I know I’ve written about Delilah’s already, but for the sake of completeness, here’s my review of the food offering from this weekend’s Leicester Mercury. Unfortunately the Ngolo Kante analogy is already out of date, but hey ho, heroes come, heroes go…

Delilah’s Fine Foods
4 St Martins
Leicester LE1 5PL

The St Martin’s area is booming. Finding a buried king, building a tourist attraction and a public square and investing heavily in improving the public realm will generally do that.

But you also need an entrepreneurial spirit to make the most of those developments and Leicester’s independents have certainly risen to that challenge. And now with the opening of Delilah’s the area has another bright jewel in its crown.

Many Leicestershire people will be aware of Delilah’s in Nottingham, which under the dynamic leadership of owner Sangita Tryner has gone from a cult success as a small corner deli to a large two-story venue packed with hard -to-find deli produce from the East Midlands and around the world. It was the UK’s deli of the year in 2012 – described as the kind of place where “you want to spend a whole day.”

The dynamism of Leicester’s retail core attracted Tryner to branch out with a second branch. Fortunately there was a lovely empty building right in the heart of St Martin’s that was perfect for redevelopment. Consequently the Victorian, Grade II-listed Allied Irish Bank has been revived from years of slumber – with help from public funds – and turned into a light, roomy and remarkable space.

The venue resembles the Nottingham branch with a large retail floor, a horseshoe shaped bar with stools for diners and drinkers and a mezzanine dining area that takes diners close to the beautifully-restored glazed ceiling and masonry.

The deli offering is huge, diverse and beautifully displayed, and much of it is used to furnish the cafe menu. During its first week I called in for morning coffee, a lazy weekend brunch and a midweek working lunch – and all three were first-rate.

In terms of coffee there’s a house blend named Samson but also some 30 coffees which are listed with helpful information on the bean and the roast. I tried Rwandan Koakaka, which was tremendous. With St Martin’s Tea and Coffee round the corner and the newly-opened Coffee Counter cafe roasting their own small batches on Bowling Green Street, Leicester city centre is thankfully no longer left to the big coffee chains.

The breakfast menu at Delilah, which runs until 11.30am during the week and 12pm on Sunday, is hugely appealing. Dishes are not cheap but this is very high quality produce. I was tempted by Inverawe smoked salmon and scrambled eggs but settled for the Delilah rarebit, which had the same relationship to cheese on toast as Ngolo Kante to …well, pick your own hapless City midfielder from the past. Pokey Black Bomber cheddar had been whisked with Magpie ale leeks and mustard and grilled on a doorstep of artisan bread, then topped with generous amount of splendid Alderton ham, a succulent Nottinghamshire ham with a marmalade glaze and one of the best of its kind I’ve ever encountered. Then there were two perfectly poached egg, the yolks of which oozed delightfully over the whole ensemble.

My friend picked avocado, fried eggs and crispy pancetta on toast. Again, every thing was exceptionally good. Ripe fruit, great bread, and intense salty ham.

Lunch items have a similar vibe to these dishes. Don’t go looking for fancy restaurant cooking but if the idea of fine charcuterie, cheeses and salads appeals, you will love Delilah’s. At our working lunch I had a frittata with spicy chorizo and piquillo peppers and a super-fresh green salad, my friend having the salt-beef and morcilla hash, again topped with a poached egg . The only criticism he could think to make that it was almost too good – not quite having the down-and-dirty comfort food quality some will want in a hash. But the powerful flavours of the salt beef and the rich Spanish black pudding made it very tasty.

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We also managed to squeeze in a sideplate of charcuterie – a peppery salami and shavings of speck and serrano, and washed it down with a fine craft beer.

The deli section at Delilah’s is going to fill-up a lot of Leicestershire pantries and fridges, and their cafe offering will provide the perfect venue for some top-notch breakfast and lunches. A real boost for the city centre.

I did suggest there might be a full review of Onggi coming – and here it is:

Onggi
98 Welford Road
Leicester LE2 7AB
Tel: 0116 224 5851

Some time back, maybe 20 years ago, there was a Korean restaurant on Granby Street. It seemed rather smart and interesting, but it was before its time. I never got there and I’m supposed to be one of these adventurous foodie types. It was also in the days before there was a large contingent of students from the Far East to fuel the demand. So it didn’t last and Leicester, this famously diverse city, has never really developed a taste for Korean food.

That has started to change with the arrival of specialist food shops, and I’ve even tried cooking a few things with ingredients from a Korean shop on the edge of Clarendon Park. Now though we have a genuine Korean restaurant to try, and I think it’s going to be a hit.

Onggi on Welford Rd (between the Bricklayers Arms and the Prison) is a relatively humble cafe and takeaway but it scores highly on all the things that make you want to go somewhere. Atmospheric, friendly, clean, professional, good value and, of course, food that is fresh, tasty and cooked with love and care.

As suggested above, I’m no expert on Korean food and judging by my research, people are put off by a reputation for excessive heat and sharp flavours. Nonetheless I’d say Onggi is the ideal place for the timid to give a try.

First off, there’s a very friendly welcome from the staff, who spoke perfect English and are keen to be helpful. On our visit the few tables were packed with young Chinese people, so we were given some menus to inspect and retired to the nearby Swan and Rushes for some of their fine ale. Half an hour later we returned ready to order.

First off, there were little complimentary plates of crunchy beans in a salty, sesame marinade and of kimchi. This, famously, is fermented cabbage – essentially spiced sauerkraut – which Koreans have with every meal. I’ve had some pretty horrible versions from foil pouches in oriental supermarkets but this was great – mild but distinctive and a lovely way to get the tastebuds up and running.

We then started by sharing kimchijeon – jeon are savory pancakes, in this case stuffed with kimchi – and though simple this was an exceptionally tasty dish, the kind of crisp, freshly cooked street-food you dream about. It had with it a sweetish, sourish soy-based dipping sauce that you could happily drink by the spoonful.

Main courses include bubbling one-pot stews and soups with various combinations of meat, fish, tofu and vegetables, rice-based combinations cooked and served in hot stone bowls and Korean barbecue dishes. In fancier places you might get the chance to cook these latter dishes at your table, and while they come plated here, my beef bulgogi was delicious. Bulgogi is something of a cult dish – thinly-sliced strips of beef in a slightly sweet marinade cooked quickly on a grill to give a nice caramelisation. Here it’s served with gorgeously sticky rice and a hot, but not frightening, chili sauce along with large lettuce leaves with which you can make up little parcels.

Our other main – dolsot jeuk-deopbat- was one of those dramatic hot stone bowl dishes with succulent pork, mushrooms, pepper and other vegetables in a bright, lip-smacking sauce on top of steamed rice.

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We had three little side dishes – £2 a pop – and we loved them all. Braised burdock root – not immediately attractive to Western ears maybe – was a lovely little salad of matchsticks of the root with an umami-rich dressing, while modum namul gave use three little piles of various seasoned green veg. Gim – crispy seaweed (above) – involved staggeringly lovely sheets of dappled, emerald-green seaweed with an intense salty tang of the sea. They tasted lovely, though I was almost more tempted to put a frame round them and hang it on the wall.

The venue is not licensed but there is a range of intriguing soft drinks and flavoured teas to go with your meal – we had a big pot of barley tea, a caffeine-free drink with mildly nutty taste made from roasted grain.

As an introduction to Korean food Onggi seems perfect. Informal, friendly and with flavours that should appeal to a variety of palates, it’s a welcome addition to Leicester’s range of restaurants.

 

 

So last night I was invited to a preview event at another new restaurant in booming St Martin’s.  This time it was a Mexican/South American venue Bodega Cantina, located in what was the Sweater Shop. It’s an independent business with branches in Birmingham and Worcester, so it’s good to see Leicester chosen as the next location.

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It’s a casual sort of place with a great bar packed with exotic mescals and rums and it’s run with great enthusiasm by  general manager Ben who has a background with Pizza Express and TGIFridays and chef Ellis Andrew, who had been working round the corner at The Case. While menus across the group are the same, the message put out last night was very much that all food is produced fresh on site and that chefs have the freedom to buy locally.

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Judging by what we were able to sample last night the food is closer to Las Iguanas than to Wahaca – fun, tasty and enjoyable but more the background to a night out than destination dining or breaking the mould. Dishes range from the street food vibe of quesadillas, burritos and nachos through to smaller dishes such as Brazilian coxinhas and sea bass ceviche and larger plates including Venezuelan chocolate chilli chicken and grilled swordfish with mango salsa. There’s a vegan menu too.

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Prices are moderate, the cocktail list extensive  and – as far as it was possible to tell – it’s going to be a cheerful, buzzy sort of place.

 

 

 

It opens properly on Monday – and I predict a lot of people are going to have fun nights out here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was  invited to yesterday’s launch of the new branding for Everards beers. With big plans for their new brewery, offices, restaurant and cycle centre out near Fosse Park now reaching a crucial stage, the rebrand emphasises the companies Leicestershire roots – hence from today you’ll see their main logo use the portrait of founder William Everard and the words “Everards of Leicestershire”.

EVOL Low Detail Light Base Black & Gold Logo [3-7cm] CMYK

Their four key beers get a rebrand with beautiful nostalgic illustrations from local design agency Juice featuring a Leicestershire fox character, though Tiger retains a distinctive Tiger design that emphasises  its links to the Royal Leicestershire Regiment and to the rugby club.  Beacon is clarified as “Beacon Hill” and Old Original’s design is linked back to the original brewery in Southgate Street

Everards Beer Range Illustration

The new branding also gives a little more information on each beer – hence from today onwards you’ll find pump clips that explain a little more about taste and style   – hence the 5.2  per cent Old Original is described as “rich and fruity amber ale”. I’m all for such clarity at point of purchase and find it hard to believe much beer is just given a stupid name and left to sell itself.

I know some find their beers a little “safe”, but personally I’ve always enjoyed Tiger – a solid well-balanced best bitter – but it was a long while since I’d sipped Old Original and enjoyed a swift half at the launch event very much. I also admire the way Everards – still a family-owned company   – seems to do business. It supports other local food and drink businesses,  keen to have partnerships rather than growth at all costs. Its pubs are reliably good and independent licencees with vision – such as Sam Hagger of the Rutland and Derby and The Forge and Jay Cooledge of the Griffin and Odd John’s –  get the chance to develop their pubs their way.

Oh yes, the new brewery – the move across the ring road to the 12 acre Everards Meadow site is now just dependent on the planning decision from Blaby Council expected in July. Good luck to them.

OLD ORIGINAL POSTER

 

 

 

A quick little plug for Onggi, a Korean restaurant and takeaway at 98  Welford Road  (between the Bricklayers Arms and the prison).  It’s been a while since we’ve had a Korean restaurant in the city and while this is a fairly humble sort of place, I’ve really enjoyed the two meals I’ve had there recently. Fresh, zingy kimchi-stuffed pancakes, spicy, crunchy chicken wings and LA Galbi – thinly sliced beef short ribs quickly barbecued with a sweet marinade – were among the highlights. Then there were beautiful, crisp leaves of seaweed (below) – a treat for the eyes and the palate.

 

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Hopefully there will be a full review shortly in the Leicester Mercury – and on here  – but if you like the idea get down there soon. Their main clientele of Chinese students are starting to disappear for the summer so it’s a good time to go.

 

A significant event  for Leicester’s food culture today  with the opening of Delilah’s  at 4 St Martin’s.

Delis have tended to struggle in Leicester.  The Deli on the Square in St Martin’s and Deli Flavour in Silver Arcade  do a decent job, particularly with superior sarnies,  but Delilah’s is a big step forward. It’s opened a month or so later than planned, not that surprising when you look at the complex but beautiful job done at converting the former Allied Irish Bank. There’s a shopfloor, café/bar area and mezzanine dining under a stunning glazed atrium and the whole place has an almost “temple of food” feel about it.

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Those who know the Nottingham branch will know the feeling. Turns out I was the first customer ever to sit at the bar this morning. I enjoyed a cappuccino from their house blend  (called Sampson, lol) as I looked around at staff frantically putting out price tickets and being brought up to speed on service. There’s a tremendous selection of wines from independent vineyards  – quite possibly the best in the the city centre – and then sections for baked goods, chocolates, condiments, seasonal goods, coffees, cooking ingredients and a superb deli counter, with service but where you can wander around and get close to the literally hundreds of cheeses and meats.

The food  menu upstairs looks instantly appealing – from breakfasts such as rarebit made with black bomber, Magpie ale, poached eggs and Alderton ham to extravagant platters of Bellota grade iberico ham (free range, acorn fed), wild boar and venison salami, bresaola, duck rillettes, black truffle gouda, oak roasted tomatoes and more.

WP_20160623_002Sure it’s quite pricey, and no doubt some are going to respond to the whole enterprise with hilarious jokes about middle-class foodies and their “keenwah”, but for me this is a great addition to the city centre.  There is a commitment to quality and to celebrating the best of  international and local products, and there are going to be a lot of things you’ve not previously been able to get in a Leicester shop.

Go and have a look and see what you think.

 

 

 

 

 

The Royal Oak

June 7, 2016

Another lovely country pub for you  – this time in the north of the county. The Royal Oak was featured in The Leicestershire and Rutland Cookbook and I was pleased to see they have a good display of it in the restaurant.  This is another review from my Leicester Mercury column:

 

The Royal Oak
The Green
Long Whatton
Leicestershire
LE12 5DB

Long Whatton is a pleasant village on the Northern edge of Charnwood. It’s close to some massive, noisy and busy pieces of infrastructure in the shape of East Midlands Airport, Donnington Park and the M1 and A42 junction, but it is tucked away off the main routes and remains both surrounded by greenery and reasonably peaceful.

It is, then, a great location for a gastropub with accommodation,  hence why it attracted the attention of brothers Chris and Alex Astwood. With 20 years of hospitality experience, including fine dining restaurants, they recognised the opportunity in 2010 here for a smart pub with smart food and stylish rooms. Together with chef James Upton, that’s just what they have created

The pub combines rural character with contemporary styling and on our Saturday night visit both the bar and restaurant areas were packed with both locals and, judging by the branded jackets and t-shirts on show, teams from the Superbike World Championships at Donington racetrack.

The food and drink they were enjoying is based on making the most of local ingredients wherever possible – there’s a detailed list of local suppliers on the menu – and reflects the diversity of the customer base. There’s pub classics of fish and chips and steaks and these are done at a high level – triple-cooked chips, home-made pea purée and so on – but the real interest is in the highly seasonal main menu. The dishes here position themselves some way above the more routine kind of dining pubs, but avoiding anything too fancy-dan. It’s not intimidating, just attractive-sounding dishes that seem to be put together with thought and flair.

And that is what we got. Both our starters were completely satisfying affairs. A dense, meaty mackerel fillet had been cured and charred and served on top of a fine potato salad with a mustard and dill dressing, a smart little salsa of cucumber and a delicious, crunchy tuile made with fennel seeds. The little microherbs – apparently from the kitchen garden – were not just a mimsy addition but gave real little punches of flavour.

Royal Oak menu extract

Extract from the Royal Oak’s Spring 2016 menu 

 

The judicious combination of flavour and texture was also present in the another highly seasonal starter of charred asparagus with poached duck-egg, intensely-flavoured dried parma ham crisp, shavings of parmesan and a wonderful wild garlic mayonnaise. See what I mean? Nothing too flashy but good ingredients, good technique and well-composed dishes.

Rack of lamb was another really good dish. Beautifully cooked, it was a credit to the kitchen and to suppliers Coppice Farm near Swadlincote. It had a lovely crust made with pine nuts and more wild garlic and came with crushed Jersey royals, and petit pois a la Française – with braised baby gem lettuce, pancetta and a light creamy sauce.

The meat in a supreme of chicken was also first rate, seasoned to absolute perfection too. Best of its accompaniments was charred cauliflower, a really good way of getting the most out of this sometimes anodyne veg. A sauce of sweetcorn and cumin chowder didn’t really convince me as an ideal match, but it was executed well, as were the little discs of fondant sweet potatoes, even if they were a bit too sweet for my palate.

The drinks list at the pub is high standard. We started with a divine citric gin and tonic with Burleighs gin (distilled in Charnwood), and a delightful half of the hoppy Charmer from Charnwood brewery. There are some well-chosen wines available by the glass and a French Malbec was a brilliant companion to the lamb.

Deserts had less menu appeal for us, the likes of Millionaire shortbread cheesecake with jelly bean fudge and chocolate syrup might have their place but sounded a bit overly sweet at the end of a quite sophisticated meal. We did try a lemon posset with poached rhubarb though and it was excellent. A lovely contrast between sweet and sharp, and again texture was an important element – there was still a bit of bite in the rhubarb and there was some little discs of a crumble topping that been baked to give serious crunch.

This was lovely meal, with competent, confident service from a friendly and well-run front of house team. No surprise that the Royal Oak draws in people from the airport and race-tack, it should also be on the list for residents of Loughborough and beyond.

Quick one for fellow LCFC season ticket holders.

Earlier in the season chef Chris at Leicester’s fantastic Crafty Burger made a rash promise of free burgers if we won the premier league  – and he’s now working on exactly how he’s going to make good on that.

In the meantime, Byron in Highcross have also taken this step and are giving free burgers on production of your season ticket from today until 5pm on Monday 16th May.

“This is Byron’s way of repaying the fans for their loyal support throughout the season said manager Vicky. “You can’t escape the buzz in the city and we are really keen to continue the celebrations in the best way we know how – with free proper hamburgers. We’re looking forward to welcoming a sea of blue coming through our doors throughout this weekend.”

There’s a few t&cs (not takeaway or Deliveroo, no extra toppings, subject to availability etc) but a nice gesture to celebrate the Greatest Sporting Achievement of All Time.

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In this most marvellous, historic week for our city and county I’m delighted to announce that the Leicestershire and Rutland Cookbook is now available!

Published by specialist cookbook publishers Meze, it’s the latest in a series of regional cookbooks that celebrates local restaurants, food producers, delis, markets, brewers and more. In each case Meze works with a local food writer (in this case me!) to capture the spirit of each business and create profiles along with superb photography and recipes supplied from each business.

It’s been a great project for me to be involved in – giving the chance to meet and talk with many of the most passionate, creative and committed food  people in the region. The 192-page book  features  over 30 great businesses from the city centre  to rural Rutland – many of whom have been featured in this blog over the years as well as some new arrivals and older busineses that were new to me.

The book really does look beautiful and I hope is a good read as well as a storehouse of recipes. It is priced £14.95 and is available from all the businesses featured. Have a look a around for it and if you are interested please buy from them.  It should also be available from Waterstone’s and online ordering soon too for those outside the county.

  • The Leicestershire and Rutland Cookbook, written by Tim Burke,  published by Meze Publishing  £14.95 ISBN 9780992898182

 

The evenings are getting longer. I’d like to say it’s getting warmer, and surely it will soon. And so this latest review for the Leicester Mercury looks at a fantastic country pub that is ideal for a leisurely drive out from the city. The Fox and Hounds is  ideal for anyone looking for  beautiful food, beautiful surroundings and a bit of class:

The Fox and Hounds at Exton  

I love living in the city. I love being close to the heart of things and where there’s a constant turnover of places to eat and drink, driven by cultural diversity and restless entrepreneurism.

But then again, sometimes I crave quiet – a bit of serenity and a bit of luxury. And when I do, it’s to places such as the Fox and Hounds in Exton I go.

WP_20160406_21_02_11_ProRutland is not short of chocolate box villages, and Exton is one of the finest. Trucked away between Oakham and Stamford on backroads that go nowhere in particular, it’s awesomely English. There’s a pretty village green, solid stone cottages with perfect thatched roofs, a big manor house with a tragic story attached and, hurrah, an impressive 18th Century pub.

Last year it attracted the attention of Rochelle Bushell who along with her son David Graham had run a series of successful bars, restaurants and guest houses in South Africa. The opportunity to revive this beauty was too tempting to resist. Since taking over they have been developing some stylish bedrooms, doing out the bar and restaurant with Rochelle’s eclectic collection of furniture from around the world and developing the kitchen to offer a fine, distinctive food offering that is now ready to take its place among the best in the county.

Walking into the bar area, you immediately feel the weight of the world disappear. Big old comfy sofas, huge gilt mirrors, heavy drapes and cosy fireplaces – it impresses with a slightly faded grandeur; smart enough to be seriously posh, but lived in enough to make you feel at home. On our visit there was a lovely jazz and blues soundtrack too.

On reading the menu, the feel good factor raises further. The dishes have been developed by David Graham and head chef Omar Palazzolo, a young Milanese chef who has La Gavroche and Nobu on his CV. The two of them share a passion for fine British produce and for dishes that make the most of it.

There is still a village pub role for the Fox and Hounds, and there is a classics menu of fish and chips, shepherds pie and erm, pheasant and chanterelle terrine with whisky and lemon spiced marmalade – all around a tenner or so. However the à la carte has compelling dishes that scream out to be tried, so that’s were we were headed.

WP_20160406_19_12_20_ProFirst off though, some of the very best nibbles I’ve encountered (left). Sumptuous olives and little cornichons in a citrus dressing with carefully pared orange zest, flatbreads, a brilliant purée of Mediterranean vegetables, a little pool of pesto and a smear of nduja, a spicy, spreadable salami from Calabria. There was even a super-seasonal little flower-bud of wild garlic.

That set me up for some excellent scallops, with an intense velouté of Jerusalem artichokes with truffle oil, poured at table to give a real aromatic boost. There were also great fresh winter greens and pretty little artichoke crisps. Clearly this is a kitchen that works hard to get the most of its ingredients. The same virtue was present in another starter of lightly battered balls of duckmeat with seasme-spiced noodles and well judged sauces of hoi sin and plum wine jam.

A main of pan-roasted Norwegian cod was a highly successful blend of technique and flavour. The fish given a nice crust and coming in a foaming sauce of apple and pernod with madras spices. Filled out with braised leeks and a cassoulet of cannelini beans, it was a treat to all the senses.

Most dining pubs offer a pork dish but the repetoire is fairly narrow. I’ve had enough belly of pork for the foreseeable future, but here was something much more interesting. A tender, oven roasted free-range loin that was, heaven be praised, still a little pink, and which had been given a yoghurt, rosemary and maple marinade. With some fat woodland mushrooms, little pillows of crisp “pork air”, and a sweetish cider and mustard jus, this was no run of the mill dish but a bit of a joy-ride. Some may not enjoy the range of flavours but I was delighted to find chefs wanting to take a few risks when developing a new dish.

WP_20160406_20_27_04_ProDeserts were a light, refreshing and technically spot-on lemon posset with pistachio crumb and raspberries, and a marvellous bunet(left), a traditional Piedmontese dairy desert with chocolate and amaretti, here served with with salted caramel ice-cream and a crème anglaise with a few sprigs of chervil. Poached blueberries appeared to have been replaced with blackberries which was a shame, but this was a light desert that punched well above its weight.

There’s a serious wine list, although only a limited number available by glass. That said, our Vouvray was superb. And what a treat to have young staff who are friendly, focused, attentive and fully on top of the menu.

The Fox and Hounds obviously has an old time charm about it, but the food is adventurous, high quality and definitely brings something worthwhile to a fairly crowded market.

 

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