February 25, 2015
The UK’s all-powerful pie industry has declared next week to be British Pie Week. Now obviously our county is the spiritual home of the greatest of all pies so no doubt Melton will be closing the schools and putting up the bunting.
Actually in all seriousness I am quite impressed by one response to this PR puffery, and that concerns the Orange Tree group and its bar The Lansdowne on London Road, Leicester. Having made a success of the Smokehouse in it’s O Bar venue by giving one of their chefs the chance to pursue something, they are showing further initiative by getting their chefs to develop a special pie night as one of a series of food-led evenings.
On the menu from 6 to 9pm on Thursday 5 March will be the likes of venison and wild mushroom wellington with port jus (£12.50), ox cheek pithivier (£10.50), smoked fish pie with cheddar mash (£9.50), chicken, chorizo and kidney bean in cornmeal pastry (£9.50) and a couple of vegetarian choices including a vegan mushroom wild rice and porter pie (£8.50). There’s even a lobster pie with seafood broth(£14). Pies are all served with spring greens and mash or chips.
There’s a big kitchen at the Lansdowne, huge compared to The Smokehouse, and it’s good to see they are prepared to explore the potential for developing the food offering there. And more good news, Lansdowne has joined the Great Food Club and members ordering main courses on Monday to Saturday can now get a free glass of wine or bottle of beer – for details see here.
February 23, 2015
I had a really splendid meal at the Berkeley Arms in Wymondham last week (it’s around half-way between Melton and Oakham).
Chef Neil and front of house manger Louise met at Hambleton Hall and their pedigree is clear. The pub runs with relaxed skill that makes the customer feel important without any formality.
We started with close-textured but light and springy Hambleton bread with great salty butter. Starters of terrine of ham hock with a sharp, crunchy piccallili and a pork and black pudding paté with apple compote were beautifully made and presented – great technique. A smoked salmon and crab roulade also had salsa of avocado with finely diced cucumber and showed great flavour combinations.
A main of beef fillet had was superb and my braised leg of hare was perfect February comfort food, brilliantly matched with poached pear and caramelised walnuts for crunch and taste. There was a more delicate approach on show with tender loin of rabbit that had been wrapped in spinach and parma ham. The dish looked stunning and again showed a high level of classic skills. Saucing on all three dishes was impeccable.
Perfect rice pudding had a brulée topping and a side of brandy-infused prunes, while a hefty vanilla pannacotta wobbled provocatively, surrounded by pared segments of blood orange.
Highly recommended for those wanting great food in a country pub environment. Booking needed, certainly at weekends.
For my full review in the Leicester Mercury – go here
February 20, 2015
After the good news for pizza lovers with last week’s opening of Peter and that’s enough in the old Welford Place, comes good news for beer drinkers. After a couple of false alarm rumours, there is now confirmation of Brewdog opening in Leicester. They will be sited in what was previously Will’s Bar on Friar Lane in the city centre (sort of round the back of the market). Work starts immediately and it will open in April with some 20 beer taps and a food menu. Also promised are vintage pinball and arcade games.
February 14, 2015
Just catching up here with links to a couple of my reviews in the Leicester Mercury.
Cultura is a new bar and restaurant near me in Clarendon Park, Leicester. It’s just the kind of place the area was crying out for and seems to be doing well. Reports from friends are very enthusiastic about the service and atmosphere and most seem to have agreed with my verdict of great promise with the occasional sign that some dishes aren’t quite the finished item.
At The Bootroom the issue is maybe the other way around. Another lovely, stylish venue with great staff and there was no real issue with anything on the plate, it was all very well done but just a mite dull. For a place with the reputation and the evident skill, it all just seemed a bit too safe.
Meanwhile there is the curious case of 19Gale – a huge, expensively done out restaurant in the heart of the Cultural Quarter with a suite of elaborately-themed private karaoke rooms which can cater for several hundred people. The food from the traditionally-structured three course menu is beautifully presented and a Western fine dining take on Chinese food – actually probably more accurately a Chinese take on Western fine-dining – though I’d really like to go with a group and try selections from the Chinese menu. Service was lovely and it’s a shame that at the moment the place seems to be under used. There were five or six tables in use when we went – the same as The Bootroom – but here we rattled around a bit. With a more or less full restaurant I’m sure the place would really buzz.
February 11, 2015
It was good to attend a busy pre-launch party at North’s Bar and Kitchen on Hinckley Rd last week. Sited in the same corner building as the much-loved Entropy, it’s been smartened up outside and refitted inside, retaining the two-sided layout and (semi-)open kitchen, but extending the bar and upgrading the outdoor area at the back.
The food doesn’t try and replicate the high-end approach of its predecessor, but does promise simple, affordable British and European food, cooked onsite and with a commitment to local sourcing. So for the evening menu starters might be mushrooms with garlic and parsley or whitebait, mains parma-wrapped chicken breast or goats cheese and caramelised onion tartlet.
There’s bar, business, and restaurant experience in the management team and it’s good to see a stylish independent opening up here. West End folk will be pleased to see it retains an all day approach and there seems no reason why it won’t become a popular place to while away time with a coffee and sandwich, and for those lazy Sundays with the paper that turn into a meet-up with friends, a late lunch and few glasses of wine.
January 19, 2015
If you scroll back through this blog you’ll find a couple of positive write-ups of The Smokehouse on Braunstone Gate, Leicester. When it came to visiting – anonymously – for my Leicester Mercury review I was a bit nervous whether the novelty of Southern US barbecue might have worn off or the quality fallen. Fortunately that wasn’t the case – in fact it was possibly the most enjoyable food I’ve yet had there. I maybe got a little bit carried away in the review but my ox cheek starter was a quite spendid dish. Speaking to chef Liam Watson after the meal it was good to hear he’s got plenty of ideas for introducing new and possibly more adventurous dishes. I’m looking forward to seeing where they can take it.
You can find the review here.
January 14, 2015
Well I mentioned the last one, so I suppose I better mention this one. Another Marco Pierre White branded restaurant is to open locally – this time in the City Centre in the Mercure Hotel, known to you and me as The Grand. This time it’s the Marco’s New York Italian concept (be afraid Frankie and Benny’s!), currently providing steaks, pizza, and pasta to hotel guests venues such as such as Exeter Airport and the Holiday Inn, Kenilworth.
The franchise is expressly designed to help hotels turn more of their guests into diners by the promise of a little celebrity stardust and a bit of quality control through operational support. Having stayed and dined for work purposes in many mid-range hotels in English provincial cities, anything that can improve standards would be very welcome and I suspect I’d be only too happy to encounter a decent, straightforward steak rather than the dull attempts at feigning fine dining I’ve often endured.
Marco will visit – it’s more or less promised in the franchise agreement – but obviously that’s about the extent of his involvement. Good news that 20 jobs will be created – here’s hoping that the development company Sanguine Hospitality insist on paying the living wage. If not, they should do – MPW could always go out and flog a few more stock cubes.
January 13, 2015
The latest review of my reviews to go up on the Leicester Mercury website is of the Caribbean chain in Highcross, Turtle Bay. Can’t say my expectations were skyhigh but it wasn’t too bad. It’s a big noisy environment and the food, while not being exceptional, avoided some of the worst aspects of chain blandness – my jerk pork ribs weren’t exactly succulent but there was no holding back on the chilli and the all spice and the other distinctive flavours. Same went for the curry goat. Partly my mood may have improved by the company of my friend Gill who brightens up the day no end, but whatever, I enjoyed it: Turtle Bay (use of adblocker recommended).
January 12, 2015
Well here’s an interesting thing. A new fine dining restaurant, opened by an alumni of Roganic no less, with ambitious pricing of £47 for a three course dinner – and it’s opened here in Leicestershire.
Chef John Duffin has returned to the family farm to open John’s House at Stonehurst Farm in Mountsorrel. Can’t say I know a lot about him but it appears he has an impressive CV and that he’s using as much home-grown and farm-produced ingredients as possible. If I was going tomorrow – I’m not – I’d be starting with parsnip dumplings, braised oxtail, madeira and ox tongue before moving on Stonehurst hogget, wood blewits, onions and thyme, and finishing with caramelised apple, meringue, vanilla ice-cream and honey wine.
There’s a serious looking eight-course taster menu at £70 – which puts it not far behind Hambleton Hall.
Have to say I’m intrigued. Feedback welcome from any one who goes.
December 29, 2014
For the Twixtmas edition of my Leicester Mercury column I did them a piece on ten food and drink places readers might like to try. Regular followers of this blog may recognise a certain amount of adapted material here and it was a nice opportunity to highlight some places I admire but which may not be feasible to fit in for a restaurant review column. Here’s the link: ten tasty places