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.
December 5, 2016
Over the years a few people have contacted me with talking about getting a street food event off the ground in Leicester. It’s not come to anything – until now.
This weekend saw the launch of Canteen – a monthly event at the LCB Depot in the heart of Leicester’s Cultural Quarter. It has the big advantage not just of an array of hip young businesses on site, but a yard which is accessible to food trucks. Ok, in December outdoor eating is a bit of a challenge, but everything seems right about this idea and venue.
Organised by the energetic and enthusiastic Ahmed Kage, who’s done this sort of thing a lot in Birmingham, the event ran from 5pm on Friday and was free to enter. There were four traders, a DJ and a cocktail bar from sponsors Sailor Jerry. There’s also plenty of indoor space for diners in the LCB lobby and café area.
In-house caterer’s Gray’s were offering triple-cooked chips with a variety oftoppings – Canadian-style poutine, Mexican guacamole etc and a Pakistani chick pea curry version. Out in the yard were Pluk’d , chicken wing and hot sauce specialists who are soon to open a venue in the city; Home Boys, offering Japanese-inspired street food from Nottingham Masterchef finalist Pete Hewitt; and Esmie, a tremendous Caribbean seafood specialist from St Kitt’s via Birmingham.
I wasn’t able to try everything, obvs, but I’ll say the Mexican chips received rave reviews. I did have Katsu Sando from Home Boys, a panko-crumbed chicken breast in a bun with tonkatsu , a tangy, sweet, fruity sauce. It was great comfort food on a cold night but I’d like to try something with some more complex Asian flavours. Having heard the oohs and aahs from friends I also had to try the Doubles from Esmie (below). These Trinidadian favourites are a loose sandwich affair of two pieces of fried flatbread with curried chickpeas – Esmie’s versions was sweet, spicy and completely delicious. I wish I’d had room to try the seas bass fillets, prawns and scallops they were serving up too with rice and peas – maybe another time.
There was a decent post-work crowd in and hopefully more came along later because this was a good opportunity to try some great food in an informal setting. Watch out for more details of January’s event.
November 8, 2016
Shortly after yesterday’s post, I heard of another intriguing opening. It’s been whispered for a good few months but we now have confirmation that craft beer and chicken concept Broood (yes, there are three o’s) is to open on King St/New Walk.
The new operators completed on the lease this week for the building that recently housed Sloanes bar and before that Out of the Vaults. Most significantly though, it was home to Vin Quatre (or more commonly Vin IV), one of the first bars that came out of the liberalised licensing regime of the 9os and which has legendary status among a whole generation of Leicester hipsters. It was, famously, hugely busy and massively profitable.
“We want to evoke the spirit that the bar had in the 1990s,” say the bar’s owners with a laser-eye on their demographic “If you are of an age, you will have drunk there – we want you back. No excuses. You’ve got no kids now. You didn’t have any then.”
There is already a Broood in Hinckley – with eight or nine real ales and craft beers mainly from small regional breweries and a food menu that focuses on piri piri chicken, wings in hot sauce, hot dogs and pies. The Leicester branch – which should open before Christmas – could fill the hole left by the demise of The Pub on New Walk – if it goes a step further and can rival the popularity of Vin IV, then happy days all around.
- One more thing as I clear the decks before going off on holiday tomorrow – thanks to Miguel Holmodinho for a tip about Merhaba, a new Eritrean café restaurant on Churchgate. It’s obviously first and foremost a venue for exiles but its not intimidating to others and we had a lovely lunch in there this week. Eritrean food is at core stews and vegetables served on injera – a sourdough flatbread with a soft spongy texture. Typically it’s all served on a big platter and eaten communally.
We had a lamb stew with fairly fiery berbere spicing and spinach with onion and spices – it was different and delicious. It’s particularly delightful as the sauces soak into the bread. There are plenty more things on the menu that I have little idea about but will go back after a bit more research. Meat dishes are around £6-£8, various vegetable ones around £3-£5. Note the bread is available in gluten-free form made with teff grains.
There’s not many reasons to venture down Churchgate nowadays. Lebanese restaurant Cedars and Caribbean takeaway Johnnycakes (of which more in the near future) are two. Now we have another.
November 7, 2016
Liking the look of two openings in Leicester city centre later this month. Veeno is an Italian “wine café” adding to the burgeoning St Martin’s scene. This is a small independent chain which has branches in the usual places that such ambitious concepts expand into – Nottingham, York, Manchester, Edinburgh, Harrogate, Leeds, Bristol and Liverpool.
The business was founded by two young UK-based Italians and their idea was to promote the “aperitivo” culture of nibbling appetisers over a glass of wine. The menu, then, is full of salamis and cured meats, cheeses and breads along with a wine list that is based on wines from their own Sicilian vineyard. These are labelled along the lines of “our driest” “our smoothest” and rather curiously , “for experts only”. The menu has plenty of food and wining matching.
I’ve not been to one of their cafes so can’t really comment on quality but from their online presence the vibe would appear to a slightly mass market Delilah – not such a bad thing .
Also set to open in a couple of weeks is Boneyard. Here the obvious at first glance comparison would appear to be Grillstock, with a focus on barbecue food, cocktails and a “woo! let’s all have mad time!” culture. They will be at 13 Granby St, in what was for many years one of those identikit Italian chains, next to the Nat West Bank.
Don’t know too much about them – all I could really find out was they seem to hold the not inconsiderable distinction of holding the first ever pop-up restaurant night in Nuneaton with an Indian restaurant. Their twitter account describes them as “a multi-cultural meat society with added liquor and DJs – unashamedly fun, brash and exciting”. I can’t say I’ve been impressed with Grillstock so let’s hope this crew have something good to offer.
November 4, 2016
I enjoyed a trip out to Belton, near Shepshed, recently to revisit the Queen’s Head. I found the menu changed a fair deal, with a more simple, classic approach to pub food. Here’s the review I did for the Leicester Mercury:
Country pubs have to bold to survive. It’s not enough to stock the beer and open the doors. – they need to find a strategy that works for them and their staff, for the locals obviously, and for guests who might come in from further afield.
For some that might fine dining, and we’ve got a few of those in Leicestershire and Rutland. For others it might be being part of a chain or maybe linking up with caterers to offer Asian food. That offer will need to be reviewed, tweaked or radically changed from time to time as local and national trends dictate.
The first time I went to The Queen’s Head in Belton, around a decade ago, it was in the fine dining spectrum. Nowadays, it still a smart, stylish pub but the food has been stripped back to a menu of classics that provide a lower price point and probably have a wider appeal. Some of the dishes might sound like they come from an ironic 70s theme pub, but it’s nothing of the sort. The Queen’s Head remains a classy operation under MD Henry Weldon that offers some classic dishes of recent years done from scratch, with good ingredients and done simply but well.
Mind you, as we sat down in the smart dining room to the less than relaxing sound of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid we did wonder if the retro styling had been taken a step too far. Eventually the soundtrack became a bit less frantic but it remained a bit loud for us.
The menu is short and nicely focused. There’s a selection of steaks, cooked over coals on a Berghoff barbecue grill, and classic dishes such as a whole plaice on the bone, beer battered fish and chips and baked camembert.
We decided to go with the flow and start with a prawn cocktail and found it very enjoyable. It was not messed around or modernised – simply good, juicy crustaceans in a tangy mayonnaise, crisp lettuce and fine bread. A second starter was a take on a fried breakfast (below) and showed again that simple treatment of good ingredients can be really successful. This featured a fried duck egg with a rasher of crispy smoked bacon and some wonderful iron-rich, home-made black pudding, all set off with some delightful sweet and fruity gooseberry ketchup. It wouldn’t have satisfied anyone in search of an early morning full English, but it worked surprisingly well as elegant starter.
Being a bloke I ordered the steak and chips, in this case a, 8 oz rib-eye. It was a pretty good – tender, full-flavoured and nicely grilled to medium rare. The fat triple-fried chips were outstanding, superbly crunchy with floury insides they were the perfect antidote for anyone with no time for skinny fries. The little salad of watercress and red onion was excellent too. Our other main continued the retro approach – a beautifully tender chicken kiev, pleasingly oozing plenty of garlic butter which had neither of the common faults of being bitter or just too strong. Served simply with rich, smooth mash and tenderstem broccoli this was food you might reasonably aspire to cook at home but there’s still a pleasure in having it done well by a chef.
Deserts could also have passed muster in the 70s. Mine was a nicely done banana split (below) with all elements present and correct including cream, ice-cream, cherries, chocolate sauce, langue-de-chat biscuits. It maybe falls into the guilty pleasure category, but a pleasure it most definitely was. Slightly more sophisticated but equally as far removed from the cutting edge was a sharp, refreshing lemon sorbet with limoncello.
There’s a nice family feel about the Queen’s Head. Locals were quietly enjoying a beer or two in the separate bar, while there was a big jolly party in another area of the large dining space having a farewell do for one of the chefs.
Obviously there’s a market for people who are looking for good cooking of straightforward, familiar dishes . But there’s also generations who may never have had the pleasure of these dishes and may enjoy them over the latest fad. For all these, a visit to the Queen’s Head should be an enjoyable one.
October 29, 2016
Now that Delilah has got its feet firmly under Leicester’s table, it’s starting to run the wine and food evening events that have become popular at it’s Nottingham branch.
The first one of these themed evenings ran last night and focused on the wines of Lombardy and the Veneto. They were presented with great enthusiasm by wine buyer Rick Tryner, who’s collection is full of wines from owner-managed wineries, often small family concerns in up and coming areas. It means there’s not much at the cheaper end of the market but lots of interesting, full-flavoured exciting wines.
The events involve around 8 wines, matched with generous-canapé portions of food from Delilah’s chefs and using ingredients on sale in the deli. Our evening started with a creamy prosecco (£12.99)- their best selling wine – to go with very posh truffle-scented crisps and nuts. Then an entry level Soave Classico (£7.99) with a brilliant sharp ceviche of seabass. Then two more serious whites – a peachy. very lively 100 per cent Turbiana I Fratti (£18.99) matched with a fantastic lobster ravioli, and an upmarket Soave “La Rocca” from Pieropan (£28.00), which stood comparison with big white burgundies. That came with more excellent pasta – handmade in Italy and imported fresh – this time in a creamy wild mushroom sauce.
Then four reds, starting with a Valpolicella Classico from Zenato (£13.99) – soft and gluggable but still complex – served with lovely little tomato and mozzarella arrancini. Then a Zenato Ripasso (£24 – Valpollicella that has been “repassed” over the used grape skins of an Amarone), a big beast of a wine that was beautiful with strips of rare bavette steak from the Vale of Belvoir. Then for me the star of the night – Marion, a big 2010 cabernet sauvignon from Veneto (£30) bursting with fruit, for which Delilah is the only UK supplier. The rest it seems goes to the USA where it is seen as a rival to those fabled Napa Valley reds. This was magnificent with some Italian cheeses including a 36-month aged parmesan and a sensational creamy number from Beppino Occelli that was wrapped in grape must.
We finished with a sweet red Veronese Recioto della Valpolicella (£22), where selected grapes are dried for three months on wooden racks then pressed and fermented to create a desert wine that is full of fruit and floral notes.
A high-end tasting like this, with simple but excellent food, is yet another feather in cap for St Martin’s. Just a few back I could never envisaged saying this but within literally a few paces we have wines, gelato, burgers, chocolates, gins , cocktails, charcuterie, coffee and cheeses that are the equal of anywhere in the country.
October 19, 2016
People often tell me Leicester lacks a good steak house. There are a couple of candidates- from 1583 on the edge of Highcross to a couple of Halal places catering mainly, obviously, for Muslim communities. They seem to do good business but don’t really appear to have established a name for great steaks.
Now however we have an interesting new arrival in the shape of Middletons Steakhouse and Grill. This is small chain with big ambitions, that started as a gastro pub in the eponymous Norfolk village. But, says MD Steven Hutton, ” changes in the market place saw the fortunes of pubs decline and it became clear family restaurants were the way forward.” They rebranded as a steakhouse and now have branches in Norwich, Kings Lynn, Colchester,Watford and Milton Keynes.
Their Leicester project is a big one – they’ve taken the Grade II listed former Nat West and TSB building in St Martin’s, empty for some 16 years, and invested £1.5 m into converting it into a 200 cover restaurant. It’s a stunning space. A tremendous set piece chandelier dominates the room which is done out with warm red banquettes, and there’s a large mezzanine area that gives you a chance to survey those below you.
I got invited along to try the food on one of three preview nights. The place was buzzing and there was a slightly manic atmosphere, not least around the pass where wait staff queued up as the kitchen struggled somewhat to keep up. With service routines obviously not quite up to speed I won’t comment too much other than to say our young Slovak waiter was a complete pleasure to deal with, though unfortunately one other waitress did manage to throw a side order of mushrooms all over our table. I’ll put that down to third night nerves. In fact despite some frazzled faces on the staff, we didn’t have excessive waits or other issues.
The food though. The menu is pretty mainstream reflecting that desire to be a successful family restaurant and take on some of the well-known chains. We started with mussels (£5.25) done in white wine, cream garlic and lemon which were completely fine. Rather better than fine was “Middleton’s terrine (£5.25) combing pork, liver, cider and herbs and wrapped in Serrano. I enjoyed this immensely – good flavours, good coarse textures, lovely salty ham. It was curious then that the “pickled relish” it came with was a strong traditional chutney of the Branston variety – not unpleasant in itself but far better suited to a cheddar sandwich than this lovely terrine.
The steaks we are not told much about other than they are “carefully prepared at our butchery in Middleton”. I had an 8oz rib-eye (£15.95) and was quietly impressed. Cooked accurately to medium rare it was tender and had a nice char – it wasn’t going to keep the likes of Hawksmoor or Goodman’s in London awake at night but then it didn’t cost £35. It passed muster fine. My choice of Diane sauce (£2) was a good one – well-made and tasty. Fries were good, though the garnish of “roast tomato” was misnamed – it had barely cooked at all.
Steaks go right up to an 18 oz chateaubriand or a 36 oz rib eye on the bone for sharing, and there are other choices such as jerk or piri-piri chicken, ribs, lamb steak, pork chop, surf and turf and a range of burgers. There’s not much to intrigue any vegetarians who get dragged along here – breaded brie with chilli jam, vegetable and halloumi skewers, falafel burger and that’s about it.
Several dishes are offered “half and half” for the hard of decision-making, and we had a 6oz sirloin with half rack of sticky ribs (£15.50). Again the steak was good, but the ribs were very ordinary – a rather sharp, vinegary sauce and ribs that were redolent of supermarket vacuum packs.
Deserts “made in house by our pastry chefs in each of our restaurants” are the usual suspects – sticky toffee pudding, Eton mess, chocolate brownie, tiramisu and so on. My chocolate pot (£5.15) was thick and overly sweet, with a layer of even sweeter caramel, while a crème brulee (£5.15) was ok but unremarkable.
Wines range from £16 to £50 for a Barolo riserva, and rather curiously they don’t list the country of origin. It may be obvious in many cases but it’s a pretty crucial piece of information. We had a Dona Paula Malbec (£21.95), which I assumed correctly to be Argentine, but wasn’t overly impressed – lacked much in the way of tannins or varietal character.
The opening of Middleton’s is a great vote of confidence in Leicester and it’s terrific to see one of our most impressive buildings come back into use. It’s located right in the heart of a thriving area of independents and the hope must be that it brings more diners to the area and lifts all boats. It may not have the interest for foodie types of the more or less adjacent Delilah’s, Crafty, Cured, Gelato Village and others but it does ok on its own terms and is a welcome alternative to Highcross.