiramisu maybe a little bland, but the Bonet – named after the famous Piedmontese desert with chocolate, amaretti biscuits, caramel and rum – and the sour cherry ripple were superb. It’s a proper treat, no mistake, and I hope they find people will eat good quality gelato all year round.
I note also that a new fine food deli is set to open in the square – don’t know anything more about it and it looks a few weeks off yet.
All this comes on top of St Martin’s Tea and Coffee seeming to be doing well after it’s transition from cookshop and to fully-fledged café and coffee roaster. It’s got a good vibe going there and I had a great doorstop sandwich last week with soft, pillowy bread and a feisty fennel salami filling. In addition Mrs Bridges continues to offer probably the best café food in the whole city – my brunch the other day of duck leg confit hash on sourdough toast was simply gorgeous.
September 4, 2014
It may only be September, but already we have been given the 2015 County Dining Pubs of the Year from the Good Pub Guide. No great surprises locally, with the Red Lion at Stathern winning the laurels for Leicestershire and Rutland – its sister pub The Olive Branch, last year won the overall national pub of the year title.
Many congrats to them and to The Martin’s Arms, just over the border in Colston Basset which won the Nottinghamshire award for the fourth year in a row. Head chef is Bradley Bickerton, who used to work at Watson’s and – if memory serves – The Opera House in Leicester, as well Nottingham venues Tonic and the Nottingham Contemporary. I know Bradley’s mum and have followed his career since he was a relatively humble pastry chef, so it’s great to see him doing so well.
I’ve not been, but Brad says he’s trying to push the level a bit a further still. The style is modern European with occasional nods to current trends such as American smokehouse and fusion. Off the current menu I’d go for Vale of Belvoir pigeon with Scottish girolles and pickled wild plums, Moroccan lamb rump with chickpea tagine and who could resist this doughnut peach cheesecake?:
I don’t know where that American ambassador who’s gone home complaining we only eat “lamb and potatoes” was dining, but he should have got out a bit more.
September 2, 2014
One for wine lovers here – Maiyango has pulled off a bit of a coup by getting Ralph Hochar, a scion of the family behind legendary Lebanon label Chateau Musar, to host a tasting and dinner at the restaurant on 17th September. There will be a six course tasting menu, paired with wines from Musar, at £65 a head. Booking details here
August 22, 2014
I had a good sit down last week with Phil Sharpe, tousled-haired supremo of the White Peacock on New Walk. We had a long chat about his approach to getting involved with local producers and local community groups for a piece for Great Food Club.
We also touched on some interesting aspects of menu development. I visited a couple of times when it first opened and found the restaurant delightful and the food to be beautifully cooked and presented, but lacking a bit of adventure. Flavours were all a bit muted. Phil more or less admitted he played it a bit safe to begin with – he had no day off between finishing his head chef role at Maiyango and opening his own place and so maybe dish development got a little lost in getting everything else sorted.
Some eight months down the line and the reins are starting to be loosened. He sets monthly menus and gives his team a challenge to change and develop dishes over three months, encouraging everyone to look at the strengths of a dish and the potential to refine or develop it.
“We’re also trying out the molecular approach, and our customers definitely welcome us being more creative,” said Phil. “We produced a deconstructed mozzarella tart starter with caramelised onion ice-cream and basil powder – it’s been flying out the kitchen. More popular than scallops even.”
At weekend’s Phil reckons 50 per cent of his customers go for the eight-course tasting menu at £45 which currently takes in the likes of goat’s cheese mousse, kalamata olive crisp, pickled beetroot, pine nut dressing and roasted woodpigeon with apple and stilton risotto, port and blueberry jus,.
It’s good to be reminded that Leicester city centre does offer adventurous cooking and that there’s a market for it. Probably time to give it another go.
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 Citra.
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.
Having 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.
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
August 5, 2014
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.
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.
August 3, 2014
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.
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.
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.