Currant affairs

July 28, 2010

It’s always nice to discover that you chime with the zeitgeist. Hence I felt particularly smug on Sunday when listening to Radio 4’s Food Programme and its item on producers who are trying to revive the fortunes of “minor berries” – traditional British crops such as gooseberries and blackcurrants which, with the exception of  the Booth’s chain in Northern England, are ignored by the supermarkets in favour of the aggressively marketed North American  invader the blueberry.  I was at the time poring over a huge bowl of blackcurrants picked the previous day from the allotment of my friends Rob and Elie. And I blogged on gooseberries earlier in the month.

Blackcurrants are not difficult to grow, though they are a bit of a faff to prepare if you want to use them whole. So my preference was to blitz them and make sorbet.  To my mind sorbet has to be a balance between sharp and sweet , and hence the tartness of blackcurrants makes them ideal.  What’s more it’s an aesthetic pleasure to work with such beautiful a colour.

I had about a kilo of berries which I simmered for just a couple of minutes with half a pint of water before whizzing in a blender and leaving to cool. Then I made a syrup by heating  3/4 pint of water with 10 oz of sugar and the zest and juice of a lemon. When cool I mixed them together and churned in the  ice-cream maker for around 25 minutes until fairly thick and slushy and then folded in two whisked egg whites before going in the freezer to firm up – probably at least three hours. 

 The result is sweet enough to bring out the flavour but not too sweet to mask it.

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Pide

July 25, 2010

 A quick trip over to Narborough Road yesterday and some more loveliness obtained from the Yesim bakery.  The pide pictured on the right  was a real lunchtime treat. Baked in the traditional boat shape this particular one has a filling of spinach, soft cheese and a little mild onion. It may not look at its best with a chunk missing but I wanted to show the spongy, even texture.   Narborough Road is becoming a real delight – Polish, Turkish, Lithuanian,  Indian and may other stores and restaurants abound and the food culture is thrillingly diverse.

Great Food

July 23, 2010

I started this blog mainly because I just wanted to keep writing about food, and local restaurants in particular.  I’d spent five enjoyable years doing proper independent  reviews for Metro, and when that finished I was frustrated there was not better media coverage of  the local food scene. There was the defiantly non-specialist reviews in the Leicester Mercury, the blatant  advertorials in a couple of rather vacuous style mags and the equally ad-grab reviews in the county set mags. A rather dull Midlands glossy called The Foodie occasionally gets over to Leicestershire.

So hurray for the newly-launched bi-monthly Great Food Leicestershire and Rutland, a glossy magazine that does what it says in the tin. Coming straight outta Melton Mowbray it’s a commerical proposition but one that does seem to be driven by a genuine passion for the area and for good food. The first issue has news of local events and products, features such as a farmshop map, and articles on  producers such as Nigel Moon at Whissendine Mill and local produce including stilton, bread from the Hambleton  bakery (which you will have read about on this blog of course) and local beers.  Local towns and villages are profiled for eating and drinking options, local chefs such as Danny Jimminson from the Hammer and Pincers and Adi Sinha from Memsaab contribute articles and recipes and there’s reviews of other places familar to readers of this blog  – including the Collyweston  Slater. Sure the reviews are all positive, but  they do give the impression at least of being genuine recommendations rather quid pro qu0 for adverts.

The articles are generally short and sweet, there’s a refreshing lack of pretention or ponciness and the photography and layout are good quality. Overall, it’s a terrific start and congratulations to editor Matthew Wright.  You can find out more at their website www.greatfoodleics.co.uk  and if you are quick you may be able to get a free copy of the July/August issue. If you do contact them, you might like to mention this blog.

The Collyweston Slater

July 19, 2010

 

[Update 3/03/2011 – Dameon Clarke has now moved on and has opened Assiette in Stamford]

A couple of years back I had a great meal at Nick’s restaurant in Oakham, courtesy of chef Dameon Clarke. Yes it was bit a showy, a bit bling, but for all the complex plates and modish foams and jellies there was a focus on flavour that made the meal a resounding  pleasure.

Clarke is now established as chef patron at the Collyweston Slater, a handsome pub over on the Rutland/Lincolnshire border near Stamford. There’s a bar menu on offer but one look at the a la carte shows he is still interested in pushing the boat out – one starter involves rabbit and foie gras terrine with carrot jelly, pistachios, carrot and parsley salad and deep fried mustard ice cream.

A little note on the website mentioning that he’s willing to create a seasonal tasting menu for those interested had raised our interest, so four of us headed out from Leicester on a Friday night prepared to be impressed. And we were. Mightily.

First of all the pub. There’s low ceilings,  a quaint exterior, and sympathetically modern interior.  There’s plenty of room for local drinkers and an informal dining area staffed by refreshingly enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff.

Now for the food. First off, a lobster latte – an intense fishy broth in tall glass topped with beautifully judged parmesan foam, and accompanied by spoonful of lobster meat with veg and a cube of mild ginger jelly.  Great combinations of flavour and witty presentation.  Next up were some seared scallops, topped off with a crab foam and prettily laid out with cauliflower puree, samphire grass, asparagus, quail’s egg, crispy pancetta and cubes of cauliflower panna cotta.  Another wonderful collection of flavours put together with technical skill, even if the texture of the final item was not welcomed by everyone.    

scallops

 

Clarke had been happy to talk to us in advance about likes and dislikes but we had left it mainly to him to surprise us and the surprises kept coming. What was particularly pleasant was that our waiting staff seemed almost to be having as much pleasure at bringing and introducing our various dishes as we were in scoffing them.

An exquisite carpaccio of beef followed – a lovely piece of meat complemented with more quails egg, truffles, wild mushrooms and a  horseradish cream. It may all sound a bit busy but none of it overwhelmed the terrific centrepiece.

carpaccio

The next dish was probably voted our overall favourite – a cracking piece of sea bass with immaculately crispy skin, was perched on a beetroot risotto – probably the tastiest, definitely the prettiest food I’ve eaten all year. Grilled artichoke gave additional texture and flavour. Sadly the photo below fails to capture the vibrancy of the risotto, but let me asssure you it was simply lovely.

The “main” course was some excellent belly and fillet of pork with generous shavings of truffle and a sweet squash puree.  The potatoes  – a kind of champ duchesse – were probably the only less than excellent element of the whole night, having a rather unpleasant texture.

Coming towards an end now and we were treated to a very superior desert  – a somewhat deconstructed rhubarb crumble  cheesecake with rhubarb sorbet. The fruit came in a layered cocktail glass – a jelly, a compote and toped with a light crumble spiked with a touch of popping candy, some super- rich cream and a chocolate covered wafer filled, I think, with more cream and mascarpone.

rhubarb

A gratifyingly stinky collection of cheeses finished off what had been a memorable meal. Friends compared it very favourably to a tasting menu taken late last year at  Michelin-starred Glyn Purnell’s in Birmingham. At £45 this was better food, much better value, none of the corporate feel, and staff who not only put you at ease but were enjoying themselves. 

This kind of complexity is not going to convince everyone. But while there’s always a pleasure in, say, a simple salad picked fresh from the garden,  sometimes it’s nice to sit back and say to a chef “come on, impress me”. If that’s what you’re after, get to the Collyweston Slater quick.

Cow and Plough

July 16, 2010

For those that don’t know know it, the alternative name for this lovely pub is “that place that used to be the farm park”. For a good few years now this collection of farm buildings on the South East edge of built-up Leicester has been a  real ale drinkers place run by the Steaming Billy brewery and pub company. 

Over the years The Cow and Plough  been an ideal stopping off point for a beer at the end of rural bike rides. Thanks to the selfish git who nicked my bike last month  that pleasure has been denied me this summer, but I did decide to drive out and try the restaurant there, which I had enjoyed on my only visit some five years ago. 

The pub bit of the building is characterful and rough and ready in the way real ale pubs generally are. The restaurant section down the other end  is rather smarter as befits the quite ambitious menu. Turning up without a booking I was offered a place in the half-way house section away from most of the drinkers but without laid tables.   Starters include dishes such as  rillettes of pork with apricot chutney, and pan-fried scallops with chorizo and cauliflower puree  – so despite the surroundings you can see this veers more towards fine dining than pub grub (though fish and chips, sausage and mash are available). I picked seared local rabbit and woodpigeon  salad, a slightly curious name for what was basically two hunks of meat in a gloriously sticky redcurrant jus that drowned a few lambs lettuce leaves. The meat was cooked well and had beautiful flavours – if I’d been at home the plate would have been licked.

Main course was less successful. An overcooked duck breast was pretty  tough while another sticky glaze was over-reduced  and needed a quick whisk  – a few globules of jellified stock remained. It was billed as “gooseberry sauce”, a nice seasonal idea which seemed to involve the  addition of a few poached berries to a standard meat jus. I liked the berries,  but more could have been done with them.  The sauted new potatoes and green beans were excellent though.  From a desert board I chose “trifle” – no further explanation was offered. Turned out  not bad – cream, custard and sponge were all fine and a light jelly seemingly flavoured with a touch of elderflower was very pleasant.  A curious sprinkle which  appeared to be something such as Ovaltine  was a mistake  – why not just grate some chocolate?

Service was a bit hit and miss – cutlery arrived a good 45 seconds after my starter was given to me. You might put up with that having a burger in a pub but this just seemed a bit sloppy.   I’ll cut them a bit of slack as I sat down shortly before a party of 25 arrived. The inability to provide a  bill was another issue  – given there was no price on the desert board I’ve no idea how much the desert or my glass of house wine cost.  Or indeed whether the bill was added correctly.

Would I go again? Yes I think so, but a few things would need to improve if it was to become a regular dining haunt.  

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The Quarter

July 10, 2010

Sad to see the events this week at The Quarter – one of my favourite city centre venues.  Janice and Nigel Gordon were brave to be one of the first bar/restuarant to open up in Leicester’s cultural quarter and I always found them very pleasant hosts and the restuarant had that pleasant knack of somehow being that little bit better than you thought it was going to be.  It seems there has been a falling out  with the landlord – and I have to be careful here because I’m told there’s been a bit of  claim and counter-claim in the courts this week.  I understand the landlord is waiting to grant the lease to a new tenant to establish an Indian restaurant but as of last night the situation remains unclear.    

If that were to happen I hope it would be a really interesting and high quality place rather than an identikit curry house.  The Cultural Quarter needs distinctive and attractive venues if is to thrive – the Quarter tries to fulfil that brief and I’d be sad if the Gordons’ drive were to be lost to the area.

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