October 19, 2016
People often tell me Leicester lacks a good steak house. There are a couple of candidates- from 1583 on the edge of Highcross to a couple of Halal places catering mainly, obviously, for Muslim communities. They seem to do good business but don’t really appear to have established a name for great steaks.
Now however we have an interesting new arrival in the shape of Middletons Steakhouse and Grill. This is small chain with big ambitions, that started as a gastro pub in the eponymous Norfolk village. But, says MD Steven Hutton, ” changes in the market place saw the fortunes of pubs decline and it became clear family restaurants were the way forward.” They rebranded as a steakhouse and now have branches in Norwich, Kings Lynn, Colchester,Watford and Milton Keynes.
Their Leicester project is a big one – they’ve taken the Grade II listed former Nat West and TSB building in St Martin’s, empty for some 16 years, and invested £1.5 m into converting it into a 200 cover restaurant. It’s a stunning space. A tremendous set piece chandelier dominates the room which is done out with warm red banquettes, and there’s a large mezzanine area that gives you a chance to survey those below you.
I got invited along to try the food on one of three preview nights. The place was buzzing and there was a slightly manic atmosphere, not least around the pass where wait staff queued up as the kitchen struggled somewhat to keep up. With service routines obviously not quite up to speed I won’t comment too much other than to say our young Slovak waiter was a complete pleasure to deal with, though unfortunately one other waitress did manage to throw a side order of mushrooms all over our table. I’ll put that down to third night nerves. In fact despite some frazzled faces on the staff, we didn’t have excessive waits or other issues.
The food though. The menu is pretty mainstream reflecting that desire to be a successful family restaurant and take on some of the well-known chains. We started with mussels (£5.25) done in white wine, cream garlic and lemon which were completely fine. Rather better than fine was “Middleton’s terrine (£5.25) combing pork, liver, cider and herbs and wrapped in Serrano. I enjoyed this immensely – good flavours, good coarse textures, lovely salty ham. It was curious then that the “pickled relish” it came with was a strong traditional chutney of the Branston variety – not unpleasant in itself but far better suited to a cheddar sandwich than this lovely terrine.
The steaks we are not told much about other than they are “carefully prepared at our butchery in Middleton”. I had an 8oz rib-eye (£15.95) and was quietly impressed. Cooked accurately to medium rare it was tender and had a nice char – it wasn’t going to keep the likes of Hawksmoor or Goodman’s in London awake at night but then it didn’t cost £35. It passed muster fine. My choice of Diane sauce (£2) was a good one – well-made and tasty. Fries were good, though the garnish of “roast tomato” was misnamed – it had barely cooked at all.
Steaks go right up to an 18 oz chateaubriand or a 36 oz rib eye on the bone for sharing, and there are other choices such as jerk or piri-piri chicken, ribs, lamb steak, pork chop, surf and turf and a range of burgers. There’s not much to intrigue any vegetarians who get dragged along here – breaded brie with chilli jam, vegetable and halloumi skewers, falafel burger and that’s about it.
Several dishes are offered “half and half” for the hard of decision-making, and we had a 6oz sirloin with half rack of sticky ribs (£15.50). Again the steak was good, but the ribs were very ordinary – a rather sharp, vinegary sauce and ribs that were redolent of supermarket vacuum packs.
Deserts “made in house by our pastry chefs in each of our restaurants” are the usual suspects – sticky toffee pudding, Eton mess, chocolate brownie, tiramisu and so on. My chocolate pot (£5.15) was thick and overly sweet, with a layer of even sweeter caramel, while a crème brulee (£5.15) was ok but unremarkable.
Wines range from £16 to £50 for a Barolo riserva, and rather curiously they don’t list the country of origin. It may be obvious in many cases but it’s a pretty crucial piece of information. We had a Dona Paula Malbec (£21.95), which I assumed correctly to be Argentine, but wasn’t overly impressed – lacked much in the way of tannins or varietal character.
The opening of Middleton’s is a great vote of confidence in Leicester and it’s terrific to see one of our most impressive buildings come back into use. It’s located right in the heart of a thriving area of independents and the hope must be that it brings more diners to the area and lifts all boats. It may not have the interest for foodie types of the more or less adjacent Delilah’s, Crafty, Cured, Gelato Village and others but it does ok on its own terms and is a welcome alternative to Highcross.
September 30, 2016
You’ve probably got your favourite takeaway. We don’t necessarily look to them for great quality, more qualities of convenience and reliability – I’ve been going to the Jebu Tandoori on Evington Rd for well over 30 years and the recipes have barely changed.
But if you’re looking for a change, give the Thai Esarn a try. I’d heard several recommendations for this humble takeaway on Hinckley Road, Leicester (near the Police Station) and eventually gave it a go. It was lovely.
Run by a group of engaging Thai ladies, they delight in traditional home cooking from North East Thailand and produce great-tasting, authentic food in an open kitchen that they’ll make as spicy as you want. We had terrific starters of toong torng, crispy parcels of minced chicken, prawn and sweetcorn with plum sauce, and fishcakes with a sweet chilli .
Main courses were tamarind duck and the beef dish “weeping tiger” and both were excellent dishes that highlighted the sweet, sour, salty and spicy layering of flavours. The duck was tender breast meat with green vegetables and cashew nuts in that distinctively sweet-sour tamarind sauce.
The beef was so good it had me off digging up recipes that I’ve been trying at home – strips of beef marinated in the likes of lime juice, soy, fish sauce and sugar and with additional dipping sauce. Mine was pretty good, theirs was excellent.
Coconut rice was good sticky comfort food, while a tom sum salad of papaya and finely sliced cabbage was a maybe a bit too drowned in dressing for my tastes but again was a great combination of flavours.
Never been a huge fan of Thai food but I may not just have had very good examples – this has started to convert me.
There should be a full review in the Leicester Mercury tomorrow, Saturday 1 October.
September 5, 2016
So here’s some nice things happening in Leicester.
First off, I went to the launch of Cured at the end of last week. This is the business of chef Martin Powdrill, who previously has worked at the much-missed Smokehouse on Braunstone Gate and is basically offering the bar food within Leicester’s Brewdog. The USp is food that uses Brewdog’s distinctive beers to cure meat and fish. Judging by the tastes we had, this will be a terrific addition to food options in the city centre.
Martin is a young, enthusiastic chef on a mission to transform expectations of curing from the short-cut injected processes used in supermarket produce to exploring the long, slow alchemy of traditional curing. His audition piece with the Brewdog people involved a few simple pickled vegetables – demonstrating the variability of the process and the fact that the simplest items on his menu would be given the same attention as the headline dishes.
At the launch event we tried the likes of: sweet maple cure bacon cured in Punk IPA with picallili: terrifically tasty salmon ‘pastrami’ brined in smoked porter; brisket cured for some two weeks and roasted with burnt barley and treacle; an amazingly accurate vegetarian recreation of the pulled pork experience using jackfruit and a fennel slaw; an oriental take on beef jerky using soy, coriander and sesame; and, oh yes, the best pork scratchings ever.
All these dishes have been researched, developed, tested and show real character. ‘m looking forward to going back shortly to try more and urge others to try it too. Watch for the beer matching recommendations too.
Food will be available 12-8pm with a special “hangover club” on Sundays, but Martin hopes to use the large upstairs space at Brewdog for special restaurant nights in the future.
More good news for beer lovers with the imminent opening of the Blue Boar on Millstone Lane, a micropub using a historic name with an interior designed for good conversation and good cask beer and real cider.
On the same road The Rutland and Derby is starting monthly pop-up nights starting tomorrow (Tuesday 6th September) with a pop-up chippy. We’re told to “think red and white check tablecloths, waiters in white aprons and sustainably sourced fish”.
A little further down the line a big presence will arrive in the middle of all this activity with Middleton’s Steak House having its Soft Launch starting around 10 October. This of course is set in the massive wedding cake in St Martins that is the grand old Nat West Banking Hall. I was besotted with that building when I used to bank there – I hope they’ve not ruined it.
September 1, 2016
I had a lovely morning out recently at White House Farm in Keyham, where farmer Matt Stone is producing tremendous raw milk, butter and cream.
“Raw” means unpasteurised, in other words not heated until everything in it is dead. In the past this was a important health measure but it also took away a lot of the taste. Nowadays raw milk can be produced under license and with strict hygiene controls – and so the “old-fashioned” taste is available once again.
Matt comes from a long line of dairy farmers. But after his family farm in Ratcliffe-on-the-Wreake was sold he looked around for somewhere where he could build his own herd. The semi-derelict White House Farm suited his purposes and he and his young family moved in. Initially he was going to do conventional contract milking, but after he was let down, he decided to try something different.
Keeping a day job as a herd manager elsewhere, he and wife Katie have started their own business with just three cows – two Freisians and a Red Poll. Currently everything they make disappears almost immediately through sales at the farm gate and the occasional car booter and farmers’ market to people desperate to get that old-fashioned flavour
The milk has a full flavour and a much cleaner feel in the mouth. “You can use it just like pasteurised milk, though people get through more of it because it’s far more palatable to just glug it back,” says Matt. “People with allergies and sensitivity also seem to find it much easier to digest.”
The cream and the butter too are exceptionally good. The extra thick double cream is perfect with a bowl of local-grown strawberries, while the butter is so good on toast you really don’t want to spoil it by putting on anything else. Note these are ‘live’ products and have no preservatives – they may not last as long as supermarket but, then again, you’ll probably find they disappear more quickly too. .
Many of their regular customers are from Eastern Europe and the Middle East, who crave the produce because “it tastes like it used to back home”. Ironically perhaps, the Brexit vote has also seen a boost with more people thinking about supporting local businesses. Many regulars drive from all over Leicestershire, Rutland and beyond.
The little dairy parlour, immediately adjacent to the cows’ barn and with its simple, traditional equipment like the butter churn is the perfect antidote to impersonal agribusiness and supermarket conformity. The herd will shortly double in size, but this will remain a small business where the farmer knows each of his cows really well.
Stone’s milk is currently available in two litre bottles for £2, the butter at £3 for 200g and cream at £150 for 200ml. You can call in at the farm on Ingarsby Road, Keyham, but it’s best to order ahead by calling on 07883 471865. Watch out soon for other products including ice-cream, yoghurt and buttermilk. For more information see http://www.facebook.com/stonesdairy and if you are a Great Food Club member (and if not why not?) watch too for an offer coming soon.
August 16, 2016
My recent review from the Leicester Mercury. Always good to find an old favourite is on good form.
The Hammer and Pincers
5 East Road
I first reviewed the Hammer and Pincers around 12 years back. Since that time it has, as restaurants must, tacked and trimmed to meet prevailing economic currents but has remained in high esteem among East Midlands diners. A quick look at the online menu suggested chef and owner Danny Jimminson is currently back to offering appealing, fine dining dishes, so a good time to go back and see how it’s doing I thought.
Jimminson has a strong CV, including training at the Savoy with Anton Edelmann, but crucially for a chef who wants to prosper, he can also pick talent. A few years back he gave a job to a 16 year old local lad who had just been expelled from school – and now fiery Tom Sellers and his Michelin-starred Restaurant Story is the talk of all London.
Sellers own CV refers to his first job “in a pub”, but in truth the Hammer and Pincers is not really one of those. Wymeswold already has The Windmill, part of the Little Britain Pub Company (along with Rothley’s Bluebell and The Curzon in Woodhouse Eaves), and from August former Leicestershire cricket stars Stuart Broad and Harry Gurney are re-opening the Three Crowns, so the village is well-equipped for pubs. This is more a smart, stylish destination dining venue.
We struggled to get a table in the week we wanted to go as the restaurant was booked up with proud parents and their offspring celebrating graduation. You can see why it’s so popular for such events – the menu reeks class and the place is run by with friendly efficiency by Sandra Jimminson and her well-trained team.
Our meal started with superb bread – sweet walnut and raisin and nicely savoury rosemary foccacia. Both were so good we were pleased to be offered a second round when they saw we’d wolfed down the first lot.
Then starters – both tremendously thought-through dishes that offered a wide range of pleasures. A large, pillowy raviolini was stuffed with chorizo – suitably chopped and cooked to create a spicy, sauce-like filling – and smeared in a great smoked garlic purée. It sat on a little bed of sweet onion marmalade and then there were salad leaves covered in generous shavings of manchego, a little twist on more usual parmesan. Bringing it all together was a completely wonderful little pot of intense pork stock made with Pedro Ximenez sherry – completing the Spanish-Italian fusion style of the dish.
Our second starter was a real beauty, a ballotine combining duck liver and confit leg meat rolled in crushed pistachios with a toasted brioche roll, with lovely little balls of poached peach and melon and a sour peach purée. It looked a picture and tasted as good as it looked.
Then there was a palate-cleansing cucumber and herb sorbet – heavenly stuff – before tucking into our mains. I don’t know if it says more about me or the Hammer and Pincers but I realised afterwards that the two main courses were pretty much identical to those ordered on that first visit. Fortunately there was no real drop-off in standard in the intervening years. Mustard-rubbed fillet of beef was impeccable, and the sauce with it showed – like the porky one with my starter – that the kitchen takes no short cuts in with its stocks, jus, gravy whatever. There was a sort of pastilla of 48- hour cooked shin and a tremendous potato cake with thyme and smoked bacon plus roast heritage carrots. It was a hefty dish for a summer menu but great steaks will always sell and this was certainly that.
From the specials menu I ordered monkfish with lobster and crayfish risotto, not least because I was keen to pair it with one of the Rieslings that German-born Sandra had added to the wine list. Monkfish doesn’t have the kind of sublime texture and flavour of, say , turbot or halibut, or even a really good piece of cod, and it needs strong flavours around it. The risotto was indeed rich and intense with fish and herbs, though for me it was little overdone – I think risotto always needs a just a little bit of bite left in the rice. There was also an unnecessarily huge pile of peashoots with it – on this occasion a case of more is less. So a satisfying, if not perfect dish, but a great match for the Dr Loosen Riesling from the Mosel valley.
Our shared desert was dreamy though, if you are a chocolate lover anyway. A pavé of chocolate sponge topped with rich ganache came with a light mousse contained in a quenelle of thin, crisp chocolate, a perfect raspberry sorbet, fresh raspberries and dabs of raspberry gel.
Well constructed dishes, solid classsical technique, fine ingredients and careful service all typify the Hammer and Pincers. It’s certainly a place to celebrate but should also just be enjoyed by anyone who loves their food.
August 11, 2016
It’s maybe partly that they’ve been casting envious glances across the border at Melton to see how food can be a boost to the local economy. It could simply be that they’ve woken up to what’s on their doorstep. Whatever the case, it’s good to see Charnwood – with the support of the National Forest, Everards and Leicester Shire Promotions – has taken the step of launching a little local food festival.
The Edible Forest is a weekend of events from 16 to 18 September that highlights some of the best local food and drink producers, and at some of the fabulous locations in the borough – from iconic Old John in Bradgate Park to the depths of the Outwoods. The events include:
Friday 16 September
– Afternoon tea with local produce in Old John Tower .
– Cocktails and canapes at a secret garden in the heart of the ancient woods of Charnwood.
Saturday 17 September
– The Enchanted Forest – a family event in the heart of the forest combining tasting from the region’s finest producers with entertainment.
Sunday 18 September
– Build your own Perfect Picnic – a hands-on opportunity to create your perfect picnic to be enjoyed in the beautiful gardens of Swithland’s Griffin Inn.
– The Secret Gourmet – much-missed local chef Paul Leary, currently working in the corporate sphere, will create a fine dining forest-inspired gourmet menu to be served at Nanpantan Hall, a rarely-used and extraordinary venue hidden in the heart of Charnwood Forest.
For more details on the Edible Forest and to book tickets for the various events, visit www.edibleforest.co.uk. Bookings open on Monday 15th August.
PS. I hear the organisers have struggled to find cheesemakers within Charnwood. If that sounds like you, maybe get in touch with them?
August 7, 2016
Don’t think it was the power of the recommendation on this blog, but the Swan and Rushes Sri Lankan street food “weekender” turned out a bit of a misnomer – popularity was such they sold out of everything by early Saturday evening.
I appreciate the difficulties in planning for these kind of one-off events but this was somewhat irritating for those of us like me who planned our day around eating there at 7pm. Ho hum. On the positive side, I’m delighted there are places in my city that are prepared to try something different now and again, and particularly pleased there seems to be a market for creative food events. Other venues may like to take note. The Swan has apologised and promise they will doing the event again, so those who missed out on what I hear was great food should get another chance.
August 2, 2016
Quick heads up on a couple of attractive food events this weekend in Leicester.
The Swans and Rushes, a terrific traditional pub on Oxford Street (near the Infirmary) that does a great line in draught and bottled ales and pizzas, is having a Sri Lankan and Indian streetfood takeover. Not sure of the menu but the pub states that starting from 3pm on Friday chef Samith “will be executing some home grown Sri Lankan recipes.” It runs over and Saturday and I reckon it might be worth a trip.
Then there’s the official launch event for Delilah at 4 St Martins on Friday afternoon. Readers of this blog should know all about this place but if you’ve not managed to get down yet then this launch – open to the public at 4pm – will see plenty of free tasters and a chance to meet some of the many producers who supply this great delicatessen.
July 18, 2016
I know I’ve written about Delilah’s already, but for the sake of completeness, here’s my review of the food offering from this weekend’s Leicester Mercury. Unfortunately the Ngolo Kante analogy is already out of date, but hey ho, heroes come, heroes go…
Delilah’s Fine Foods
4 St Martins
Leicester LE1 5PL
The St Martin’s area is booming. Finding a buried king, building a tourist attraction and a public square and investing heavily in improving the public realm will generally do that.
But you also need an entrepreneurial spirit to make the most of those developments and Leicester’s independents have certainly risen to that challenge. And now with the opening of Delilah’s the area has another bright jewel in its crown.
Many Leicestershire people will be aware of Delilah’s in Nottingham, which under the dynamic leadership of owner Sangita Tryner has gone from a cult success as a small corner deli to a large two-story venue packed with hard -to-find deli produce from the East Midlands and around the world. It was the UK’s deli of the year in 2012 – described as the kind of place where “you want to spend a whole day.”
The dynamism of Leicester’s retail core attracted Tryner to branch out with a second branch. Fortunately there was a lovely empty building right in the heart of St Martin’s that was perfect for redevelopment. Consequently the Victorian, Grade II-listed Allied Irish Bank has been revived from years of slumber – with help from public funds – and turned into a light, roomy and remarkable space.
The venue resembles the Nottingham branch with a large retail floor, a horseshoe shaped bar with stools for diners and drinkers and a mezzanine dining area that takes diners close to the beautifully-restored glazed ceiling and masonry.
The deli offering is huge, diverse and beautifully displayed, and much of it is used to furnish the cafe menu. During its first week I called in for morning coffee, a lazy weekend brunch and a midweek working lunch – and all three were first-rate.
In terms of coffee there’s a house blend named Samson but also some 30 coffees which are listed with helpful information on the bean and the roast. I tried Rwandan Koakaka, which was tremendous. With St Martin’s Tea and Coffee round the corner and the newly-opened Coffee Counter cafe roasting their own small batches on Bowling Green Street, Leicester city centre is thankfully no longer left to the big coffee chains.
The breakfast menu at Delilah, which runs until 11.30am during the week and 12pm on Sunday, is hugely appealing. Dishes are not cheap but this is very high quality produce. I was tempted by Inverawe smoked salmon and scrambled eggs but settled for the Delilah rarebit, which had the same relationship to cheese on toast as Ngolo Kante to …well, pick your own hapless City midfielder from the past. Pokey Black Bomber cheddar had been whisked with Magpie ale leeks and mustard and grilled on a doorstep of artisan bread, then topped with generous amount of splendid Alderton ham, a succulent Nottinghamshire ham with a marmalade glaze and one of the best of its kind I’ve ever encountered. Then there were two perfectly poached egg, the yolks of which oozed delightfully over the whole ensemble.
My friend picked avocado, fried eggs and crispy pancetta on toast. Again, every thing was exceptionally good. Ripe fruit, great bread, and intense salty ham.
Lunch items have a similar vibe to these dishes. Don’t go looking for fancy restaurant cooking but if the idea of fine charcuterie, cheeses and salads appeals, you will love Delilah’s. At our working lunch I had a frittata with spicy chorizo and piquillo peppers and a super-fresh green salad, my friend having the salt-beef and morcilla hash, again topped with a poached egg . The only criticism he could think to make that it was almost too good – not quite having the down-and-dirty comfort food quality some will want in a hash. But the powerful flavours of the salt beef and the rich Spanish black pudding made it very tasty.
We also managed to squeeze in a sideplate of charcuterie – a peppery salami and shavings of speck and serrano, and washed it down with a fine craft beer.
The deli section at Delilah’s is going to fill-up a lot of Leicestershire pantries and fridges, and their cafe offering will provide the perfect venue for some top-notch breakfast and lunches. A real boost for the city centre.
July 11, 2016
I did suggest there might be a full review of Onggi coming – and here it is:
98 Welford Road
Leicester LE2 7AB
Tel: 0116 224 5851
Some time back, maybe 20 years ago, there was a Korean restaurant on Granby Street. It seemed rather smart and interesting, but it was before its time. I never got there and I’m supposed to be one of these adventurous foodie types. It was also in the days before there was a large contingent of students from the Far East to fuel the demand. So it didn’t last and Leicester, this famously diverse city, has never really developed a taste for Korean food.
That has started to change with the arrival of specialist food shops, and I’ve even tried cooking a few things with ingredients from a Korean shop on the edge of Clarendon Park. Now though we have a genuine Korean restaurant to try, and I think it’s going to be a hit.
Onggi on Welford Rd (between the Bricklayers Arms and the Prison) is a relatively humble cafe and takeaway but it scores highly on all the things that make you want to go somewhere. Atmospheric, friendly, clean, professional, good value and, of course, food that is fresh, tasty and cooked with love and care.
As suggested above, I’m no expert on Korean food and judging by my research, people are put off by a reputation for excessive heat and sharp flavours. Nonetheless I’d say Onggi is the ideal place for the timid to give a try.
First off, there’s a very friendly welcome from the staff, who spoke perfect English and are keen to be helpful. On our visit the few tables were packed with young Chinese people, so we were given some menus to inspect and retired to the nearby Swan and Rushes for some of their fine ale. Half an hour later we returned ready to order.
First off, there were little complimentary plates of crunchy beans in a salty, sesame marinade and of kimchi. This, famously, is fermented cabbage – essentially spiced sauerkraut – which Koreans have with every meal. I’ve had some pretty horrible versions from foil pouches in oriental supermarkets but this was great – mild but distinctive and a lovely way to get the tastebuds up and running.
We then started by sharing kimchijeon – jeon are savory pancakes, in this case stuffed with kimchi – and though simple this was an exceptionally tasty dish, the kind of crisp, freshly cooked street-food you dream about. It had with it a sweetish, sourish soy-based dipping sauce that you could happily drink by the spoonful.
Main courses include bubbling one-pot stews and soups with various combinations of meat, fish, tofu and vegetables, rice-based combinations cooked and served in hot stone bowls and Korean barbecue dishes. In fancier places you might get the chance to cook these latter dishes at your table, and while they come plated here, my beef bulgogi was delicious. Bulgogi is something of a cult dish – thinly-sliced strips of beef in a slightly sweet marinade cooked quickly on a grill to give a nice caramelisation. Here it’s served with gorgeously sticky rice and a hot, but not frightening, chili sauce along with large lettuce leaves with which you can make up little parcels.
Our other main – dolsot jeuk-deopbat- was one of those dramatic hot stone bowl dishes with succulent pork, mushrooms, pepper and other vegetables in a bright, lip-smacking sauce on top of steamed rice.
We had three little side dishes – £2 a pop – and we loved them all. Braised burdock root – not immediately attractive to Western ears maybe – was a lovely little salad of matchsticks of the root with an umami-rich dressing, while modum namul gave use three little piles of various seasoned green veg. Gim – crispy seaweed (above) – involved staggeringly lovely sheets of dappled, emerald-green seaweed with an intense salty tang of the sea. They tasted lovely, though I was almost more tempted to put a frame round them and hang it on the wall.
The venue is not licensed but there is a range of intriguing soft drinks and flavoured teas to go with your meal – we had a big pot of barley tea, a caffeine-free drink with mildly nutty taste made from roasted grain.
As an introduction to Korean food Onggi seems perfect. Informal, friendly and with flavours that should appeal to a variety of palates, it’s a welcome addition to Leicester’s range of restaurants.