Much as Queen’s Rd gets lauded as a place of lively independent venues, there’s always been a sense that it doesn’t really rise to its potential as far as restaurants are concerned. So here’s a hearty cheer for 100andSix, the bar and restaurant that opened at that address this week. We just popped in for a quick supper, but that was more than enough to suggest this is some of the best and certainly most interesting food available in the city.

The site has in recent years been home to Don Leone, Cultura and Moow, none of which set things alight. This new venue may well be a better fit for Clarendon Park. It is an initiative of Kal Ruparell, who knows the area well from having run Dos Hermanos bar and who is also behind the classy city centre cocktail bar 33 Cank St. The downstairs bar area is geared around cocktails and wine, and the upstairs area more for dining – and this is where things get interesting.

Head chef is Martin Powdrill, well-known to readers of this blog as being behind Cured, a fantastic operation running out of Brewdog and later the Cookie in Leicester City Centre. Martin’s distinctive approach has been with cures, smokes, fermentations and other approaches to building flavours and highlighting quality ingredients. With 100andSix he has been given the chance to refine and elevate his approach from interesting platters of pub food to elegant, exciting restaurant food. The whole thing has a Nordic feel, with the daytime offering focussing on smorrebrod, open sandwiches such as roastbeef with Danish remoulade, horseradish, crispy onions, pickled green onion and tarragon.

The main menu is mainly presented as nibbles and small plates (“don’t mention tapas” implores the menu) that offer flexibility in terms of snacking, sharing or building up to a more substantial meal. Most dishes are between £2.50 and £10 – with a couple of more substantial dishes such as hangar steak with celeriac fondant (£14) and monkfish cooked in blackened banana leaf with shallots, choy sum, almond, lemongrass and yukon gold potato (£19).

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Cured cod (picture from the restaurant’s Facebook page)

We were having a little treat after two-hour evening work meeting, and sure enough the food on our order of five plates between three lifted spirits immensely. Triple cooked chips with a thyme and garlic rub were superb, while little strips of black treacle and burnt barley candied bacon were a real revelation. Beautifully prepared, these would have been easy to get wrong but provided a lovely balance of crispness and chewiness while the sweetness was well judged. Then there was delicately sliced duck breast sprinkled with liquorice powder and doused in a sensational fermented prune foam, giving a terrific fruity punch and a slight fizz on the tongue. Sea asparagus and charred broccoli completed the dish. There was more superb innovation with our vegan dish of fried avocado (I know!) with a light tempura coating and smoked chilli ponzu sauce and ginger and cucumber salsa. This was another well-constructed dish with stunningly fresh and clear Asian flavours. Finally there was a ceviche-style dish of cod cured in cazcabel tequila with little dabs of a banging saffron aioli and a super squid ink cracker that had both visual and taste appeal.

20190321_205402Alongside our dishes was a complementary selection of pickles and extras that, the kitchen advises, are served to work as condiments to complement the main dishes. These were hugely successful too – from little strips of chilli that gave a fantastic uplift to the chips, to beautifully soused strips of cucumber and slices of lemon that had been lightly confited (I think) giving a mild sweetness to the inherent sharpness.

100andSix may not please those who like to fill up on meat and carbs but there are plenty of places for pizza and kebabs. Here though there is fine, unusual and innovative cooking and an exciting approach to flavours. I’m looking forward to trying those sandwiches and to seeing what ther take is on traditional Sunday lunch.

  • Sorry for the lack of photos – mine just didn’t cut it, but the food does look delightful. 
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The White Peacock

March 19, 2019

peacockwbsThe White Peacock has stood proudly at the bottom of New Walk, Leicester for a good few years offering one of the city’s most smart, sophisticated but relaxed environment’s for good food.

The restaurant was set up by former chef patron Phil Sharpe, who earned his spurs in the city at Maiyango. Some 18 months ago Phil decided he’d had enough of the stress and sold up to the Koban Group, a locally based company which also runs Aspects in Enderby (and more recently has bought Leicester’s Lansdowne and 1573 bar and grill).

I’d not been in since Phil departed, but last week went down and tried the tasting menu. First thing to say is that not only have the excellent staff team been retained, but the classy interior and the fine dining approach have not been messed with – this is still a very pleasant environment to enjoy a cocktail and good food.


The nine course menu started with what is described as a plate of snacks. This felt a bit random and unfocused – there was a sausage roll that was really not very nice, a little rice crisp with a smart crab salad, a crisp little bird nest of fried potato and a superb tranche of hake in squid ink batter. The four things stood on the plate like strangers, reluctant to talk to each other. There was maybe some sort of allusion to the British seaside going on but I think it would work better to just keep the hake and maybe create another proper crab course to replace the rest.

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Ox cheek with yeasted cauliflower puree

Next up was a hefty slab of beautifully slow-cooked ox cheek, served with a yeasted cauliflower puree and a light, sweetish ponzu sauce. This was great – good hearty food given a smart twist. Then came cured salmon with cucumber, fennel and avocado mousse – a beautifully composed dish which looked great and had good clean flavours. The salmon in particular pleased, with a little light scorching on top but otherwise with a sashimi-like quality.

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Salmon with cucumber, fennel and avocado mousse

Then a little break with a palate cleansing yuzu sorbet livened up at table by being given a good hearty slug of prosecco.

Last of the mains was a really beautiful piece of tender, medium rare, fillet of beef with nice and crunchy pommes anna (basically thinly sliced layers of potatato cooked with butter), herby lovage puree and a Madeira sauce. Lovely as this was, I don’t think ox cheek and beef fillet should be on the same tasting menu – it made the meal feel a bit lop-sided. There was a faux-pas with the steak – some of the tape used to keep it in shape during cooking had been left on.

20190307_215641We transitioned to sweet with a quenelle of excellent goat’s cheese mousse served simply with fine lightly pickled red onion. One of the pleasures of this meal was that all the dishes were beautifully plated, both in choice and variety of plates and in the arrangements.

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Cherry baked Alaska

 

The first desert sounded right up my street but was a bit disappointing – cherry baked Alaska with almond meringues and almond brittle. Obviously this being a tasting menu you don’t want huge deserts but the baked Alaska was just too small to allow the different elements to interact properly. The cherry element had gone before I knew it, unable to deal with the sweet Italian meringue, which I felt need a bit more attention from a flame.

The slight frustration with the Alaska was made more pointed with final main element – a large, super-rich chocolate fondant tart with tonka bean milk gel, chocolate tuile and tonka bean crème anglaise. All elements were done very well but it felt a bit much at the end of such a meal – though of course I still just about managed to clear up a couple of first-rate petit fours with the coffee.

We had the wine matching and there were some lovely choices including a fulsome Australian shiraz with the steak and a stunning black muscat with the baked alsaka. But a rather light Chevanceau from Herault failed to stand up to the ox cheek.

Service throughout the evening was charming and helpful, and the pace was just right. Maybe not the best structured tasting menu I’ve ever had, but plenty to like in a restaurant that will give pleasure to many.

This week I was judging in the British Pie Awards in Melton Mowbray. This is always a highlight of the year even if the demanding pace of tasting means that Rennies are really missing a trick in not sponsoring the event.

I thought people might like an insight into how these events are judged. I’m sure many may have cynicism about award schemes but this one at least is a genuine event that manages to minimise both subjectivity and bias in the judging.

So, for the awards a pie is defined as “a filling wholly encased in pastry and baked”, and there are some 23 categories defined by filling (Steak Pie, Speciality Meat or Game Pie, Melton Mowbray Pork pie etc) or by producer (Small Producer, Public Sector etc).

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Judges are briefed at St Mary’s Church, Melton Mowbray.

Judges – mainly industry insiders and other food producers – are allocated a category and work in pairs to assess submissions against a clear marking scheme. Pies start with 100 points – 20 for overall appearance, 15 for bake quality, 5 for pastry thickness, 15 for pastry taste and texture, 5 for how well filled and 40 for taste of filling. Judges remove points for where pies fall down. There are plenty of explanatory notes unpacking the criteria, plus at the beginning of judging the chief judge takes all judges through an example judging of a “control pie”, explaining why points might be deducted for overbaking, uneven pastry, under or over-seasoning, poor balance of meat/gravy and so on.

Pies are delivered to our table – hot if appropriate – and we get stuck in with the visual assessment before cutting the pie in half, tasting the pastry and then the filling. Each pie has a code number – so judges are unaware who made it, we simply have a list of the primary ingredients and allergens. Forms are duly filled in and a final score arrived at, and the remaining half-pies of three top scorers are delivered to the senior judges who confirm the class winner and also select an overall supreme champion.

No system is going to be perfect but with the measures put in to bring about some level of consistency and transparency (makers get to see judges marks and comments) this is at least a genuine attempt to get to the best pie.

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The end of an arduous judging process

This year I had the “Pub Pie” category , I assume meaning made either by or for pubs. The majority were steak and ale but there were a few outliers such as smoked bacon and brie. Overall the quality was high – my judge pairing had no real clunkers – with a fair few pies awarded bronze (70-79 points) and silver (80-89 points) awards. We were waiting for a real star though and it came with the very last pie of the day – a stunning boeuf bourguignon effort with beautifully made pastry and a remarkably flavoursome filling with tender beef and all elements in balance. If that was served up in a pub you know you’d know you were in a special place.

*Friday 8 March, 3pm: The award winners have finally just been announced and I’ve discovered our winning pie was from The Bell Pie Shop at the Bell Hotel in Winslow, Bucks. It appears they won the category last year too. I hope that doesn’t seem suspicious  – hopefully the above explanation should assure everyone concerned that the best pie won.

I paid a visit last week to  a corner shop in Wigston that is taking a brave new approach to retailing.

Many Leicester food lovers will know Pratik Master for the indefatigable enthusiasm he brings to the running of his top-end Indian restaurant Lilu. Now he’s turning his attentions to the family shop on Carlton Drive in the heart of suburban Wigston. On Saturday 2 March Master’s General Store will relaunch as the News and Deli – which will continue with newspapers and other basics for the local community but will also be a platform for the region’s finest artisan food producers.

MastersOut go the bottles of Echo Falls and in comes both excellent Leicestershire wine from Rothley and fine bottles from the list at Lilu. The standard sliced bread will be replaced by loaves from Hambleton Bakery and Bisbroke Artisans, with fine dairy products from the highly regarded Vine House Farm. Leicester producers and retailers such as Gelato Village, Cocoa Amore, Choux’tique and Christopher James deli will also be represented and no-waste retailers Nada will be supplying a wide variety of dry goods.  The kitchens at Lilu will also be producing items such as their popular pineapple relish for sale at the deli to complement fine cheeses and locally-cured charcuterie.

“What was clear was the shop as it had been was not really working,” said Pratik. “My Dad’s heart was no longer really in it and he was ready to retire. The family felt we needed to do something more, and since running the restaurant I’ve got to know many fine local producers .  I phoned around and asked them if they felt they’d like a stage where they could showcase their produce and I think I got to number 15 before I got  a no. ”

So during February Pratik, wife Bee and family and friends have been clearing out the old stock, making arrangements with new suppliers and converting the shop from a run of the mill newsagent to an atmospheric deli. The opening day event on 2 March (10am to 2pm) will see a wide range of producers present on the day to introduce their wares to locals, and others will be there over the following Saturdays. If you want to follow on social media look out for #notjustacornershop. Sadly I’ll be eating fish in a port-side restaurant in the Algarve at the time but looking forward to revisiting in March to see how it’s going.

  • News and Deli, 29 Carlton Drive, Wigston, Leicestershire LE18 1DF

 

 

Ok, so I’ve not posted here for a long time. There’s plenty of reasons for this. For one thing, blogging of the type I’ve done here over the last 10 years seems to fit less easily with the bite size nature of more instant social media platforms – newsy bits seem better suited to twitter or instagram. Plus there’s now a great job being done across various channels by the likes of Cool as Leicester in keeping people up to date.

I’m sure there is a lingering interest from some in well-written (hopefully), longer-form reviews and reflections. I wish I could do more of these but it’s difficult now there’s no newspapers wanting independent reviews. Equally it’s a difficult time for Leicester’s restaurants – there’s activity at the lower and middle parts of the market but it’s not easy at the top end.

Anyhow just to get my own thoughts in order as much as anything, I thought I’d reflect a little on where we are now. I’ll just focus on the city for now.

It was hugely disappointing to see that the King Richard III didn’t make it – the food was fantastic and while they were regularly busy at weekends, the midweek trade wasn’t there for them – especially sad when there were some bang average places not far away doing ok. At least it means that Chris and Andrea can put energies back into Crafty at St Martin’s Tea and Coffee with its exuberant burger menu. It would be nice to think new operators will do something worthwhile at KRIII.

For smart food in the city I lean towards Lilu (watch our for owner Pratik Master relaunching his family convenience store in Wigston next month as a deli promoting lots of fine local produce) and the Knight and Garter’s brasserie-style offering. On the edge of the city is the Black Iron at Winstanley House in Braunstone Park, which really impressed me and from which I get consistently excellent reports.

 

Of the other contenders, I’ve not been to The White Peacock since chef Patron Phil Sharpe moved on, but one regular tells me it has been inconsistent. The place is now owned by the Koban group, which also runs Aspects in Enderby and has recently bought The Lansdowne on London Road and Fenway’s in Loughborough from the Orange Tree group and also the 1573 Steakhouse on the edge of Highcross. There’s the venerable Case, which you have to admire, but much as I love the venue the food has tended to leave me a little indifferent – not been for several years though. I hope to give the Queen Victoria Arts Club another go after a mixed result when I went soon after it opened.

At a more everyday level the Fish and The Chip seems to justify Aatin Anadkat’s decision to move away from fine dining with his bright and breezy, classy chip shop, and Crafty burger continues to attract large numbers. There’s also much interest in the Asian sector – Kayal and its vegetarian sister Herb continue to produce outstanding food and the more humble likes of Spicy Temptations and Wakaze are a delight. Paddy’s Martin Inn, Mithaas and Mumbai Inn are very different places which have all impressed me in recent months. Korean food is at last making an impact with Ongi and the wonderful Grounded Kitchen and I’m looking forward to trying Oppa – a new Korean barbecue place on High Street. I’m also quite fond of the Vietnamese chain Pho – though would love to see a quality independent doing south-east Asian food in the city.

Delilah’s is of course a big loss to the city and to St Martin’s in particular but let’s not forget there are still many terrific cafes and food and drink retailers in that area. Mrs Bridges is an under-appreciated gem, St Martins is quality as are Gelato Village, Cocoa Amore, Kai, The Bottle Garden, The Two Tailed Lion, 33 Cank St and others.

There’s now two competing streetfood nights competing for the pay day dollar on the last Friday of the month, and recently one of them, Canteen, has started having traders in New Market Square on Wednesdays during the day (12pm-8pm).

One word too for an unprespossessing little fast food outlet called Cha Cha’s Griddle at the bottom end of London Rd. It’s not going to change your world, but its Kolkata streetfood Kathi rolls – parathas lined with egg and wrapped around chicken or lamb kebabs or veg are fresh, hot, tasty, cheap, filling and just the thing when you want something quick and on the go. The likes of pau bhaji, bhel poori, and samosa chaat also available – run by nice people too.

So what is there to look forward too? In my neighbourhood I’m delighted to see that we’ve now got a Moroccan restaurant, with Al Ma’idah opening imminently on Queen’s Road. It will soon be joined by the reappearance of Friends Tandoori, a Belgrave institution which disappeared a decade ago. Clarendon Park has long needed a good Indian restaurant and hopefully this will be it. Also on the horizon on Queen’s Road is a new bar and restaurant in what was Cultura. Not many details yet but it’s an initiative of the people behind 33 Cank St and they’ve got a good chef on board so I’m hopeful.

In town the biggest news is probably Mowgli coming to St Martins – if it can maintain the liveliness and quality of its original branches then I can’t wait. But there’s the doleful example of Bill’s before us for places that can’t reproduce the magic ad infinitum.

OK that’s enough. Do let me know if there’s anything you want to add or feel I’ve got  wrong and I hope to be back soon, or at least when I’ve got something to say.

A feast at Hambleton Hall

November 13, 2018

Notwithstanding upstarts such as John’s House, the benchmark for fine dining in Leicestershire and Rutland remains Hambleton Hall.  And last Saturday night I was privileged to join in a private dinner there to celebrate my friend Tara’s 40th birthday and, gentle reader, it was completely stunning.

Bad blogging I know, but I’m not going to give you a blow by blow account  – we were having far too much fun for me to turn on work mode – but let me just offer the menu here:

 

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So many of my favourite ingredients here and every one of them was prepared, cooked and presented brilliantly. Here’s a few of my highlights – as ever it can be the littlest thing makes a dish memorable:

  • little crisps of Jerusalem artichokes that captured that flavour to perfection
  • a sublime canape of celeriac with celeriac with black and white truffle. I clocked a couple of spare ones as we left the bar to go to our table. If you think I asked around to see if anyone else wanted them, you are very wrong.
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  • little beetroot macarons (left) that supplied wonderful earthy intensity to match with a creamy horseradish ice-cream.
  • an immense scallop – I’ve had smaller fillet steaks – with foaming green lemongrass broth.
  • the unexpected synergy between immaculate duck breast and spiced black beans, and the sweet/sour citrus of kumquat.
  • a white chocolate truffle with superb cherry interior.

In truth it was all excellent and served with quiet elegance by a brilliantly marshalled troupe of young waiters who glided in and out in choreographed fashion, leaving us to have the time of lives and enjoy the wonders before us.

It’s  no accident that Hambleton Hall  has the longest retained Michelin star in the UK. It was an absolute joy to be there – massive kudos to chef Aaron Patterson,  restaurant director Graeme Matheson and their respective teams.

Queen Victoria Arts Club

November 11, 2018

Dinner at the Queen Victoria Arts Club in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter on Thursday. The capsule review is that it’s a lovely place, we had some good food, but it’s clear neither the kitchen nor the food are fully up to speed yet.

One of the key reasons for this is that they lost head chef Steve Durham just before opening night in Mid-October and it’s currently unclear whether he’ll be returning. They’ve got in some emergency help and I’m assured “issues have been resolved and a firm plan is in place”.  However there were some very basic errors.

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Photo credit: Saul Morgan

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First off though , it’s a splendid environment. I enjoyed the sophistication of the dark green colour scheme and there’s a pleasing sparkle from immaculate glassware and cutlery. The view from the big windows across Orton Square to Curve is a really superb urban vista. Just to confirm, the venue’s restaurant is open to the public while other areas, including meeting rooms and an elegant but cosy basement bar, are either bookable or for use by members as they develop a membership scheme.

Some people seem to have got the impression it’s super-exclusive, but in fact the restaurant is not all that expensive and they want to attract regular, repeat custom not just special event dining – the opening menu sees starters around £5-8, main courses £14-£18.  I started with roast salmon, a small but perfectly cooked piece of fish which should have come on a slaw of shaved apple and fennel with dried tomatoes. However it actually came with some dabs of lime mayonnaise and  sugar snap peas, which should have been the accompaniments for our other starter of a salmon fish cake, which in turn got the slaw. So, three weeks after opening neither the chefs or the wait staff picked up that the dishes had got swapped somehow. The fishcake and slaw were both very tasty though.

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photo shame: me

A further issue came in that there was no offer of a wine list until we chased it up sometime after ordering. I ordered a white wine for the fish but it didn’t show up – eventually I chased again and it came just as I was finishing. The waitress was most apologetic, blaming some communication problem between her tablet and the till – not good enough.

Looking at the menu I was attracted to “lamb with peppercorn sauce” – I asked about the cut and the waitress thought it was loin, turned out to be shoulder. However, it was some of the best shoulder I’ve encountered in a long while, tender and well-flavoured with a terrific sauce. A fondant potato was technically excellent – combining the roast and poaching processes to perfection.  The vegetables were beautifully prepared and cooked too – though there was nothing to suggest they were “lightly pickled” as described on the menu.

My partner’s main was a terrific dish – moist, flavoursome roast chicken with a very well-balanced cream sauce with wild mushrooms and tarragon. It came sitting on some wonderful roast garlic mash – again a well-judged balance of flavours.

A word on the wines – a NZ sauvignon blanc (when it came) was excellent and the Chilean carmenere was a great match with the lamb. Looking at the well-stocked bar it does look the drinks offering is sorted at least.

A desert of a blackberry bavarois with charlotte russe cake was a bit under-flavoured, though a quince sorbet with it was excellent. I don’t think it benefitted from all being put in a glass with the sorbet on top – made it a bit hard to savour different elements of the dish.

It’s tough for any new business and losing one of your major assets just as you open must be a stressful experience. But if it’s to bring in the local businesses and the creative types who you’d think will be it’s main clientele, QVAC will need a period of stability and some sharper service.   At the moment I’d have to put it in the “promising” category.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little saddened this evening to hear that The Orange Tree group, a long-standing provider of lively, independent venues for Leicestershire, has sold up to the brewery and pubco Charles Wells.

The four venues  – Leicester, Loughborough and Nottingham’s Orange Tree bars and Loughborough’s Kelso will continue to trade until the spring, when conversion to Well’s “Pizza, Pots and Pints” format will begin. The brand focuses on cosiness – with wood-fired ovens proving pizzas and one-pot comfort food dishes in ceramic pots. Bedford-based Wells has around 200 pubs, most in Southern Central England.

The news follows the sudden closure at the weekend of The Clarendon, the popular Clarendon Park pub where I have seen many glorious Leicester City victories (going four up at Derby in the first half springs to mind) as well as the failure to beat Stoke which sent us down to the third division, a moment which until this wretched weekend seemed to be the worst moment in our history.  High rents and rates and a lack of support from the pubco are blamed by the tenants. It’s not clear what’s happening yet but it could re-open under new tenants in due course. Very sad to see a proper pub being treated this way.

 

 

As some Leicester readers may have picked up, the remarkable Gelato in the Square event returns to St Martin’s Square this week. This time with added support from the likes of Leicester BID and companies Agrimontana and Carpagiani, it will be even more significant for Leicester.

GelatoThe weekend of 26/28 October will see a truly a truly world-class gathering of top makers from UK, Italy and the USA, including hosts Antonio and Daniele from Leicester’s Gelato Village. All the gelatieri are committed to principles of using natural, seasonal ingredients and the theme of “a unique flavour journey” will see them push the boundaries with exciting creations. Among the confirmed creations are “Memories of a Tortello”, with eggs, butter and sage, “Pirandello” with toasted almond, lemon zest and homemade almond and chocolate brittle, and “Year after Year”containing whisky, mascarpone and chocolate and coffee from Sao Tome. There will also be plenty of vegan friendly sorbettos.

As last year there will be special talks and demonstration to highlight how high quality makers perfect their product. It’s a great opportunity for East Midlanders to try something exceptional. For more details see visit Gelato in the Square . [Full disclosure – I’ll be one of the judges picking a winner at the end of the weekend.]

Elsewhere the new Queen Victoria Arts Club on Orton Square in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter has opened its restaurant. The club combines a membership model which provides access to a members basement bar and various booking privileges for its meeting and function rooms,  with a restaurant open to the public. I had a long chat with chef Steve Durham at a launch event and he seems excited by the challenge of running a high end restaurant and catering function in a beautifully restored Victorian building in the heart of the city. He has worked at high levels in the industry and his opening menu features interesting takes on classics of British cuisine – the likes of Brown Windsor soup with beef cheek, pressed pork and smoked black pudding terrine, and venison with chocolate and black cherry sauce. Given it’s position opposite Curve, a pre-theatre menu is available.

The King Richard III is bringing back a full menu for the winter months, having gone with a lighter touch chicken-focused menu over the summer. It established itself as one of the very best dining options in the city and if you’ve not been, it definitely deserves a visit. On the menu are starters such as porter-braised potted ox cheek or double Gloucester rarebit with leeks, pink pickled onion and tomato jam. Mains include wonderful March Farm steaks and wild mushroom, squash, chestnut and lentil wellington.

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Nisha Katona

Finally, exciting news that Indian streetfood restaurant Mowgli is coming to St Martin’s Square in the new year. The growing chain has six restaurants in the Midlands and North, with the Liverpool original recently listed as one of their favourites by food critics Marina O’Louhglin and Giles Coren. If Marina likes it, I’m pretty damned sure I will. Founder Nisha Kantona told thebusinessdesk.com that she’d been looking to open in Leicester but didn’t want to go near the big shopping centre – “ I spent a few nights and days in St Martins square – It feels very Mowgli and I loved its feel instantly.” She has also described Leicester as the “bright light’s, big city” when it comes to Inidan food. Mowgli’s menu is wide ranging and massively appealing – it takes in streetfood favourites such as bhel puri and South African bunny chow, vegetarian dishes such tea-steeped chickpeas and meats such as Manchurian chicken wings and a lamb curry simmered with anise, plums and chickpeas. Very much looking forward to this one.

I suspect quite a few readers will have dreamt of chucking in their day job to set up a little food business. Nathalie Salles has done it. And lovers of authentic French choux pastry should be delighted.

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I met Nathalie selling her glorious little sweet and savoury choux buns at Belgrave Food Fair last month under the name Choux’tique. She came to England from France to study product design at De Montfort but eventually tired of the corporate world. It turns out she’s an old friend of a friend and is baking out of her home just around the corner from me near Victoria Park, Leicester.

IMG_4191She’s now on a mission to broaden our awareness of just what can be done with choux pastry – and not least to correct our notion of the éclair. “Here you see eclairs filled with whipped cream – but in France that’s not an eclair! We use different flavours of crème patisserie.”

Her core range then includes little choux buns filled with divine praline or chocolate crème pat, and chouxquettes, favourites back in France but relatively unknown here, which are simply sprinkled with pearl sugar.

Then there are savoury versions – gougères topped with cheese or filled with bacon or, in the case of “le petit toad”, sausage. She’s also now producing non-choux savoury loaves, speckled with ham and olives or sundried tomato and olives. Wherever possible she’s sourcing from local traders – “It’s really good to develop a relationship with your suppliers,” she explains. “And the quality tends to be so much better than supermarkets.”

These treats are beautifully light and very versatile. Whether sweet or savoury they are perfect for a mid-morning break and as snacks or finger food at meetings, parties and events. Nathalie would love to help establish the French tradition of turning up to friends with a little gift of patisserie. Bigger, showstopper items such as Gateau St Honoré a spectacular Piece Montée can also be ordered.

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She’s currently building up awareness at fairs and foodie events and direct sales are taking off too – they can be picked up from Victoria Park Road or orders over £20 can be delivered free within two miles. If you want to give them a try call on 0116 210 8168 or 07974 140515, or check out more information www.facebook.com/tryit.itsfrench or on instagram it’s choux.tique .choux banner

 

 

 

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