New openings

February 28, 2011

A little news on a couple of  new openings.  Not that I can offer much to say about them as I’ve not been yet and nor as of the last day of February do they have fully functioning websites but some of you might appreciate the information nonetheless.

Of especial interest  is Assiette  in Stamford. I appreciate Stamford is strictly speaking not in Leicestershire or Rutland, but I’m excited about this as it is the new restaurant of Dameon Clarke, who’s  complex, unashamedly show-off  food I’ve massively enjoyed at Nick’s in Oakham and more recently at his –  now former – pub the Collyweston Slater. Opened last week, hope to go soon – reports welcome in the meantime.

A new little Italian called La Vida has opened on Northampton St in Leicester city centre, on the site of a former Thai Restaurant. It looks a modest, intimate kind of place and while there’s no menu on display, a peek through the window at the specials board showed monkfish was on offer, so hopefully they’ve got a proper chef  in there.

*Update – forgot to mention there is also now  a branch of Hot Rocks on Braunstone Gate.  The gimmick of this franchise business is to offer steaks for you to cook at your own table on preheated volcanic stones. One can’t help but be sceptical here – if I wanted the freedom to cook a £10 steak the way I prefer,  I’d get down to Archer’s  on Queen’s Road to pick out a hefty South Devon ribeye and cook it at home. And flames would be involved in the cooking somewhere.  It’s not going to be Hawksmoor   or  Goodman’s , but those with a steak craving may want to give it a try.

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A winter stew

February 21, 2011

I went out on Saturday thinking it was time to do an oxtail stew. But as my friendly neighbourhood butcher pointed out, cows tend only to have one tail and thus he’d run out.  He suggested shin instead. I must admit I’d always thought  shin was just another variety of cheap braising steak, but I think I’m now a convert to this humble cut.

Looking at the meat pictured  right you can see some of the connective tissue and it’s this that breaks down during long slow cooking to help create  an  extraordinary rich, thick sauce. It’s got to be long and slow but you are rewarded with ultra-tender, ultra-tasty meat.

I’ve no pictures of the fabulous stew I’m afraid but it was simplicity itself. For a generous meal for two people,  toss one pound of  meat in seasoned flour (try adding a little mustard powder too), fry an onion and some garlic, brown the meat, toss in some carrots, a few sprigs of thyme, a bayleaf.  Let it all stick a bit to the bottom of the pan and then add half a bottle of red plonk, making sure to stir up all those wonderful sticky bits from the bottom of the pan all up to mix.   Put it in a casserole, cover tightly, cook for as long as you’ve got as low as you can – at least two hours – and just let the magic happen.  It’s worth checking every hour or so because this will be a fairly dry stew and you don’t want to over do it.  

I’ll definitely be looking to use this specific cut for a range of other slow cooked recipes now.

Beer, coffee, Ice

February 16, 2011

Ready to go - Leicester Beer Festival

A couple of quick parish notices.  Firstly it’s time to dust off your Bellowhead T-shirt again for the 2011 Leicester Beer Festival. It takes place at  the Charotar Patidar Samaj, just behind St Margarets Church on the edge of the city centre, from Wednesday 9 to Saturday 12 March. It’s a very sociable event and will this year feature some 220 beers, around a third of which come from within a radius of 25 miles, 35 ciders and perries and food including curries, pork pies and stilton cobs. Entrance at various times is  either free, £2.50 or £3.50 and you’ll need to buy an official festival glass which can either be kept as a souvenir or returned for a refund. Full details available here.

Second, after a couple of recent visits I’ll give a further recommendation to the Yesim patisserie on Leicester’s Narborough Road. It’s a comfortable, comforting kind of place, where old fellers drop by for a game of backgammon, but you’ll also see business people and a wide range of the local community enjoying the delicious sweet and savoury Turkish pastries and excellent coffee. Service is delightful. Pictured right with some of their produce are Melek and Elif who kindly helped us out with a little photoshoot for GFLR.

Finally, those of who frequent Farmshops maybe interested in the launch of a new loyalty card  that offers cash rewards for shopping in independent farmshops around the country.  The Ice card works in a similar way to the Nectar card and the like, earning points  by spending with selected  retailers that can be then used for money off further purchases. It’s all geared around low carbon and sustainable business practice and as well as farm shops it can be used with various ecofriendly energy suppliers, clothes manufacturers and so on.  There’s no Leicestershire farmshops signed up to the scheme yet  but it only launched last month and I understand at least one major local farmshop is currently in discussion. More details here.

The Rutland and Derby

February 10, 2011

Had an interesting morning recently talking to Sam Hagger, the publican who has taken over Leicester’s Rutland and Derby pub on Millstone Lane and turned it back into a more mainstream pub but also added a deli. 

Where once were low sofas is now a cabinet full of fancy cheese, glistening olives and a range of antipasti and charcuterie. It’s an interesting move based on Hagger’s own interest in food and his observation of the local clientele.  He first discovered the venue while his other pub, the Forge in Glenfield was being done up. When it became available he had thought about opening a restaurant but decided it was too close to Stephen Fitzpatrick’s Boot Room and Bistrot Pierre. But seeing the brass plaque offices surrounding him in the Catherdral Quarter  (is it called that? It is now)  he felt those professional types would jump at the chance of  a cheeky piece of  gorgonzola or 36-month aged  parmesan for lunch or with an after work pint.  

Sam Hagger - "I can tell you a story about every cheese here"

Most of what’s on offer comes through  a specialist supplier who seems to have good links with the Slow Food network of  suppliers in Italy and Sam takes pleasure in sharing tales about artisan makers who bury their cheeses in caves and all that. 

Food at the deli – and there is some really interesting stuff there you would struggle to find elsewhere locally – can be bought to take away, but also forms the main eat-in offer of classy deli sandwiches and deli boards.  The Rutland Board, for example, offers semi-roasted Puglian tomatoes, Nocellara del Belice olives, black olive tapenade, char-grilled artichoke hearts, prosciutto, aged Parmagiano Reggiano and oregano crackers.  You can get a local pork pie or samosa too, and Sam promises that as they settle in  they will source more and more local produce:  “For us it’s an evolution – a voyage of discovery”. If you are a local producer with the right credentials, maybe you should get in touch. 

The drinks menu has been pared down from the extravagance of the ancien regime, but still includes some premium lagers, three beers from partners Everards and other ales including Old Hooky and Adnam’s Broadside.  There’s a rather handsome whisky cabinet too. The space is still pretty much the same but the feel is rather more homely (see below) and Sam has both kept and extended the pub’s pleasant  outdoor space, adding an astroturfed roof garden that should be blissful on a hot summer’s evening should we get one.   All in all, definitely worth a visit. Watch out for the full story, and rather better pictures in next month’s Great Food Leicestershire and Rutland

Lunch at Hambleton Hall

February 9, 2011

In January Hambleton Hall received its Michelin star for the 29th year. It also introduced a “Lunch for Even Less” offer of £19 for two courses, £24.25 for three.

Well, it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it?

Hambleton Hall

Gill and I drove out from Leicester on a cloudy, gusty day that left Rutland Water resembling the North Sea.  Once inside the Hall and installed by the log fire, though, life took on a very different hue. I was hoping –  expecting, really – that the lunch offer would not be a downgraded version of the legendary Hambleton offering, and it wasn’t. As we warmed up we were offered three canapés – sea bass morsels with tartare were routine but excellent,  chicken liver parfait was intense and deliquescent and best of all was a little beetroot meringue with goats cheese,  a little flavour bomb that carried on giving its gift for an extraordinary length of time.   

The lunch menu offers two choices at each course and we selected one of everything. Ballotine of guinea fowl involved choice cuts of pressed meat along with a mild, mustardy, crunchy piccalilli and lightly pickled shallots. Raviolo of ham hock was a superbly made parcel of chopped meats and seasonings encased in pasta so thin it was translucent. Mains featured relatively base ingredients – blade of beef and fillet of coley – which were transmuted into gold by kitchen flair and hard work. The blade was chopped, bound and rolled with herbs and mushrooms. It was delivered perched on top of a crunchy rosti and came with a sweet, sticky sauce  with red wine, caramelised shallots and tarragon. The fish was simply pan fried  with a pesto crust and was soft and flaky, with a foamy  bouillabaise sauce. All the dishes had deep and complex layers of flavour. 

 Last time I came to Hambleton I’d been knocked out by a desert of passionfuit soufflé.  The coconut and lime soufflé I had this time didn’t quite match that perfection but was technically faultless, being as soft as a baby’s breath  but still carrying the flavour of its ingredients. Once again I was particularly impressed with the sorbets, a coconut one with the soufflé, an orange one with Gill’s fine chocolate and orange tart. How the kitchen distils such powerful essences into such an insubstantial  ice I’ve no idea. 

Raviolo of ham hock, pea and mint veloute

The staff are numerous, skilled, and float around the place with unhurried efficiency. Outside of the kitchen, the place makes few concessions to modernity, but if you accept that it’s going to be a very particular kind of experience, there is such a huge amount to enjoy here.   

The “Lunch for Even Less” deal runs  until 27 February. 

(Oh, and there was no sign of Sven, hope you are all still looking out for him.)

When I went to university there were no fees, reasonably generous grants and you could sign on over the holidays,  but our staple diet was chips and cheese.  Today students are rioting over the astronomical fees and debts they face, but student unions such as Leicester University’s are being done up at the cost of over £16 million and introducing full service restaurants.

I can’t claim to understand the economics of it but the 1923 restaurant in Leicester University’s Percy Gee Building undoubtedly appears a good thing. It opened last year along with the Student Union’s new O2 venues, shops and a Starbuck’s cafe.  It’s a smart, well-run space with courteous, efficient service and a sensibly varied menu that runs from traditional studenty baked potatoes through  mozzarella and tomato salads, rib-eye steak sandwiches with stilton and a selection of weekly specials  such as a whole baked lemon sole or butternut squash and sage risotto. 

1923 restaurant, by Steve Gibson Design.

It was an ideal place for a relaxed lunch away from the buzz of the rest of the building. Ross was reasonably positive about his ‘handmade’ burger (£4.95) which came with good looking, chunky triple cooked chips and  homemade sticky barbecue sauce, and  my whole baked stuffed mackerel (£7.95) was really quite impressive. Nicely cooked and stuffed invitingly with spicy vegetable-spiked cous cous it formed a toothsome plateful with sauteed new potatoes, crunchy green beans and mangetout and a well-made tomato cream sauce.  It was a very long way from chips and cheese.

The 1923 is also open midweek evenings and for breakfasts and afternoon cream  tea (afternoon tea!).    If you are in the area and looking for lunch it’s definitely worth consideration.

Marmalade making

February 1, 2011

Time is running out if you want to make your own marmalade this year. I’ve been really enjoying the sharp/sweet thing offered by the home-made stuff for the last couple of weeks, so do have a think about it. Recipes aren’t hard to find but I took inspiration from a feature in Great Food Leicestershire and Rutland and used a version contained on the website  of the Oakham’s Jam Jar Shop (the site is a bit of a car crash but stick with it.)

Basically this involved boilng up the Sevilles and a lime before juicing them, straining through muslin,  slicing the peel and making the preserve. 

You should still just about be able to find Seville oranges in greengrocers  or supermarkets. I found a kilo of fruit made enough for a few few small gifts  and plenty to keep me going for the rest of the year.  Obviously breakfast is the key usage but it’s a pretty versatile substance – try using it instead of  red sauce/brown sauce in a sausage sandwich,  as a glaze for a piece of gammon, as a flavour enhancer to a casserole of chicken and sweet peppers, or as the filling to add a sharp note to a layer of cream in a sponge cake.    

Not sure if Leicester Market is selling Sevilles, but congratulations to it anyway for last week being voted Britain’s favourite by the National Association of British Market Authorities. I’ve no idea how much these gongs genuinely represent the sentiment of the masses, but good news whatever.  With developments like the new Market Corner section opening in March it’s good to see the effort being made to keep it relevent and contemporary.

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