June 30, 2010

If there’s one item that sums up the all too brief lease of summer, the evanescent particularity of colour and flavour,  then for me it’s gooseberries. If there’s another thing, it’s elderflowers.  So when I not only received a gift of some home grown berries but saw this recipe for gooseberry and elderflower semifreddo it felt like fate was shoving me in the back big time.  It’s gorgeous, so if you’ve access to a goosegog dealer over the next couple of weeks, this is heartily recommended.  

First off, make some caramelised nuts – simply melt sugar in a heavy pan until light brown, throw in 100g of your preferred nut, let them cool and harden and then bash about roughly. It’s easy if you put them in a sandwich bag and use a rolling pin.

Then take around 500g of gooseberries and poach gently for a few minutes with 50g of sugar,  two tablespoons of water and 80ml of elderflower cordial until they are soft but still whole. Then puree half of them with some of the liquor and leave to cool. Separate two eggs, mix the yolks with 50g of sugar,  whisk the whites until they form peaks and whisk 250 g of  double cream to the same stage.

Then basically just fold them all together  – the puree into the eggs yolks, then the cream, then the egg whites and then the nuts – and then freeze  for around four hours. It should by then be somewhere in texture between mousse and ice-cream – don’t be tempted to try it fully frozen, it just kills the flavour. Serve up a slice with few of the remaining berries and spoonful of the poaching liquour. Heaven.

Le Bistrot Pierre

June 20, 2010

If I say about Le  Bistrot Pierre that it’s as least as good as it should be, it might sound like damning with faint praise. I don’t mean it like that at all.  The thing with chains – even smallish, independent ones like this  – is that they not only clamp down hard on the bottom line, but in producing formula food they bland out dishes so that none of their target group could be offended by an unusual or even just unfamiliar taste. Bistrot Pierre  is, needless to say, hardly the Fat Duck,  but at least its simple French menu offers reasonably classic food that actually tastes of  its ingredients and is not afraid to be the way it’s meant to be.

There were 12 of us there for Chris’s birthday meal. I was having too good a time to note what everyone was having, but it seemed everyone was happy. I can report my sardines were excellent – crisply grilled and dressed with sweet, confited red peppers and a spiky salsa verde laced with pernod. Well made, grown up food. Main course of free range chicken breast was  juicy and its lightly creamy, white wine sauce, flehed out with seasonal broad beans and smoked bacon was very tasty.  Veg was of the bulk, comfort food variety but I did really like the dauphinois and the slightly spicy red cabbage. My desert of a cranberry frangipane was well made and would have been great with mid-morning coffee though perhaps I should have ordered something lighter  – the espresso creme brulee and the caramelised lemon tart received good reviews. 

Food was served swiftly and staff were friendly and seemed well-versed in dealing with a large group. Wine list is reasonable. So while it’s hardly groundbreaking, Bistrot Pierre exceeds expectations of  a frenchified chain restaurant in a provincial city that trades on being good value. They do “soirees gastronomique” twice a month offering five courses plus coffee and chocolate for £20.90, and  having reminded myself that they really do a pretty decent job here, that now sounds irresistible.

The Landsdowne/Entropy

June 7, 2010

When a rather ugly, but undeniably useful, Nat West Bank on Leicester’s London Road  was turned into a rather ugly, but  fundmentally useless, bar called The Mint, no-one took much notice.  But when the building was taken over by the canny operators behind the Orange Tree, they quickly created one of the most stylish and successful bars in the city in the shape of the Lansdowne .  They took the building’s naff 70’s decor and made a virtue of it  – it’s not quite kitsch and it’s not parody and it’s not a 70s theme bar  – it just uses the memes of that decade to make a modern bar that gives uncynical homage in a lightly humorous way.

Anyway, enough pretentiousness, like other bars in this in this small chain it’s a pretty good place to eat too.  It’s not subtle or delicate food, but neither is it the deep-fried, catering pack horror perpetrated  in some of its local competition. Lunch today from the specials board showed that even in June it maintains its hearty, comfort food approach – Pete having a boeuf bourguignon with gratin dauphinoise and me chicken in a tarragon cream sauce with wild rice. The beef was tender, strongly flavoured and – for a bar on the outskirts of Leicester city centre – pretty authentic. The potato was rich and flavoursome too, though sadly it could and should  have been hotter. My chicken was good, honest food – with plenty of fresh herbs. Not destination dining, but if you’re looking for a chinwag over decent grub, served by pleasant staff in a bar offering an excellent range of beers, wines and cocktails, The Lansdowne does the job nicely.

On a different note – if you’re looking for a treat on Wednesday,  Entropy in Leicester’s West End  has a couple of tables left at its benefit evening for mental health charity Mind on Wednesday 9 June from 6.30pm. The event is part of the bar’s two week wine festival and for £50 a head you get a cremant d’Alsace on arrival followed  by a tasting of 12 wines, and a four course meal w ith matching wines. And remember this is from one of the Daily Telegraph’s top fifty British restaurants. Call to book on 0116 225 9650


Bank Holiday Monday saw five of us leap in the car and travel out to Rutland. We were in the mood for a superior lunch and had settled on the the Marquess of Exeter in the lovely, orange stone village of Lyddington.  I first came across chef patron Brian Baker around three years back at the Fox and Hounds in Knossington.  He had previously had a high-flying career including being the then youngest chef to receive a Michelin star, spells as private chef to Elton John, Valentino and a clutch of Mexican billionaires, and as a consultant to top London venues. The Knossington pub was a return to his native Rutland to run a simple, down to earth gastro pub.

The Marquess is still a pub, all be it a little grander, but still has the virtues of keeping it simple but  keeping it good. There’s nothing too modish about the menu here, it has the solid virtues of good ingredients and classic dishes done with intelligence.  Our starters included a technically excellent chicken liver parfait which was maybe slightly overpowered by an extraordinary, remarkably tangy fig chutney.  A deeply savoury, twice baked Lincolnshire Poacher souffle bubbled invitingly, while  squid – often ruined with flabby batter and the finest sweet chilli sauce Blue Dragon can manage – came simply grilled with a rocket salad and freshly-made spicy salsa.  A simple, well-prepared asparagus starter showed seasonality is important here too.

It’s the main courses that exemplify Baker’s approach.  Two of us shared a huge rib of Derbyshire beef, and another two a slow-cooked shoulder of lamb. Both were served on boards to carve at table and both were extremely good. The beef  was beautifully seasoned, tender, and cooked perfectly – darkly caramelised on the outside, dramatically red inside. It came with a boat of bearnaise and a big dish of perfect pommes frites.  Apologies for not having my camera with me – look on the gallery section of the website and you’ll get an idea though.  The lamb barely needed carving it was so tender and had enough lovely fat to keep it moist. There were also classic mint and redcurrant sauces, another large terrine of boluangere potatoes (braised in stock – a dauphinoise without the cream) and hispi cabbage. Our final main was a hefty pork steak, kaffir lime rice and butternut squash curry with a seriosuly spicy side of butternut squash chutney.   This was generous, tasty, food-lovers food.  

Somehow we forced  down some deserts  – my homemade kesar manago sorbet was delightful, and was given a big lift with the simple addition of a few flakes of toasted coconut, the semolina and vanilla mousse outperformed expectations as a light summer desert while a creme brulee was also exemplary.

So we ate very well. Shame our young waiter seemed to resent working bank holidays and offered neither a smile nor a sense that he was particularly interested in what we had ordered or what we might want next.  Other staff were  fine.  The room is light and airy, somehow smart but informal and cosy too – it’s a classy operation.

%d bloggers like this: