Grecian 2010

April 22, 2010

When I hear a place describe itself as “a chic nightspot where beautiful people flock in search of escape from the Leicester scene” I kind of get the impression I’m not their key demographic. Hence I’ve never checked out Mobius on Braunstone Gate  beyond a quick lunch when it first opened. Its restaurant however did seem to be a fairly serious affair, mixing modern european with thai influences.

News now comes of a change of tack and suddenly Greece is the word. Award winning chefs arrive live and  direct  from Athens, goes the PR. I think Leicester could bear another Greek restaurant – and there’s an attractive 40 per cent discount during May if you book ahead and get hold of an ad in today’s Leicester Mercury (an offer quite possibly repeated elsewhere).   If there’s any big stifado fans out there ( Eh? Oh, grow up…) who want to give it a try, let me know because I could be persuaded.

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A Sushi Skeptic

April 21, 2010

A quick supper last night at Yo! Sushi before seeing a talk from  Jon Ronson courtesy of Leicester Skeptics in the Pub.   Kind of wish I’d not bothered – with the sushi that is, Jon Ronson was simply wonderful.   I didn’t expect transcendence from a sushi bar in Highcross, but I was shocked that the salmon in a dragon roll managed to be 100 per cent tasteless.  Chicken kutsu was unremarkable too, small pieces of  crumbed chicken wrapped in sushi rice with a spicy but somewhat gloopy sauce sploshed on top. Best dish was simple aubergine slices, possibly because I was able to whip it off the converyor belt the moment it went on. These were tender and tasty – plenty of umami here.  Quick and convenient certainly,  but I left  feeling I could have done rather better elsewhere.

As a footnote, I see that Cafe Rouge in Highcross has now opened  and at 6.45pm on a Tuesday was doing good business.  Still think its faux-francais look is more than slightly ludicrous in what is a glorified shopping precinct but am trying to keep an open mind.

I listened to a fascinating edition of Radio 4’s The Food Programme today which looked at the coffee industry in the UK and the “third wave” of coffee retailing. The first being dominated by the giant producers and based on instant, the second being the specialist chains based on push-button espresso machines and fuelled by the depiction of community in shows such as Friends.  The  third – now arriving in London (says the BBC) by way of Seattle and Sydney – is defined by independent, barrista -owned places which are based on high quality, differentiated coffees where provenance and varietal are important and the sell is based on the taste of coffee, not on the volume of frothy milk. The re-emergence of small-scale craft roasters (hello Hasbean!) is helping this.

The big players will always aim for rigorous consistency. A good friend of mine works very closely with Nestle in Switzerland and everything they do – whether for the bog-standard instant Nescafe  or the premium pod brand of Nespresso –  is premised on achieving a reliable, repeatable consumer experience. It would be great if people were being guided toward better coffee and I’m sure it’s helped them become the multinational giant they are  but it’s premised on a depressing view of life. By getting rid of the risk of disappointment, you miss out on the possibility of greatness. Coffee geeks talk in hushed terms about the “god shot” –  when the stars align and the combinition of bean, grind, tamp, water and whatever else gives you a heart-stopping expression of flavour.  

It would be lovely to think someone out there is planning to open a  cafe in Leicester where you could sit down and spend a moment discussing whether to go for the Yirgacheffe or the Harrar, the Sumatran or the Celebes, and where the barrista would tip you the wink about a great microlot of  Huehuetenago that’s just arrived.  Risking the possibility of having something you might not like may not be everyone’s, erm, cup of tea, but  I’d certainly welcome a place that aimed for something more than mere consistency. 

(The Food Programme will repeated on Monday at 4pm or is avaialble on iPlayer)

Britain’s Best Dish

April 12, 2010

As one of the East Midlands’  leading food blogs – certainly in the top 250 anyway – you can imagine  I’m constantly bothered by media types wanting to exploit my influence. Latest among them is my now very good friend Christina Chung from the TV show Britain’s Best Dish, who is looking for skilled home cooks/passionate foodies from the Midlands who can showcase local produce in their fourth series – ten grand is on offer for the winner.  If you think you’ve got a dish you can wow them with, then call 0871 62 66 222 or email bestdish@itv.com . Tell them I sent you.

The Pub

April 12, 2010

Eyebrows were raised when Paul from Out of the Vaults on New Walk/King’s Street and Cathal, previously of the neighbouring King’s, formed a new  business and took it across New Walk to what had been archetypal Friday night style  bar Pause.  “You don’t sell real ale in surroundings of leather sofas. recessed halogen lights and blonde wood”, seemed to be the consensus. Paul and Cathal’s view was precisely the opposite – that the sticky floor, rustic look did no-one any favours and just served to alienate people who might be quite keen to explore beer culture.

Anyway, it seems The Pub hasn’t alienated it’s traditional consitituency, there were plenty of paunches, beards and middle-aged pony tails on view when we visited. You can understand why – the beer selection is fantastic and the surroundings are not intimidatingly smart by any means – it’s actually a little endearingly shoddy around the edges. 

It’s a shame the link through to  Welllington Street has been blocked off because the bar is now something of long cave and I found it a little claustrophobic up the far end. They reckon to serve some 33 draught beers at any one time – including a fine array of continental styles as well as a wide variety from local brewers. We had some delightful Oakham Inferno, an IPA from Derbyshire and a remarkably tasty German wheat beer.   Staff were on the glamourous  side (sorry Cathal, I don’t actually mean you) but were skilled and helpful too.

There’s a sensibly short menu and my sausage baguette was as good an example of pub grub as you are likely to come across. A huge, thick  11inch sausage from Grasmere farm in Lincolnshire was juicy and flavoursome and came with sweet mustard and even sweeeter onions. It was just perfect with the beer. Chips seemed to be of the oven variety but were at least crisp and dry.

I hope it is succeeding in bringing in a new clientele to the real ale market, but whatever, The Pub has a good offer and deserves to be checked out. It’s already been made Leicester CAMRA’s Pub of the year for 2010.

If you hang around in hard-core foodie websites and message boards, eventually the question crops up – “what chain restaurants do people have as theuir guilty pleasure?”. Almost invariably the one place people are happy to admit to liking is Nando’s.  

I read an interview yesterday with Nando’s chief exec David Niven ( no, really) who was very bullish about their propspects, having adopted internally the slogan “Recession? We’re not taking part”. Last year they raised the number of outlets to 243, have another 20 planned this year and hope eventually to reach 450 in the UK. Interestingly Niven in part attributes their success to the uniqueness of their offer – peri-peri chicken, no one else does that.  

Maybe it’s no surprise people are wanting to piggyback. So hello to Gringo Grill, a big new family/student type place on Belgrave Gate, Leicester.  There’s some fairly fundamental  cultural confusion going here – Gringo Grill, as you might expect, claims to offer “Tex Mex Food at it’s best” ,  yet the menu is albout, yes, peri peri chicken.  Peri peri is the Swahili for chilli and peri peri sauce evolved through Portugese colonies – Nando’s as a business has roots in Mozambique. To link it to Tex Mex is bizarre. Maybe it’s  a homage to Leicester’s multicultural mix. Maybe it’s just rather dishonest.

 I can’t see Gringo Grill become a guilty secret. But do tell us here if you go.

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