April 25, 2013
When I’ve asked people about the food at Las Iguanas I’d say the most common response is “lovely - about as good as you get from a big chain”, followed by a fair number who say “yeah its ok”, and then you get the odd “pretty poor really”.
I’d say those verdicts were reproduced in fairly close proportion on my recent visit to taste their revised summer menu.
First of all I’ll say I’ve always admired the way the place is run. Its schtick is all latin fiesta, and they genuinely do create a relaxed party atmosphere. If you really need a quick-start to the weekend go down at 6 on a Friday and have a couple of cocktails and some small plates and it will definitely lift the mood. Similarly whenever I’ve been there for one of those big shambling office parties, the staff have coped admirably. I like the space too – it’s a pleasant place to be.
So how did the food stack up this time? I started with lechuga rellenos, more prosaically stuffed lettuce leaves. This was excellent – fiery hot chipotle chicken pieces in curls of Little Gem dressed with sour cream, feta. pickled onion slices and tomatoes, with additional flavour from a herby chimchurri drizzle and a very, very good beetroot salsa. This was a great combination of lively flavours and I reckon you’d have been happy to get it in a little backstreet restaurant in [central American country of choice]. Not sure that Kevin’s fish taco quote warranted its soubriquet ”Spectacular” but it had many of the virtues of my dish – being well cooked fish fillets, a good mix of flavours and generally having the aura of happy food.
For me the mood was dispelled rather by my main course of Henrique Rapadura. This was lamb henry, a shoulder cut for slow cooking, in a “sweet and sticky” cane sugar, soy, mint, guajillo chilli and star anise sauce. Sadly the sauce failed to fire – none of those flavours were really discernible and it resembled one of those bottled sauces you buy in case of barbecue weather and then wish you’d made your own. Worse, the lamb was pretty tough and of only average flavour. The sauted potatoes and beetroot salad were fine. Kevin’s feijoada was more successful. It didn’t quite have the brooding quality of my Brazilian friend Elie’s, but it was an honorable version – a slow cooked stew of beef, smoked pork shoulder and chorizo with red pepper and beans, it’s not for the faint-hearted but was nicely smoky and flavoursome and well presented.
Deserts included a dulce de leche and macademia cheesecake, which was all fine and dandy, and an affogato which was almost, but not quite. Possibly the prinicpal appeal of this ice-cream-in-coffee is the interplay of hot and cold, so its got to be served quickly. Maybe it’s just because we were sitting a fair way from the kitchen in what is a big restaurant, but they missed the window of opportunity wit this one. The dulce de leche ice cream was great and if the spiced rum espresso had still been hot it would have a real treat. The cinnamon-dusted churros for dipping were great.
Staff – lovely, friendly and helpful. Atmosphere – even on a Monday, nicely upbeat. Drinks – fantastic. Food – in the main, very acceptable but you may need to be order carefully.
March 15, 2013
“Fancy trying that new Turkish place on Narborough Road?” asks Cockney Rob. “Looks like the places in Dalston”.
Being a South Londoner by extraction the food cultures of the East End are a bit of a mystery to me, but Cockney Rob knows and enjoys his food and something tells me the Turkish restaurants in Dalston are good ones. So yes, I did fancy trying.
The North end of Narborough Road is a fascinating place which seems to pulse with every new shift in the complex ethnic and cultural jigsaw of our city. In recent years it’s been Eastern Europeans who have made the running. In recent months it seems the Turkish community has reached lift-off, and now in the space of a few yards we’ve got a first class cafe which I’ve lauded here several times, in the shape of Yesim, and now two proper grill restaurants - Istanbul and Sultan.
We tried Sultan, by the Hinckley Rd junction, next to what sadly is probably best known as “the bomb site”. Approaching it the signs were good – it was busy and bright and there was the most wonderful smoky, barbecue grill aroma wafting into the street. If it hadn’t have been for the bitter March weather you could have been walking by the Bosphurus not the Soar [not really, obviously, but you take my point]. It’s not licensed but the sweetly fragrant Turkish tea we’re offered sets a mood. There’s a satisfying buzz around the place – a couple of big groups, some families, some couples and it’s the kind of kaleidoscopically diverse clientele that would give Nick Griffin nightmares (that’s if he can sleep at night). Me, Cockney Rob and ermm, let’s call him Countesthorpe Mikey, get stuck into a selection of six meze – and they are all rather wonderful. Beautifully dressed sharp and tangy feta cheese and a sweetly delicious aubergine and pepper stew were my highlights, but there was also really well-made hummous, dolmades, cacik and potato salad. The warm sesame bread was so good we ordered more.
The mains are mainly kebabs – nothing too fancy here, grilled and spiced meats with rice – or chips - and a nice fresh, colourful, crunchy salad. Mikey had skewers of garlicky minced chicken beyti, I had the lamb beyti, and Rob the yoghurtlu adana kofte. The later came on chunks of bread which were delicously soggy with yoghurt and sauce, which for us was a shame because we’d earlier over-indulged with bread. We also had a side of really great chargilled onions in a slightly sweet and sour dressing.
I’ve had several friends return from visits to Istanbul recently and all have enthused about the friendliness of the Turks and the welcome and service here was lovely – informal but friendly and attentive. It’s not fine dining, but it is good quality, enjoyable food served in a quite stylish room to what seemed an enthusiastic clientele and at perfectly reasonable prices.
Good to know that when the tourists from Dalston arrive to see our King from the Car Park, they’ll be able to eat as well as at home.
March 14, 2013
Being the sharp-eyed,media-savvy, hip to the trend kind of readers you are, I suspect you may have noticed that baking has become somewhat fashionable. Given that Leicestershire and Rutland is already home to Britain’s Best Bakery in the shape of Hambleton, I thought I’d respond to a request for help with nominations for Britain’s “Great Cake Places”. To go with a forthcoming guidebook, publishers Allegra are looking for recommendations of places with great cake and patisserie, espcially where there’s an “enchanting or intriguing” location.
If you’ve got somewhere you want to big up, go to www.greatcakeplaces.com and do their survey. You can also engage in alll that twitter and facebook malarky to chat with others. Having a quick think, places I’ve had good cake recently include – Miss B’s in Melton Mowbray, Yesim on Narborough Road (heavenly baklava), Dominic’s at David North in Rothley, Fingerprints on Queen’s Rd, Johanna’s in Oakham, Wistow Mediterranean deli (more baklava – there’s a theme emerging here), Elizabeth’s patisserie (at various farmer’s markets). I’m sure there a few good candidates I’ve missed …
March 1, 2013
Earlier this week Leicestershire brewers and pub company Steamin’ Billy opened their seventh pub, this time right in the heart of Leicester. The Parcel Yard had actually been run by them for a good few years as Time, a large cocktail bar right next to the rail station drawing a young crowd. Now though they’ve shifted it into a more mainstream pub approach. It’s a big old barn of a place but the refurb has done a good job of softening the edges and making it that bit more comfortable and more food-oriented, with a range of areas including high bar stools, booths for four or six and a more restauranty area down the far end.
Big venue, named after a building’s previous use, real ales, pub food, loyalty cards - the comparisons to Wetherspoon’s mount up, but this is pitched a fair bit higher than that highly successful megachain. I had a really good club sandwich – huge pieces of chargrilled chicken breast, nice crispy bacon, and a pile of perfect fat chips. Not dainty, refined – well you wouldn’t really expect it of a club sandwich – but good enough to make me think I might risk going for one of the main courses such as coq au vin or confit duck (around a tenner) on another occasion. Maybe not a big meal out occasion, but certainly an informal something nice before or after the match occasion.
It’s also great to have a good pub right by the station. The Sheffield Tap at Sheffield station, opened in collaboration with Thornbridge, has been a great success as a destination beer pub. I could only see three of Steamin’ Billy’s own real ales behind the bar but you’d hope that range will expand in due course. A nice way to mark your arrival or departure from the city anyway.
February 10, 2013
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young Midlands chef with big ambition and talent to match is likely to pitch up in London. Fortunately for the rest of us there comes a time when they’ve had enough of the pressure cooker and look to return home. Sometimes it’s because they want a more human place to bring up a family, or maybe they just compare the costs of setting up a restuarant in Mayfair or taking over a pub in Leicestershire. I think of Brian Baker at the Marquess of Exeter, Dameon Clarke at the Wicked Witch and Adam Grey at The Red Lion in East Haddon as among the local boys who’ve returned from ostensibly more glamourous careers.
- News now reaches me of another wanderer returned. Rugby lad Rory McClean has spells with Angela Hartnett at the Connaught, Jason Atherton at Pollen Street Social and Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley on his CV, but has now taken over the White Swan at Shawell, just south of Lutterworth. The 17th century pub has been renovated inside and out and looks modern and smart with lots of light oak, comfy sofas and so on.
There’s an all day pub food menu with the likes of rabbit scotch egg, chorizo arrancini and venison burger, and then a proper a la carte menu in the evening. This looks rather attractive with starters such as Orkney scallops with egg,peas and bacon and mains including suckling pig with black pudding, apple and cider and roast Northfield Farm duck with lentils.There’s a great looking winelist and Leicestershire real ales from Dow Bridge of Catthorpe are on offer. It’s not been open long and I’ve not seen any reviews but everything looks promising. Good luck and welcome home Rory.
February 5, 2013
At 2pm on a Saturday I’m generally twitching with nerves with the build up to City’s next tilt at joining the monstrous Premiership circus. If you are somewhat more relaxed, you might like to consider popping down to Chutney Ivy over the next three Saturdays for a comedy cooking event. The Halford St restaurant is sort of rebranded as Dave’s Curry House for the duration of the Leicester Comedy Festival and on three Saturday afternoons hosts cook-offs between pairs of comedians under direction of manager Shaf Islam.
The events are free but ticketed and kick-off is 2pm. You can book and see full details here.
Should be worth it just to see how the comics manage to shoehorn a Richard III/carpark reference into the cooking of a curry. Speaking of which, Richard Buckley (I know you are out there) – many congratulations. We’re very proud of you.
And one more thing, congratulations also to Jaimon Thomas of Kayal, who has now opened the fourth branch of the Keralan restaurant and the first in that there South. The new branch is in West Byfleet, a few yards off the M25 near Woking.
January 21, 2013
Interesting news coming out of Leicester’s West End. Entropy – high-performing, Slow Food loving, rare breed cooking, all-round nice guys – is up for sale. It’s not closing yet – and as far I’m aware it continues to trade successfully – but has more to do with chef patron Tom Cockerill’s desire to get back to the countryside. He’s not letting on whether he’s actually found a venue but I do remember conversations with him when he expressed a desire to open a restaurant or food-led pub in the relatively under-served countryside between the Eastern edge of the city and the Rutland border. If that’s the case, it would be a really exciting development for those of us in that catchment area. He says wherever it is, it will use the Entropy model of “relaxed informal dining using amazing Leicestershire produce”.
It’s a bit of body-blow for the West End, Entropy was one of the earliest and the best venues that sparked the regeneration of that area. But maybe a quality operator will want to take on and extend Tom’s leagcy. If that’s you, contact James Philips at APB on 0116 254 0832.
January 6, 2013
Leicester-based readers will probably have worked out for themselves that Mrs Bridges Tearooms on Loseby Lane is a cut above your average cafe. But nonetheless it’s worth reminding people that it really is rather good.
Forget about the cutesy name – this is a food-led place, staffed with proper chefs who have a real interest in flavour and quality. It’s not exactly the most comfortable place, small tables in a cramped environment, but it should definitely be high on your list of places for a lunch, brunch, takeaway sandwich or just a cup of tea. I had a very good pot of Assam today, with a sandwich of hot pork, layered with salty feta cheese, fresh spinach and beetroot ketchup. Inspired matchings these and served on really excellent crusty sourdough bread.
Sandwiches are highly recommended then, but look out too for their set lunch dishes which change monthly and might include genuine iberico ham with a crispy poached egg (lightly deep fried with a polenta crust), pork red wine and fennel ragu and a vegan-friendly almond milk ice-cream with crumbled brownie and home-made peanut butter.
January 5, 2013
I’d prepared this story for the January issue of Great Food (thanks Carolyn at Hambleton Hall), but as that’s not happening, you might as well get a version of it here:
Seven of the region’s top restaurants have once again joined together in a scheme to promote custom in the quiet days of January and February.
The Lunch for Even Less initiaitve is an ideal opportunity for a good lunch, and maybe in particular to try out a top restaurant you’ve not been to before. The precise details vary between venues but you can find two courses lunch deals for as little as £12.50. You will generally need to book in advance, mentioning the offer.
Look out for the flyer or you can see full details of the specific offers here
January 4, 2013
Happy New Year everybody. Sorry you’ve not heard from me for a while. I’ve rather fallen asleep at the wheel I’m afraid. The sad demise of the print version of Great Food has led to me being a little out of the loop and I’ve not been eating out much – just a regular early January visit to Kayal but you all know that is fantastic anyway (one tip though – if you see the Squid Pepper Fry on the specials board, order it!).
But interesting news for the new year is that the highly-regarded Firenze in Kibworth has rebranded itself as the Lighthouse and become a specialist fish restaurant. It’s still run by Sarah and Lino Poli who call it “a seafood restaurant and more ” and promise both British and Mediterranean classics from potted shrimp and fish and chips to lobster. They also say they will offer plenty for meat eaters and vegetarians.
Haven’t seen a full menu yet but I wish them all the best – if anyone fancies a trip out there, let me know