Dameon Clarke

March 31, 2011

Had an enjoyable chat on Wednesday with Dameon Clarke, he of the recently opened Assiette in Stamford and, as regular readers will be aware, a highly talented and adventurous chef.

For the full story you will need to see the next edition of Great Food Leicestershire and Rutland   but for the time being here’s A Few Things I Now Know About Dameon Clarke:

1) He’s from Coalville.

2) He was in the same Leicester City boys’ squad as Emile Heskey.

3) He was suspended from his first job after a fight with a waiter.

4) He did a spell as commis at Le Gavroche.

5) The Asian influence in his cooking came from a year travelling around Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.

6) He had intended to settle in Australia and has an Aussie passport.

7)  He’s hoping for three AA rosettes and wouldn’t say no to a Michelin star eventually.

8 ) He’s hoping by the summer to get a barbecue installed in the garden of Assiette and sell people Oz-style barbecue packs that they can cook themselves while they sit outside.

9) Actually I think 8 is enough.

King’s Arms, Wing

March 30, 2011

Driving back to Leicester from Lincolnshire I was wondering what to do about lunch, when it hit me. I’d been meaning for many months to get out to the Kings Arms at Wing and here was a perfect opportunity for a quiet midweek lunch.  This characterful Rutland Inn has a great reputation for its game and for its nose to tail, everything home-produced or locally made ethos. With an onsite smoke house this applies to all the smoked produce and charcuterie as well as breads, stocks, chutneys etc.

With the rain begining to pour outside I fancied something comforting and picked the leg of hare from a specials board.  It was lovely  – cooked sous-vide it was as tender as a leg could be and oozed gamey richness. It was not even the star of the plate though, with the  bang on season purple spouting broccoli being simply outstanding.  There’s been a lot of hype about this vegetable this year and this stuff almost seemed to justify it – lightly cooked, slightly sweet with an almost meaty texture, it was the antithesis of “eat yer greens they’re  good for you”.  Beautiful red cabbage, curly kale, green beans, smooth mash and proper gravy completed a lovely dish for just over a tenner.  

The landlady sweet talked me into a desert but I was glad she did.  A pastry chef  just back from Denmark was on fine form she assured me and I tried her suggestion of the raspberry tart.  Made from preternaturally thin, crisp pastry it contained sweet fresh raspberries swirled together with coulis and creme patisserie. Accompanying raspberry sorbet lacked a bit of punch but it didn’t really matter, the tart was a compelling enough item.

So off I sped off feeling very well fed and with a pack of home-smoked pancetta to boot. Result. Keen to go back and try the full menu now.  How can you not warm to place offering a starter of  “Duo of Pilton Mangalitsa – set brawn, crispy cheek, smoked tomato & celeriac remoulade”?

Imperial Tea

March 28, 2011

I was in our neighbouring county of Lincolnshire on Friday. Standing outside the glorious cathedral I had 20 minutes before my train and a ten minute walk to the station.  Going inside seemed pointless so I made a lightning raid on my second favourite place in Lincoln – a shop like no other, Imperial Teas on Steep Hill.  The building is getting on for 900 years old I believe and it houses a jaw-dropping range of the world’s finest and rarest teas from many areas and representing many tea-drinking cultures. Large drums line the room with evocative names that can leave you in reverie – First Flush Darjeeling Phoobering Supreme, Lovers’ Leap Broken Orange Pekoe, or Japanese Sencha tea flavoured with wild cherry and rose petals.  You can also find legendary Jun Shan Golden Needles, grown on a mist covered lake isle high up in the mountains of Hunan. Less than 100lbs is picked each year and on just one morning. It comes in at what might be called a reassuringly expensive £217 for 100g.

Marangi Garden Assam

I settled for a more humble Managi Garden Assam, a refined but straightforward tea delivering  the golden colour and malty overtones you look for in an Assam.  There’s a tea shop where you can drink below the shop but if you do find yourself in Lincoln I do recommend you also go in to the retail shop and just indulge in the exotic loveliness of it all.


March 26, 2011

I’ve been meaning to try Anjuna on Highcross Street, Leicester,  since it opened over a year ago but have only just made it.  Think I was slightly put off by the Indian/Goan tag –  the long menu combined curry house standards with Goan specialities in a way that suggested it might be trying to just please everyone and end up being characterless.

I’m pleased to say that wasn’t our experience on a visit earlier this week.   In terms of decor, it goes for a light, modern, airy feel and brings it off, although the rear area where we were placed has a bit of corridor feel. What made it special it though were welcoming, helpful, cheerful staff who – espcially once we showed we wanted to try out their Goan dishes – were really keen to explain and enthuse about  the cuisine. Bob started with Goan potato chops – patties of mashed potato filled with ligthly spiced minced lamb – these had the comfort-food feel of shepherd’s pie  about them and were pleasant rather inspiring.  Goans are renowned for loving pork so I thought I’d be on safe ground with Goan spare ribs – and indeed these were lovely. Good meaty ribs with spot-on spices that left the lips nicely tingling.

It seems the restaurant attracts a fair number of people who’ve done the Goan beach holiday thing and are keen to to reacquaint themselves with local dishes. So while the menu does include the familiar coconut-milk fish curries, there are also more distinctive, Portugese-influenced dishes such as Sorpotel made with belly of pork and liver, and spicy Goan sausages made from pickled pork. We chose two mains that featured the keynote hot and sour flavour combinations.  My shark ambotik was delicious, a thin broth-like sauce had a tangy heat from tamarind pulp and a spice mix that had cloves to the fore. Bob’s pork vindaloo had  a thicker, richer sauce given a tang from vinegar and a smoky, fiery heat from roasted chillies.

Not spectacular food, then, but it did have the considerable virtues of being lively, distinctive, freshly prepared, honest food prepared by people who care. That puts it ahead of many restaurants and certainly worth checking out if you’re keen to try a rather different style.  I can’t say  how their rogan josh or tikka masala measures up against the competition but I’m certainly tempted to come back to try dishes such the masala stuffed mackerel.

* By the way, somebody last week became the 10,000th visitor to this blog. Whoever it was thank you, and thank you to everyone else who pops by.

Pork to Fork

March 18, 2011

Clarissa Dickson Wright  – not her biggest fan but she’s had an extraordinary life and I think I’d trust her judgement on pigs and pork.  So it was good to see her on BBC 2 on Wednesday night scuttling around Rutland’s Northfield Farm with Jan McCourt Farm admiring their new English Lop boar. 

I’ve been thinking a lot a about pork recently, partly inspired by a recent conversation with Tom Cockerill about rare breeds  and also because of a revelatory pork chop from the fine Archer’s butchers on Queen’s Road,  Leicester.  The quality of the meat came out in the way it felt in the pan but mainly obviously in the eating quality – tender and deeply flavoursome, it seemed simply a different order of substance from some chops I’ve had.

So my interest was piqued by a message from Leicester pub The Almanack that is organising a hands on Pork to Fork day out at the Peach Pub company’s farm in Oxfordshire on Saturday week.  They promise you can learn about how free range pigs are turned into succulent pork, and butchery skills from a whole carcass down to chops. There’ll also be lessons in how to cure a ham and make sausages.  At £125 (including roast pork lunch and other treats) it’ll only be for the truly committed – if that’s you, see more details at the Almanack’s website.

The Almanack

Urban Pie

March 7, 2011

I thougt I’d add to the unbridled excitement of Britsh Pie Week by passing on details of an offer from Highcross outlet Urban Pie.  Visit here, complete and print off the voucher and take it along before 6pm on Sunday 13th and you’ll get a half-price pie. You’ll have to give them an email address but you are all grown ups and can make a considered decision about this sort of thing.  I went in and tried the place when it opened and was disappointed with a dry, uninspiring effort.  I’ve heard more enthusiastic reports so this seems a pretty good time to go back and give them another try.  Their selection ranges from steak and stilton to chicken and asparagus, lamb and rosemary or seasonal vegetables.  

Pies. Urban pies.

Assiette update

March 1, 2011

Quick update to yesterday’s post – the Assiette website is now fully populated. It’s good to see Clarke has taken most of his team from the Collyweston Slater with him to Stamford. I see a couple of familiar dishes from that venue  are present in developed form. I’m sure some will be sceptical about dishes such as beetroot risotto with goats cheese ice cream, horseradish foam and dried beetroot duxelle or tonka bean pannacotta with cola sherbet and lemon ice – but on previous acquaintance I’d definitely recommend giving the place a try.

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