It seems to be getting harder and harder to run a proper, sit-down-and-have-a-serious-meal restaurant. The Indian restaurant subset is battling the headwinds – Paddy’s Marten Inn, Kayal and Herb have given me lovely meals in busy environments this summer – but the trend towards informal grazing seems to be gathering pace.

Last year in Leicester we saw the fine dining Maiyango morph into the bright and breezy The Fish and The Chip, a fun and high quality take on the traditional British seaside chippy. Now this month the King Richard III suspends its marvellous menu of steaks and  grills and modern European classics for a three month takeover by Crafty Chicks, which could be interpreted as a gastropub take on the ubiquitous chicken shop (note traditional Sunday lunches are still being served.)

Crafty, of course, is the King Dick’s owners Chris and Andrea Elliman’s brand which offers the city’s best burgers over at St Martin’s Tea and Coffee. The core poultry offering here is Crafty Fried Chicken marinated in a spices and buttermilk, or barbecue chicken grilled on the robata grill with their own barbecue spice rub (two pieces £5, whole jointed chicken £18). The sides are pure Crafty – skin-on fries,  poutine, chipotle coleslaw, watermelon with lime, mint, peanut and chilli etc.  It looks brilliant for casual sharing.

katsu
kimchiI popped in at lunchtime and had a very quick sandwich of katsu chicken (£5, above) – panko-coated fried breast with tonkatsu sauce, kewpie mayonnaise and slaw. It was full of Japanese umami loveliness but the flavours were a bit unfocussed maybe – lacking something central and distinctive. A side of cucumber kimchi was an inspired touch – deceptively spicy. I hope to get back soon for some barbecue chicken.

No doubt some of the issues facing  restaurants are down to seasonal issues  – the World Cup played its part and the extraordinary extended hot summer is not doing restaurants any favours. But there are also longer term trends both cultural and economic that make the £25 plus per head meal out an ever harder sell.

Fair play to the Ellimans for keeping nimble and trying to keep on top of the market. That said, I hope in the winter months we get a chance to try more of their wonderful steaks, warming soups and elegant deserts.

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Two Tailed Lion

June 23, 2018

Having watched Ahmed Musa hopefully double his resale value with two goals against Iceland yesterday, I went to celebrate with a few Friday beers at the opening evening of The Two-Tailed Lion last night.

This elegant little bar – the name alludes to Simon de Montfort’s crest –  is a great addition to the burgeoning scene around St Martin’s. It’s located on Millstone Lane in what was The Case’s wine shop. So it forms a part of a splendid and diverse trio of pubs, being opposite The Rutland and Derby and adjacent to The Blue Boar. Indeed you could say it is culturally in-between those two as well, taking a pinch of the former’s style and quality  and a teaspoon of the real ale, CAMRA-cred of the latter. In other words, exactly the kind of bar every city needs in 2018 to complete its range of watering holes.

20180622_210710

It’s run by Matt and Alice,  the couple who ran the pop up Tap in the Square in  St Martin’s earlier this year. They know their beer and the initial offering is three cask ales and six kegs, including a big hoppy double IPA and an increasing fashionable sour gose  infused with lime.

I was particularly pleased to see details of the selection properly displayed – I know a good pub will encourage you to ask about a beer or will offer tastings, but I do get irritated by having to squeeze barflys out the way in order to peer at a little pump clip for clues.   Breweries represented include Leicester’s Framework as well as some of the more cutting edge companies from around the UK include  Welsh wizards Tiny Rebel, Somerset’s Wild Beer Company and the unfiltered, unpasteurised specialists DEYA from Cheltenham. Be aware that such beers don’t come cheap – you may find of the stronger ales are over £4 a half – but there’s 10 per cent off for us CARA members and I suppose it keeps out the volume drinkers.

hopsIt’s in a characterful Georgian building and the understated  décor nicely fuses the aged and the contemporary. There’s a couple of cosy downstairs booths and two rooms upstairs including a tasting room for events with lovely, hop inspired lampshades.

So, welcome to a seriously beer-focused bar with a touch of sophistication. I hear food will be coming soon too.

The Pop-Up Smokehouse

June 21, 2018

Ok it’s not the prettiest plate of food you’ll ever have, but welcome back to the Pop-Up Smokehouse in all its full-flavoured, meaty loveliness.

20180619_192032

Somewhere in this underwhelming picture of the meat platter (for two) served up this week at their one-night-only takeover at Leicester’s Globe pub there is a spicy St Louis cut pork rib, a deep and smoky shin of beef and ale stew, a pot of sweetly fruity pulled pork, sesame-spiced chicken wings and  tender, shredded beef brisket.

Terrific as those meaty elements are, the great thing about The Smokehouse’s food is that all the little accompaniments are just as good if not better. Beautifully tender pickles inside a crisp batter, wonderfully creamy mash, delicately-smoked tomatoes and possibly our favourite item of all, simple raw carrot with a light cardamon-infused sousing.

You can see the full menu below. On reflection, I wished we’d shared a platter for one and picked a  couple of those small  dishes – I’m particularly regretting not managing to find space for the scallops with smoked romesco, and indeed the rum baba desert. That said there still much so much to enjoy. Congratulations to Liam, Ollie and the rest of their team – do look for their next takeover wherever it may be.

20180619_183711

nncnc

 

Plant and Bean takeover

June 13, 2018

Full details are now available of the Plant and Bean takeover of The Fish and The Chip which I mentioned last month.

plantandbean

The vegan pop-up will replace The Fish and The Chip’s usual menu for the period Thursday 21 June to Sunday 24 June. The approach is described in rather awkwardly modish language as  “mindful plant based ingredients mixed with a whole family of worldly flavours”, but there’s no denying some it sounds most enticing.

The menu is the usual starters, mains deserts structure along with salad bowls plus sides and kids’ options and a three course meal comes in at under £20. Starters include grilled kaffir lime and thai basil corn cakes with sriracha mayo, and chick pea, potato and samphire spiced chaat with amchur and almond yogurt. Mains are mainly burgers and sandwichs , ranging from their take on a Cubano – a toasted sandwich with smoked mushrooms, charred red peppers, caramelised red onions, cheddar, wholegrain mustard and pickles – to a middle Eastern flatbread with spiced roasted aubergine, courgette and mushrooms with ras el hanout chickpeas served on a flatbread with red pepper hummus and pomegranate salad.

There’s 20 per cent off for the soft launch on the Thursday, and there are live DJs on Friday and Saturday evenings.  If you can’t get down, the full menu will also be available for delivery via Deliveroo from 22 June.  For more details and the full menu see The Fish and The Chip website.

 

 

I enjoyed a terrific afternoon this Saturday at the 45 Gin School. Part of the continuing rapid development around St Martin’s and Centenary Square this venue, known as The Distiller’s Kitchen – hosts courses on the flavouring and distillation of gin and, wonderfully, gives you the chance to craft your own unique 70cl bottle to take home at the end.

 

Ed

Distiller Ed Gibson outlines the process

 

It’s all done with a very light touch and the emphasis on having a great time while learning. On arrival you’re given you’re first gin and tonic before the group are called to order by Ed Gibson, chief distiller for 45 West who are makers of the Burleigh’s range of gins. There’s nothing too mystical about gin making – it’s basically grain spirit boiled up with juniper and other flavourings – and so Ed is able trot over the basics fairly swiftly and in entertaining style. We each have our own mini still (copper of course, it helps avoid sulphites spoiling our gin) and our base mix of juniper, orris, angelica root and coriander seeds.

 

 

IMG_3771

Your choice of botanicals

 

Once we’ve heard about the options in terms of gin style – spicy, floral, herby, citrussy whatever – we’re able to pick our selection from a range of more than 60 botanicals. Gill and I veered towards the floral, adding the like of rose buds, hibiscus flowers, elderflower and silver birch. Ed’s trained nose is around to give opinion and advice on everyone’s selection and then it’s simply tip it into the spirit in our personal still and go upstairs for a cocktail making (and drinking) masterclass.

 

IMG_3782

Gill shakes some coctail action

 

By the time we return our stills have started to trickle out the good stuff. We wait, dipping our fingers in the stream in order to check the flavours are still alive, eventually making the cut once a dull harshness takes over. The spirit is now at around 85 per cent ABV so we then dilute it to our desired strength with pure water.  To complete the fun you get the chance to make your own label and have the bottle properly sealed.

 

img_3793.jpg

The finished product

 

It’s an extremely satisfying process and I can’t wait to crack open the bottle and confirm my sense that we are naturally gifted gin-makers.

The courses last up to around three hours and cost is £115 for one, or £145 for a couple making one bottle, and there are opportunities midweek and Saturdays.  If you go on the 45 Gin School website you can buy a voucher and enter your desired date to see what’s available.

 

 

 

Upcoming events

May 23, 2018

fenways-liam-1-820x490-2

Good to see a couple of returning food events here in Leicestershire. The Pop Up Smokehouse has announced its second takeover event. This time Liam Watson (above)and his team will be cooking their bold and hearty take on US barbecue at the atmospheric Globe on Millstone Lane on Tuesday 19 June from 5pm to 10pm. I can tell you this in safety now because I have booked my table already  – last time out they filled up very quickly. There are several ways to book but maybe try their website first.

edible-forest-960x350

Also now announced are details of the second  Edible Forest, Charnwood’s woodland-themed food festival which runs from 9-16th September. Top pick for serious diners must be the Secret Gourmet, which will see a forest-inspired menu created by local chefs John Duffin (of Mountsorrel’s Michelin-starred John’s House) and Paul Leary, who’s work is well-known to Leicestershire diners over the last 15 years. Menu details are being held back, as is the location but it’s promised to be a historic location somewhere near Shepshed – cost is £70.

edible-forest-pod-250

There are some less heady options – such as the chance to have brunch, picnic or dine in a clear ‘pod’ in the heart of the forest. Then there are chances again to have tea inside Old John in Bradgate Park or to enjoy guided foraging walks around the forest.  There will also be live music and DJ events with Charnwood’s own Burleigh’s gin having a strong presence. Details available here.

One more thing – heads up to vegan readers about Plant and Bean, who promise to combine plant-based ingredients with exciting flavours and a streetfood vibe. I believe there is a link to The Fish and The Chip restaurant on St Nicholas Place, and certainly that’s where there their first takeover event is happening in June,  with a delivery service and more events promised soon. No further details yet but track them down on Instagram @plantandbean.

GH2

A coy hairstreak at Ketton

I had a hard morning running around a quarry in Rutland in a largely fruitless chase for Green Hairstreak butterflies. So I was a in need of some lunch. It was then I realised I was close to the Fox and Hounds in Exton and my heart gave a little leap.

I had a really tremendous meal a couple of years back at this gorgeous country inn but it’s just that little too far from the city for an easy drive out.  I’d heard that Glen Cowl – known to many through his work at the Red Lion Stathern and the The Bewicke Arms in Hallaton- had taken over as head chef so this was a good opportunity to revisit. And it was lovely to find the place in robust form.

The pub is achingly pretty on the outside and has a lovely, slightly dishevelled charm inside. A warm feeling got even warmer when I saw found they had my book (The Leicestershire and Rutland Cookbook) open on the bar.  By the time I settled in a huge old squishy chesterfield and supped a lovely half of bath Gem ale my spirits were soaring.

crab

Crab croquettes

I picked two courses from the prix fixe menu (£16) and was shown into the dining room  which looks out over the large and – on days like this – massively inviting garden. I started off with crab croquettes, two lovely crisp balls with plenty of crab, sat on a salsa of pomegranate and grapefruit. Those two fruits carry a fearsome acidity  but the amounts were just right, so nothing overwhelmed but you could mix and match the salsa and croquette to get more of a seafood hit or more citrus.

lamb

Lamb shoulder

Main course was another generous plate of shoulder of lamb with truffled pomme puree. Like the starter this was a potentially dangerous dish that succeeded through balance executed. Lamb shoulder is never exactly a gourmet treat but this, coming from the Launde estate on the other side of Oakham, was very good – full flavoured and tender, while that puree was rich, smooth and with enough truffle to be present but not to dominate excessively. A nice sticky jus, slightly charred artichokes and fresh broccoli completed the dish.

garden

I finished with a second half of Gem while sitting in the garden sunshine with a Rose Tremain novel, a full stomach and a great sense of well-being. Food and service were a credit to the Graham family who took over the place in 2015. I just wish it was a bit nearer.

 

 

I was at the King Richard III today to do some filming with Leicester chef Kwoklyn Wan and fellow food writer Laura Morrighani for the BBC East Midlands’ Inside Out slot. We had a chat about what people are looking for in restaurants nowadays in the context of the struggles facing several well-known chain restaurants.

Fortunately we also got fed  – which gives me a chance to mention that the KRIII has now introduced a fine grazing menu to complement it’s regular restaurant offering. For those that hadn’t realised,  the pub has a new head chef in the form of Martin Powdrill –  who should be well known to regular readers as the man behind Cured at Brewdog and The Cookie. The grazing menu includes  his signature platters – which the three of us were able to enjoy today – and which  combine terrific breads with innovative cured meats, terrines, cheeses, slaws, purees, pestos,  pickles and other sorts of loveliness.  Shared between three its just over £7 a head and is a lovely way to complement a few beers or glass of wine. Its freshness, originality and creativity also points to just why some of the more formulaic and , let’s face it, mediocre chains have been struggling.

platter

Also available are the likes of ox cheek or Korean pork buns or snacks  (3 for £12.95) such as sesame Japanese wins, pork and black pudding sausage roll with smoked beer ketchup, poutine, beef jerky and jersey royal and cauliflower pakoras.

Food is served from 5.30 pm and at lunchtimes from Friday to Sunday. The grazing menu looks great in itself  but should also serve as good way for newbies to check out this really fine food pub.

As for the filming – transmission won’t be until September but rest assured I’ll remind you nearer the time.

 

 

Cafe Delhi

April 24, 2018

delhi chaat

Samosa Chaat

Another month, another leading Leicester Indian restaurant launches a brand-extension vegetarian branch.

After the launch of Kayal’s stunning Herb, the well-established, high-performing Memsaab in Highcross has launched Cafe Delhi in the highly competitive environment of Melton Road. Memsaab is themed around ladies of the Raj, and the new restaurant also has a thoroughly worked-through theme, in this case the street food scene of Delhi.

There’s been no shortage  of vegetarian food in the area, from Bobby’s  – which had legendary status even when I rocked up in Leicester in 1983 – to numerous sweet marts doing a fine line in bhajis, dhokla, samosas and other sweet and savoury snacks. Cafe Delhi though is a lot smarter than most though. It’s got a handsome blue (teal? turquoise?) and gold colour scheme and plenty of fun retro prints with an open kitchen behind a big window at the far end.

The menu is broad and more, erm, pragmatic than the relatively purist Herb. So here there are plenty of “soya” dishes and contemporary streetfood favourites such as Nepali momo, Manchurian dumplings and even Chip Butty inspired by , well, let’s say Yorkshire. I’m assuming most of it either is or could be made vegan if you leave out the yoghurt, but you’ll obviously need to check.

We had a quick lunch today and the food was terrific. Light and  fluffy idli (steamed rice and lentil cakes) came with an amazing sambhar – richer and sweeter than most – and coconut chutney. Samosa chat is probably the dish I dream about most away from Leicester and this was a hugely enjoyable one. The balance of soft pastry, nicely spiced chick pea curry, crispy vermicelli, cooling yoghurt and sweet tangy tamrind is heavenly. A tandoori roti was one of the best breads I’ve encountered for a long-time – beautifully soft and flaky. The masala chai, coming in a beautifully decorated tea pot,  was a bit too reserved for me – I like it pungent and fragrant.

cafedelhi

Service on weekday lunchtime was a bit too laid back for our liking – our dishes came five minutes apart and staff seemed a bit preoccupied – but I’m definitely going back.  Chaats and snacks are around £3 to £5, with a range of curries and veggie tandoori kebabs at £5/6.  Especially appealing seems the thali at £10.95, served up on crescent-shaped copper thalis which fit snugly around your plate.

Cafe Delhi
47 Melton Rd
Leicester LE4 6PN
0116 266 5500

The Head of Steam

April 5, 2018

Last night I was at a pre-launch evening for the Head of Steam, a big new pub on Market Street that opens tonight.  Run by Hartlepool brewers Cameron’s, it’s an intriguing initiative that shows how the more enterprising of the pub companies are responding to the changing market.

20180404_182820

There’s now 18 pubs around the country branded as Head of Steam, all of them marked by a really good range of draught real ales, cutting edge craft beers in keg, and some exotic Belgian and European specials too.  Leicester is no exception, with the current draught selection including – obviously  – a couple of Cameron’s own ales including their flagship ruby bitter Strongarm, plus local brews from Framework, Charnwood and Langton. Craft beers include the extraordinary hazy, full of tropical fruit pale DDH Engima Ekuanot from cult brewers Cloudwater, who also supply a Baltic porter, plus  various lambics, saisons, IPAs and wheatbeers.  Gratifyingly there are screens displaying information about the beers available and beer matching suggestions on the food menu  – there is an effort to actually sell the beer here, not just have it as window dressing.

bar1

So far, so micropub. But this a big old barn of a place spread over two floors and which is a mile away from those cosy ale and conversation places that have made the running in the industry recently. There’s music, fruit machines and a few familiar lagers here too. There’s also a big cocktail and hoptail menu which were going down well last night but I don’t really hold with them so I stuck to the beers.

food1There’s plenty of restaurant space and a big food menu – burgers, pizzas, multicultural tapas and a few specials.  On this evidence it may not be worth a special trip but it’s perfectly competent pub food to soak up the beer. My chicken Milanese was crisp where it needed to be crisp and tender where it needed to be tender and harissa spiced salmon was tasty enough, though no great subtleties of flavour.

It’s hard to judge service on a trial night  – aspects of it were quite chaotic but the staff were by and large lovely and seemed well-chosen. They are going to have to sort out service routines quickly but the ambience is good. Given the somewhat grim, anodyne venue the Head of Steam replaces, this is a huge improvement. It’s great to have a big commercial venue with the clout to get some otherwise hard-to get beers and to support small-scale locals – creating more of a market should encourage them to invest and improve.

bar

bar2

%d bloggers like this: