July 25, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
139 – 141 Loughborough Road
Loughborough, LE12 7AA
Cost: three courses £47
Open: Tues-Sat 12-2pm, 7-9pm.
9 out of 10
We 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.
July 13, 2015
Just a quick preview of my forthcoming review of John’s House in Mountsorrel. I’ve been wanting to go ever since it opened but it takes some time to marshall resources and I wanted to make sure it had fully found it’s feet.
It’s a hugely interesting place providing a comfortable, intimate dining experience with food of a very high standard and dishes that stem from applying real creativity to simple but excellent produce. It’s based on super-fresh, bang-on seasonal produce much of which is grown or husbanded on the family farm out back.
These are just snaps and don’t do justice to the beautiful dishes but they give an idea. I hope whoever took some pictures for the Mercury did a better job – I’m sure they did.
If you are interested, get the paper next Saturday.
July 7, 2015
First off, don’t mistake this venue for Kuru Kuru, the splendid little sushi bar on Welford Rd, Leicester. It’s in Loughborough and as you’ll see from my review below, done for the Leicester Mercury, it’s recently refurbished and rebranded from The Noodle Bar – and if that sounds familiar beyond Loughborough it’s because this is latest version of the old Noodle Bar on St Nicholas Place (where the Clockwise Credit Union now sits) and which – research tells me – is very fondly remembered by many in Leicester.
It’s exactly the kind of place every British city should welcome – a bit adventurous, a bit different, great value, informal, tasty, not without flaws but good fun:
32 Bedford St
Open: Mon-Thu -5pm-10pm
Fri-Sat 12pm -10.30pm
Cost: two courses, around £12
8 out of 10
Singapore is one of the world’s great multicultural communities and food is a national obsession. So when a friend with roots there recommended a pan-Asian restaurant to me, I took notice.
It turns out that Kura Kura is something of an old friend anyway. It’s owned by the people who some time back ran the Noodle Bar on St Nicholas Place in Leicester, a cheap and cheerful canteen where I would often fill up with something tasty from a wok. The Noodle Bar reappeared in Loughborough a few years ago, out the back of the White Horse, an otherwise unremarkable boozer on the edge of the town centre.
Earlier this year the whole venue was rebranded to Kura Kura, along with a substantial refit and a general uplift to the menu. A couple of the signature communal benches remain, but the others have been cut up and turned into a selection of two and four-tops, and there is an area offering a Japanese-style low table along with cushions and tatami matting. There’s also a striking ceiling made from sinuous, twisted strips of wood, very reminiscent of a bowl of noodles. There is a bit of an issue with acoustics, it does seem to be quite noisy, but all in all it is pretty stylish.
The menu is thoroughly appealing and very reasonably priced. There are appetisers ranging from miso soup with tofu and watame seaweed, through to Indonesian spring rolls, prawn gyoza dumplings and a Cantonese take on crispy aromatic duck, shredded at table and served with pancakes, spring onions and red miso sauce. There’s even a Peruvian-style ceviche with spicy yuzu dressing – actually Japanese-Peruvian fusion, known as Nikkei, is huge fashionable in foodie circles and there’s an obvious link between sashimi and citrus-cured ceviche.
We picked Thai squid – or calamari as it is deemed here. This was a large bowl of tender, marinated and seared, bite-sized pieces of squid with bagfuls of flavour from juliennes of fresh ginger, green peppercorns, sesame and an umami-rich sauce. A snip at £4.95. We also had “hairy prawns” three huge shelled prawns, rolled out and wrapped in katafi, thinly shredded filo-style pastry you might be familiar with from Greek or Turkish sweets. Here though, as well as a touch of humour and visual appeal, it adds a savoury crunch. With a spicy wasabi dressing these were another real treat.
Main courses on offer include grills, stir-fries, curries, spicy soups and a range of rice and noodle dishes. Our Stargazer monkish curry was a full-on, feisty affair with a large amount of firm-fleshed fish with plenty of red chillis, fennel and green beans retaining plenty of crunch, all in a red curry sauce spiced up with krachai or “lesser ginger”. Again, good value at £6.95. We added a freshly-made roti, a truly outstanding flaky flatbread that was a great accompaniment.
We also had a Sulawesi nasi goreng. While this didn’t look especially appealing – a huge, monochrome pile of fried rice – there was plenty going on in there with flavours from finely diced ingredients including smoked chicken and spring onions and side salads of pickled cucumber, tomatoes and black hijiki seaweed. In truth it wasn’t a very balanced plateful but with our additional bowl of wok-fried bok choi with mushrooms, this was good comfort food.
With its generous portions, keen pricing and lively atmosphere it is not surprising Kura Kura is hugely attractive to the town’s famously sporty students. But, while this is obviously not haute cuisine, it should also find favour with with a more quality-focused clientele who will enjoy its bold approach to flavour and some of the skilful cooking on show. I walked out already mentally picking dishes for my next visit.
June 24, 2015
I’ve reviewed the Olive Branch before on here and I suspect many readers will have been there themselves, but I went again for the Leicester Mercury recently and it never hurts to publicise good places again. Here then is the Mercury review which appeared last weekend:
Rutland LE15 7SH
Cost – Three courses à la carte, around £28
Food served: Mon-Friday 12-2pm, 6.30-9.30pm
Sat 12-2pm, 7-30pm
Sun 12-3pm, 7-9pm
8 out of 10
Many people in Leicestershire and Rutland who take their food seriously are likely to have made it out to Clipsham and The Olive Branch. It’s a fair old schlep over from the city to this far corner of Rutland but for a pub so heavily garlanded with the industry’s top accolades, an hour’s drive through glorious English countryside doesn’t feel too much of a hardship.
Over the last 16 years the pub has gone from a boarded-up shell to last year being named pub of the year in the Good Pub Guide. It was recently the Michelin Pub of the Year and for 12 years even held a Michelin Star. It was a break from tradition from the tyre people to give a star a pub with such a relaxed informal style – heaven forbid, they don’t even have tableclothes. It didn’t please everybody, but it was a recognition that good cooking existed outside the temples of gastronomy.
We went over on a Monday night, which in some places of course is chef’s night off. But sometimes that’s the night you need to go, and indeed one of our party was a himself a chef on his night off – and he deserves to eat out when he can. You would hope though that a place of this quality was not about to let it’s standards drop just because it’s a quiet night after the weekend.
The first thing to note is what a beautiful building the pub is now. A terrace, a pergola, a dovecote, lovely stonework and slates – it ticks every country pub box there is. Inside there’s a warm welcome and an atmosphere that is calm, civilised but still distinctly pubby. I loved the little touches like the little chalkboard on your table with your name (assuming you have booked).
Pumpkin seed bread to start with was lovely. Our starters included pea and broad risotto, which our chef – naturally perhaps the most critical among us – enjoyed though he thought maybe it was 30 seconds underdone and lacked much in the way of promised toasted pine nuts. Hot-smoked salmon was a lovely piece of fish, and well matched with carpaccio of red and golden beetroot with a horseradish cream. It seemed to typify the Olive Branch approach, fine food done with style but without the need to over-elaborate or strive for novelty. Ham hock croquettes were tasty, well made and imaginatively paired with sweet peppers and scorched baby gem lettuce.
The mains again reflected that notion of the food, not the techniques or fashion, taking the lead. You could have had a Leicestershire ploughman’s with pork pie and Sparkenhoe’s fine red Leciester, or a prosaic-sounding chicken, leek and mushroom suet pudding. I suspect both would have surpassed expectations, though we all went for more overtly restauranty options. A taste of pork featured succulent pork belly, herby sausage and peppery black pudding, all brought together with super-intense gravy. The dish also featured a marvellous fondant potato that been simmered with cider giving it sweetish edge and a contrasting sauerkraut with apple and pine nuts. A pleasing and well-compiled plateful. Roast salt marsh lamb went down very well with our demanding chef, paired classically with some ratatouille and, more adventurously, very tasty chorizo hash browns. Our third main was a fine piece of cod, though there was some concern over whether a madeira sauce would be too rich for fish. In fact the dish was well-balanced with gnocchi and parsely puree and the sauce did not overpower.
Deserts included a fine mango parfait – though the advertised honeycomb and “white chocolate aero” seemed to have been replaced with some spun sugar and bruléed marshmallow. This was possibly the only example of Monday night syndrome. The dish was fine but the changes should have been explained. A bread and butter pudding made with danish pastry was inspired – rich and sweet. I couldn’t understand my friend’s decision to ask for marmalade ice-cream to be replaced with pistachio but some people are odd like that. The exotic vanilla flavouring of tonka bean crème brulée probably isn’t to everyone’s taste but paired here with rosewater shortbread it created a headily fragrant desert.
Friendly, calm service made for a very relaxed evening eating distinctly superior food. If you live to the East of our region, lucky you. If not, you should definitely consider The Olive Branch when you fancy a drive out to the country for a fine meal in a fine pub.
June 17, 2015
I think it is now in the public domain that the O Bar on Braunstone Gate, which hosts the the Smokehouse restaurant, is to be sold off. Sad news because it was a real bit of quality in an area of town that needed it. Chef Liam Watson has done a fine job in building a properly original venue there and as I understand it the restaurant is trading profitably, but the rebranded O Bar has failed to bring in the punters for its upmarket craft beer offering.
The cuisine and the beer are a natural match and the Orange Tree group know they have something worth preserving with. I’m told we will see the Smokehouse reappear somewhere with a larger kitchen and more covers, but in a more promising location. Sadly that is not necessarily Leicester. I hope it is still within reach because I’d love to see how they can further develop the concept.
In the meantime, best wishes to the team and do try and get and down there while you can.
June 15, 2015
The “Big Question” being polled in today’s Leicester Mercury is not about religious assemblies, the possibility of Greece defaulting or court orders over parental custody of children. Bravely shunning the mainstream news agenda they’ve gone with “are there too many gourmet burger restaurants in Leicester?”.
The question is prompted by news that Five Guys could be opening in that empty former Santander building opposite the main entrance to Highcross. A couple of years back Five Guys and Shakeshack opened the same week in London to a hyped rivalry not seen since the Grea Blur/Oasis Standoff. The two US businesses have become stock market stars just a McDonalds star has started to wane.
I’ve never been to Five Guys, and it may be very good. It’s got a fast food approach to its restaurants, but manages to price itself well in advance of the lively independents also setting up in Leicester – cheeseburger and regular fries is £12. With Crafty Burger available three evening a week, and the estimable MeatCure about to open on Highcross Street, I’d like to think Leicester public will deem them surplus to requirements and support local businesses.
Right, now my views on Grexit…not really.
I will add something though – if you’ve really had enough of burgers for the time being, there’s a more genteel offering being launched by North’s Bar and Kitchen on Hinckley Road. On afternoons from Wednesday to Saturday they are now offering full afternoon tea featuring a selection of finger sandwiches, cakes, scones with jam and clotted cream,and a choice of tea or coffee and the option of a glass of champagne. Booking essential.
North’s has also extended its range of bottled craft beers f6orm Two Cocks brewery, for which it is the only stockist in Leicester. New arrivals include Roundhead, a fine traditional, malty best bitter made form Cascade and First Gold hops, and which won a Great Taste Award last year.
June 12, 2015
I thought I’d put up my recent review of Crafty burger at St Martin’s in Leicester. It’s been up on the Leicester Mercury site but to save you wrasslin’ with the pop ups on that site here it is plain wordpress format – as you’ll see, I think it’s a fine addition to Leicester’s scene.
St Martin’s Tea & Coffee
2-6 St Martin’s Walk
St Martin’s Square
Leicester LE1 5DG
0116 251 2879
Open: Thu, Fri and Sat – 6pm-9pm
Cost – Burger, fries and pint of craft beer £14.
8 out of 10
St Martin’s Tea and Coffee has been one of the most lively independent businesses in Leicester city centre since starting life as a cookware shop. Since then it opened a coffee roastery, then combined the two businesses and opened a cafe, and eventually the cafe swallowed up the cookware business. Then in late 2014 it hosted Crafty Burger, a three night a week pop-up restaurant taking advantage of their fairly rudimentary kitchen.
It’s an indication of how businesses need to adapt to prevailing retail trends but also to follow their passion. Founder Andy Hall found himself more and more wanting to develop the coffee importing and roasting business which was starting to supply many of the emerging independent coffee business in the city. Those people needed barrista training and shiny Italian espresso machines too. Running a cafe alongside this wasn’t always easy.
All of which is the explanation for why Crafty Burger is now a permanent feature on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays. It’s an initiative of Chris Elliman, a man with good credentials as former head chef at one of Yorkshire’s top gastropubs, who with partner Andrea picked Leicester as a likely looking place to start anew.
After the success of the pop-up, the couple approached Andy Hall to go into partnership. They could take over the cafe and relaunch Crafty, freeing him to focus on the coffee business. A refurbishment followed with the coffee business relocating upstairs and a new kitchen installed downstairs.
Elliman has revamped the daytime menu at St Martin’s to make it one of the most interesting lunch time offerings in the city – from slow-cooked Cuban-style mojo marinated pork sandwiches (currently off the menu until they can get the electrics sorted to run all night for slow cooking), to an an extensive vegetarian selection such as a beautiful smoky aubergine dish, spiked with harissa and cooled with feta cheese, almonds, pomegrante, yoghurt and mint. It’s a delicate charmer of a dish that shows the chef is not just about big old burgers.
But Crafty is the focus of this review and big old burgers is certainly the focus there. I’ll come straight to the point and say that these are mighty fine examples of the genre. Beef is 28-day dry aged and ground and hand-pressed every day on site and the care in selection and in cooking shows. The pleasure is every bit that of a good steak. There’s a half a dozen choices and over a couple of visits I’ve tried the Farmyard Jam, given a sweetish edge from onion and bacon jam with maple, and the Mexican-themed El Gordo with jalapeno and corn relish, chipotle ketchup and Red Leicester. There wasn’t actually a great deal of heat I this but I didn’t want the glorious flavour of the beef overwhelmed anyway. Also remarkably good was the “Krispy Klucker”, a chicken burger made with tasty thigh meat which was beautifully tender inside a terrifically crunchy coating made, it seems, from rice crispies.
The influence of a skilled chef is evident in the qualities of all the extras too. “Pigcorn Poppers” were a delight – succulent little cubes of pork belly in panko crumb with a great relish made from pineapple, honey and chilli. Try and visit with a decent hunger because it would be a shame to miss these. Chicken wings basted in gochujang, Korean chilli paste, are hot, tasty and bang on-trend. A crunchy root vegetable slaw with and sour cream dressing had evidently had thought and care applied to its composition and preparation.
On a first visit fries were disappointingly soggy but this stemmed from a fryer malfunction, and on a subsequent occasion they were actually a highlight. Crisp, skin-on regular fries come with the burger but you can pimp them in a number of styles, and I can certainly recommend the nacho version with avocado, sour cream and jalapenos and the Spanish fries, with pimenton-spiced pork meatballs and garlic mayo.
There’s also craft beers from Purity, including their floral Lawless lager and the hoppy IPA Longhorn. If you fancy a desert they offer a salted peanut and chocolate gelato made specially for them by neighbours in St Martin Square, Gelato Village. It’s totally gorgeous.
You don’t go to a burger place for delicacy, but that’s not to say it can’t be done with flair, skill and originality and you get all of that with Crafty. It’s a lovely setting in the evening and the front of house is run by Andrea with great warmth. They buy local and it’s a quality-led, gimmick-free offering – just the kind of lively independent that adds character and distinctiveness to a city.
June 7, 2015
Over the last few weeks I’ve reviewed three burger restaurants plus an American barbecue venue – all very nice but maybe not great for the waistline.
So it was a pleasure to go to a “Dining on a Diet” last week at courtesy of personal trainer Joe Hanney of U Fit studios. I’d written a feature for the Mercury on Joe’s efforts to encourage his clients to realise they can dine out if they want to, even those who are on a strict weightloss regime. Eating out is of course one of life’s great pleasures and any diet is going to be more sustainable if it enables us to keep doing the things we enjoy.
Eating healthy is partly about making good choices but it’s also about restaurants making those choices possible and Joe Hanney is working with a group of restaurants to try and get healthy dishes established on their menu. That feature was based on a lunch menu at Enderby’s Cini, and this was a follow up event at a packed Maiyango in Leicester.
Chef Sav Tassari developed a light six course tasting which was a mere 700 calories. Starting with a simple but fiery plum and fresh ginger broth, we moved on to another oriental-styled dish featuring a sizeable piece of pollock seasoned with sesame seeds sitting on a noodle roll and a miso and wakame broth – these two dishes set the tone for a series of dishes which while they had been largely stripped of much in the way of fat or carbs, were still had plenty to excite the palate.
This was seen most clearly in the star dish of the evening – carpaccio of swordfish with a tremendous salad of apple, beetroot, hazelnuts and capers, dressed with foamy chilli emulsion. This was creative, beautiful and full of flavour.
Next up was a chicken breast poached, I assume sous vide, and flavoured with lime and black pepper. The delight for me of a chicken breast is a nicely crispy skin which has provided a basting a fat, but that wasn’t the style of the evening. Nevertheless the cooking technique had managed to really imprint the citrus and pepper flavours and with a little sweet potato mash and a black olive dressing there was still plenty to enjoy here. We finished up with a sharp, refreshing granita of grapefruit and coriander and a sugar free (though you wouldn’t have known it) mango mousse with kiwi and a banana dumpling.
I’m not about to drastically change my diet, but all of us could do a reminder that you don’t always need butter, cream and all the rest to make an enjoyable meal.
* While we are here, one more interesting bit of news for Leicester city centre. The old Allied Irish bank in St Martin’s could it seems turned into a restaurant and deli by Nottingham’s Daliliah. Many chissits will have made it over to Dalilah’s fabulous deli and if they can mount something of a similar quality and with a similar vibe that would be a huge boost for the city centre.