Mrs Bridges

November 26, 2014

I’m trying with my Leicester Mercury reviews to get around to a range of places in and out of the city and to cover a range of venues. I’ve written about Mrs Bridges tearooms before on this blog but I suspect it may not be fully appreciated elsewhere, hence: Mercury review – Mrs Bridges

Ascough’s

November 19, 2014

My Leicester Mercury review of Ascough’s in Market Harborough is now up online. It’s a really well-run place, that strikes a good balance between food that is done with a bit of style and pizzazz while staying appealing to a wide range of diners and, crucially,  good technique and solid flavours.

Ascough’s review

Kuru Kuru Sushi

November 18, 2014

One of the great joys for a restaurant lover is to visit a tiny, unprepossessing place you’ve probably walked past before and barely noticed, and discover it is doing completely wonderful food.

californiaSo today I share with you Kuru Kuru Sushi on Welford Road in Leicester city centre. I’m no expert on sushi – and my last visit to Yo! Sushi left me with no desire to go back  – but I was pleased to take up an invitation to join Chris from Crafty Burger and Andy from St Martin’s Tea and Coffee for lunch at this tiny kitchen opposite the doomed New Walk Centre.

It’s full with five of you in there, but that means we had a ringside seat as chef Shyiam created a series of fantastic dishes. Basically we had him as our personal chef for an hour. You can order set sushi variety boxes, set menus with main courses such as salmon teriyaki, tempura prawns or Java curry, or just order individual rolls, sushi and hot dishes.  We just asked chef to keep giving us highlights from the menu, with Chris putting in a couple of specific requests.

We started off with really tasty hot pumpkin croquette, then a divine soft shell crab roll with flying fish roe and avocado, California rolls with crabstick, avocado and mayo,  superfresh salmon sashimi, eel teriyaki, salmon minced up with Japanese chilli and rolled with tempura prawn, and a remarkable roll made with crispy salmon skin. I’ve probably missed a couple  – suffice to say from the rice to the seaweed wraps to the fish it was all umami-tastic. We ran up a bill of just over £20 a head but you could lunch handsomely for under a tenner.

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crab

Soft shell crab

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Crispy salmon skin hand roll

Eel teriyaki

Eel teriyaki

Now for the bad news. Chef Shyiam is off to Sri Lanka shortly and the restaurant will be shut during December. So either get down there quick, or make it a new year resolution to give it a try. It’s open lunch times and evenings until 10pm and they will deliver to homes and offices.

With Peter Pizzeria now confirmed as opening in nearby Welford Place on Valentine’s Day (below), a promising-looking Chinese snack café on Pocklington’s Walk, and the ever reliable Shivalli just a few yards further down Welford Road, it’s good to see a range of quality independents providing an alternative to Highcross.

Spelling might not be their strong point, but as long they can make pizza...

Spelling might not be their strong point, but as long as they can make pizza…

First the bad news.  The splendid Wicked Witch in Ryhall, near Stamford, closed this summer. Now the good news – it’s reopened this weekend with chef Dameon Clarke once again in charge. I know strictly speaking this is outside Leics and Rutland but I’ve written several times about Coalville-boy Dameon’s cooking and am pleased he’s got another chance to do his thing.

I don’t know the full story behind the closure – assume it was something to do with financial backers – but after a couple of months doing pub food at  the Exeter Arms in Easton on the Hill, he was offered the lease on his old pub back by the brewers Marston’s.

The menu looks to have all the appeal of his previous venues (Assiette, Collyweston Slater, Nick’s), combining flair and technique with feel-good food. The dinner menu is two courses for £19.95, three for £26.95, and the first iteration takes in starters such as cep velouté, crispy truffle risotto, quail egg and marinaded ceps or pan fried pigeon with pigeon scotch egg, cauliflower and curry. Mains include sage and onion crusted pork loin, quince, crackling, parsnip dauphinoise and pressed duck leg with crispy duck wings, spiced plums, and  star anise stuffed pak choi.

 

 

Friday wrap-up

November 14, 2014

A couple of quick things the. Don’t forget it’s Leicester ‘s Winter Food and Craft Festival at the Market on Sunday. Always a good opportunity to pick up something nice for Christmas and see what’s new – full details including stallholders here.

Secondly, congratulation to Phil and Charlotte at the White Peacock who are celebrating one year at their smart New Walk restaurant this week. I had a drink with them last night and it was great to see and hear their continuing enthusiasm and desire to constantly improve.

And commiserations to Sam Owen of 34 Windsor St, who was selected for this season of Masterchef The Professionals, but exited at the first stage this week. I can’t say I know his food inside out but I guessed he would either go a long way or crash and burn.  Word on the street is that he and Marcus Waring had a frank exchange of views, but sadly none of that made it to screen.

Finally a link to a  Mercury review of a restaurant where another Masterchef professional cooks – great to see ambition but this was an up and down experience. Sorry about the Mercury website – it’s an irritating mix of pop ups another invasive stuff, I understand if you prefer to buy the paper: Lilu

The Red Lion

November 6, 2014

Wailing and gnashing of teeth from the people of the Belvoir village of Stathern today with the news that the Red Lion has been put on the market. It’s a hugely successful pub, laden with accolades for its food and atmosphere, and recently done up too, but owners Sean Hope and Ben Jones have decided they want to focus on their other venue, the even more award-winning Olive Branch in Clipsham.

It’s got to be a great opportunity for some other ambitious business to pick up the reins, and Hope and Jones  say they are willing to work with the right people to keep it a high-performing food-focussed pub.

 

 

The Lighthouse, Kibworth

November 4, 2014

Bit delayed, but my recent review for the Leicester Mercury of The Lighthouse in Kibworth  is now online here. I hadn’t been since it rebranded to a specialist fish restaurant but having been to Firenze, Boboli and, back in the day, Welford Place, I was expecting it to be good, and it was.  By the way, the mackerel dish in the picture was our actual dish  – I don’t have really much contact with the Mercury and purely coincidentally the photographer turned up when we were eating there and we were the only diners in at the time (it was very busy an hour later), so our food got snapped on the pass.  The restaurant, I should stress, did not know I was reviewing.

For what is Harborough?

October 31, 2014

There’s a wonderful song by Half Man Half Biscuit that lists the qualities of the fenland town of Chatteris

“Three good butchers, two fine chandlers,
An indoor pool and a first class cake shop
Ofsted plaudits, the envy of the Fens
Prick barriers at both ends”

The pay-off is that without the presence of the songwriter’s beloved, these qualities are as nought:

“For what is Chatteris if you’re not there?
I may as well be in Ely or St Ives”

imagesAnyway, this poignant number was brought to mind yesterday as I walked around Market Harborough. Its food offering is really impressive for a town of its size – pump-primed of course by well-heeled London escapees and commuters. It’s got a very tidy indoor market with a decent butchers and fishmongers but also specialist Japanese, Spanish and Chinese food stalls.

Then out in the town itself there are numerous good delis, a respectable range of restaurants, a great butcher (Bates), and two top-rate craft bakers (Hambleton and The Garage). Duncan Murray Wines is an example to all independent retailers, there’s an intriguing new micropub, and  an excellent kitchenware shop. In Farndon Fields – a 20 minute walk from the town centre – it has possibly the county’s biggest and best farm shop. Interestingly the supermarkets – the cheap ones, the middling one and the posh one – are all grouped more or less together in a ghetto near the town centre, easily ignored if you want or suitable for a quick raid. (The crisis ridden, allegedly fraudulent one is out on the Eastern edge of town).

Anyway – if you don’t know the place and that sounds good, pay it a visit. If it doesn’t, you may as well be in Corby or Coalville.

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My review in this weekend’s Mercury featured Byron in The Highcross. As you’ll see, we liked it. A good burger is a thing of beauty and these are good, so…that’s it really. They live up to their mission to do a simple thing well and do it properly.  It’s not cheap – and the beer in particular is rather steep – but you will like it.

Byron review

 

A crafty move by the O Bar

October 17, 2014

WP_20141016_18_05_48_ProI was at the relaunch of The O Bar on Braunstone Gate last night – now re-engineered as a specialist craft beer bar. It’s an intriguing move in the context of Braunstone Gate, which spent the 90s as the hip end of town, but in the last decade has lost some of its distinctiveness.

The O Bar, the late-night bar of the Orange Tree group, started to reassert itself last year by using its upstairs as a pop-up American barbecue restaurant The Smokehouse. It turned out such a success it was made a permanent fixture, but that left the downstairs bar “not quite right” according to director Gareth Smith (some might know him as Pugsy). With people travelling from beyond the West End for the food, an improved drinks offer made sense too. Gareth credits his dynamic general manager Phil for the brave decision to go the whole hog and chuck out not only the Carling, but the Becks and the other big brands and go fully on craft beers – for sale in thirds and two-thirds – and real ales.

Along with this chef Liam from the Smokehouse upstairs is now providing a limited bar menu downstairs  – pulled pork buns, kielbasa hotdogs loaded with chilli, onions and mustard, hot wings, ribs and nachos. So far it’s mainly been supplying the overflow from the restaurant but there’s scope to attract non-diners who nonetheless fancy a bite as they sip those fancy beers.

O bar craft beers

Craft beer tasting at The O bar

It’s a brave move because no doubt some will alienated by the unfamiliar beers and, you can’t avoid it, the considerably higher prices. What can’t be denied is there are some really fantastic beers on sale. The sublime Jaipur many people will know all about, but there’s many more – The Capt Ruhstaler Black IPA, clocking in at a hefty 7.6 per cent, looks like a stout but explodes with bright citrussy flavours on the palate. Founder’s All Day IPA is a more quaffable 4.7 per cent but still packs a heavyweight hop punch. Look out too for the burnt-toffee dark lager from Freedom and the Helles and pale ale from the award-winning Sara Barton of Brewster’s in Grantham.

I certainly wish them all the best  – this distinctive independent offering is an important antidote to the safe familiarity on offer in most of the City Centre. And as Gareth said to me in relation to the bar scene:  “Leicester has tended be the poor relation of Nottingham – it’s up to the likes of us to try and address that.”

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