Cured at the Cookie

September 19, 2017

I was pleased to be an early enthusiast for the work of Cured. Young chefs with a passion for flavours and produce who want to forge their own way – that’s the lifeblood of any city’s food scene. And to be based at a bar such as Brewdog – heaven.

So it’s great news that Martin and Oliver are finally back in town with a full-time base within lively independent cafe, cocktail bar and venue The Cookie. They keep the menu format of beautifully stacked platters for sharing – or for one if you’re as greedy as me – plus innovative side dishes and their own take on comfort food. This includes a burger yes, but also a “gobi cheese toastie” featuring spiced cauliflower in a turmeric cheese sauce on sourdough or soft duck tacos with jerked duck and pineapple salsa.

The model has also been moved on. The cures for their key elements are now spirits rather than beer. On your platter you’ll find a little jar of divine orange-scented duck cured and confited with Legendario rum that beats many a rillette in a French bistro. Then there’s bourbon and maple cured bacon like a sweet, fine ham, and purple-tinged salmon cured in Brooklyn gin and blueberries.  As before, the platters are packed with carefully chosen and well-executed extras that more than earn their place – sesame bread, crispy duck fat toasts, herb butter, crunchy house pickles, inspired zingy apple and ginger slaw, dill and pink peppercorn potato salad, apple piccalli, home-made chutneys and more (gluten free available).

small platter

Small platter

The tapas-sized sides now include the like of Vietnamese meatballs with a belting, coriander-rich green chilli jam which knocks spots of most version of this increasingly common condiment. If the newly-opened Pho across the road can do Vietnamese snacks this good I’d be surprised and delighted. Then there’s jackfruit bhaji which combine sweetness and spice in a way that suggests a sophisticated, grown-up version of the guilty pleasure that is a banana fritter.

jackfruit bhaji

Jackfruit bhaji with pineapple salsa

 

attic cocktail

Gin, blueberries, pink peppercorns and dill

This hugely enjoyable food can be enjoyed in the laid-back cafe surroundings of the Cookies ground floor, or the more tucked away environment of the upstairs Attic bar where the chefs’ pal Xander Driver is creating top-notch contemporary cocktails.

The Cookie looks a good cultural match for the business and the food deserves to be both sought out by serious food lovers and those simply out on the town and looking for sustenance (watch out for the late night street food offering from the front of the cafe on Saturday nights). Two people can have a platter and two sides for around £20 – the price of two burgers (but no fries) from Byron.

Taking influences from traditional techniques and from the multicultural cuisines that abound in our city, here is exciting food and a proper bargain. If this was in Shoreditch, the place would be over-run with hipster food writers – as it is, fill your boots Leicester.

 

Cured
68 High Street
Leicester
http://www.facebook.com/CuredLeicester/

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A Tale of Two Burgers

September 14, 2017

It’s hardly an original observation to suggest that Leicester city centre must be at or approaching Peak Burger. GBK is the most recent to arrive, filling the former Laura Ashley store at the Clocktower entrance to Highcross.

Can’t say I’ve been particularly tempted to try it – I expect it’s ok, but really Crafty has pretty much closed the book on burgers in Leicester.  But now there are signs that what the industry refers to as “better burgers” are now overflowing into the suburbs. In the last week I’ve visited a couple of venues to the South of the city. with similar names but quite differing approaches.

boo

Boo on London Rd is a sharply-branded independent at the quality fast-food end of the market. It’s halal and would appear to be attracted to the area by the hugely popular Turkish mangal Konak next door and Heavenly deserts one door further. It’s bright, open and friendly, offering a short, focussed menu featuring 28-day aged Aberdeen angus patties in 4oz, 6oz or 8oz combinations with the likes of cheese, pickles, onion rings, home-made sauces and their own surrogate bacon in the form of smoked beef strips. A halloumi version is available for the veggies.

boo2Our  4oz Haystack (£6.00) was great  – very decent meat, crispy battered onions and pleasingly gooey sauce on a good brioche. A 4oz “Chickaboo” chicken breast (£5.50) was moist and tender, though I was wasn’t much taken with the crispy coating. It certainly wasn’t comparable to buttermilk fried chicken I’ve had at both Cured and Crafty. Fries (£2) were good – sort of fat chips but scoop-shaped which made them perfect for dipping.

We also tried chicken wings (£3.50) which come in two “house” sauces –  buffalo hot sauce or a sweet and sticky version. These were great, nice and messy.  Hand-spun milkshakes  (£3.50) – one chocolate, one strawberry – were both excellent, sweet and creamy.

Boo looks like an ambitious business run by young guys looking to do things the right way and with a good approach to garnering customer feedback and acting on it. They’ve already been top in a Leicester Mercury poll of burger outlets.  They are social media savvy and understand their market well. I can imagine going back.

Across the park and up Queen’s Road is Moow. A sit-down restaurant with table service, this lies in what was Cultura and is run by the people behind 1573 steakhouse in the city centre and the newly-opened Halcyon Kitchen also on Queen’s Rd. It’s an attractive space and the jolly welcome from staff  on a very quiet midweek lunchtime made my lone diner experience very pleasant.

The menu is slightly wider – a dozen or so options including lamb, fish and chicken burgers and three vegetarian choices.  I had a bacon burger (£7.95)- and while everything was nicely presented, I wasn’t all that impressed. The 6oz burger made from “our own blend of Longhorn chuck, shin and rump steak” mince lacked succulence. I think that mix needs a bit more fat and maybe there was an issue with resting too, but whatever it was, the burger was rather dense and dry. The bacon strips were very crispy which didn’t help and I couldn’t detect any of the promised chilli jam. So while the brioche bun  and the onion ring were fine, and the fries (£2.50) excellent – the overall impact was rather disappointing.

The restaurant is licensed with beers and wines on offer, but I was tempted by one of the “hard shakes” – in my case a caramel shake laced with Jack Daniels (£6.50) which was delicious, a highlight of my day. Alcohol-free and – somehow – dairy-free shakes are also available.

Both restaurants have kids’ menus and are clearly keen to attract the family market. Horses for courses, and these two venues may only be half a mile a part but live in different worlds and are each adapted accordingly.

 

Toastbusters at Canteen

August 16, 2017

Somehow I seem to be very adept at being out of Leicester on the last Friday of the month. Which is an irritation because that’s when the hugely successful Canteen street food event takes place at Leicester’s Depot.

This month  – Friday 25 August – will be a particular  shame if I do have to miss it, as one of the new traders is Toastbusters, an initiative of charity Soft Touch, of which  I’ve been a board member for many years. Toastbusters is a social enterprise run with refugees and asylum seekers who attend regular cooking sessions at our base at 50 New Walk. The project combats isolation and helps people to learn new skills and share old ones. Sharing recipes from their homelands is a great way to mix. Their menu at Canteen  will include delicious toasted wraps with a range of exotic vegetarian and vegan fillings served with salads and relishes.

Toastbusters

Other traders include Street Souvlaki, bao buns form Wallace and Sons, barbecue  meats from Grill Brazil and great Caribbean food from the wonderful Leave it to Esmie. Lots more activities planned as this event continues to grow – details here.

maiyangofishRight, so the secret is now out. Maiyango is to relaunch as …”The Fish and The Chip”.

The move from globally-influenced fine dining to nostalgic British tradition couldn’t really be more pronounced. And to hammer home the handbreak turn the new restaurant comes with a statement paintjob of a massive Union Flag across its frontage. I’ve not seen images of the interior.

The new menu starts with classic fish and chips, mushy peas and tartar sauce. And at first site there’s little obvious attempt at gussying this up as gastro fish and chips – also on the menu is cheese and onion pasty and chips, fish finger club sandwich and sausage and chips. But the sausages are Lincolnshire, the fries can be skinny or fat, and there’s red wine gravy. Look more closely and Thai fishcakes and lobster and fries appear too. I suspect this won’t just be bog-standard fare.

There will be equally classic deserts  – massive ice-cream sundaes and so – and there will still be cocktails.  Founder Aatin Anadkat said he wants it to be fun and it looks like it will be. It may however have to walk a difficult line between being nostalgic and ironic, between being populist and quality. Knowing the business, I’d back them to get it right but the proof will be in the eating.

It opens on 17 August – to book visit Maiyango

[Edited – apologies for getting the name wrong in the initial draft of this article]

I’m not going to say too much just now but if you are vegetarian and you love Leicester’s Kayal – and who doesn’t? –  then I have some very exciting news for you.

A new venue from Kayal is set to open on Granby Street in the Autumn that will feature Keralan and other South Indian vegetarian food in a smart, full-service environment.  Kayal itself started off life as the vegetarian Halli and some of the staff team have been keen for some years to start another pure veggie venue with a focus on healthy food. Crucially, Kayal is unaffected.

With a con-fusion food barn opening this week in the form of Rickshaw Ricks (from the people who brought you Red Hot World Buffet), and another apparently buffet planned nearby, it’s great to hear there’s still space for food with quality, roots and integrity.

Gelato Village wins big

August 2, 2017

 

gelatovillage_1Many congratulations to Gelato Village  in St Martin’s for gaining two star awards for three of its flavours in the Great Taste Awards.  This is one of the most highly-respected of such schemes and only about 15 per cent of the awards are at two star level. The winning flavours were pistachio, hazelnut and almond and orange. Great to have such fine produce available our city centre.

Had rather a good week with three noteworthy meals locally.

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At the weekend I thoroughly enjoyed the Best of Maiyango tasting menu of which I wrote last week .   We’d been travelling up from down south on the day and were stuck motionless of the M25 for three hours and hence missed the first course.  Staff though were extremely helpful and flexible for us – stand out dishes for me were a super piece of seabass sat in a pool of lightly spiced coconut laska and with a fantastically bright and zingy coriander, mint  and green chilli chutney, plus a witty  terrine combining smoked ham, a mousse of cheddar cheese, quail’s egg, apple and a lip-smacking sweet-savoury relish of bacon jam.  But it was all good  – much as I’m looking forward to Maiyango’s replacement, I’ll really miss this level of food. There may be places left for the last two nights of the restaurant  on Friday and Saturday this week  – check on 251 8898 if you fancy going.

Then out in Rutland we had a super lunch at the King’s Arm’s, Wing. A leg of wild boar was wonderfully gamey and came with an intense sticky jus,  an apple stuffed with black pudding, red cabbage and a lovely rich dauphinoise. We also had a tremendous piece of turbot, sat on a hollandaise with samphire, asparagus and crayfish – caught by chef himself I believe. Here’s a restaurant that really takes produce seriously – it’s one of the few places where cliches about home made, artisan, and local and seasonal really merit being taken seriously. Every ingredient of these dishes was first rate. Sadly no pictures I’m afraid.

At a less exalted level but still very enjoyable was a light lunch at the Knight and Garter by Leicester market. A tasty porchetta and rocket sandwich  in a large crusty roll had a pot of pokey mustard sauce for dipping – it went down well with a pint of the unfiltered Budvar which is the bar’s speciality. Also impressing was a salad of perfectly cooked duck egg, with sauted jersey royals, asparagus and shavings of parmesan (or similar anyway).  I’d be happy to go back for more.

 

 

Some of you may have heard that after 12 years on St Nicholas Place, Leicester’s Maiyango is to close later this month. Well, yes, but it’s not necessarily the bad news you may have feared. The restaurant will reopen under the same team but with a new name and a new concept in August.

I reviewed Maiyango for Metro when it first opened (and at least four times since) and have enjoyed watching it thrive and mature into one of the city’s most consistent, innovative and enjoyable smart restaurants.  It started with a global fusion style that was slightly hit and miss, but developed a self-confident signature style that successfully blended influences from all around the world.

Last week I sat down with founder and  boss Aatin Anadkat  who explained why, despite the pride in what they’ve achieved with Maiyango, he felt the time was right to tweak the format.

 

maiyango-003

Maiyango’s distinctive style

 

“We never really intended to be high end or a place that people think of just for special occasions – the idea has always been to be quirky, original and fun,” said Aatin. “I’m not sure so many people want to spend all evening in a restaurant any more – the time seems right to appeal to a wider spectrum of diners.  But we’ll definitely be keeping our brand values – we worked hard to get our AA rosette and will maintain our quality.”

The restaurant will shut after 22nd July for a complete overhaul, but Aatin is not revealing too much at the moment about the new style  – he understandably doesn’t want people to have preconceived ideas or to immediately compare to Maiyango. He will confirm, thankfully, it’s  not a burger restaurant.

For those who have loved the place, or who might want to know what they missed out on, Maiyango is holding two weeks of special events that mark their distinctive style. For full details and to book, go to their website ,  but briefly here’s what’s going on:

7 July  – Four course gin-tasting dinner, with matching gin cocktails

9 July – Deserts and cocktails evening

12 July – Six course wine-matching dinner

13 July – Four course dinner and cocktail tasting evening

14,15,21,22 July  – Six course “Best of Maiyango” tasting menu. There will be two sittings each night at 6pm and 9pm, with a menu featuring popular dishes from the last 12 years including  the likes of the “picnic loaf” with spiced ham, quail egg, cheddar mousse, apple sausage and bacon jam,   and seared king scallop with  sambal, samphire, coconut and lime leaf. A vegetarian menu is available at all events.

Marabel

June 30, 2017

As most readers will know I’ve been reviewing for the Leicester Mercury for the last couple of years, and putting some of the more interesting reviews on here. Sadly the paper has decided to take the reviews “in house” – meaning they don’t have to pay an experienced freelancer like me but a staffer can do it as part of their job. Freelance people of any stripe will be aware of this phenomenon.

So no more Mercury reviews here I’m afraid – but I will try and keep the blog going with whatever news and reviews I can manage under my own steam. Here’s the last review done for the Mercury, based on an enjoyable couple of visits to a new Italian restaurant in Stoneygate.

 

 

Marabel

21 Allandale Road
Leicester
LE2 2DA
0116 270 3222

 

‘It’s not that “nouveau cuisine” is it?” asked the middle-aged man, warily. The waiter had just started to explain to him that Marabel is a cicchetti restaurant, featuring small plates for sharing and he seemed to feel he might be left hungry. Maintaining his equilibrium with admirable poise, the waiter suggested how he might like to order and assured him that the food would be nice and filling.

marabel1I suspect his little cameo may have been played several times over the last month since Marabel opened in the premises that previously housed the bar Mason and Brooke. Even in a place as apparently sophisticated as Stoneygate the concept of cicchetti doesn’t seem to have trickled down into the zeitgeist in the same way as tapas. But it is essentially the same concept, starting in the bars of Venice as simple sandwiches or snacks served with a drink, and later becoming pretty much synonymous with small versions of the national cuisine in a restaurant setting.

Marabel’s menu is a wide ranging collection of enticing Italian dishes at around £4 to £6 each plus the odd Spanish influence (patatas bravas should make the tapas penny drop). Appetisers such as San Daniele prosciutto with parmesan and aged balsamic set the tone for dishes that major on good ingredients treated simply and with a strong sense for flavour combinations. And on our first lunchtime visit that’s exactly what we got.

WP_20170601_007Crab piadinas (above) were delightful – flat breads stuffed with a well-balanced combination of crabmeat, lemon and mascapone. Pea and basil arancini were similarly excellent – deep-fried rice balls in a thin, crisp crumb with a garlicky mayonnaise, while a spinach and rocket salad was simple and fresh with plenty of thick shavings of parmesan. More substantial was a pasta dish of penne with 12-hour cooked beef ragu, a dish you’ve no doubt cooked at home but here was a genuine depth of flavour that made it restaurant-worthy. The same criteria I suppose applied to a lamb skewer (below – slatophobes fear not,  you do get provided with plates too) which had had been marinated in an oil, paprika chilli and mint to very good effect – the meat had been threaded with onions and peppers and barbecued in a clay oven.

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All these dishes were very well seasoned and dressed with herbs, crumbs, parmesan or oil – they felt cared for and designed to please.

The restaurant also describes itself as a wine bar and indeed the wine list is excellent, bearing the clear imprint of Simon March of Evington’s on Evington Rd. A shame then only two of each colour seem to be available by the glass. We certainly enjoyed the inevitable pinot grigio and a light, easy-going Bardolino that was full of cherries, but with Evington’s being my local shop I’m familiar with the wines on that list and with food as full-flavoured as this it would have been good to try something with more oomph such as the Marius Reserva from Southern Spain or the Salice Salentino Sampietrana from Puglia.

Anyway, I was keen to go back for an evening meal and this time picked some of the heftier dishes. Belly of pork was terrific, with soft, unctuous meat with sweet apple sauce and crispy sage leaves. The chicken cacciatora (literally hunter’s chicken) certainly had plenty of flavour but to my taste the tomato sauce was over-reduced and the dish was left a little dry, especially as only breast meat appeared to have been used. My mamma’s version (ok, granted, she’s from Battersea not Bologna) used moist leg and thigh meat and had plenty of sauce. A final dish of wild mushrooms in a creamy, garlicky sauce was exactly as it should be, ludicrously indulgent and terrifically tasty.

There’s little here that breaks boundaries or which will change your opinion of Italian cuisine but the food appears to be lovingly prepared by people who care about flavour and know how to treat ingredients. The environment and the service are very pleasant too. I think the format works a little better for a light lunch rather than a slap-up dinner but this is good food that will keep local peers such as neighbours Timo and Queens Rd tapas bar Barceloneta on their toes.

 

6 Degrees

June 27, 2017

 

IMG_3166Six Degrees is in many ways a modest little café on the busy London Rd. It serves excellent coffee from Leicester’s St Martin’s (soya and oat milk available for vegans), lovely cakes from “a lady in Wigston”, a nice line in freshly made sandwiches (bacon, brie and sweet chilli, peri peri chicken etc) and light snacks.

But what makes it particularly noteworthy is that is that is run by the Leicester charity Open Hands Trust and 100 per cent of the profits go to helping vulnerable and underprivileged local people with clothes, food, furniture and help with issues such self-esteem, English language and pre-school provision.  There’s a small core of paid staff backed by a team of 30 volunteers, who range from retired folk to youngsters seeking a bit of work experience to regular customers who just like the idea and want to contribute.

6degrees1

The shop was apparently a dream of manger Hazel Nash  – as in she literally had a dream about running a café  – which chimed with the ambitions of the charity. It’s been open for just over a year and the combination of social enterprise and friendly, accessible environment is popular with students from the nearby university (free Wi-Fi available), local business people and those coming and going up and down the London Road. They’ve been so busy they already converted their basement into a cosy extra space.

What’s good is that it doesn’t come across as either worthy or done on the cheap. “People say to us – ‘this is so nice but you’re raising money for charity – how does that work?!’,” deputy manager Katherine told me.

And the name?  An allusion to the “six degrees of separation” meme and hence an allusion to the idea that we all connected.

  • Just to add if you are in New Walk area you should also consider popping  in to the regular Thursday lunch-time pop-up café at Soft Touch, 50 New Walk. I’ve been a trustee of Soft Touch for many years and can bear witness to the tremendous work it does using the arts and creativity with young people. Look here for more info.
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