The Crab and Cow

September 2, 2015

Good  to see another smart dining pub opening in the south of the County.  The Crab and Cow opens today, 2nd September, in the small of village of Leire near Broughton Astley.

Crab and Cow

This is the former White Horse, dating from the 18th century, extensively refurbished by new owners Paul, Nathan and Cheryl Burrell  and now decked out in de rigueur steely greys and blues.  The kitchen is run by chef Anthony Clarke, while front of house is the domain of general manager Nick Broderick who formerly ran a style bar in Leicester but more recently has been back at home in Cornwall running Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant in Padstow.

No surprise maybe then the menu will feature plenty of fresh fish delivered daily from Cornwall, as well as local Leicestershire meat and produce. It’s in familiar gastro pub territory but with enough tweaks to hope the food might be quite interesting  – beef cheeks in panko crumb with pickled vegetables, Mauritian fish curry, whole Singapore chilli crab, pork belly with smoked mash and burnt apple  and steaks with North African and Korean rubs.

“We are passionate about the range and quality of the locally soured produce we use,” says Broderick. “We like to think that our cooking is straightforward and unfussy, allowing the flavours of the quality ingredients we use to shine through.”

Tatra Eastern Corner

August 26, 2015

I really enjoyed a recent visit to Tatra Eastern Corner on Northampton Street, Leicester to review for the Mercury.   It had all the positive qualities of a restaurant cooking homely food for exiles. Leicester knows better than almost anywhere else that one of the first things that migrant communities do when they arrive is open restaurants.  The taste of home is a vital part of soothing the transition to somewhere new.

At some point, of course, there’s usually a crossover where the host community catches on to what’s on offer. Some of you, for example, may have heard of curry – I’m told it’s becoming quite popular.

And so we come to Tatra Eastern Corner, a restaurant and bar in Leicester city centre that is offering a home from home to Slovaks and Czechs. Whether in 20 years time bryndzové halušky (sheep cheese dumplings) will be as firmly fixed in the nation’s psyche as chicken tikka masala I have my doubts, but it’s clear that there is plenty for all of us to enjoy in the tasty, robust food being offered here.

Slovak food is based on a small number of distinctive dishes which are complemented by influences from Hungary, Poland, Austria and other surrounding nations. You won’t find lamb or much fish, but plenty of pork, beef, cheese and beans. In the main its hearty, peasant food, designed to fuel hard labour in the fields, but it does come with bold flavours too.

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Goulash and dumplings (from Tatra Eastern Corner’s website)

I started with a bean and smoked pork knuckle soup. On a day when the English summer was doing a fair impression of a November morning, this was a simple but tasty and warming dish. Red kidney beans in a rich tomato based soup with plenty of strongly-smoked pork, which I would describe as “pulled” if such a voguish term didn’t seem inappropriate for a dish that gave the impression of having ancient roots.

We also had fried Slovak sausage, another delicious way to serve up pig served with bread and mustard that may have looked like the mild American stuff you put on a hotdog but which was seriously powerful. Even better were three other little accompaniments of horseradish, pickled red cabbage and a cracking little beetroot relish.

We washed it down with Czech Kozel beer – which was ok, though the beer snob in me thinks it was probably better before industry giants SABMiller got their hands on the brand. Also available though are beers such as Urquell and Golden Pheasant, various local firewaters made from pear, cherry and plum, and a range of Slovak soft drinks.

Main courses were taken from the slow-cooked section of the menu. Roast pork with sauerkraut was a generous plateful with hefty slabs of tender pork flavoured with mild garlic and matched with nicely sweet and sharp cabbage. There was a sizeable portion of dumplings, sliced like bread and much lighter than they looked, though they still defeated me. Hungarian goulash was tremendous, unrecognisable from the pallid version that would occasionally turn up on British restaurant menus in my youth. A mouth-tingling beef stew in a rich, spicy sauce suggesting shedloads of fresh paprika. This really felt like food prepared with love.

I was lightly teased for being a dumpling lightweight by the cheerful Matthias, one of the team behind the restaurant and who – rather wonderfully – is actually a vet originally from Burundi. He studied in Slovakia, married a local lass and eventually they moved here. By day he works for the Food Standards Agency, by night he helps his wife and the chef run the restaurant.

With walls adorned with pictures of Bratislava and Kosice, the vibe here is clearly Slovak but it feels welcoming to all. It’s worth bearing in mind it is a bar, not just a restaurant, and on our Friday night visit refreshment had clearly been taken by some of our amiable fellow guests. Homely rather than sophisticated, this is definitely a place to try for those with an appetite for something hearty and authentic.

Windows on New Walk

August 23, 2015

I reviewed the Belmont Hotel’s restaurant Windows on New Walk  for the Leicester Mercury recently.  I’m not a great fan of hotel restaurants due to considerable experience of their mediocrity.

The Belmont though wasn’t too bad at all.  There’s a new chef  there  which prompted the visit there was a sense of kitchen standards being quite high and the food on the plate was in the main well thought out, well-cooked and nicely present.

A starter of  smoked duck breast, Bosworth Battlefield Blue cheese and roasted walnuts, sprinkled with microherbs turned out to be a really fine combination of flavours and textures, presented with dainty flair. Our other starter was a complete contrast in style, a warm puff pastry tart of wild mushrooms. A hearty affair with plenty of fungi in a rich cream sauce, further livened up with a judicious splash of truffle oil and a perfectly poached egg that oozed satisfyingly over things. Not exactly cutting edge but none the worse for that.

Main courses include a range of locally-sourced steaks (a reminder perhaps that a key constituency here is blokes away from home dining on their own), some old school classics such as whole baked lemon sole with capers and beurre noisette, and a selection of those quite ambitious, attractive-sounding dishes that have so often let me down. The respectable standard of starters had raised hopes though.

My slow-roast rabbit dish justified higher expectations. It was a skilfully prepared, well-cooked and very enjoyable dish. Rabbit can easily dry out but this was tender as you like, with the drumstick left on the bone and the thigh stuffed with a lively chicken and chorizo forcemeat. It made a good plateful with sauted new potatoes, savoy cabbage with bacon lardons, cauliflower purée and a red wine sauce. If I was picking holes, the cabbage was a little drab and a little more sauce was needed but this was a lot better than experience has led me to expect.

A classic duo of confit shoulder and roast rump of lamb also passed muster. The rump could and should have been a bit pinker, just to emphasise the contrast in taste and texture with the slower cooked shoulder. And again a little more sauce would have helped to mop up a sizeable rosemary and garlic fondant potato but a good dish.

We were pleased to see most of the wine list was available by the glass and our Argentinian Malbec and Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon were both excellent.

Deserts pleased though didn’t dazzle. My white chocolate and rhubarb tart was, of course, very sweet, but the rhubarb that should have offered a tart contrast was bland and mushy and ginger syrup didn’t really show up. White chocolate sorbet was delicious but overall the dish didn’t have the dialogue it needed. Another desert of an elegant coffee and praline cheesecake with mango sorbet and a tropical fruit salad had great constituent parts but we weren’t convinced they all benefited from being on the same plate.

It’s a sophisticated place, though you never quite forget you are in a hotel. You kind of felt the friendly staff all had other jobs to be getting on with rather than being able to give you undivided attention, and it’s never good to have tables relaid around you as you finish your meal. That said, we walked away feeling well fed and thinking there’s plenty of Leicester diners who might enjoy this too.

A few weeks back my friends had twins (Hi Benny! Hi Freya!). Mum and Dad are wont to frequent restaurants and we plan on going out to one together again in – ooh, about 2021.

We have, however, already managed a night in with the baby monitor and a delivery. This was facilitated by Deliveroo, a service well established in London and which has recently launched in Leicester.  Basically it is an outsourced delivery service for independent restaurants  and others that would not normally offer it themselves. So if you want or need to eat at home, or in the office during the day, you are no longer limited to standard takeaways. We had a variety of tagines from Marrakech on Highfield Street and it all worked splendidly.

A few weeks later I met Jason Mann, Deliveroo’s man in the Midlands, who explained a bit more about the concept. Deliveroo has its own team on bikes and scooters, who position themselves strategically around the city centre. Diners go on the Deliveroo website where they can see the restaurant menus – edited to include just the deliverable items – and make an order and pay. Restaurants are notified and accept the order, then your delivery guy picks it up and delivers. You can pick a time slot if ordering ahead, or the average delivery time from ordering is 32 minutes.

There’s a minimum order of £15 and a standard delivery charge of £2.50. Currently it only operates within a radius of 2.5 kilometres of the city centre, though that might change in future.  At the moment  there are around 25 restaurants in the scheme, including Maiyango (from their daytime menu), Crafty Burger, Peter Pizzeria, Carluccio’s, Kuru Kuru Sushi, Cedars Lebanese, The Smokehouse, Yesim, Queen of Bradgate and the Slovakian bar and restaurant Tatra Eastern Corner (look out for my review in the Mercury this coming Saturday).

I was invited to try out the service on them, and again it all worked fine. The website is admirably streamlined and ordering is straightforward. The delivery came on time to the minute, and the food – old-school Chinese from the newly-relaunched Peking on Charles Street – came in good condition.

I had a few questions about how it all operated and Jason offered to talk to a couple of restaurants and  make a little film for this blog, so I emailed a few questions and they went to talk to Peter Pizzeria and Cedars Lebanese. Here’s the result!:

An intriguing new venue opens in Leicester this weekend. Haycock  and Tailbar Associates open a “cocktail and supper room” on Belvoir Street. It has low-key branding with just a logo on a big black door, so no windows or other signage. It’s actually the building that was Young’s Camera shop on the corner of Albion St and Belvoir St.

Inside the black door is a dark room with bar, rocking that speakeasy vibe with sharply focused lights on booths.  Not the place to show off your new frock. Apparently inspiration comes from supper rooms in 1950s Berlin. I thought that was mainly a bombsite but maybe not.

The owners have been running a venue in Northampton, and like that the Leicester restaurant has a focus on novel steaks which you cook at table on hot bricks.  At a pre-launch event last night we were given reindeer, French mouflon sheep, rose veal and beef fillet.  I enjoyed them all hugely, though I’m not yet convinced that cooking them yourselves is the best way to enjoy it. I think on a regular night, new diners will be talked the process a bit more so…

Haycock and Tailbar

Also available on occasions, or when prebooked,  are the likes of Waygu beef, Alpaca, Zebra, Kangaroo, Crocodile and Ostrich.  “We don’t see exotics as a gimmick,” states the menu. “They are highly nutritious offer a very wide  range of flavours and textures and …are sourced from the wild or only farmed on a small scale.”

Starters also include exotics, though nice as it was I’m not sure Camel con Carne was a huge improvement on more mainstream meat. As the self-proclaimed gourmand at the table I was somewhat bullied into having the mealworm croquettes – perfectly pleasant as long as you didn’t actually look at them.

Oh and while I’m not a huge expert, the cocktails seemed great. Prosecco, Courvoisier and crème du mure is definitely something on the list for next Christmas.

It opens on Friday and you can see more here: Haycock and Tailbar

Bonzai Sushi

August 11, 2015

Leicester is to get another sushi restaurant.

Bonzai has been trading successfully in Carlton Street, Nottingham, for seven years and the Leicester branch is their first expansion. It will be located in the former Petit Four, on the corner of Hotel Street and Horsefair Street opposite McDonalds.

The Nottingham menu is huge  and as well as individual sushi and sashimi items it includes a wide range of main courses of rice and noodle bowl, teppanyaki set meals and Malaysian, Thai and Korean dishes. In other words, it seems to be more of a sit down restaurant than the street-food vibe  of the tiny Kuru Kuru which has been exciting Leicester’s sushi lovers this year. I do hope there’s room for both.

If anyone has experience of the Nottingham branch do please share here.

Paddy’s Marten Inn

July 28, 2015

Long-term readers of this blog will know I’ve always really enjoyed my trips to Paddy’s Marten Inn. I’ve been again recently for a  review in the Leicester Mercury and had another enjoyable evening with great food. It’s not a smart place, but neither is it one of those “rough diamond” places that no-one would ever guess does good food. It’s just a down-to-earth, simple venue that has great food and a huge following. Here’s the review:

Paddy’s Marten Inn
98 Martin Street
Leicester
LE4 6EU

0116 266 5123

Open: weekdays 5.30pm -10.30pm, weekends 5.30pm-11.pm

Cost – two courses, around £13

8 out of 10

The first time I went to Paddy’s I was to told to watch out for the Audis and Beamers parked along the street. It may be located in an unprepossessing backstreet pub but, said my pal, successful Asian business types now domiciled in Stoneygate still flock back there for great value, desi-style food.

I could understand why. It was a welcoming, unpretentious place offering a great range of food in a buzzing environment. I wasn’t surprised when a few years later in 2011 Jamie Oliver found his way there and featured the place in his Jamie’s Great Britain series, enjoying a trip round Leicester Market with chef Amita Mashru before cooking a dish at the restaurant.

But such fabulous publicity doesn’t always do a place favours. It was already a successful restaurant, would it now get ideas above it self? Move away from the generous, down-to-earth style that made it so popular?

I forced myself back there to check out. As we drove down Martin Street – a dark, sparsely-populated side-street off Catherine Street – I was reassured to have to park up some way from the restaurant, and immediately behind a rather large BMW. Inside the door, again I was pleased again to see nothing had changed. It’s still a resolutely unimproved venue – it’s décor is standard inter-war estate pub, but instead of horsebrasses the walls are adorned with black and white pictures of Bollywood stars.

It’s lack of any contemporary styling though is one of its most appealing aspects. No body is dressed up, no body is trying to impress, everybody is just there to share good food with friends. There are families, couples, big groups and small groups all busily chatting away while cheerful waiters glide around bringing large platters to their tables. It’s one of the most unobtrusively efficient restaurants I’ve ever witnessed.

The choice is wide but you don’t the impression this is a case of there being just one mother sauce in the kitchen with a few additions thrown in here and there to fill out a menu. This is a busy restaurant, with lots of staff, producing lots of fresh food – they can handle a wide menu.

Our starters are wonderful. Crispy chilli aubergine is a dish in the popular Indo-Chinese style – a huge pile of sweet, juicy aubergine bites, given a crisp from a hint of batter which has been stirred through rather covering each piece. With sweet red peppers, spices and a lick of sauce it was fabulous food, though better as a part of shared approach to starters than as a dish to be consumed all on its own. Sheek kebab – four fat sizzling spiced and minced lamb kebabs in a starter portion – were surprisingly delicate and the rangeeli tawa fish were magnificent. A tad oily for some perhaps but lovely firm fillets of fish in vibrant spices from India’s North West. A really exuberant dish.

Despite being rammed on a Tuesday night our waiter was calm, friendly and thoughtful, taking plenty of time to advise on our ordering and explain the dishes. With food this appealing, presented in such quantity (mains all come with rice and naan bread) it’s easy to over order but repackaging of left overs for you to take home is offered as a matter of course. Not that there was any danger of that with my lamb chop curry. Not the tenderest lamb I’ve encountered but these cutlets bore the hallmarks of a long marination and quick grilling. They came in a big bowl of lively sauce and simply cried out to be picked up and gnawed until the last gobbet had gone. Not a first date dish we agreed.

More fish loveliness was had with kathiawadi masala fish – a dryer dish with a fresh, herby masala deriving this time from Gujarat. A third main course was simply billed as “traditional chicken curry”, and with a place such as Paddy’s you feel confident with whatever they deem traditional. Not much more to say other than it was lovely – and you can order it as mild or hot as you fancy.

It’s not easy reviewing Indian restaurants in the UK. Everyone tends to have their favourite and many don’t want to venture much further. But anyone who misses Paddy’s is missing a treat. There is cuisine from all over India, and dishes ranging from homely vegetarian choices such as rajasthani egg curry or gungo peas with fenugreek, to the East African-influenced chicken machoosi and those wonderful spice-laden fish fillets. But it does not play heavily on notions of authenticity – it’s just a place that says “this is our food, come and try it”. And you should.

WP_20150725_13_08_25_Pro I enjoyed a splendid lunch a St Martin’s Tea and Coffee today – a beautiful rich and warming rendang curry made with ox-cheek along with zingy salad with lime and coriander dressing. The beef (liberally covered in toasted coconut) had clearly been cooked for many hours, overnight quite possibly, and was tender as you like. Having also had a great satay a couple of weeks back  and then yesterday reading Leicester Veggie’s enthusiastic review of her vegan Jakarta Gado Gado, I wondered what was prompting this South East Asian fest.

The answer is a new chef has joined Chris Elliman and his team and it’s Bobby Ananta from Java.  You might have seen Bobby preparing a fantastic seabass dish in one episode of Nigel Slater’s recent series Eating Together.  It seems he had been managing a coffee bar in Leicester, and it’s great that he’s now getting a chance to cook. And more good news in that while he’s starting off with one or two of the more well-known dishes, in due course he’ll be  pushing the boat a bit more. In particular watch for a ticketed mid-week event being planned that will involve a full Indonesian menu.

Meatcure

July 23, 2015

A welcome for “burger shed” Meatcure, which launched its Leicester branch last night and adds another lively, motivated independent outside (just, but definitely outside) of Highcross.

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I reviewed their Harborough operation and was impressed with the burger, the bun, the beer and their general approach.  The grass-fed, dry-aged meat is from Joseph Morris in Kilworth, the brioche bun is the result of a prolonged process of refining with Harborough bakers Emerson and West and the care and attention shows. Having had a few tasters at last night’s launch, the spicy chicken wings and ribs seem pretty good too. The brunch menu served from 9.30 looks appealing too. It’s a simple, stripped down sort of place but should have a quite wide appeal.

Every city needs people with a local commitment doing quality food and, along with Crafty Burger, these guys are showing it can be done for the burger.

Find them at 19 Highcross Street, an area which is now gathering a fair number of interesting places to eat and drink.

 

John’s House

July 21, 2015

Here’s my Leicester Mercury review of John’s House in Mountsorrel – a lovely night out with beautiful food. It’s a real boost for the county that someone’s doing food like this  – and I know that the tourism folk are delighted.

John’s House

139 – 141 Loughborough Road
Mountsorrel
Loughborough, LE12 7AA

01509 415569

Cost: three courses £47

Open: Tues-Sat 12-2pm, 7-9pm.

9 out of 10

f9edd036e1a24014e715b14b62117bab_f140We should probably get something clear straight away. John’s House won’t be for everyone. Not just because of the considerable cost, but because chef John Duffin and his team are trying something unusual for Leicestershire in offering precise, contemporary, sophisticated fine dining.

Duffin has returned home to Mountsorrel after learning his craft with some of the nation’s most respected and innovative chefs, including Claude Bosi and most recently Simon Rogan at Roganic in London. Given the alarming closure rate of London restaurants as rents go through the roof, coming back to Leicestershire to launch out on his own is understandable. But just as important is that “home” is Stonehurst Farm, known to many in the county for its family farm park, and an immediate source of some fine ingredients. In addition there was a largely unused part of the family home ripe for conversion as a restaurant. It all just added up.

Indeed it is the domestic feel of John’s House that strikes you straight away. From the moment you sit down in the lounge, the sense is of a dinner party at a friend’s house. Only your friend has worked in kitchens with two Michelin stars.

The fun starts almost straight away with some phenomenally good canapes served as you read the menu. A little tomato macaron defied expectations by being intensely savoury, dusted with powerful tomato powder and filled with a vibrant green basil cream. These were followed by a toasted barley cracker, which looked like a hideous dieter’s crispbread but was a deeply flavoursome bite, loaded with goat’s cheese and decorated with radish, flowers and more herby gels. Finally there was a little cornet of an unbelievably rich and silky duck liver parfait with a shot of cumberland sauce and topped with crispy chicken skin. It was a mere morsel but my goodness was it good. Presented with real panache and showing wit, skill and creativity these really set the tone for the evening.

Farm and kitchen garden produce is the key to this restaurant’s approach. This is ingredient-led cooking where the quality of the produce dictates the dish and what might seem humble items are raised to superstar status. A starter of heritage tomatoes heaped shame on the produce of Dutch greenhouses. A variety of shapes and sizes, they sang out lustily with flavour, garnished with some crunch from buckwheat and flavour from frozen parmesan (bit of a molecular cuisine favourite, this). It might have seemed simple but there was an awful lot happening.

In our other starter it was peas that took the lead role. Tiny, fresh little blighters from the garden, they were beautifully sweet. They came with onion dumplings, which scored highly with flavour but I wasn’t converted by the somewhat mushy texture. The dish was completed with terrific roast shallots and a light, creamy sauce with background flavours of mint and lime. This was top rate seasonal cooking, with dishes being tweaked by the week almost according to what’s coming through in the kitchen garden.

The same approach was seen in the mains – hogget (year old lamb) from the farm was served up earlier in the year with wood blewit mushrooms, but now came with baby courgettes, more of those remarkable tomatoes, and a little salty feta cheese. The belly and shoulder of hogget was delightful, though my favourite element was a little crumbed nugget of sweetbread. In the other main some earthy, full-flavoured pollack came with a summery collation of peas, potatoes leaves and flowers, with some smoky flavour from shavings of lardo (cured pork fat). All of this went together swimmingly but there was a quenelle of a sort of lemon confit that was a big blunderbus of flavour that for us didn’t sit comfortably.

A quick word on the wine list – if you tend to read these from the bottom up, be prepared for an intake of breath as you find the legendary Penfold Grange and Chateau Mouton Rothschild at £750. If your budget is more Leicester Mercury than Freddie Mercury, the top of the list is £18.

Deserts were perfect little seasonal masterpieces. Macerated strawberries came with a superb strawberry sorbet, strawberry snow, hay-flavoured custard and an inspired syrup made from the delicately aniseed-tinged leaves of sweet cicely. It was a tremendous culinary expression of an English summer day. The same could be said of our other desert – a combination of white chocolate with elderflower sorbet, raspberries and pistachio that brought almost embarrassingly loud and persistent sighs of pleasure from my dining partner.

We finished up with peppermint tea – by which I mean huge sprigs of peppermint infused with hot water – and some great petit fours such as lollipops of white chocolate with violet cream and a hibiscus macaron.

John’s House has been open since late last year, so the guidebooks may be just about ready to catch up with the place. Whatever they ultimately make of it, we should be pleased that John has come home to push the boundaries of Leicestershire’s dining scene that bit further.

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