March 21, 2017
After this weekend’s review of Spicy Temptations, I had another experience of the diversity of Chinese cuisine last night with a little tasting event at Karamay on Leicester’s London Road.
I reviewed this venue’s spicy Uighur cuisine from the far-West of China in late 2105 and am pleased to see it’s still doing well. Last night’s event was pitched at expanding the horizons of a few food enthusiasts and was built around a demonstration of hand-pulled noodles, one of the distinctive elements of Western Chinese food. Chef Yili Year showed fantastic skill, dramatically pulling out long strands from a flattened dough ball and then forming a sort of cat’s cradle to further stretch them. It was a real pleasure to see this difficult task done with consummate ease – I was glad we weren’t encouraged to have a go, could have got embarrassing.
We would later enjoy the super-fresh, almost udon-style noodles with spicy beef sauce and a few other dishes such as the familiar beef in black bean sauce and fearsomely-spiced crispy chicken, spicy prawns, chicken pastries and rice that was more a middle Eastern pilaf than, say, yeung chow style fried rice. Karamay has a big open kitchen behind a window and the cheerful chef team seem more then happy for you to have a look-see. Food adventurers should definitely give this place a try.
March 20, 2017
I’ve been meaning to get round to reviewing Spicy Temptations ever since it was recommended to me as a good venue for authentic, fiery Szechuan food. I wasn’t disappointed. As you’ll pick up from this review which appeared in the Leicester Mercury at the weekend, it’s pretty basic, but there was some great food there.
72 Highcross Street
Leicester LE1 4NN
Tel: 0116 262 5324
Open: Mon-Sun 11.30am-10pm
Cost: Lunchtime snacks around £6 a head, plenty for dinner around £15 a head.
One of the joys of this job is that I’m incentivised to check out places that I may not otherwise have visited. Sometimes the result is to prove my scepticism correct. Sometimes, however, you come away totally won over and eager to tell other people to give this place try. Spicy Temptations falls very much into the second category.
This is one of those simple, basic Chinese cafes that has sprung up to serve the booming numbers of Chinese students seeking a taste of home. Its location is ideal – just outside the Highcross restaurant quarter and its high rents, but surrounded by big players such as Cosy Club and lively independents such as Lilu, Maiyango, Meatcure and, from next month, the revived Richard III pub.
It’s easy to miss and doesn’t exactly look inviting. You look through the window into what appears to be a pokey, rather bleak living room. Enter though, and out the back you’ll find a rather more welcoming space with a little bar and a TV showing Chinese pop music. It’s still very humble and no frills, the handwritten note at each table with the wi-fi password perhaps furthering the sense that the core clientele are young students far from home.
The very extensive menu is available in English, even if some of the young, helpful staff are not all that fluent. And that menu is a real treasure trove of authentic Chinese, and in the main Szechuan, cuisine. The Chinese, famously, seem up for eating anything that moves, and pretty much every part of it too. This is the first restaurant that I’ve been in that has a whole section of duck tongue dishes, along with the likes of spicy Szechuan frog and fried pork intestine with pig blood.
On an initial lunchtime scoping visit we tried a few of charcoal barbecue skewer dishes – big, plump, shell-on prawns were marvellous, grilled with a pungent house rub of chilli, cumin and more. Chicken gizzards though were a disappointment. The gizzard is a hard-working muscle in a bird’s stomach and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them lightly cooked in a salad Perigourdine in France where they called gesiers. These though were dried out and rubbery. Lamb skewers were better, a little crunchy on the outside, still moist and flavoursome within and perked up by more of that spicy rub.
We also shared a terrific appetiser dish of shredded pigs tripe, thinly sliced with a green vegetable – it could have been cucumber. Served cold as is tradition, this was very tasty – the tripe itself is not strongly flavoured but with brightly-spiced soy dressing and hits from chilli and peanuts it was a great dish.
I’d seen enough to know I wanted to come back for more. On a Saturday nigh we got stuck into some of the more substantial dishes. Twice-cooked pork is another Szechuan classic and this was a fine version. Pork belly had been boiled, finely sliced and then stirfried with green and red peppers and onions, with a spice mix including chilli, ginger, doubanjiang (broad-bean paste) and some pungent, salty black beans. Refined it was not, and all the better for it, and along with some tender bite-size pieces there were delicious little crispy bits of pork scattered throughout the dish invitingly.
Chicken in XO sauce was probably a more conventional dish to western palates, with tender pieces of chicken stir-fried with celery and carrots. Nice but maybe lacking the fire power of our other dishes. Noodles with braised brisket were fabulous – cooked in fiery, bright red chilli broth the noodles had taken on plenty of the flavour, while chunks of tender brisket with that slightly gelatinous feel from long slow cooking lurked within.
Star dish of the night though, and early contender for dish of the year, was the spicy aubergine with sweet and spicy garlic sauce. Beautifully prepared and cooked, the aubergine was perfect – soft but retaining texture, glazed with a sweet sauce that included finely minced pork and which had the tastebuds tingling. One thing that stood out here and indeed all the dishes was careful prepping of ingredients – there are some serious knife skills being used in that kitchen.
If you’ve ever felt there must be life beyond the takeaway or you just want to recapture the authentic tastes of China – then Spicy Temptations should be on your list to visit. It may look unprepossessing but go in the spirit of adventure and you should find the food uncompromising, punchy and very enjoyable.
March 8, 2017
I spent an interesting hour last night in St Martin’s Square at one of Gelato Village’s Gelato Bites events, which are giving food enthusiasts a chance to hear from some of the brilliant food producers and retailers in our county.
The event saw a presentation from Alan Hewson, whose herd of Red Poll cows at Eastwell , north of Melton, not only supply the milk and cream for Gelato Village but also for their Jamie Oliver-endorsed Colwick Cheese, traditional local brie-a-like Slipcote cheese and the summertime hard cheese Ironstone.
The Hewsons, like the Gelato Village lads, support Slow Food principles and reject the high yield at all costs approach, farming with rare breed cattle that produce maybe only a third of the intensively pushed dairy breeds. These smaller, hardier breeds can spend almost all of the year outdoors and over the coldest months can get by on hay, silage and a salt-lick. The Hewson’s don’t homogenise or standardise the milk, producing milk which not only has a cleaner, lighter taste but which is a genuinely seasonal product – one that changes as the composition of the meadow grasses change over the year.
The quality of the milk – which won best in show at last year’s prestigious Nantwich Cheese Show – contributes directly to the quality of the gelato. That much was perfectly clear on the night from our tastings of the milk and GV’s Fior de Latte (“Blossom of the Milk”), the simple basic gelato which is the touchstone of quality for any producer. The read-across in flavour was clear.
Gelato Village is the only producer in the UK that makes all is product with the milk of a single herd. And an exceptional herd from the same county too. We should treasure both of them.
Future Gelato Bites events will be on Tuesday 14 and 21 March and will look at matching gelato with pudding wines, and in what’s said to be a world first, a beer and gelato matching event. Cost is £10, more details and booking information here, or avoid a booking fee and enquire in-store.
March 6, 2017
About time I put up one my Leicester Mercury reviews. This one is of a very pleasant Sunday lunch at The Three Crowns in Wymeswold. I’m not saying this is destination dining, but you know when you’ve had one of those meals out and you keep giving little mental ticks at things that have been nicely done? That was this – good fresh ingredients cooked and presented with care can go a long way.
The Three Crowns
45 Far Street
Cost: Sunday lunch £15 two courses, £19 three courses.
Wymeswold is a rather lucky village. It’s got a first-rate fine dining pub in the shape of the Hammer and Pincers, then there’s the Windmill which is part of the lively Little Britain Pub family of gastropubs and now a third pub offering good food.
The Three Crowns was traditionally more of a drinkers’ pub but last summer it was rented from Punch Taverns by cricketers Stuart Broad and Harry Gurney and given an extensive smartening up, along with help from their pal Dan Cramp who has made a great success of the Larwood and Voce pub at Trent Bridge. Sensibly, it’s not a cricket themed pub – no Square Leg of Lamb or whatever. Indeed there’s no overt links to its owners, just a nice and tidy English village pub with pictures of old Wymeswold on the walls and some ancient low beams which caused a regular problem for our 6ft 3in barman.
Our Sunday lunchtime visit didn’t get off to a great start. It had been a bad enough week for City fans without going into a pub and seeing Harry Kane’s face on the television celebrating yet another hat-trick. Fortunately our table space was in a quiet little corner away from the main TV area and we could focus on the food and drink. The pub still has that pubby feel but the weekday menu is veering towards restaurant territory with the likes of chicken liver parfait with winter fruit chutney at £5 and pan fried sea trout with leeks, mash and pesto at £11. It’s the kind of menu you look at and think – if this is done well, it looks a bargain but if their heart’s not really in it, it could be very dull.
On Sunday it’s £15 for two courses, £19 for three and there’s a choice of around four starters. One look at ours when they arrived suggested we were going to be fine. A block of ham hock terrine looked lovely – deep pink meat flecked with green herbs. It tasted fine too. With some cornichons, a teeny little pan with some fiery English mustard, a few microherbs and a big doorstep of excellent toast it was an entirely pleasing assembly. The same could be said of a superficially simple starter of Colston Basset stilton with pear, walnuts and gem lettuce. Not only were the individual ingredients all delightfully fresh, but they worked together splendidly. The cheese, lightly crumbled here, was creamy and the nuts were super fresh. There’s not much worse on a plate than nuts that have gone a bit stale but these were big, fat and crunchy and matched harmoniously the rich cheese while the neatly-pared slivers of pear added sweetness.
Sunday lunch can sometimes be treated as a bit of a cash cow by pubs, so it was nice to see a level of care and precision being applied in this unpretentious setting. There were three real ales on tap, including the fruity Black Sheep from Masham in North Yorkshire which was a good match for ham hock, while from the craft beer section the spicier Rare Red rye from Caledonian stood up well to the mild cheese.
Main courses on Sunday were beef top side, loin of pork, chicken breast or roasted celeriac risotto with basil pesto. The beef was offered “pink or cooked through” – an ambitious promise during a long Sunday service but we ordered and it came precisely as pink as you’d want. It had excellent flavour too. The yorkie was superb – crunchy but not brittle around the edges, fluffy and not soggy in the middle, virtues shared by the excellent roasted spuds too. Kale and cauliflower were perfectly cooked too – in fact probably the only issue we had with anything during our lunch was the rather insipid gravy. Not horrid, just a bit of a let-down when everything else was bringing nods of approval. A shared glass of a big, fruity Argentinian Malbec was suggested to go with the beef and it was indeed a lovely addition.
The pork loin was well-flavoured but also with dull gravy. I suspect a few pork lovers would have been disappointed with the small slivers of crackling but too me this was just right – a wee mouthful to give a hint of crunch but no inedible tooth-threatening slab.
We shared a desert straight out of the home-cooked comfort food canon – pineapple upside down cake. It was a fine version – lightly browned on top, nice light sponge inside and surrounded by a light and frothy custard laced with rum.
Staff were young, friendly and cheerful and service was prompt and helpful. It all added up to a nice relaxed Sunday environment. Whichever venue you choose in Wymeswold, with Springtime on the horizon the village is a good choice for city and town dweller looking for a run out to the country.
March 5, 2017
Well this is a bit awkward. I’ve been accused of writing too much about Cured at Brewdog, but now shortly after two somewhat fawning reviews I’m writing again. This time though it’s rather sadly to say it has ceased business as of today.
The long and the short of it was that there was something of a difference of opinion with some parts of Brewdog management and the chef team Martin Powdrill and Oliver Norman have called a halt. Brewdog bar , I should add, is otherwise unaffected. The good news though is that they are actively searching to set up their own restaurant and in the short term are planning a number of pop up events. They are a highly motivated and talented unit and we should all look forward to what comes next.
February 28, 2017
A belated congratualtions to all concerned with last Friday’s Canteen street food event at the LCB depot in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter. This felt like a real breakthrough event for city’s food scene – I don’t have stats but there must have several hundred people over the night enjoying some really fine food and entertainment. The atmosphere was buzzing, even if the music was little loud inside for old codgers like me, and the food traders all seemed to be getting plenty of custom. I enjoyed a Cambodian chicken and sweet potato curry from Canoodle but there was a wide range of stuff available which I failed to write down – rest assured there’s choice and it was all appealing. This free event is set to continue every last Friday of the month from around 5pm onwards.
February 17, 2017
As promised earlier this week, a quick mention of the new regular menu at Cured at Brewdog. I make no apologies for again enthusing about the food offering – it really is a treat. There is a renewed focus on the platters – gorgeous collections of cured meats, pickles, chutneys, salad, bread and more along with matched tasting of Brewdog beers.
The Punk IPA-cured maple bacon and the burnt barley brisket remain and are joined by salmon cured with beetroot and German rauschbier and thinly-sliced duck breast cured in soy, honey and porter. Today I had a platter with the latter two and they were divine – the salmon taking on a light smoke from the beer, the duck having tremendously complex flavours, like a super-sophisticated version of a Christmas gammon.
The platters come with a plethora of lovely items from samphire and fennel slaw to moreish parsnip crisps, an outstanding sweet and mild apple piccalilli and beautifully sweet and savoury thyme and honey butter. At £9.50 including beer tastings this is a fantastic light lunch for two people, or £19.50 for all four cures plus two sides (such as buttermilk fried chicken, sweet potato fries or duck lollipops with black forest glaze) you can feed a small crowd.
Elsewhere on the menu there’s something new for vegans including Southern Fried Seitan (wheat gluten that here does a passable job of mimicking chicken) and for veggies there’s the likes of parsnip and tarragon wontons with chilli jam or a caramelised onion, feta and aubergine bun.
Do get along – and note that from 26 Feb they will be serving Sunday lunch from 12-6pm. Expect roasts, but done their own way.
February 15, 2017
Last night I broke the habit of a lifetime and dined out on Valentine’s night. In truth that habit was possibly more do with having been single than because I was desperate to avoid poor food served to desolate couples going through the motions.
This year not only have I entered coupledom, but I saw the opportunity for something a little bit different with the Valentines menu at Cured at Brewdog. I’ve enthused about Martin Powdrill’s work before and was confident that this would be a evening without the usual cheesiness.
Upstairs at Brewdog is a cool space with something of a warehouse vibe and there was a relaxed feel for the evening which saw six couples served the same menu at the same time. Tickets were £29.50 (though thanks to my Great Food Club card there was 10 per cent off) and included a welcoming cocktail – in our case hoptails which were both sublime, mine a framboise beer with bourbon, lemon juice and raspberries, hers combining punk ipa with kraken rum, which brilliantly brought out the grapefruity character of the beer. These came with canapes of Cured’s marvellous stout-cured salmon.
First course was a couple of apple bhajis, nice and crunchy on the outside, rather intriguingly gooey on the inside and matched creatively with a dab of sweet hazelnut paste – lovely. Then a really good pea veloute with cured ham hock. This had a perfect texture and great layers of flavour – there was some close-textured but light and springy beer bread with hoppy and malty notes served with it.
Main course was soy and maple cured duck breast – a good rather than outstanding item that also seemed to have Korean spicing going on somewhere and a delicious sour berry compote. The accompanying sauted savoy and boulangere potatoes were perfectly done.
Desert saw us sharing a very rich chocolate and raspberry mousse, a bit too rich for her ladyship, topped with some underpowered ginger cream and three brilliant raspberry bon bons. Putting three such lovelies on a desert designed for sharing between two seemed to be asking for trouble, but naturally I did the decent thing and settled for just one.
We finished up with homemade coffee flavoured Turkish delight – a nice alternative to the by and large unwanted late night caffeine hit of an espresso.
A very pleasant and laid back evening that showcased a competent kitchen that has a highly creative edge. Cured will be launching a new menu soon – more info in due course – which sounds like an excellent excuse to try if you’ve not been or to go again if you have.
January 26, 2017
There’s been welcome confirmation this week that Canteen – the Street Food night previewed in December at LCB Depot in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter – will continue as a regular monthly “last Friday” event from February.
The next event will be on Friday 24th, which neatly coincides with the Comedy Festival and will feature stand-up as well some of the UK’s top street food outlets parked in the rear yard, a DJ, full bar and a specialist cocktail bar.
Among the traders will be Birmingham-based Baked in Brick, winners of the 2016 UK Street Food Awards. Founded by an alumni of the Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons no less, they serve Neapolitan style pizzas from a wood-fired oven out of the back of a 1964 Mini Cooper (and grilled chicken tikka from the front).
The evening is billed as a place for “friends and families, creative types, city residents, students and stressed out city workers to mingle and have a great evening” and judging by the December evening they’ve got the mix right. It runs from 5pm-11pm and entry is free, with children welcome until 9pm. Each trader will be offering a vegetarian offering.
- One quick note – it seems to be public news now that the next St Martins/Crafty project I alluded to in an earlier post will be the renovation of the Richard III pub on Highcross St as a high quality dining pub. There is backing from Everards for the conversion and I’m entirely confident that the St Martin’s team will do a great job of creating a go-to dining venue.
December 23, 2016
A couple of quick recommendations for you to ponder over Christmas.
Wakaze is a lovely, easily-over-looked Japanese restaurant at 74 High Street, Leicester. There’s a rash of Far Eastern cafes and restaurants along that stretch and that’s far preferable to more garish chicken shops. Wakaze is a stripped down, modern kind of café run by a couple of entrepreneurial Chinese students from Leicester University who have teamed up with a Japanese chef. Service is quick, helpful and friendly and there’s a smart open kitchen at the back of the room that seems to run with quiet efficiency. Nigiri sushi was very good indeed – especially the mackerel, gyoza dumplings were great and ricebowl donburri dishes warm and comforting. I’ve been a couple of times and am keen to go back to try more.
Regular readers need no introduction to St Martin’s Tea and Coffee and their great daytime food. I had another terrific lunch in there this week – Indonesian pork with char-grilled hispi cabbage. This is one of a number dishes making use of their new rotisserie grill and had unctuous fatty pork with beautiful layers of sweet and sour flavours from spicing, a nutty sauce, black and white sesame, lime, pumpkin seeds and more. There was fiery lime and chilli rice too. I hear very good reports of the vegan version featuring spiced and grilled cauliflower.
I also heard some exciting news from chef Chris Elliman too that plans are afoot for a new project – can’t say too much but Leicester city centre should be a getting a new gastropub next year. Chris headed up the kitchen at General Tarleton near Knaresborough in Yorkshire – a renowned dining pub I would sometimes stop at on journeys up to the North East – and he knows all about doing high quality, straightforward British classics.
Finally, Anatolia on Allendale Road, Stoneygate. When this opened it was a bit of scruffy chippy, at odds with the chi-chi environment around it. Over the years it has morphed into a rather smarter Turkish café but I must admit I’ve given it a wide berth. Last night though we enjoyed some fine Central Turkish mezze – sublime yoghurt-laden aubergine was probably the star but the meat dishes were excellent too. It’s fully licensed and the service is friendly and competent too. It’s a lot less frantic than similar places on the Narb’ and London Road.