The Wheatsheaf at Greetham

September 21, 2018

I’ve been meaning to get out to The Wheatsheaf for a good few years. Leicester-trained chef Carol Craddock had a serious career in London – anyone who has worked with Simon Hopkinson at Bibendum is going to be worth trying – and she’s well-known among cheffy circles.

She and partner Scott eventually returned home, as many do, and their unpretentious village pub is in the heart of Rutland’s dining belt – around three miles from other excellent dining pubs including The Fox and Hounds in Exton, The Olive Branch in Clipsham and the Jackson Stops Inn in Stretton. Which makes it a bit of a trek from Leicester but we were delighted we made the effort.

20180919_214142It’s a pleasant vista arriving at the warm Rutland stone building. A little stream flows through the garden and a bevy of ducks quack out a welcome. But it’s an unprepossessing entry into the building – through some basic outbuildings, past a pool table and into the bar and restaurant area. It’s cosy, traditional and basic. The staff are in jeans and trainers, but the welcome is warm and throughout the evening service is friendly, skilled and attentive, creating a relaxed atmosphere. It’s a place that doesn’t feel it has a lot to prove – and in this instance that’s a really good thing.

There is an exceptionally good wine list for a pub of this type, reflecting the Craddock’s involvement in setting up Vinoteca in London perhaps. Sadly a bottle of 2011 Chateau Batailley at £65 was beyond my means but that mark-up is not too bad.

20180919_182651The food is also very good – if it came in swanky surroundings you’d call it fine dining. Doesn’t seem appropriate to use that term here. It’s just generous, stylish, modern British classics done by a chef on top of the job. White onion and cider soup with cheddar was extraordinarily good – a hearty, creamier version of French onion soup, it was deeply flavoured, brilliantly seasoned and completely delicious. Scallops could maybe have been seared a bit more for my taste but the caulifower puree with them was a revelation – packed with flavour – and the crispy bacon very good too.

Main courses of duck and lamb were generous portions and cooked bang on. Rump is my favourite cut of lamb because it comes with a nicely lubricating overcoat of fat, and here the cooking gave me both moist pink meat and a darkly seared, crusty edge. The lamb came from Launde just across the A47 and was very satisfying along with a sizeable pot of warming, cheesy shepherd’s pie. Gressingham duck came with roasted pickled peach – which sounded like a gimmick but was an inspired match.

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We couldn’t manage a desert on this occasion but we did stretch to four brilliant chocolate truffles and a glass of desert Riesling.

So, don’t go expecting either deference, crisp linen table clothes and stylish design or food that is sprinkled in chia seeds and big on vegan options. But for high quality restaurant food in a pub, this ticks a lot of boxes.

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Leicester Beer Week

September 20, 2018

I’m a little but tardy here but a quick reminder the today marks the start of the inaugural Leicester Beer Week.  It’s a lovely idea that focuses on special events and special offers that celebrate and promote our local beer culture with  go-ahead local pubs and local brewers.

There’s been a lot of work done by volunteers, not least my pal Jamie Stenson, to get people on board and there are plenty of interesting events. I’m kicking myself for missing today’s “Meet the Brewer” session at the Two-Talied Lion with the people behind the wonderful Cloudwater brews.

For a full listing of offers and event go to Leicester Beer Week

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Baked in Brick

September 17, 2018

Those of you who are regulars at Leicester’s streetfood event Canteen* will be familiar with Baked in Brick. Their street food cooked out of ovens in a Mini Cooper have always proved popular and recently they have been acclaimed as the Best of the Best at the European Streetfood Awards for 2017.

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Building on that success they’ve now opened a restaurant, based at Birmingham’s cultural industries hub The Custard Factory in Digbeth. If you’re ever in Brum and in the market for lunch it’s definitely worth the walk out to Digbeth (maybe 12 minutes from New Street, 2 from the bus station). The design might be a bit edgy, with one of those minis careering out of the walls, but on my visit we found the atmosphere is pleasingly cheerful and unpretentious.

The menu focuses on pizzas from the brick oven in the open kitchen. There’s big bags of 00 flour around the place and mountains of tins of san marzano tomatoes – they take their ingredients seriously and you’ll also find local produce such as Lincolnshire Poacher and Colston Bassett Stilton involved. I had their award winning dish of a calzone stuffed with deeply flavoursome beef shin ragu, wild mushrooms, cheese and basil – it was fantastic, right down to the stilton dip for the crust. A fresh salad with mildly smoked burrata and heritage tomatoes was great too, while salty padron peppers, pan-roasted in the pizza oven were the best I’ve encountered.

As you might imagine there’s a good selection of craft beers – I had the Cannonball hop bomb from Magic Rock (I wouldn’t try going back to work after that one) – and a small but good-looking choice of wines. With such quality at around £10 a pizza, it all adds up to a compelling offer.

 

* Not sure exactly what’s gone down here but Canteen has announced it will be moving to a new venue, while previous host LCB Depot has launched its own event Last Friday to replace it. It starts on 28 September and will run along similar lines to Canteen – streetfood, cocktails and live comedy. Canteen has been promising details of its relocated plans but I’ve not seen them yet.

Update 23/9/18:  The new venue for Canteen is to be The Morningside Arena – home of the Leicester Riders and just off Belgrave Gate. The event seems to be going head-to-head with Last Friday and promises more space and less queueing. Will be interesting to see if the audience can grow to support both events.  Here’s a link to a short  promotional film: Canteen

It seems to be getting harder and harder to run a proper, sit-down-and-have-a-serious-meal restaurant. The Indian restaurant subset is battling the headwinds – Paddy’s Marten Inn, Kayal and Herb have given me lovely meals in busy environments this summer – but the trend towards informal grazing seems to be gathering pace.

Last year in Leicester we saw the fine dining Maiyango morph into the bright and breezy The Fish and The Chip, a fun and high quality take on the traditional British seaside chippy. Now this month the King Richard III suspends its marvellous menu of steaks and  grills and modern European classics for a three month takeover by Crafty Chicks, which could be interpreted as a gastropub take on the ubiquitous chicken shop (note traditional Sunday lunches are still being served.)

Crafty, of course, is the King Dick’s owners Chris and Andrea Elliman’s brand which offers the city’s best burgers over at St Martin’s Tea and Coffee. The core poultry offering here is Crafty Fried Chicken marinated in a spices and buttermilk, or barbecue chicken grilled on the robata grill with their own barbecue spice rub (two pieces £5, whole jointed chicken £18). The sides are pure Crafty – skin-on fries,  poutine, chipotle coleslaw, watermelon with lime, mint, peanut and chilli etc.  It looks brilliant for casual sharing.

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kimchiI popped in at lunchtime and had a very quick sandwich of katsu chicken (£5, above) – panko-coated fried breast with tonkatsu sauce, kewpie mayonnaise and slaw. It was full of Japanese umami loveliness but the flavours were a bit unfocussed maybe – lacking something central and distinctive. A side of cucumber kimchi was an inspired touch – deceptively spicy. I hope to get back soon for some barbecue chicken.

No doubt some of the issues facing  restaurants are down to seasonal issues  – the World Cup played its part and the extraordinary extended hot summer is not doing restaurants any favours. But there are also longer term trends both cultural and economic that make the £25 plus per head meal out an ever harder sell.

Fair play to the Ellimans for keeping nimble and trying to keep on top of the market. That said, I hope in the winter months we get a chance to try more of their wonderful steaks, warming soups and elegant deserts.

 

 

 

The Two Tailed Lion

June 23, 2018

Having watched Ahmed Musa hopefully double his resale value with two goals against Iceland yesterday, I went to celebrate with a few Friday beers at the opening evening of The Two-Tailed Lion last night.

This elegant little bar – the name alludes to Simon de Montfort’s crest –  is a great addition to the burgeoning scene around St Martin’s. It’s located on Millstone Lane in what was The Case’s wine shop. So it forms a part of a splendid and diverse trio of pubs, being opposite The Rutland and Derby and adjacent to The Blue Boar. Indeed you could say it is culturally in-between those two as well, taking a pinch of the former’s style and quality  and a teaspoon of the real ale, CAMRA-cred of the latter. In other words, exactly the kind of bar every city needs in 2018 to complete its range of watering holes.

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It’s run by Matt and Alice,  the couple who ran the pop up Tap in the Square in  St Martin’s earlier this year. They know their beer and the initial offering is three cask ales and six kegs, including a big hoppy double IPA and an increasing fashionable sour gose  infused with lime.

I was particularly pleased to see details of the selection properly displayed – I know a good pub will encourage you to ask about a beer or will offer tastings, but I do get irritated by having to squeeze barflys out the way in order to peer at a little pump clip for clues.   Breweries represented include Leicester’s Framework as well as some of the more cutting edge companies from around the UK include  Welsh wizards Tiny Rebel, Somerset’s Wild Beer Company and the unfiltered, unpasteurised specialists DEYA from Cheltenham. Be aware that such beers don’t come cheap – you may find of the stronger ales are over £4 a half – but there’s 10 per cent off for us CARA members and I suppose it keeps out the volume drinkers.

hopsIt’s in a characterful Georgian building and the understated  décor nicely fuses the aged and the contemporary. There’s a couple of cosy downstairs booths and two rooms upstairs including a tasting room for events with lovely, hop inspired lampshades.

So, welcome to a seriously beer-focused bar with a touch of sophistication. I hear food will be coming soon too.

The Pop-Up Smokehouse

June 21, 2018

Ok it’s not the prettiest plate of food you’ll ever have, but welcome back to the Pop-Up Smokehouse in all its full-flavoured, meaty loveliness.

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Somewhere in this underwhelming picture of the meat platter (for two) served up this week at their one-night-only takeover at Leicester’s Globe pub there is a spicy St Louis cut pork rib, a deep and smoky shin of beef and ale stew, a pot of sweetly fruity pulled pork, sesame-spiced chicken wings and  tender, shredded beef brisket.

Terrific as those meaty elements are, the great thing about The Smokehouse’s food is that all the little accompaniments are just as good if not better. Beautifully tender pickles inside a crisp batter, wonderfully creamy mash, delicately-smoked tomatoes and possibly our favourite item of all, simple raw carrot with a light cardamon-infused sousing.

You can see the full menu below. On reflection, I wished we’d shared a platter for one and picked a  couple of those small  dishes – I’m particularly regretting not managing to find space for the scallops with smoked romesco, and indeed the rum baba desert. That said there still much so much to enjoy. Congratulations to Liam, Ollie and the rest of their team – do look for their next takeover wherever it may be.

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Plant and Bean takeover

June 13, 2018

Full details are now available of the Plant and Bean takeover of The Fish and The Chip which I mentioned last month.

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The vegan pop-up will replace The Fish and The Chip’s usual menu for the period Thursday 21 June to Sunday 24 June. The approach is described in rather awkwardly modish language as  “mindful plant based ingredients mixed with a whole family of worldly flavours”, but there’s no denying some it sounds most enticing.

The menu is the usual starters, mains deserts structure along with salad bowls plus sides and kids’ options and a three course meal comes in at under £20. Starters include grilled kaffir lime and thai basil corn cakes with sriracha mayo, and chick pea, potato and samphire spiced chaat with amchur and almond yogurt. Mains are mainly burgers and sandwichs , ranging from their take on a Cubano – a toasted sandwich with smoked mushrooms, charred red peppers, caramelised red onions, cheddar, wholegrain mustard and pickles – to a middle Eastern flatbread with spiced roasted aubergine, courgette and mushrooms with ras el hanout chickpeas served on a flatbread with red pepper hummus and pomegranate salad.

There’s 20 per cent off for the soft launch on the Thursday, and there are live DJs on Friday and Saturday evenings.  If you can’t get down, the full menu will also be available for delivery via Deliveroo from 22 June.  For more details and the full menu see The Fish and The Chip website.

 

 

I enjoyed a terrific afternoon this Saturday at the 45 Gin School. Part of the continuing rapid development around St Martin’s and Centenary Square this venue – known as The Distiller’s Kitchen – hosts courses on the flavouring and distillation of gin and, wonderfully, gives you the chance to craft your own unique 70cl bottle to take home at the end.

 

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Distiller Ed Gibson outlines the process

 

It’s all done with a very light touch and the emphasis on having a great time while learning. On arrival you’re given you’re first gin and tonic before the group are called to order by Ed Gibson, chief distiller for 45 West who are makers of the Burleigh’s range of gins. There’s nothing too mystical about gin making – it’s basically grain spirit boiled up with juniper and other flavourings – and so Ed is able trot over the basics fairly swiftly and in entertaining style. We each have our own mini still (copper of course, it helps avoid sulphites spoiling our gin) and our base mix of juniper, orris, angelica root and coriander seeds.

 

 

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Your choice of botanicals

 

Once we’ve heard about the options in terms of gin style – spicy, floral, herby, citrussy whatever – we’re able to pick our selection from a range of more than 60 botanicals. Gill and I veered towards the floral, adding the like of rose buds, hibiscus flowers, elderflower and silver birch. Ed’s trained nose is around to give opinion and advice on everyone’s selection and then it’s simply tip it into the spirit in our personal still and go upstairs for a cocktail making (and drinking) masterclass.

 

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Gill shakes some coctail action

 

By the time we return our stills have started to trickle out the good stuff. We wait, dipping our fingers in the stream in order to check the flavours are still alive, eventually making the cut once a dull harshness takes over. The spirit is now at around 85 per cent ABV so we then dilute it to our desired strength with pure water.  To complete the fun you get the chance to make your own label and have the bottle properly sealed.

 

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The finished product

 

It’s an extremely satisfying process and I can’t wait to crack open the bottle and confirm my sense that we are naturally gifted gin-makers.

The courses last up to around three hours and cost is £115 for one, or £145 for a couple making one bottle, and there are opportunities midweek and Saturdays.  If you go on the 45 Gin School website you can buy a voucher and enter your desired date to see what’s available.

 

 

 

Upcoming events

May 23, 2018

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Good to see a couple of returning food events here in Leicestershire. The Pop Up Smokehouse has announced its second takeover event. This time Liam Watson (above)and his team will be cooking their bold and hearty take on US barbecue at the atmospheric Globe on Millstone Lane on Tuesday 19 June from 5pm to 10pm. I can tell you this in safety now because I have booked my table already  – last time out they filled up very quickly. There are several ways to book but maybe try their website first.

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Also now announced are details of the second  Edible Forest, Charnwood’s woodland-themed food festival which runs from 9-16th September. Top pick for serious diners must be the Secret Gourmet, which will see a forest-inspired menu created by local chefs John Duffin (of Mountsorrel’s Michelin-starred John’s House) and Paul Leary, who’s work is well-known to Leicestershire diners over the last 15 years. Menu details are being held back, as is the location but it’s promised to be a historic location somewhere near Shepshed – cost is £70.

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There are some less heady options – such as the chance to have brunch, picnic or dine in a clear ‘pod’ in the heart of the forest. Then there are chances again to have tea inside Old John in Bradgate Park or to enjoy guided foraging walks around the forest.  There will also be live music and DJ events with Charnwood’s own Burleigh’s gin having a strong presence. Details available here.

One more thing – heads up to vegan readers about Plant and Bean, who promise to combine plant-based ingredients with exciting flavours and a streetfood vibe. I believe there is a link to The Fish and The Chip restaurant on St Nicholas Place, and certainly that’s where there their first takeover event is happening in June,  with a delivery service and more events promised soon. No further details yet but track them down on Instagram @plantandbean.

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A coy hairstreak at Ketton

I had a hard morning running around a quarry in Rutland in a largely fruitless chase for Green Hairstreak butterflies. So I was a in need of some lunch. It was then I realised I was close to the Fox and Hounds in Exton and my heart gave a little leap.

I had a really tremendous meal a couple of years back at this gorgeous country inn but it’s just that little too far from the city for an easy drive out.  I’d heard that Glen Cowl – known to many through his work at the Red Lion Stathern and the The Bewicke Arms in Hallaton- had taken over as head chef so this was a good opportunity to revisit. And it was lovely to find the place in robust form.

The pub is achingly pretty on the outside and has a lovely, slightly dishevelled charm inside. A warm feeling got even warmer when I saw found they had my book (The Leicestershire and Rutland Cookbook) open on the bar.  By the time I settled in a huge old squishy chesterfield and supped a lovely half of bath Gem ale my spirits were soaring.

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Crab croquettes

I picked two courses from the prix fixe menu (£16) and was shown into the dining room  which looks out over the large and – on days like this – massively inviting garden. I started off with crab croquettes, two lovely crisp balls with plenty of crab, sat on a salsa of pomegranate and grapefruit. Those two fruits carry a fearsome acidity  but the amounts were just right, so nothing overwhelmed but you could mix and match the salsa and croquette to get more of a seafood hit or more citrus.

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Lamb shoulder

Main course was another generous plate of shoulder of lamb with truffled pomme puree. Like the starter this was a potentially dangerous dish that succeeded through balance executed. Lamb shoulder is never exactly a gourmet treat but this, coming from the Launde estate on the other side of Oakham, was very good – full flavoured and tender, while that puree was rich, smooth and with enough truffle to be present but not to dominate excessively. A nice sticky jus, slightly charred artichokes and fresh broccoli completed the dish.

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I finished with a second half of Gem while sitting in the garden sunshine with a Rose Tremain novel, a full stomach and a great sense of well-being. Food and service were a credit to the Graham family who took over the place in 2015. I just wish it was a bit nearer.

 

 

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