A good turnout for Sunday’s food festival and an all-round good vibe. It’s reassuring  when so many people want to come out in search of good food and hopefully many will have found something.  The only mildly irritating  factor is the narrow access between market stalls which quickly clogs up with buggys, mobility scooters and so on, but  better a bit of a crush than tumbleweed.  

There were plenty of good quality meats, cheeses, pies etc along with some great hot food from a range of city restaurants. Highlights for me were some wonderfully fragrant Italian sausages from the Squisito stall, a couple of halves of Malt and Two Veg – a brew from Langton’s made specially for  the market and Elizabeth’s, a stall full of mouthwatering pastries that emphasises that the city could really do with a top-notch patisserie. One thing I could do without is the current obsession with cupcakes – there seemed to be thousands of the brightly coloured but dull little cakes. Now we’ve had the last – surely – Sex and the City film maybe we can all move on.

I think there’ll be another winter festival – and I’m looking forward to the game stalls already. Let’s hope the good turnout encourages an even wider turnout of producers.

more bleeding cupcakes <sigh>kayal

Restaurant round-up

May 29, 2010

This post is mainly about expanding small chains. Keralan restaurant Kayal will shortly be opening its third branch in Leamington Spa and should attract people out from Western Leicestershire and Brum as well as the students and lecturers from University of Warwick  who inhabit this leafy town. I’m pleased they’ve closed this deal because I know they’ve been trying for a while to expand, having been close to opening in Newark before the credit crunch closed in.

Bistrot Pierre is starting to outgrow its East Midlands origins. It also has a Leamington branch and opened its first new build premises in Sheffield. It is now due to open its eighth site in Harrogate later this month with another in Ilkley not far behind.

And love him or loathe him, you can’t keep Jamie Oliver down and he’s now breaking into the East Midlands to open a branch of his Jamie’s Italian franchise on Low Pavement in Nottingham. I tend to think he’s a good thing, despite cringing at menu items labelled “My amazing chicken salad”.  I suspect the food will be better than most Italian chains and he’s very welcome to take over Prezzo in Leicester if he wants.

Entropy isn’t expanding – yet – but they are continuing to come up with some novel marketing ideas. It’s not a cheap bar – which is fair enough – but it is making an effort to do something for its core audience. There’s a post-work happy hour from 4.30 to 6.30, but more intriguingly they are trying to pull in punters on a Monday night by offfering the chance to toss a coin whether you pay or not. You’ll have to book and I’m not sure how long it ‘s going on for but it’s got be worth a go eh? Look out too for their occasional scavenger hunts, where the first people to come with a specific rare object – this week it was a half-penny coin – get rewarded with a free meal or drink.

An Eggsotic present

May 28, 2010

An egg yesterday

One of the more novel presents from my recent birthday was this utterly lovely rhea’s egg.  The result of my friends’ visit to Twycross Zoo, its pastel yellow has lit up my kitchen for the last few days. I was assured it was a delicacy and was keen to try it but couldn’t bear the thought of smashing it.  Fortunately we have the internet, and a quick google search on opening a rhea’s egg produced a plethora of youtube films demonstrating  how to get into, and get the contents out of, the eggs of big birds. 

Basically you take a drill to it. I got it firmly wedged into a mug, and then – using a small drillbit at first  – applied gentle pressure, expecting it to go right through. In fact it took a good five minutes of gently increasing the pressure and the size of the bit, going cautiously to avoid plunging right in.  There was quite a pile of calcium dust by the time I got through to the inner membrane.  Once through, I gently tapped around the edge of the hole until it was maybe the size of a 2p coin and the innards could get out.  The result, as you can see above, is that I’ve still got this lovely object to display in the kitchen.

I wasn’t sure what to do with the contents but settled on a tortilla with potatoes,  red peppers and spicy spanish sausage. One egg – not substantially different in taste to the hen variety, but possibly a bit richer – made plenty for two people. So, many thanks Chris and Donna – I enjoyed it.

Bank Holiday Fun

May 27, 2010


I’ve been meaning to publish a reminder about Leicester’s summer Food and Drink Festival, but it’s rather snuck up me. So apologies for the short notice but if you’re not too far from the English East Midlands and are looking for a Bank Holiday weekend activity, get down to Leicester Market on Sunday from 11am to 5pm for what should be a fun celebration of regional food and drink. 

There will be 250 stalls, cookery demonstrations from chefs including Phillip Sharp of Maiyango and Ajith Nair of Kayal , and there’s plenty of stuff laid on for kids too. For adults only there is a drinks area including Leicestershire cider, a mixology demonstration from a city cocktail bar, and the launch of  a new brew from Langton’s brewery in honour of Leicester Market.  

To get a pdf of the festival guide – click here

Lovely little out of the way village, lovely little pub. That’s more or less all you need to know about the Bell. It sits in that hinterland between a smart foodie pub and a pub that simply does food because it has too. It’s resolutely not a poncey gastropub, with tractor drivers welcome to stand at the bar in overalls supping Timothy Taylor’s landlord. But there’s enough interest in the chalk board menu to suggest this is not catering pack stuff but good honest cooking by somone with an interest in ingredients.

A visit by an aged parent took us out on the short drive from Leicester on a midweek evening and we enjoyed excellent chicken breast in a light light cream sauce flavoured with vermouth and ginger – turning out to be a well-judged combination of citrus, herbs and spice – and a  meaty casserole of rabbit with thyme-flavoured roast parsnips.  There were piles of excellent crunchy roasties and nice iron-rich spring greens with carrots and green beans with plenty of snap left in.  For desert a vanilla and raspberry creme brulee impressed the Aged P while my brioche bread and butter with cointreau soaked raisins was a very good version indeed, served with a pot of delightfully light custard.

I don’t think The Bell would be first choice for a big celebration or to impress a date, but for that  low-key, come-on-let’s-have-a -bit-of-a-treat moment it does the job rather well. If you go soon, you might catch one or more of eight tiny cocker spaniel puppies that arrived a couple of weeks back and which were melting the hearts of everyone in the bar.

Update – August 2013. Still on good form. We had had Sunday lunch for 8, choosing from a nicely-matched menu of well-prepared dishes. I had big slabs of very decent sirloin, well-cooked veg, and a rich desert of gooseberry fool.  Good value.

Bristol fashion

May 17, 2010

Over the last year or so we’ve had tantalising hints that the city council was trying to establish some kind of independent-led specialist food area.  Both a redeveloped market and a relaunched Silver Arcade were touted as possible venues. 

Where things stand right now I’m not really clear. What I do know is that this could be a fantastic asset to the city centre.  I’ve just got back from a couple of days in Bristol and was really impressed with the  St Nicholas market area of the city there.  It’s a historic, slightly ramshackle area but one which seems to revel in it’s difference to the glitz of the nearby Cabot Circus development  – which in Leicester terms translates to the Highcross with all the usual retail suspects except with John Lewis replaced by an even more upmarket store (“Never mind Harvey Nicks, come to St Nick’s” read a T-shirt on sale).   

The food section of St Nicholas has a key anchor tenant The Source, a high quality food hall with excellent, helpful butchers, fantastic charcuterie (I got some tasty-looking finochiana – fennel-flavoured pancetta), wet fish and local fruit and veg.  There is also an informal restraurant attached serving modern British food, but what seemed to be bringing crowds into the area was the row of tiny independent cafes operating out of what were nothing more than lock-up sheds at the side of the market. Festival-goers may well know the Pieminister stalls, and this is the  home of the business, selling seriously tasty originals such as free-range chicken and taragon or wild mushroom, asparagus and white wine. Then there was Bab Mansour, a North African outlet  where I had tender and tasty  Morrocan lamb with fruity cous cous, accompanied by mint tea,  in a magnificently atmospheric little seating area done out with low cushions, exotic wallhangings, beaten copper tables and so on. Next door was a Carribean diner and a juice bar, just further along a sausage shop with a dozen or so varieties, an olive bar, a Portugese cafe with feijoda and piri-piri chicken and an awesomely stinky cheese bar – with, I’m pleased to say, a large wheel of Sparkenhoe Red Leicester very much to the fore.

The great thing about the area was that it did not seem exclusive or playing up to some aspirational foodie image, but it did feel, modern, quality and exciting. Apparantly there are weekly farmer’s markets and monthly Slow Food Markets, but on the day of my visit there just seemed to be a focus on simple, fast, tasty food done by small-scale entrepreneurs with a love of their produce. By 12 o’clock there were queues at every outlet as the office workers came out for lunch. 

Leicester’s city centre manager could do worse than pop on a train down to the South West to see how they’ve done it.  The more go ahead retailers in Leicester Market, and new generations of potential cooks and producers, deserve the right setting.

A Birthday Breakfast

May 10, 2010

I turned 50 this weekend and had a splendid celebration at Kayal in Leicester, but I’ve written before about the great food and delightful service there so I’ll just give a quick mention here of Dos Hermanos, where I celebrated on Saturday lunchtime.

Food bloggers know this title as the blog/site of the Majumdar Brothers, acerbic but compelling Welsh/Bengali restaurant critics. For Leicester people the eponymous  two brothers are the equally multicultural Husseins, who have given the city some its finest bars and eateries over the last 20 years.   Dos Hermanos is their Cuban-themed bar on Queens Road, next to their tapas restaurant Barcelonetta.  In the evenings it’s a busy, stylish but down to earth bar with a great line in cocktails and at weekend daytimes it is justly celebrated for its breakfast and brunchs.

My ususal weakness is the hangover-bashing corned beef hash or the spicy huevos rancheros. This time though it was Full Montys all round. Ordering can be a complex business as the combinations for this put- it- together yourself breakfast are almost infinite. As far as I remember I had two plump pork and leek sausages, two rashers of excellent dry-cured smoked bacon, two poached eggs, a superb homemade hashbrown, a sizeable puck of black pudding, house-cooked beans and brown toast. Homemade ketchups completed the picture.  The meal trod the line perfectly between having high quality, well-cooked  ingredients and not messing with the essential down and dirty appeal of an English breakfast.

Add in the company of friends, a bottle of cava and that delicious naughty feeling of starting drinking before midday and I was a happy boy.  Sensitive viewers look away now – it takes a better photographer than me to make a half-eaten cooked breakfast look appealing but hey, it still kind of captures the mood: 

The Full Monty

Assiduous trawling around recruitment columns sometimes throws up some interesting information. For example,  I can now reveal that a new “Gastrobar” is to open shortly in leicester  – I believe  Braunstone Gate but not sure exactly where –  entitled Natterjacks. You’ll be excited to know that this at “the leading edge of a brand new concept”.

The lucky head chef will preside over a venue where “quality dining is incorporated within a relaxed bar environment, reflecting the keys to the company ethos; a strong sense of pride, passion, honesty, loyalty, integrity, teamwork, enjoyment, fulfilment, progress and recognition, making both the customer and team member experience second to none.” Phew!

The daytime offer of the bar will present “an array of delicious well-presented light lunches and a great coffeee culture for local businesses, residents and students alike”.  No further detail of the nature of the cuisine yet – other than “gastrobar-style food” – but the evening will offer “a fantastic selection of freshly prepared dishes”.

It will have 90 covers and will open later this month. More info when I can get it.

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