Market stars again

November 30, 2010

Leicester Market and Leicester chefs have another starring role on TV tonight with  episode 6 of Channel 5’s Street Market Chefs programme.  Tune in at to see 7.30pm to see Rahul Gupta of Colourworks battle it out with Phillip Sharp of Maiyango. I’ll be watching carefully as the pair have to use one of my very favourite ingredients – plantain. I particularly like the sound of Philip’s honey and ginger roasted plantain with pan-fried seabass and crispy fried cassava. Judges include chef Sean Hope from the Olive Branch and Leicester legend Herdle White, radio presenter and carnival creator.

If you miss it, you should be able to catch after transmission on catch it on

Phil Sharp, presenter Amanda Lamb and Rahul Gupta

Bombay Bites

November 26, 2010

There comes a time in life, not least in the bitter cold we’re experiencing now, when the very best option available seems to be to shovel hot, spicy curry down your gob. In such times a visit to Bombay Bites is highly recommended.

I  occasionally visit their Leicester city centre branch, a little takeaway hutch on Belvoir Street which invariably has queues at luchtime, and always go away feeling revived with one of their good value wraps or curryboxes. I was pleased when Tony Naylor at The Guardian took my recommendation and included them in his recent guide to cheap eats in Leicester.

Now they’ve opened an evening outlet in the more suburban setting of Evington Road (just down from the Co-op), complete with seating this time, but it maintains all the successful elements of the original. It’s all based on cheap, simple, spicy food, served up quickly for a clientele that is used to grazing and eating on the move. There’s a limited menu – none of this endless list of dishes all made from the same mother sauce – and the core offer is a small or large box where you can combine your choice of two curries with rice, naan or – if you must – chips.   This is not sophistication, it’s  not the best or most authentic of anything, but it is very satisfying, extremely tasty streetfood. On my recent visit to Evington Road I had a huge carton of  tangy chicken shashlick, surprisingly spicy pieces of tender tandoori chicken, naan bread cut up into sensible size pieces and all topped off with a moreish sweet chutney and a pile of fried onions oozing umami. At £4.50 a real bargain.  Service from the young team is relentlessly cheerful and helpful – if they can replicate that then I’m sure the concept can be rolled out more widely.


The Woodhouse

November 19, 2010

It’s six years since Paul Leary decided he’d had enough of teaching catering students and felt the need to get his name over the door and get back behind the stove full-time. I think I gave The Woodhouse one of its first reviews  in Metro and it’s good to report that this Woodhouse Eaves restaurant has continued to thrive and currently exudes confidence both front of house and on the plate.

Leary made his name at Louis Scott’s in Newton Linford and later gained a wider fan club running Fusions at the Walkers Stadium. He gave that up after the Mandaric regime was established and has since focused on consolidating his fine dining offer here in prosperous Charnwood Forest.  He has also consolidated his reputation as a teacher, with one of his young proteges recently awarded a Gordon Ramsey Scholarship.

The atmosphere and decor of the place pulls off a nice balance of being smart but not stuffy.   It feels a fairly special night out, but you’re also put at your ease.  There is a ten-course tasting menu, though  we ordered a la carte (£35 three courses) and started off with an amuse of a really super espresso cup of turnip and white onion soup with a little garlic foam – smooth and tasty it did its job of waking up the taste buds.     

Our starters were a salmon plate  including  smoked slamon, blinis and a  mi-cuit slice that had real depth – a long way  from some of disappointing bland stuff I’ve had in recent years.  My Woodhouse Salad was a fantastic assemblage of  a gamey pigeon breast, duck egg with nicely gooey yolk, strips of home cured duck  that were dried out a bit like biltong and which  released tremedous flavour once you started to chew and well-dressed leaves. There was a touch of sharpeness from pickled apple and pear, while  a few  tempura hazelnuts adding sweetness and crunch. 

For main I had my first venison of the season and it was excellent.  Great flavour and the plate looked wonderful, the dark red of the  meat matched with red cabbage, purple potato and several plump blackberries.  Tender slices of  rare loin contrasted in texure with a block of slow-cooked shoulder on an onion marmalade,  both with excellent bits of cooking.   The jus was intense and there was well-judged  smear of licqourice.   I only got a quick taste of my friend’s beef but it too was excellent, coming with ox cheek fondant, bone marrow, fondant potato andautumn greens and a watercress puree. 

There was a pre-desert of a smooth, rich and sloppy chocolate mousse with pistachio biscuit  and I tucked into a desert of an elegantly constructed chocolate cyclinder, encasing  a white chocolate and passionfruit mousse on a light sponge base.  The mousse  seemed  somewhat unbalanced – I think it would have been improved with a bit less chocolate to make it lighter and enable the fruit flavour to come through more strongly. Very pleasant nonetheless.

I thoroughly enjoyed the food here – there’s high-quality ingredients, rigour and skill in the kitchen and an approach which is contemporary but not flash or showy.  

One more thing , apologies but I didn’t have a camera I didn’t have a camera  and on the basis that every post is enhanced by a picture,   the one below is shamelessly ripped off the website  – if that ‘s problem, somebody please tell me.

The Woodhouse

More good news for Leicester’s Cultural Quarter. Shortly to open on Rutland Street  is Lanna Thai, not just an upmarket Thai restaurant but a “media performance centre” to boot.  The  venue is situated in the Leather Factors, that glorious  Rennie Mackintosh-style building between Curve and the old Helsinki bar. The upper part of the building was converted into smart,  short-let apartments about the time of the construction of Curve and the new restaurant will be over two lower floors, with developers promising that historic features have been  maintained and renovated, such as the rear glass curtain wall which will feature a “stunning 5m cascade of white Thai orchids”. 

The media performance centre is on the lower ground floor, accessed through the restaurant and can be decked out with tables,  sofas, a stage or a catwalk  for private dinners, exhibitions, performances launches, parties, cinema screenings, comedy, dance  – there’s a sprung floor –  and so on.  Total capacity at the venue will be around 160.

This week I’ve been to the Cultural Quarter for a sell-out afternoon film at Phoenix Square, a near sell-out opera at Curve, and am going to a social media seminar at LCB Depot this early evening, followed by dinner at the newly-opened Chutney Ivy.  With the Xchange Bar set to open in December, a hotel soon after and now this intriguing new venue, it feels the area might – despite economic gloom – just starting to be coming into its own.

Winter Festival

November 16, 2010

A quick reminder that the Winter Food Festival takes place this coming Sunday, 21 November from 11 -5.00pm at Leicester Market.  Cannily timed to cash-in on the crowds that come in for the Xmas lights switch-on, the event attracted 15,000 last year and all 200 stalls are taken this year. Events include a demonstration of Stilton-making from the people at Long Clawson dairy (12.30pm) but from what I remember of last year I’ll  be looking forward to finding some quality game.  

In other news,  more plaudits for the Olive Branch in Clipsham, rated the nation’s sixth best gastro pub in a list of the top 50 by trade mag the Morning Advertiser.  I reckon I’ve been been to ten of them and if the Olive Branch really merits beating the Sportsman, near Whitstable, by six places then it must be on very good form indeed.

Street chefs

November 8, 2010

After last week’s Guardian focus on bargain places to eat in Leicester, there’s further media recognition for our restaurant scene this week.  Channel 5’s series Street Chefs – which  gets chefs to do live cooking in their  local market – features Leicester tomorrow, Tuesday 9 November at 7.30pm.  The format will see Tom Cockerill of Entropy and Simon Nurse of The Village in Newton Linford in a competitive cook-off with produce bought from the stalls around them.

Now I know you will be excited about what they choose to cook so if you don’t wish know, please look away now. Tom goes for Rutland trout bonne femme followed by fillet of  Longhorn beef and red Leicester rarebit, Simon for ballotine of chicken followed by local trout also with Red Leicester rarebit.  Not sure I like the sound of all this cheese  but it seems they were obliged to use it.  The show is presented by Amanda Lamb (pictured below with some, well, cheese) and judges include Aaron Patterson of Hambleton Hall, whom I can only assume Channel 5 think to be less photogenic. Shame.

I hope the market comes out of it well – let me know you think.

Come dine…

November 6, 2010

Received a letter today inviting me to apply to be in the reality home cooking programme Come Dine With Me.  Now personally I’d rather boil my head than expose my cookery skills for national humiliation, or indeed invite the kind of people I’ve seen on that show into my little house.   However, you may feel differently. So if you feel you “have what it takes to throw a great dinner party”, they are looking for Leicestershire people right now. Send an email with your name , address and contact numbers  to or call 0871 200 3939  (10p per call plus 10p a minute, mobiles may be considerably more etc etc).

Cheap eats for Diwali

November 5, 2010


A couple of weeks back I was contacted by a writer from the Guardian who was preparing a “good food  for under a tenner” guide to Leicester.  With Tony Naylor having family in Leicester he seemed reasonably clued up but I was able to give him some views and  point him to a few places he wasn’t aware of.

Anyway his excellent work is up on the Guardian site today for Diwali and I’m gald to see a few of my recommendations have made it in.  Have a look and see what you make of it: Top ten budget eats

Tony’s also written a Guardian blog piece with reflections on Leicester – Naan better .

Big Up Hambleton Hall

November 1, 2010

Many congratulations to Aaron Patterson and his team at Hambleton Hall which has been voted number 11 yesterday’s Sunday Times/Harden’s list of the UK’s top 100 restaurants.  It’s a list based on customer feedback rather than critics and is thus bound to give a profound satisfaction. As will beating regional rival Sat Bains by two places – I once had a small role in helping Matthew Fort select chefs for BBC’ 2’s Great British Menu and tried to fight Aaron’s corner but the producers went for the big characters of Bains and Glyn Purnell rather than this unassuming but brilliant cook.  

It’s almost a year since I had dinner there – see the review – but the memory remains strong. Next time my ship comes in there’s a tidy sum earmarked to go again.

Afraid the Sunday Times is behind Rupert’s paywall but those interested can check out the top 100 here.

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