March 31, 2010

cedars mezeI went to Cedars not long after it opened a couple of years back in the, well, lively, location of Churchgate in Leicester. It was a pleasure  to welcome a Lebenese restaurant to the city but I found it a bit hit and miss – some of it very pleasant, some of it just not to my taste, in particular a preponderance of sharp, vinegary flavours. Service and presentation also misfired at times suggesting it hadn’t really settled down yet.

But the restuarant has survived, and I was pleased to get a chance to revisit last weekend, though it’s perhaps unfair to judge a restaurant by how it performs when feeding a set menu to 30 hungry people celebrating a birthday early on a Sunday evening.  With that in mind, I’ll say straight up that while the food we had wasn’t  outstanding, it was certainly consistently good and in the main gave the impression of being cooked with care and presented with pride.

We were provided with a wide variety of hot and cold meze to start. Kibiss pickles are too sharp for me, but pretty much everything else went down well – neatly trimmed chicken wings were nicely grilled and served with some delicious aioli, hummus was fine, the lamb sambousek (little pastry parcels) were tasty though the pastry could have been lighter. The  stuffed vines leaves were  good,  the falafel very good, while the tabouleh was full of very fresh parsely and a zingy dressing.  

Vegetarian mains were basically variations of veg stews with rice  and opinions seemed to vary from ok to very good. Carnivores were able to get stuck in to a variety of marinated grilled lamb and chicken with fries.  The Lebenese  house red was very quaffable , while service was swift and helpful. All in all, they did a very job for us, and I am more inclined to revisit now on a calmer evening (which means probably not one of their regular belly dancing evenings) to see what they can do. Haut cuisine it ain’t, but possibly more importantly it does seem a likeable place offering honest, robust Eastern Mediterranean food.


March 29, 2010

The Boboli Gardens are a celebrated sculpture park in Florence and, it seems, a favoured place for Sarah  and Lino Poli, chef patrons of Kibworth’s Firenze, regularly lauded as one of the UK’s best Italian restuarants. So Boboli was chosen as the name for their second, more informal  restaurant, in the same village (more or less) on the other side of the A6.

I’ve always  admired the slick (in a good way) fashion in which they promote and market their restaurants and how they make themselves a part of the community through events such as fundraising dinners for a community centre and engagement with local primary schools.  The food ain’t bad either.

Boboli is a light and airy place with stylish artworks all around, including wonderful photographs of Venice by Mike Burton ( www.anothervenice.co.uk). It bills itself as a pizzeria  but there is a more extensive  menu which  the three of us arriving for a lazy Friday lunch were keen to  explore. Each of us started with a variety of cold meats. PJ had an English take on carpaccio – ultra-thinly sliced rare roast beef with salad of rocket and thick shavings of a tangy paremsan; I had porchetta,  rolled and sliced fatty pork with some tremendous pickles and a slightly too cold potato salad; Sarah had the plate of mixed cured meats – mortadella, salamis and parma ham with more great pickled veg. These were all tasty,  stylcured meatsish dishes.

For mains, two of us had braised shoulder of lamb with a pine nut crust. This was lamb of the slowcooked rustic variety rather than pink and sweet, but  what it lacked in delicacy it made up for in flavour and it was well-matched with a lightly mashed winter root veg and a full flavoured sauce (below).

 braised lamb shoulder

Sarah had the roast belly of pork, well-cooked and offering  a pleasing combination of textures, served with paremsan-topped fennel (below). Service was a little distracted but I’ll cut them some slack as we arrived just after a big party of young school kids who needed a lot of attention, but great to see them enjoying some quality restaurant  food (and fortunately not seated near us).

With Firenze picking up awards as a fine dining destination and Boboli now open all day with a more casual approach, you’d have to say the Polis have a done a great job at assessing their relatively affluent South Leicestershire market and giving them what they want.

belly of pork, fennel

Med Market

March 26, 2010

 There is apparently a Mediterranean Food Market running from this Saturday until next Thursday inside the Highcross Centre in Leicester. It will be on the lower mall near Debenham’s. Haven’t got any details – it may well be some of the same set of traders that occasionally turn up in Gallowtree Gate. I tend to find these better in anticipation than in reality – there’s the odd treat to be found but much of it is unremarkable produce at a high mark up. Worth a look I’d have thought though.

Market Futures

March 19, 2010

The announcement of plans to demolish and maybe rebuild Leicester’s indoor market comes a few days after reports of the difficulties faced by the city’s Farmer’s Market, relaunched last year on the first Thursday of the month.  Fees appear to have increased from nothing in the old covered market to some £475 a few yards away on Humberstone Gate. In April they have to shift around the corner because of an event by a religious group.

Interim plans are for the indoor market to relocate to stalls outside with refrigerated units, described tantalisingly in the Leicester Mercury as  “similar to those in London’s Borough market”.  It’s a bit much to expect foodie destination-shopping of that variety,  but I do at least hope that somewhere within Leicester City Council someone has a long view here to developing a thriving local food economy.  The indoor market is indeed rather shabby and retailers and suppliers both  here and at the Farmer’s Market need reassurance that they will be supported in bringing quality local produce to city centre shoppers. Food festival - Leicester Market

The fish, meat and cheese retailers at the indoor market can be  mainstream alternatives to supermarket shopping. Events such as last November’s food festival (being repeated twice this year) suggest there is an interest and demand beyond for more specialist stuff too. Both sectors  needs a permanent and attractive environment if they are to thrive.


March 17, 2010

Welcome news that things may be starting to move regarding the Watson’s site next to the former Phonenix cinema in central Leicester.

I reviewed the place last year not long after new owner Carmello Percolla took over and Bradley Bickerton was appointed head chef – and it was lovely (and not just because I know Bradley’s mum). I don’t know the full story but it seemed Nick Aiello was taking over behind the stove, who is known to East Midland fine diners from World Service. There were noises that  the place, which already held two AA rosettes, was aiming for the [Michelin] stars. But things went wrong quickly and sudden closure followed last August.

Now it seems the lease has been returned to the Landlord and a new tenant, with fine dining credentials is being sought. Apparantly there have already been two expersssions of interest.  I’ll be watching this space.

Leicester Beer Festival

March 12, 2010

curryLeicester’  beer festival is a sure harbinger of Spring. The 2010 event is on now on until Saturday evening at its usual venue, the Charotar Patidar Samaj just behind St Margaret’s Church. I always find it a heartwarming event – people brought together in a spirit of adventure bound by a fondness for smallscale production of a high quality product. There’s over 230 beers, ciders and perries available here in a huge variety of styles.  And OK, style may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a real ale festival, but if you’ve not been before I’d say give it a go, because it’s a friendly, welcoming environment.  Perhaps best to be out of their well before late Saturday evening though. Good curries and great  pork pies also on offer. Details here: Beer Festival

Las Iguanas

March 7, 2010

Friday evening, 6.45pm, the weekend’s here and the city is in a good mood. There were 12 of us having something of a reunion evening at Las Iguanas on Belvoir Street and I have to say the place does a really good job at helping people unwind and party.  With our group more interested in catching up with each other than paying attention to ordering or to what’s being delivered to the table we must have been a pain to deal with, but I was impressed with the hard-working staff, and the food – we just ordered plenty of tapas – was perfectly acceptable. In fact the chorizo in rioja and the saltcod fritters were very good. The caipirinhas were even better. The place was packed out  and the atmosphere lively and good humoured.   The chain’s whole Latin carnival schtick may seem a bit cheesy, but a room full of people having a good time is a great place to be and they deserve credit for pulling it off.

Granby Street hot spot

March 6, 2010

The success of Kayal on Granby Street in Leicester (and in Nottingham too)  has brought a competitor into the market in the shape of Dakshin. Owners had previously run a simple vegetarian takeaway on Belgrave Road, now they’ve taken on Kayal with a pan-South Indian  restaurant located right opposite, above the Polish grocery Wisla. A quick look at the menu shows they are undercutting Kayal and broadening the menu to include Keralan, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh dishes. Rather sadly they couldn’t resist adding a section  they call “Indian” to include curry house standards. I’d be surprised if they match the standards provided over the road, but  it will be interesting to see. Reports welcome.

The Boot Room

March 4, 2010

The Joiners Arms in Bruntingthorpe has long been one of the lower profile but higher quality gastro pubs in the county. I’ve only been once but it is clear that gaffer Stephen Fitzpatrick is a quality act, you don’t get to keep a Michelin guide entry without knowing one end of a bain marie from another.

So it was good news last year when he decided he also wanted the buzz of running a city restaurant and took on the Millstone Lane property in Leicester that had previously been home to the lively Italian Alloro and before that the much-missed Stones. I’m rather ashamed it’s taken me so long to get along to what seemed an interesting  venture, but now I’ve been I’m fairly sure I’ll be going again.

The familar L-shaped room is retained and there’s a smartish but informal air matched to a slight industrial aesthetic stemming from the remnants of the building’s days as a shoe factory (hence The Boot Room). Menu is pitched somewhere between Bistro Pierre  and the Case – pretty much mainstream contemporary European fare.  Starters such scallops and black pudding or chicken liver parfait with brioche and chutney, mains such as roasted halibut , brown shrimp butter and skinny chips or shank of lamb with chorizo cassoulet.

This being a Tuesday we both picked the Menu Auberge, a no-choice three course set menu including a glass of house wine at a  good price of £15.95.  We started with a well-made, full flavoured lobster and prawn bisque, let down only by some rather greasy croutons.  Main course was a very tender and beautifully cooked pork loin chop, some hearty, spicy red cabbage, fragrant garlic-infused mash and a well-made mustardy sauce. (A sadly out of focus rendering can be seen to the right).

Not complex food, then, but very satisfying all-round. The house wines were fine too.  Desert  was a  raspberry dacqouise – not the most refined version of this classic desert but enjoyable anyway,  it featured layers of hazelnut meringue, which here had a texture nearer pastry, with cream and fruit between. 

The Boot Room felt a pleasant well-run environment – we went on the first night for the new manager, who previously ran the rather brasher Las Iguanas – and I think it has a niche at the upper- middle end of  local restaurants. I’ll refrain from full judgment until I’ve explored the a la carte but it looks promising.


March 1, 2010

People often cite Leicester as a place that must have great Indian restaurants.  Actually nowhere in the UK is very far from an OK  curry house and many of Leicester’s  curry houses are not that  different to those OK places you can find anywhere. But where Leicester is very strong is in the quick and cheap home style places – the dhabas.  Paddy’s dhaba in the Martin Arms is a pretty rough and ready place but regularly has smart cars lined up outside as successful types come back to their roots in search of simple pleasures. Star Vashnu dhaba on Narborough Road offers tremedously cheap and tasty vegetarian food  with Punjabi twist (see menu here). Rob and I heard the call of Star Vashnu tonight but forgot it’s closed on a Monday. Fortunately you don’t have to travel far to find something comparable. We crossed the road to Mithaas (103 Narborough Road) and had a proper little feast for well under £10 for two. Thali

Rob’s thali had two tasty curries, dhal, slightly greasy but perfectly fresh poppadum, good plain rice, three fine chappatis, bhaji and some chocolate barfi to finish it off.  My special chaat was a tangy and spicy collection of bhaji, samosa and sev doused in yoghurt and tamarind sauce. It’s not exactly the most atmospheric of places, but it’s clean with pleasant staff and offers the kind of tasty, cheap food that is one of  the definite plus points about living in Leicester.

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