December 1, 2015
Here’s the second in a pair of Sunday lunch reviews for the Leicester Mercury. I was keen to recommend a place that wasn’t a posh country pub restaurant but an honest, great value, urban venue that was ideal for a relaxed wander down to for a pint and some roast beef. The Font fits the bill perfectly – at £12 for three courses it doesn’t break the bank, the food is fine and it’s well run:
52 ½ Gateway Street
Leicester LE2 7DP
0116 319 7855
Food service – Mon-Sun 12-7pm
Doing this job, I’m often asked for recommendations for places to eat. It’s a question that usually prompts a lot more back from me – who’s going, what do they like, what’s your budget, will you be driving, are you looking for formal or informal?
Pointers for a good Sunday lunch are a particularly common request and my questions are just the same. Most restaurants or pubs that do food should be able to rustle up a decent Sunday roast, and so the key questions are budget and the kind of venue you want. Last week I reviewed a smart country pub in a relatively remote village that for many is priced in the special treat category. This week it’s a funkier urban venue that is easily accessible for most city-dwellers and which offers tremendous value.
The Font will be well-known to those connected with nearby De Montfort University and the Royal Infirmary. But, tucked away on a back street, it’s a bit off the map for many others who might enjoy its relaxed Sunday vibe. You wouldn’t describe it as cosy – it’s a large, high-ceilinged room in modern building with a long bar with some high stools and ledges for perching and some fairly rough old furniture laid out like a refectory. That said, while there’s piles of magazines and fliers around the place, it doesn’t have that Student Union feel of some of chain pubs in the area. It feels like an independent place run by people who care and where everyone is welcome.
It’s regular menu is fairly standard drinker’s fare of burgers, nachos, all day breakfasts and so on but done well enough to suggest that standards matter to the kitchen. On Sundays the lunch offering is slimmed down to a couple of starters a choice of three roasts and a couple of desserts. At £12 for three courses this looked a bargain – as long the food was of good standard.
I started with a great peppery leek and potato soup, with big crunchy croutons and a cheffy chiffonade of leeks to garnish. Winter had finally arrived on the day of our visit and this was a very good warming soup dish with good flavour and texture. The other starter was of ham hock croquettes – well-made, tasty little nuggets with some fresh, crisp leaves in an excellent honey and mustard dressing.
Our roasts – one beef, one turkey – were absolutely fine. Plenty of good quality meat, some really outstanding roast potatoes and excellent freshly prepared yorkshire puddings. There were three vegetables including some cheese-topped broccoli in portions than amounted to an elegant sufficiency rather than the Desperate Dan approach you can find yourself adopting at a carvery.
The pub does have some good offers on wine but on this occasion we stuck to a couple of craft beers from Meantime and Vedett – both a happy match for a Sunday lunch.
Desserts changed from the printed menu, offering confirmation that dishes here are prepared from fresh and when they’ve gone they’ve gone ,rather than another batch being defrosted or whatever. Home-made rice pudding with home-made raspberry jam and chocolate brioche soldiers was unashamed nursery pudding heaven and a cheesecake with chocolate shards and chocolate sauce was equally appealing.
Staff reflect the venue – young, somewhat hipster but friendly, efficient and solicitous.
No-one would claim this is truly outstanding food unmatched in the Midlands, but for a relaxed, informal but good quality lunch in the heart of the city along with the Sunday papers or a group of friends, the Font does a very good job and at a great price.
November 26, 2015
I’ve done a couple of reviews of Sunday lunches for my Leicester Mercury column. It’s something I’m regularly asked to recommend – which is difficult in that most places should be able to do a decent A Sunday roast, and it’s hard to do that is stunningly better than everyone else, or indeed that you can do at home. So a lot of it is about the venue. I started with a smart country pub:
Sunday lunch plays a special role in the lives of many Britons. For the lucky amongst us, it brings back happy memories of family life – for me, it was visits from my grandma and a gathering round the table while listening to Two-way Family Favourites.
Today it’s likely to be one of the few occasions when people eat together around the table. Pubs of course have latched on to this and the pub Sunday lunch is possibly as much as a ritual as the domestic one. So as Autumn sets in and our mind turns from salads to more substantial comfort food, this column will take a couple of looks at this Great British institution.
This week it is the Grey Goose in the South Leicestershire village of Gilmorton. Around six years ago the pub was extended and refurbished to the tune of of £1.3million – an expression of confidence at time when the economy was freefalling that if you provide good food the people will come. It’s steadily built a reputation over that time and the fact that Sundays now see it running three sittings to pack in the dinners shows that the appetite is still growing.
It’s a contemporary-styled building – lots of slate grey – with a large dining area and arriving at 12.30 there was a lot of bustle and chatter. We were asked for a drinks order before we’d even all sat down which raised fears we might be hustled along, but they would prove unfounded and service was very good throughout our stay.
The Grey Goose is a proper high-end restaurant in the week – we were hoping that standards would stay high on a day of the week when maybe some places would be happy to take the easy dollar. And looking at starters, they generally were. The exception was some under-seasoned devilled whitebait, with no discernible devilment, and a garlic mayonnaise with no discernible garlic – the fish themselves were ok but the dish failed to justify a £7.95 price tag. Much better though were some chunky lamb kidneys with wild mushrooms, two substantial chunks of lightly-breaded baked brie with plenty of cranberries and another dish of wild mushrooms in a roquefort sauce on sourdough toast. These were all substantial, well-cooked dishes with quality ingredients that set us up nicely for the main event.
The centre of the pub is given over to a carvery (main course – £13.95) on Sunday and this is what two of us choose. It’s an entirely pleasing experience, with three huge joints being carved and served with great bonhomie. This was a proper Dickensian, Mr Pickwick vibe. Servings are huge and you are welcome to mix and match the roasts – in this case Aubrey Allen beef, Leicestershire turkey and pork loin.
Turkey could wait for another day, but the beef was very good and the pork was sensationally good. You can then help yourself from the very wide selection of extras – acceptably crispy roasts, mash, peas, carrots, hispi cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli mornay, stuffing, yorkies, gravy, horseradish.
Of course at a carvery some things – Yorkshire puddings especially – can’t quite measure up to what can be done when you serve fresh from the oven at home, but this was in general a creditable effort. The pub managed a complex operation with commendable smoothness.
A nut roast is available but our vegetarian main courses were maybe preferable. A risotto of slow roasted tomatoes and creamy goat’s cheese was possibly a bit over salty but was deeply flavoursome and Thai vegetable curry was lively and vibrant and served with a touch of flair – it certainly measured up to versions I’ve tried in UK Thai restaurants.
The wine list is helpfully designed and annotated to make easier to pick an appropriate style and our Lunaris malbec from Argentina met with universal approval, though sadly the pub seems to have succumbed to the current fashion of serving its ale far too cold.
A couple of shared deserts of good, soft creamy ice-cream – we had salted caramel and pistachio – and a very light citric tart of lime and elderflower with some beautiful fat, sweet berries and we were done. Back home to fall asleep in front of the TV. On a weekend when we were mourning the deadly attacks on people enjoying simple pleasures in Paris, the pleasure gained from this time-honoured aspect of our lifestyle seemed especially sharp.
November 22, 2015
There was some gorgeous stuff on Leicester Market today. With the rutting season pretty much over there’s some wonderful venison coming down from Bradgate Park – including this handsome chop which looks good enough to celebrate something special such as – ooh – going top of the Premier League maybe?
There were also some beautiful blue swimming crabs and fat scallops that will make a few more great meals somewhere in Leicester tonight.
It certainly set my culinary senses racing in advance of the Winter Food Festival which takes place at the market tomorrow (Sunday) from 11-6pm.
November 20, 2015
News of an additional facility at a well-established restaurant and of a couple of interesting new openings that highlighting the diversity of Leicester’s dining scene.
To mark its 10th anniversary, Maiyango has converted its former deli at 52A Highcross St – which suffered during the major disruption that accompanied the creation of Jubilee Square – into The Tasting Room. This warmly decorated space that can be booked for groups of up to 20 for private gatetherings, where they can play own music along with their own bar tender, with free hire when they pick a drinks package along with optional canapes, antipasti board and nibbles.
Alternatively groups can book their own cocktails classes where a mixologist can take the group through the classics or help them create their own.
At the launch event I sampled a sublime gin jelly cocktail with tonic granita and coriander and you can see me on the right shaking a white chocolate and mint martini. Not my usual tipples but good fun.
I also tried this week a new London Rd restaurant Karamay, apparently one of the very first Westen Chinese restaurants in the country, featuring the cuisine of the Muslim Uighur people of Xinjiang. Their culture is quite distinct from the rest of China and the food has clear links to central Asian and Turkish food. I won’t say much here yet as I’ll be writing a newspaper review soon but this was good, well-cooked comfort food in informal surroundings and I’ll definitely be going back.
Further up on London Road, another South Indian restaurant opened this week called Chettinad, a project linked to the vegetarian Shivalli on Welford Road and to a restaurant of the same name ion central London. Both of these draw inspiration – and I choose those words very carefully – from Halli, the vegetarian restaurant opened by Jaimon Thomas which subsequently became the hugely successful Kayal.
The menu looks to draw broadly from the cuisines of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala with lamb fish, chicken dishes and a wide range of dosas. Looks very promising and a big improvement on the buffet place it replaces.
I also note somewhat sadly the venerable Taj Mahal, one of the City’s very first tandoori restaurants around the corner on Highfield St, has finally closed to be replaced shortly by a “halal Gourment Burger restaurant” Lemon Pepper
With lively independent Turkish, Moroccan, Italian, Indian, South Indian, Szechuan and Uighur restaurants all with a few yards of each other, , London Road is becoming more and more of a food hotspot by the week.
November 16, 2015
I wrote enthusiastically about the Bewicke Arms a few weeks back after attending a launch party. Having given them a few weeks to settle in, I’ve now got round to doing a full review which appeared this weekend in the Leicester Mercury and which I reproduce below. As you’ll see, I wasn’t disappointed. Great ingredients, great cooking – the place is a treat, especially for meat lovers.
[Edit: I see that from this week the Bewicke is now offering Great Food Club members 10 per cent off. For full details of the offer (and of the free-to-join Great Food Club – click here http://www.greatfoodclub.co.uk/offer/the-bewicke-arms/#.VktXADYnwaJ%5D
1 East Gate
Cost: Around £28 for three courses.
When I first moved to Leicester in 1983 I asked around for country pub recommendations – and the Bewicke Arms in Hallaton came up most often. So I checked it out, and it was indeed a lovely pub in a lovely village. In those pre-gastropub days though I seem to remember its most celebrated dish being a chicken breast covered in Boursin garlicky herb cheese.
The bar, of course, has risen considerably since then. The Bewicke has continued to be a welcome country pub for locals, walkers, touring cyclists and so on but has never been a destination food pub. Indeed over the last couple of years it has shut and reopened a few times. Now though, all that has changed and it’s taken a dramatic leap towards the top echelon of dining pubs.
Local couple Claire and Simon Tait bought it this year and re-opened in September having hired a heavyweight team in the kitchen. Consultant chef setting the tone and getting the kitchen established is Tom Cockerill, who made his name locally with Entropy. Head chef is Glenn Cowl, who helped the Red Lion in Stathern win numerous accolades in recent years including Leicestershire Dining Pub of the Year.
The two have a similarity of approach which includes a genuine commitment to the local and seasonal ethos which is so often a matter of lip-service. The signature style is one of honest good food from the best ingredients. At a launch event they offered small versions of their bar menu including stunning fried fish in Grainstore bitter batter, pizza with locally-foraged mushrooms and a beautiful deserts such as an apple crumble made with Kentish cob-nuts, apples gown in the village and curds from a local herd of Red Poll cattle.
The restaurant menu stretches things more but still displays a trademark approach. A starter of grilled Dexter ox heart with salami from Rutland Charcuterie and parmentier potatoes, was a bit of a stunner, the cooking brilliantly showcasing the distinctive, nostalgic flavour of the meat. Lamb sweetbreads in a lightly deep-fried crumb was another success, paired with crispy little curls of duck breast prosciutto and a nicely sharp dressing with capers olive and sage. Proper gown up food with serious great flavours. A simple starter of whitebait was also very good indeed with a big hunk of chargrilled lime and point of feisty roasted garlic mayonnaise lifting the everyday into something a bit special.
Picking a main course was tricky. Whole baked plaice with crab apples and a veloute with Hallaton-made Bottle Kicking cider was hard to resist, but I settled for breast of Mallard. Again this was perfectly cooked meat, with crisp skin with a honey and soy glaze, resting on leeks, caramelised onions and orange. Really sweetly-flavoured duck with a refreshingly light and clean presentation.
Many pubs do a belly of pork dish, but the Bewicke’s version put most to shame by featuring fantastic produce and cooking it simply. The pork from Suffolk-based, high-welfare Dingley Dell had superb flavour, while the gorgeous sprout-top greens with it were a revelation to someone who generally abhors this usual Christmas dinner abomination. A final main course of arrancini – risotto fried in a light crumb – with wild mushroom and Jersualem artichokes had great Mediterranen flavours though the dressing was maybe a bit heavy on the olive oil.
The vegetarian in our group was happy with her food but you do feel that it’s finding and cooking great meat – including often-looked cuts – that really floats this kitchen’s boat.
Deserts had all the virtues of the rest of the meal. A simple sundae of Hallaton-grown apples with, cream, ice-cream and toffee sauce with honeycomb and gingerbread(left) was light, sweet and offered a pleasing range of textures. Pumpkin and pecan pie with cinnamon ice-cream in a sweet little puff pastry cornet was both witty, sophisticated and gorgeous..
The high-achieving kitchen isn’t really matched yet out front. Apparently a restaurant manager left early on and there is a need for a more rigour – we were asked for our drinks order without being given a wine list, our waitress knew nothing about the beer offering and somehow managed to just ignore a question about the tremendous, malty bread that we were served up. Nothing disastrous there but the food deserves better.
The lovely setting of this pub, over-looking Hare Pie Hill, has always drawn visitors. Now there’s a definitely another good reason to go.
November 6, 2015
Huge thanks to those who attended and many congratulations to the White Peacock. Last night’s event for Soft Touch was not just a cheerful evening of great food but a highly successful fundraiser that will enable the charity to complete the kit-out of its kitchen training young people to prepare and enjoy and healthy food.
And elsewhere in the City centre during the same evening, the restaurant was carrying off the Taste of England Gold Award in Leicestershire’s Excellence in Tourism Awards – with a highly commended going to 34 Windsor St. (Not to forgot my friend, and reader of this blog, Richard Buckley who, not surprisingly I think we can agree, helped win the “tourism experience” of the year for his leading role in the reinterment of Richard III).
With front of house manager Charlotte off at the awards, the young White Peacock team managed to serve a six-course menu to more than forty people with admirable skill and elegance.
The menu showcased great produce and a fine intelligence in dish construction. Highlight of the evening for me I think was gin and Earl Grey cured salmon – thick cut, lightly cured fish with a sweet edge and which sang of the sea. It was really effectively matched with slightly astringent pickled fennel, a tangy citrus crème fraiche and pared cucumber.
Picking up comments from others there was clear enthusiasm for the elegant starter of pickled beetroot with goat’s cheese mousse and a parmesan crisp and fig, which converted at least one person to the possibilities of the much abused beetroot. Another well-balanced dish that showed how a few fine ingredients can combine to really great effect.
The desert of salted caramel panna cotta, toasted banana bread, banana sorbet and praline was a tour de force finish, the sorbet in particular getting people very excited.
One final point – a reminder that Leicester folk can check out some of the the impact of Soft Touch’s work at the weekly pop-up café on Thursdays 12-2pm at the New Walk premises (opposite Museum Square). Good variety of sandwiches, soups and cakes prepared and served by young people with professional supervision at around just £2.50
November 5, 2015
It’s good to see that Cocoa Amore has successfully relocated to the St Martin’s area, further fuelling the sense that there’s a high quality independent food and drink cluster emerging there.
The company has relocated from Silver Arcade to larger, two-story premises on Silver Street. I was fortunate to get a Wonkaesque Golden Ticket for their launch last week and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening checking out not only their great chocolates – single estate nibs through to really superior truffles – but some savoury dishes too. Canapes included smoked duck breast and mackerel on chocolate bread – which all worked surprisingly well.
The new shop is licensed and while not promoting itself as a bar, matching chocolate with wines and spirits is going to be of the attractions.
Upstairs is the production area and space for workshops where couples and small groups can learn about chocolate production around the world and make their own chocolates.
The business was only formed three years ago and has won numerous awards, including being one of only ten businesses to be invited to take part in the Chancellor’s Downing Street Christmas Market. I won’t hold that against them though and look forward to see them thrive in their location, just a few yards from great businesses such as St Martin’s Tea and Coffee and Crafty, Gelato Village, the Case and its Champagne Bar and the soon-to-be-opened Burleigh’s Gin Parlour.
October 30, 2015
Further to my recent post about ” A Touch of Community” – the White Peacock’s fundraising dinner next Thursday, 5 November for the youth arts charity Soft Touch – I can now confirm the menu. As of this morning there are a few places still available but you better hurry if you want to enjoy this fantastic menu that chef Phil Sharpe has put together for us:
Goat’s cheese mousse with pickled beetroot, toasted almond and fig, parmesan and basil
Guinea fowl, ham hock and mango terrine, warm toasted brioche, herb salad
Earl grey and gin-cured salmon, citrus crème fraiche, cucumber and fennel
Lemon and basil sorbet
Slow-roasted blade of Leicestershire beef, pommery mustard mash, mushroom and shallot jus
Salted caramel pannacotta, banana sorbet, peanut praline, toasted banana bread
The cost is just £35 a head and there will be alternatives for vegetarians if notified in advance.
To secure your place and to check details please click here: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/a-touch-of-community-dinner-evening-at-the-white-peacock-tickets-18713380224
October 8, 2015
I’ve written on here some time back about Soft Touch, a charity of which I’m a volunteer director that does fine work with young people using the arts, including work on healthy eating and cooking skills.
In recent years the organisation has had some great support from Phil Sharpe and his team at the White Peacock, now our near-neighbour on New Walk. Phil has now kindly offered to host a fundraising dinner for us on 5 November which, among other things will help us to complete the kitchen we’ve installed at our new premises and which we will use to help young people learn new skills, improve existing ones and enable the projects we run to prepare food for each other.
So here’s the deal – there’ll be a six course taster menu for £35. The menu is yet to be confirmed but if you’ve read this blog, you’ll know the quality of the food at the White Peacock. You will also have a chance to win some wonderful prizes donated by local businesses in a fundraising draw.
You can book now and see some further details at:
I’ll post a reminder nearer the date – if there’s tickets remaining – but do feel free to book now. There’s just a £15 deposit to pay – the balance being taken on the night.
October 7, 2015
My recent review of The Red Lion, Stathern, for Leicester Mercury:
There was a fair degree of concern in North-East Leicestershire last year when it looked like this much-lauded pub was going to be sold off. A long-term holder of Michelin’s Bib Gourmand for good food at moderate prices, it regularly featured in the smart papers as one of the nation’s top country pubs and picked up awards such as Leicestershire Dining Pub of the Year 2015 in the Good Pub Guide.
The sale never quite happened. Co-owners Sean Hope and Ben Jones did however withdraw from active management to concentrate on their other venue, the equally celebrated Olive Branch in Clipsham, Rutland. It would now be run by the returning Mark Barbour, who had been general manager from 2002 to 2006. There was a change in the kitchen too with new head chef Luke McGowan taking over. It seemed the place remains in good hands, and the Dining Pub of the Year gong was recently re-awarded for 2016. On the day of our visit, however, it was announced it had lost the Bib Gourmand (the tyre people don’t like change or uncertainty).
So was there evidence of eyes being taken off the ball? No – this remains a completely delightful dining pub with excellent cooking and competent, relaxed service.
It doesn’t actually look all that when you arrive. But its fairly nondescript outside hides a cosy but not twee interior of beams and yellow plaster. There’s a welcoming bar with good selection of draught beers – the light, golden Red Lion Ale is made for them by Grainstore in Oakham – rustic wooden tables and, in an apparent search for quirky, Leicestershire’s finest collection of colanders on the wall.
The menu is printed out daily on a simple piece of paper and ranges from fish finger sandwiches through to smart though not overblown dishes such as crab and crayfish risotto or blade of beef with girolles and truffle sauce. There’s a “Dine for Less” menu with three courses for £17.50 which looks a compelling offer but this time time we went à la carte.
Top marks for a little loaf of toasted pumpkin seed bread with a lovely open texture and soft crust with orange and thyme butter. Choosing a starter was a simple affair once I saw a listing for partridge with damsons and chorizo. The bird’s breast was perfectly roasted, while in effective contrast the leg had been neatly pared, crumbed and fried. With bang-on seasonality the meat was paired with sweetened, poached local damsons. I was slightly nervous about the chorizo and it was a bit too powerful – it didn’t ruin it but it just felt a bit of a Mediterranean intruder on a gentle, autumnal British plate.
Goats cheese panna cotta was strongly-flavoured and, pleasingly, had a bit more texture than the smooth desert version. With its ideal partner beetroot, this time in ketchup form, and a salad with pea shoots and pak choi, it was a great lunchtime starter.
We both chose fish for main courses – both were perfectly cooked with a crisp skin and yielding white flesh, but in ways which maintained the characteristics of the fish. Sea bass was soft and delicate and came with fresh egg linguini, doused in a simple veloute sauce with tiny brown shrimp, fresh peas left al dente and copious chives. The firmer, meatier hake fillet was matched with an appropriately rich gravy made with roast chicken and the dish also featured retro little balls of breaded scampi, charred leeks and superb “crispy potato” – a slice of thinly-layered potato cake cooked in butter to give a satisfying crunch.
These were dishes that wear their high quality lightly – uncomplicated but well thought out, with fine ingredients and good cooking throughout. With a glass of superb Chilean sauvignon blanc from Casas del Bosque, which was on a par with celebrated New Zealand expressions of this grape, this was a fine lunch.
For desert a super-rich chocolate and amaretti mousse gateaux impressed with shards of white and dark chocolate, a quenelle of light chantilly and smooth, refreshing orange sorbet.
The food may be exceptional but this is a village pub and you might find live music on a Sunday, take-away fish and chips on a Friday for locals and other proper pub things. It’s good to report on a down-to-earth Leicestershire classic on good form.