August 16, 2016
My recent review from the Leicester Mercury. Always good to find an old favourite is on good form.
The Hammer and Pincers
5 East Road
I first reviewed the Hammer and Pincers around 12 years back. Since that time it has, as restaurants must, tacked and trimmed to meet prevailing economic currents but has remained in high esteem among East Midlands diners. A quick look at the online menu suggested chef and owner Danny Jimminson is currently back to offering appealing, fine dining dishes, so a good time to go back and see how it’s doing I thought.
Jimminson has a strong CV, including training at the Savoy with Anton Edelmann, but crucially for a chef who wants to prosper, he can also pick talent. A few years back he gave a job to a 16 year old local lad who had just been expelled from school – and now fiery Tom Sellers and his Michelin-starred Restaurant Story is the talk of all London.
Sellers own CV refers to his first job “in a pub”, but in truth the Hammer and Pincers is not really one of those. Wymeswold already has The Windmill, part of the Little Britain Pub Company (along with Rothley’s Bluebell and The Curzon in Woodhouse Eaves), and from August former Leicestershire cricket stars Stuart Broad and Harry Gurney are re-opening the Three Crowns, so the village is well-equipped for pubs. This is more a smart, stylish destination dining venue.
We struggled to get a table in the week we wanted to go as the restaurant was booked up with proud parents and their offspring celebrating graduation. You can see why it’s so popular for such events – the menu reeks class and the place is run by with friendly efficiency by Sandra Jimminson and her well-trained team.
Our meal started with superb bread – sweet walnut and raisin and nicely savoury rosemary foccacia. Both were so good we were pleased to be offered a second round when they saw we’d wolfed down the first lot.
Then starters – both tremendously thought-through dishes that offered a wide range of pleasures. A large, pillowy raviolini was stuffed with chorizo – suitably chopped and cooked to create a spicy, sauce-like filling – and smeared in a great smoked garlic purée. It sat on a little bed of sweet onion marmalade and then there were salad leaves covered in generous shavings of manchego, a little twist on more usual parmesan. Bringing it all together was a completely wonderful little pot of intense pork stock made with Pedro Ximenez sherry – completing the Spanish-Italian fusion style of the dish.
Our second starter was a real beauty, a ballotine combining duck liver and confit leg meat rolled in crushed pistachios with a toasted brioche roll, with lovely little balls of poached peach and melon and a sour peach purée. It looked a picture and tasted as good as it looked.
Then there was a palate-cleansing cucumber and herb sorbet – heavenly stuff – before tucking into our mains. I don’t know if it says more about me or the Hammer and Pincers but I realised afterwards that the two main courses were pretty much identical to those ordered on that first visit. Fortunately there was no real drop-off in standard in the intervening years. Mustard-rubbed fillet of beef was impeccable, and the sauce with it showed – like the porky one with my starter – that the kitchen takes no short cuts in with its stocks, jus, gravy whatever. There was a sort of pastilla of 48- hour cooked shin and a tremendous potato cake with thyme and smoked bacon plus roast heritage carrots. It was a hefty dish for a summer menu but great steaks will always sell and this was certainly that.
From the specials menu I ordered monkfish with lobster and crayfish risotto, not least because I was keen to pair it with one of the Rieslings that German-born Sandra had added to the wine list. Monkfish doesn’t have the kind of sublime texture and flavour of, say , turbot or halibut, or even a really good piece of cod, and it needs strong flavours around it. The risotto was indeed rich and intense with fish and herbs, though for me it was little overdone – I think risotto always needs a just a little bit of bite left in the rice. There was also an unnecessarily huge pile of peashoots with it – on this occasion a case of more is less. So a satisfying, if not perfect dish, but a great match for the Dr Loosen Riesling from the Mosel valley.
Our shared desert was dreamy though, if you are a chocolate lover anyway. A pavé of chocolate sponge topped with rich ganache came with a light mousse contained in a quenelle of thin, crisp chocolate, a perfect raspberry sorbet, fresh raspberries and dabs of raspberry gel.
Well constructed dishes, solid classsical technique, fine ingredients and careful service all typify the Hammer and Pincers. It’s certainly a place to celebrate but should also just be enjoyed by anyone who loves their food.
August 11, 2016
It’s maybe partly that they’ve been casting envious glances across the border at Melton to see how food can be a boost to the local economy. It could simply be that they’ve woken up to what’s on their doorstep. Whatever the case, it’s good to see Charnwood – with the support of the National Forest, Everards and Leicester Shire Promotions – has taken the step of launching a little local food festival.
The Edible Forest is a weekend of events from 16 to 18 September that highlights some of the best local food and drink producers, and at some of the fabulous locations in the borough – from iconic Old John in Bradgate Park to the depths of the Outwoods. The events include:
Friday 16 September
– Afternoon tea with local produce in Old John Tower .
– Cocktails and canapes at a secret garden in the heart of the ancient woods of Charnwood.
Saturday 17 September
– The Enchanted Forest – a family event in the heart of the forest combining tasting from the region’s finest producers with entertainment.
Sunday 18 September
– Build your own Perfect Picnic – a hands-on opportunity to create your perfect picnic to be enjoyed in the beautiful gardens of Swithland’s Griffin Inn.
– The Secret Gourmet – much-missed local chef Paul Leary, currently working in the corporate sphere, will create a fine dining forest-inspired gourmet menu to be served at Nanpantan Hall, a rarely-used and extraordinary venue hidden in the heart of Charnwood Forest.
For more details on the Edible Forest and to book tickets for the various events, visit www.edibleforest.co.uk. Bookings open on Monday 15th August.
PS. I hear the organisers have struggled to find cheesemakers within Charnwood. If that sounds like you, maybe get in touch with them?
August 7, 2016
Don’t think it was the power of the recommendation on this blog, but the Swan and Rushes Sri Lankan street food “weekender” turned out a bit of a misnomer – popularity was such they sold out of everything by early Saturday evening.
I appreciate the difficulties in planning for these kind of one-off events but this was somewhat irritating for those of us like me who planned our day around eating there at 7pm. Ho hum. On the positive side, I’m delighted there are places in my city that are prepared to try something different now and again, and particularly pleased there seems to be a market for creative food events. Other venues may like to take note. The Swan has apologised and promise they will doing the event again, so those who missed out on what I hear was great food should get another chance.
August 2, 2016
Quick heads up on a couple of attractive food events this weekend in Leicester.
The Swans and Rushes, a terrific traditional pub on Oxford Street (near the Infirmary) that does a great line in draught and bottled ales and pizzas, is having a Sri Lankan and Indian streetfood takeover. Not sure of the menu but the pub states that starting from 3pm on Friday chef Samith “will be executing some home grown Sri Lankan recipes.” It runs over and Saturday and I reckon it might be worth a trip.
Then there’s the official launch event for Delilah at 4 St Martins on Friday afternoon. Readers of this blog should know all about this place but if you’ve not managed to get down yet then this launch – open to the public at 4pm – will see plenty of free tasters and a chance to meet some of the many producers who supply this great delicatessen.
July 18, 2016
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.
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.
July 11, 2016
I did suggest there might be a full review of Onggi coming – and here it is:
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.
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.
July 8, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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.
July 1, 2016
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”.
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
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.
June 28, 2016
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.
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.
June 23, 2016
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.
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.
Sure 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.