I am no great comedy fan. Some of the least enjoyable nights of my life have been spent cringing with embarrassment at car-crash gigs (I’m looking at you Josie Long!)

But I was intrigued by the sound of George Egg’s Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival show during which he prepares a three-course meal using only the items to be found in a hotel bedroom. And this was at the lovely surroundings of Upstairs at the Western  – a steeply-raked theatre space above the Western pub of maybe 50 seats that is run by an enthusiastic team of volunteers and puts on a regular programme of dram, spoken word and comedy (www.upstairsatthewestern.com).

The set-up is of the stand-up traipsing around the country and finding himself once again faced with grabbing a late-night kebab or trying to be inventive within the confines of a Premier Inn. It’s somewhere between a comedy gig and one of the cooking demonstrations you get at food festivals. Here though the chef has a confident line in banter, fleshed out with pleasantly surreal visuals such as a short film of painting marmite on twiglets.

The realisation dawns that yes this really is cookingon stage –  he really is buttering the hot plate of an iron and making pancakes on them. He also manages to fillet a sea bream and poach it in a kettle with a holder fashioned from bent clothes hangers, make a salsa verde with seasonings half-inched from an M&S café and crush some hazlenuts using a Gideon bible.

timthumb www.georgeegg.com

We got to taste afterwards and it was actually very tasty – Mr Egg seemed to be doing a good trade in selling his recipe cards too.

Not an awful lot of jokes, nor much of a narrative structure, but as an exploration of making the most of your surroundings this was a fun way to pass an hour. There’s no excuse for the continued employment of Tim Lovejoy on Sunday Brunch while George Egg is available. Well, there’s no excuse for the employment of Tim Lovejoy full stop but you get the idea.

Chettinad

January 20, 2016

My latest review for the Leicester Mercury:

I have written before about how London Road is thriving right now with a diverse and exciting range of independent restaurants. This particular venue at the top end near the Evington Road junction had been something of an exception, with a couple of unconvincing attempts at a buffet restaurant and a Turkish-style grill failing to lure in diners. Now though there’s an all togther different proposition in the shape of Chettinad, a South Indian focusing on the cuisine of Tamil Nadu.

This is a smart, welcoming place with an attractive frontage announcing it as a “South Indian Village Restaurant”. If that looks and sounds familiar that’s because this is from the same stable people who run Shivalli – the popular “Village Vegetarian” restaurant on Welford Road in the city. Chettinad though offers chicken, lamb and fish dishes as well as a fairly wide vegetarian offering including a range of dosas.

This is also the second branch branded as Chettinad, the first being in the heart of London just off Tottenham Court Road. The Sri Lankan co-owners of Shivalli had it seems been doing some property deals and rather than sell the London venue they thought they would try their own restaurant. It’s gone really well and with a sous chef keen to get the chance to head up his own kitchen, Leicester was chosen for the next one.

The menu will be familiar in some respects to the many who have enjoyed the Keralan food at Kayal but Tamil food has its own character. Can I describe the differences to you in precise detail? Afraid not. But I will say right away that all the food we had was vibrantly spiced, each dish distinctive and with plenty of fresh herbs and spices and liberal use of curry leaves, coconut, ginger and mustard seeds in particular.

We shared the mixed platter of starters and were impressed by every element. King fish fillets had taken their marinade well and were coasted in a crisp, spiced batter. Huge tiger prawns tasted fresh, well-cooked and again featured beautifully crisp coating. Chunks of Poricha Kolli – the popular street food snack from Chennai also known as Chicken 65 – were deeply moreish, with enough red chilli to get the forehead gently glowing. The aadu chukka was probably my favourite – a dry dish with lamb cubes cooked with red onions, black pepper, ginger, green chillies and a host of other fresh spices giving an intense flavour.

Service was excellent, with staff friendly and keen to offer advice and comment about the dishes – there was real enthusiasm on show.

After a suitable gap we hit the main courses. Lamb madras may seem like a British curry house staple where it is often just an indicator of relative chilli heat. But Madras – now known as Chennai – is the capital of Tamil Nadu and you hope a Tamil restaurant will do the dish the justice and this was another good dish. Deep in colour from red chilli it had a good range of salt, sweet and sour flavours coming through. Our other main was another lamb dish, the classic Chettinad curry here made with 23 different spices apparently. Lighter, milder than the madras, this still had a great complexity of flavour.

Simple steamed rice was very good, while possibly my favourite thing of the whole feast were the kallu dosa, or appam – soft pancakes made with soaked and fermented lentils and rice. These had remarkable tangy, almost citrussy, background notes and gave everything around them a lift.

A couple of vegetable sides added to the richness and variety of flavours on show including the ginger-rich Tamil aubergine curry kathrika ara kullambu, and a great lentil and spinach daal.

Against our better judgement we tried a dessert as they are by and large proper homemade offerings, not frozen ice-creams. Jaggery dosa was sweet with palm sugar, coconut and nuts – in truth my palate and appetite were both played out by now but worth investigating if you feel you have the space.

Distinctive food, well-trained service, fair pricing (the set lunch looks a real bargain) – Chettinad is certainly a welcome addition to the city’s diverse Indian restaurant scene.

I had a fascinating chat yesterday with Sangita Tryner, the woman behind the extraordinary Delilah’s deli in Nottingham, which is set to open its second branch in Leicester.

And we can start to get very excited. The new deli will be located with the old Irish Bank in St Martin’s, within an impressive banking hall which will enable the shop to replicate the formula which has made Nottingham so successful. So with the high ceilings there will be space for a mezzanine dining area which sit people close to some of the beautiful original features. The hall itself will stock an immense selection of cheeses, wines, charcuterie and other deli goods displayed in order to let customers get close to the produce.

I can’t say a lot more at this stage  but it was inspiring to hear Sangita talk about her confidence in Leicester and where it is going right now. Work on the building could start as early as next week, when the result of grant applications to protect some of the heritage features  of the building should be known. Then we are looking at an opening in April or May.

The closure of the Smokehouse on Braunstone Gate was a real sadness last year. But it is good to see that the Orange Tree group are continuing to experiment with their food offer, their latest innovation being a “Meet and Eat” event designed to conjure a supper club atmosphere within the Orange Tree on Leicester’s High Street,

The first event is on Wednesday 13 January and will then be  be quarterly  – or more often if they prove popular. They are designed to appeal to solo diners, groups of friends or couples, with tables will be arranged to encourage conversation. The menu for the first event includes starters of scallops with apple and ginger puree, braised cheeks with caremlised white onion terrine or butternut squash fritters with roast peanut sambal. Mains include flat-iron steak with chimchurri, roast monkfish with olives and mussels or wild mushroom fettucine. Desserts are cheeseboard, banana and mango samosas with passionfruit sorbet or chocolate, ricotta and hazelnut pavlova

Cost is  £25, thouh that includes a welcome drink.   Advanced booking and pre-ordering is required – contact the venue on 0116 223 5256.

Meet&Eat-Design-2

 

 

The Best of 2015

December 28, 2015

It’s been an exciting year for Leicestershire and Rutland restaurants, and I’ve been thinking back over some of the great food I’ve encountered this year. Here’s a sample of ten of my best culinary experiences of 2015 ,as done for the Leicester Mercury|:

1)St Martin’s Tea and Coffee, Leicester

This could have had three entries in the top ten. First off, the day-time cafe regularly features an epic sandwich – the Cuban has layers of marinated pork that chef Chris Elliman has slow-cooked overnight, along with more meat, cheese and pickles that combine in a remarkable way. Working alongside Elliman is Javan-born chef Bobby Ananta providing a South-East Asian slant on the menu, and his beef rendang was a complete revelation. Warmly-spiced slow-cooked meat that fell apart, plenty of toasted coconut and fresh salad spiked with lime juice. Finally, from Thursday to Saturday evening the venue hosts Crafty’s, serving up the best burgers in the county.

crafty10

2) Kayal, Leicester

It seems every week some celebrity chef turns up to learn from the Kayal crew, most recently it was Ainsley Harriot and, erm, Len Goodman filming there. It’s understandable as there is a long list of fine dishes on offer here along with some of the best service you’ll encounter. It’s hard to pick a favourite but I’m always knocked out by the Kottayam Egg Fry starter – an Easter special among Kerala’s Syriac Christian community and somewhat prosaically described here as a “batter-fried boiled egg with chutney”. It’s a beautifully tangy, vibrant curry that everyone should try.

3) The Berkeley Arms, Wymondham

I’d been wanting to get to this highly-rated country pub between Melton and Oakham for years and finally made it in the Spring. I wasn’t disappointed and stand-out dish was a braised leg of hare with poached pear and candied walnuts, a tremendous combination of flavours and texture.

4) The White Peacock, Leicester

Chef Phillip Sharpe has settled into his New Walk restaurant very comfortably and is producing elegant, fine food in sophisticated surroundings. A duck terrine from the tasting menu last Spring still lingers in the memory as combining great flavours with refined presentation. Wrapped in cabbage and made into a perfect cylinder, it was matched with charred brioche toast, a fruity mango salsa and little discs of crunchy radish.

5) 34 Windsor St, Burbage

A lively, swanky, welcoming fine dining restaurant that appears to be thriving with new head chef Arran Shaw. A long spell in Italy inspired Arran with the principles of the Slow Food movement and a respect for quality ingredients. That all came together in a marvellous starter of vibrant home-cured salmon with beer mustard and red and gold beetroot, plus a slice of remarkably complex Russian black bread – the result of several years recipe development.

7) John’s House, Mountsorrel

After a review last summer I speculated that the big national food guides might soon catch on to the remarkable food on offer here. A few months later it was granted Leicestershire’s first Michelin Star. I loved the domestic feel of John’s House and while all the dishes impressed with their focus on fabulous ingredients, it was the canapes served as we sat on the sofa pondering the menu that landed a memorable knock-out blow – a dreamy duck liver parfait served in a little cornet with a dash of sweet cumberland sauce and topped with a savoury crunch of chicken skin.

Duck liver parfait

8) Bewicke Arms, Hallaton

New owners and new chefs have at last turned this well-known country pub into a real destination for diners. Chefs Tom Cockerill and Glenn Cowl do things the right way – as evidenced by a superb starter of grilled Dexter ox heart, lightly grilled and served with locally-made salami. A dish like that is a real statement of intent from the kitchen.

9) Maiyango, Leicester

Owner Atin Anadkat has skilfully steered this business over the last decade, expanding to include a stylish boutique hotel. This year it gained a new head chef in the form of Sav Tassari. He can do big and gutsy – I remember an epic fillet steak – but he also builds on the restaurant’s reputation for delicacy and for catering for vegans and vegetarians. Fitting then, that my top memory is of simple but stunning starter of fragrant winter vegetables – fine specimens including squash, artichoke and beetroots in a gentle sweet and sour dressing which let the essential earthiness through.

10) The Salmon, Leicester

If I was asked to show a foreign visitor an example of British food at its very best I could happily take them to any of the fine establishments written about here. However I might just settle for The Salmon. On a Friday evening, with the serious business of the week largely done, I can think of few finer moments than when halfway down the second pint of some or other real ale in this award winning pub, one of your friends disappears to the bar shortly to be followed back by a barmaid with a large Stilton-topped pork pie, cut neatly into manageable slices, and a jar of mustard. The pub was set to change ownership in December – I hope the pies stay in place.

Sapori

December 18, 2015

A couple of weeks back I had a trip out to Anstey with my pal Sean who , among other things in his busy schedule,  contributes music reviews to the Leicester Mercury – this time though we were for me to review this rather classy Italian restaurant for the paper:

Sapori
40 Stadon Rd
Anstey
LE7 7AY
0116 236 8900

For all his strengths – winning two promotions, fighting off packs of wild Romanian dogs – Nigel Pearson was not a great boost to Leicester’s restaurant industry. Don Claudio on the other hand…

One of the venues where Signor Ranieri has been happy to be snapped smiling with the owners is Sapori, a venue he is quoted as saying “reminds of him home”. The restaurant is run by Luigi Ricciardi, with his brother-in-law and fellow Neapolitan Andrea Scarpati as head chef. The two met while working in a restaurant on Braunstone Gate and when they subsequently became family, they looked to open their own venue. They avoided the city and four years ago opened up in Anstey.

It’s hard not to sound slightly patronising here but this a bigger, more stylish, higher-aiming restaurant then you might expect to find in a place like Anstey. Set in a former industrial building on the edge of the village centre you pass a large private function room with it own bar and into the main restaurant space. It’s smart and lively with an open kitchen at the end with busy chefs in full whites and toques. There’s plenty of smartly-dressed staff who are pleasant and attentive, a bit overly so at times. Overall it’s less neighbourhood trattoria and much more smart night out.

A look at the menu reaffirms that impression. Everything – we are assured – from bread to gelati is home made, dishes appear ambitious and the pricing is to match. There are pizza and pasta available, and while the likes of porcini and taleggio ravioli sauteed in butter sage and paremsan with butternut squash puree certainly sound appealing, we explored other parts of the menu.

A starter of chicken liver liver with armagnac was nicely made, rich and smooth and softened by the alcohol. It was also beautifully served with toasted sultana bread and a superb chutney of Tropea onions, the sweet red variety from Calabria. Lightly-smoked mackerel was great and the match with some seriously delicious chorizo was far more successful than we had anticipated. With pared segments of Sicilian orange and dabs of orange gel it was a lovely dish.

This was sophisticated, well thought-out food. For our main courses what stood out was the sheer quality of the ingredients. A superb piece of cod was daubed in a smoky aubergine relish along with confit cherry tomatoes and samphire. I wasn’t totally convinced by the matching of cod and aubergine but again it was serious food, cooked very well. Venison cooked two ways featured jaw-droppingly good pan-fried loin – some of the best flavoured meat I’ve ever come across – in a sauce of chianti and blueberries. It was heavenly stuff and the only drawback was there wasn’t more of it. That said the accompanying venison shepherd’s pie was just as appealing in it’s own way and filled out the dish. The vegetable accompaniments were fairly routine and a little soft for my liking.

Wines including glasses of nero’d’avola and pinot grigio were fair value, but there was a minor fail on service. When ordering by the glass it is helpful to have confirmation of your wine – especially when brought by a different waiter – rather than have it just put down.

One of us was always going to have home made Italian gelato as desert and the brightly-flavoured wild strawberry version served on choux pastry bun with a warm white chocolate sauce was very good indeed. From the specials menu a selection of handmade chocolates with flavours including praline, tonka bean and coconut were a delight too.

A few weeks back Sapori was actually named the best Italian restaurant in England, though I’m not convinced the second running of “Food Awards England” carried a great deal of weight in the industry. The Good Food Guide does, however, and Sapori has a prized entry in the 2016 edition. What is clear is that Sapori is a classy venue producing good food. We were pushing the boat out a little – I’d be very happy to go back and try a simple pasta dish.

 

The Real Ale Classroom

December 14, 2015

WP_20151210_21_32_34_ProA quick welcome to the Real Ale Classroom. This micropub on Allandale Rd in Stoneygate opened two weeks ago with an impressive range of beers served straight from the barrel and immediately became one of the more interesting places in the city to have a quick pint.

It’s small and cramped when it’s full but that’s rather the point with micropubs – you have to go in within an attitude of being willing to shove along let someone sit down and, in what we’re told is a most un-British way, have a chat with those around you.

There will regularly be 5 or 6 ales on – I think there were 8 the night I visited – with a range of styles and strengths and mainly from local brewers. Even the gin and tonic came from Leicestershire distillers Two Birds.  With traditional pubs closing, this model of small, sociable  and quality beer-focused  venues could point the way forward

Karamay

December 8, 2015

As promised a couple of weeks back, here’s my Leicester Mercury review of Karamay, the new Western Chinese venue on London Road. As you’ll see, it not exactly fancy but it is interesting and definitely rewards curiousity:

Karamay Western China Cuisine
109 London Road
Leicester
LE2 0PF
0116 319 6691

A few weeks back I wrote about how UK diners are becoming better educated, and being offered more choice, when it comes to our sometimes narrow view of cuisines of international cultures. Sure enough, shortly after writing about a new Keralan restaurant, a new Southern Indian restaurant with a focus on Tamil Nadu opened on London Road.

It’s not just Indian food that is now represented by a far wider range of styles. The pace of change in Chinese restaurants is becoming breakneck. Last year The Guardian newspaper ran a piece about the move away from Westernised versions of Cantonese food and the increasing diversity taking in Szechuan and Hunan styles. But the cuisine of Western China, and Xinjiang in particular, didn’t even seem to be on their radar. In fact, an online search for “Western” Chinese assumes you must be looking for Chow Mein and Chop Suey.

But now in Leicester we have the chance to know better. Also new on the increasingly vibrant London Road is Karamay. Named after the oil-rich boom town in Xinjiang’s Uighur Autonomous Region, this informal venue offers the fascinating food of China’s Uighur Muslim minority, a people with roots in Central Asia and a culture quite distinct from the Han and other groups in Eastern China. The food is a mix of influences that reflect the multicultural days of the old Silk Routes, with what appears to be a bit of Turkish influence here, a touch of Mongolian or Persian there, as well as some hints of more mainstream Chinese.

Karamay is fairly basic, cafe style place, but softened with some great artwork from back home and cultural artefacts on the wall. There’s a big window through to the kitchen too so you can see the chefs at work. The menu offers pictures of the Uighur specialities and also lists some of the more classic Chinese dishes available – naturally we focused on house specialities.

We ordered some lamb skewers (£1.50 each), nicely barbecues chunks of lamb seasoned with chilli, salt, pepper and cumin. These were every bit the equal of kebabs from a Turkish grill, as were meaty spicy chicken wings with sesame seeds and spring onions. We also tried Uighur samsa, which may or may not by etymologically linked to samosa, but what ever the case are tasty little meat or vegetable filled pastries. In this case, they were circular-shaped with puff pastry and filled with delicious spiced minced chicken – at a £1 a pop these were so good I came back for more the next day.

I had spoken to a friend who had worked in Xinjiang and she went misty-eyed at the thought of noodles. So naturally we ordered leghmen, a signature Uighur dish featuring hand-pullled noodles with a distinctive rough and ready appearance and a bit more bite than the packet stuff. We had them with fairly gently spiced beef, tomatoes, peppers and celery and enjoyed them immensely. Then there was kordak – a pleasingly rustic lamb stew with carrots and potatoes hat could have passed for a Lancashire hotpot or a French pot-au-feu, were it not for the presence of chilli and star anise and that it was served with a chapati rather than baguette. Be prepared to pick up and gnaw the bones.

BaoChaw chicken had deep-fried, heavily seasoned, diced meat with plenty of garlic, prodigious – amounts of red chilli (easily picked around if you wish – it didn’t permeate the dish excessively) and the odd hit of cumin. Lots of celery – the Uighurs like celery – and green pepper too. Subtle it wasn’t and it works better as one of a range of shared dishes but it was powerful and distinctive.

Karamay is fully halal and so there’s no pork dishes and no alcohol – though definitely recommended is the sour plum juice which is fair substitute for a glass of wine.

Service is friendly and advice will be given for the timorous. It is basic though – my plastic bottle of plum juice was placed unopened on the table and I waited a couple of minutes before deciding it probably wasn’t culturally insensitive to ask for a glass – which was brought with a smile.

There’s a fair number of this kind of venue that have sprung up around the city catering mainly for Chinese students and, in this case, local Muslims. For others, while its not exactly a smart night out, it is a welcome chance to enjoy a new food experience.

Sunday lunch at The Font

December 1, 2015

Here’s the second in a pair of Sunday lunch reviews for the Leicester Mercury. I was keen to recommend a place that wasn’t a posh country pub restaurant but an honest, great value, urban venue that was ideal for a relaxed wander down to for a pint and some roast beef. The Font fits the bill perfectly – at £12 for three courses it doesn’t break the bank, the food is fine and it’s well run:

The Font
52 ½ Gateway Street
Leicester LE2 7DP
0116 319 7855
Food service – Mon-Sun 12-7pm

Doing this job, I’m often asked for recommendations for places to eat. It’s a question that usually prompts a lot more back from me – who’s going, what do they like, what’s your budget, will you be driving, are you looking for formal or informal?

Pointers for a good Sunday lunch are a particularly common request and my questions are just the same. Most restaurants or pubs that do food should be able to rustle up a decent Sunday roast, and so the key questions are budget and the kind of venue you want. Last week I reviewed a smart country pub in a relatively remote village that for many is priced in the special treat category. This week it’s a funkier urban venue that is easily accessible for most city-dwellers and which offers tremendous value.

The Font will be well-known to those connected with nearby De Montfort University and the Royal Infirmary. But, tucked away on a back street, it’s a bit off the map for many others who might enjoy its relaxed Sunday vibe. You wouldn’t describe it as cosy – it’s a large, high-ceilinged room in modern building with a long bar with some high stools and ledges for perching and some fairly rough old furniture laid out like a refectory. That said, while there’s piles of magazines and fliers around the place, it doesn’t have that Student Union feel of some of chain pubs in the area. It feels like an independent place run by people who care and where everyone is welcome.

It’s regular menu is fairly standard drinker’s fare of burgers, nachos, all day breakfasts and so on but done well enough to suggest that standards matter to the kitchen. On Sundays the lunch offering is slimmed down to a couple of starters a choice of three roasts and a couple of desserts. At £12 for three courses this looked a bargain – as long the food was of good standard.

I started with a great peppery leek and potato soup, with big crunchy croutons and a cheffy chiffonade of leeks to garnish. Winter had finally arrived on the day of our visit and this was a very good warming soup dish with good flavour and texture. The other starter was of ham hock croquettes – well-made, tasty little nuggets with some fresh, crisp leaves in an excellent honey and mustard dressing.

WP_20151122_14_52_26_ProOur roasts – one beef, one turkey – were absolutely fine. Plenty of good quality meat, some really outstanding roast potatoes and excellent freshly prepared yorkshire puddings. There were three vegetables including some cheese-topped broccoli in portions than amounted to an elegant sufficiency rather than the Desperate Dan approach you can find yourself adopting at a carvery.

The pub does have some good offers on wine but on this occasion we stuck to a couple of craft beers from Meantime and Vedett – both a happy match for a Sunday lunch.

WP_20151122_15_21_25_ProDesserts changed from the printed menu, offering confirmation that dishes here are prepared from fresh and when they’ve gone they’ve gone ,rather than another batch being defrosted or whatever. Home-made rice pudding with home-made raspberry jam and chocolate brioche soldiers was unashamed nursery pudding heaven and a cheesecake with chocolate shards and chocolate sauce was equally appealing.

Staff reflect the venue – young, somewhat hipster but friendly, efficient and solicitous.

No-one would claim this is truly outstanding food unmatched in the Midlands, but for a relaxed, informal but good quality lunch in the heart of the city along with the Sunday papers or a group of friends, the Font does a very good job and at a great price.

The Grey Goose, Gilmorton

November 26, 2015

I’ve done a couple of reviews of Sunday lunches for my Leicester Mercury column. It’s something I’m regularly asked to recommend – which is difficult in that most places should be able to do a decent A Sunday roast, and it’s hard to do that is stunningly better than everyone else, or indeed that you can do at home. So a lot of it is about the venue.  I started with a smart country pub:

Grey Goose
Lutterworth Road
Gilmorton
Leicestershire
LE17 5PN

01455 552555

Sunday lunch plays a special role in the lives of many Britons. For the lucky amongst us, it brings back happy memories of family life – for me, it was visits from my grandma and a gathering round the table while listening to Two-way Family Favourites.

Today it’s likely to be one of the few occasions when people eat together around the table. Pubs of course have latched on to this and the pub Sunday lunch is possibly as much as a ritual as the domestic one. So as Autumn sets in and our mind turns from salads to more substantial comfort food, this column will take a couple of looks at this Great British institution.

This week it is the Grey Goose in the South Leicestershire village of Gilmorton. Around six years ago the pub was extended and refurbished to the tune of of £1.3million – an expression of confidence at time when the economy was freefalling that if you provide good food the people will come. It’s steadily built a reputation over that time and the fact that Sundays now see it running three sittings to pack in the dinners shows that the appetite is still growing.

It’s a contemporary-styled building – lots of slate grey – with a large dining area and arriving at 12.30 there was a lot of bustle and chatter. We were asked for a drinks order before we’d even all sat down which raised fears we might be hustled along, but they would prove unfounded and service was very good throughout our stay.

The Grey Goose is a proper high-end restaurant in the week – we were hoping that standards would stay high on a day of the week when maybe some places would be happy to take the easy dollar. And looking at starters, they generally were. The exception was some under-seasoned devilled whitebait, with no discernible devilment, and a garlic mayonnaise with no discernible garlic – the fish themselves were ok but the dish failed to justify a £7.95 price tag. Much better though were some chunky lamb kidneys with wild mushrooms, two substantial chunks of lightly-breaded baked brie with plenty of cranberries and another dish of wild mushrooms in a roquefort sauce on sourdough toast. These were all substantial, well-cooked dishes with quality ingredients that set us up nicely for the main event.

The centre of the pub is given over to a carvery (main course – £13.95) on Sunday and this is what two of us choose. It’s an entirely pleasing experience, with three huge joints being carved and served with great bonhomie. This was a proper Dickensian, Mr Pickwick vibe. Servings are huge and you are welcome to mix and match the roasts – in this case Aubrey Allen beef, Leicestershire turkey and pork loin.

Turkey could wait for another day, but the beef was very good and the pork was sensationally good. You can then help yourself from the very wide selection of extras – acceptably crispy roasts, mash, peas, carrots, hispi cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli mornay, stuffing, yorkies, gravy, horseradish.

Of course at a carvery some things – Yorkshire puddings especially – can’t quite measure up to what can be done when you serve fresh from the oven at home, but this was in general a creditable effort. The pub managed a complex operation with commendable smoothness.

A nut roast is available but our vegetarian main courses were maybe preferable. A risotto of slow roasted tomatoes and creamy goat’s cheese was possibly a bit over salty but was deeply flavoursome and Thai vegetable curry was lively and vibrant and served with a touch of flair – it certainly measured up to versions I’ve tried in UK Thai restaurants.

The wine list is helpfully designed and annotated to make easier to pick an appropriate style and our Lunaris malbec from Argentina met with universal approval, though sadly the pub seems to have succumbed to the current fashion of serving its ale far too cold.

A couple of shared deserts of good, soft creamy ice-cream – we had salted caramel and pistachio – and a very light citric tart of lime and elderflower with some beautiful fat, sweet berries and we were done. Back home to fall asleep in front of the TV. On a weekend when we were mourning the deadly attacks on people enjoying simple pleasures in Paris, the pleasure gained from this time-honoured aspect of our lifestyle seemed especially sharp.

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