The Curzon Arms

August 29, 2011

Just a very quick recommendation for Sunday lunch here. After a bracing six mile walk up and down Beacon Hill yesterday, we ended up back in Woodhouse Eaves and at the Curzon Arms.

It’s a smartened up community pub serving a rather smart community – hence soft sofas inside and big parasols providing a nice alfresco dining area too. It could be horrid, but somehow avoids gastropub smugness and just feels all rather nice and civilised. We ate outside on a warm day and first off enjoyed an excellent pint of Cornish Doom Bar ale, barely touching the sides after that long walk. We then got stuck in to some  excellent beef (sirloin, 28 day matured, plenty of it), roast pork loin with sage and onion stuffing, and a very tasty duck and apricot pie.  Veg were excellent – crisp roasties, cauliflower cheese, purple sprouting broccoli and shredded cabbage that was beuatifully crunchy. The gravy seemed a little undepowered and the Yorkshire pudding wasn’t perfect but neither detracted from a superior  lunch.  Deserts too were enjoyable – a smooth mint chocolate pot with crushed amaretti,  mixed fruit  Eton mess, sticky toffee pudding and cherry frangipane were all well made.

Not that cheap at £14.50 for two courses but the food is good, the service friendly and willing and the surroundings charming. The owners are reproducing the template at The Windmill in Wymeswold, which I think is due to open any day now and should be worth checking out if you are in the area.

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Mushroom news

August 26, 2011

Sorry to go all Autumnal on you before August is even out but news here of a couple of opportunities for lovers of the fungi that will be springing out of damp forest floors all over the shop.  You can book yourself in to Hambleton Hall’s annual Fungi Foray from 10.o0am on 1 October, which includes a tutored hunt through Burley on the Hill Wood (35 varieties found last year) and coffee, lunch and wine back at the ranch, all for £80.

More realistically for most, mushroom fans can also sate their desires at  Carluccio’s at Highcross, Leicester,  which has a mushroom festival running from 10 September  to 10 October. The eponymous founder of the business made his name to the wider British public with a series of mushroom hunting TV programmes so there’s form here. There’ll be weekly-changing mushroom specials featuring rare and wild varieties on the menu, and deli specials to take out including truffled flatbreads and a truffle and porcini risotto kit.  On September 20th there’s an in-store event from 6.30 to 8pm that will include wine, tasting of mushroom specials, a talk from a mushroom expert and a goody bag to take home. Book here – Carluccio’s Leicester – cost is £15.

Round up

August 24, 2011

OK, time for a bit of a round-up.  Good news for the Cultural Quarter as cocktail bar/cafe Manhattan34 nears completion. Due for a soft launch on 8th September this place at the other end of the Exchange Building  from Exchange bar  promises a “jazz and Motown vibe” with the emphasis on high quality drinks. There will be some vaguely Noo Yawk-themed food in the daytime such as hotdogs and bagels and as with Exchange there could be live music, comedy and so on  in the basement.  The venture is run by Roop Kahlon, who some may know from his time at Time bar and Chris Baker who, understandably, decided he’d had enough of running a Travelodge in Derby.

With the 115-room Encore hotel on the corner of Rutland Street and Charles Street now looking like it is nearing completion (complete with “stylish bar and bistro”) the area is showing some much needed fighting spirit.

An interesting recent opening in Birstall of all places is The Dining Room. This is from members of the team behind the restaurant of the same name in Oakham, which is turn traces it’s geneology from the Red Veil on Charles Street (now housing the somewhat grim Zucchero) and before that The Mint in Moutsorrel. These restaurants have all been marked by a brave  attempt  to introduce a fine dining approach to Indian food – regional classics updated  and served with a cheffy touches in  a smart contemporary environment. Alright it’s not Atul Kuchar but I’ve always enjoyed the food.  Why they’ve chosen Wanlip Lane, Birstall, I don’t know (I did ask the PR bod but got no repsonse)  – perhaps they feel the city centre and London Road are full enough.  Hope to go sooner or later but I’d be interested to hear any reports in the meantime.

Getting in just before them on London Road was 4550 Miles from Delhi – though as far as I can work out this is more of a rebranding of Shimla Pinks. A quick look at the menu would seem to confirm this.  Another new development exactly opposite this venue is More, one of these cover-all-bases buffet resuarants in the style of the huge Feast India on the Melton Road. More promises Indian, South Indian, piri-piri, Chinese, “Pan-Asian” and Mexican food cooked at seven live cooking stations for up to 250 covers.  It opens in October in time for the lucrative Christmas party market. Hurrah.

It may also be in time for National Curry Week, 9-15 October. This PR event also see the latest running of the Curry Capital of the UK event. I suppose I ought to get all patriotic about it and urge people to support Leicester’s bid by nominating your favourite restaurant with the Mercury  (by this Friday). If it’s a useful tool for bringing tourists flooding in to our city then all well and good but it all feels a bit, well artificial. Just go and have a nice meal somewhere eh?

Paul Leary and his brigade at The Woodhouse

And finally congratulations to two local restaurants that have received first-time listings in the Good Food Guide  –  The Woodhouse and Boboli have both featured in these pages and deserve their success.  Hambleton Hall is listed as number 31 inthe GFG’s list of the nation’s top fifty restuarants and Nottingham’s Sat Bains is up to no.3.  I’ve not been there yet but if anyone wants to take me I’m sure I’m available.

Scrambler

August 17, 2011

ScramblerSeveral months ago I welcomed the launch of a new commercially available cider made in Leicestershire.  It’s taken me a while to actually track down a bottle of Scrambler but I’m glad I did. It’s a pleasure to report that’s very good  – clean, medium dry, bright rather than over-fizzy and a respectable but not head-banging 6.5% – it wipes the floor with 90 per cent of what’s in the supermarkets.  After just one tasting I’d say it’s possibly too spick and span, maybe just lacking a little character that would put it among the very best.  I’ll try it again tonight when celebrating City’s imminent victory over the renowned cider drinkers of Bristol City. [Edit at 10.30pm: well I really asked for that didn’t I? Let’s make that “when I’m trying to cheer up after an embarassing 1-2 home defeat”.]

Cider appears to be on the upswing right now  – there’s been the big money launch of Inbev’s Cidre this summer.  But why drink that when this is available? Scrambler is made in Hallaton by the Bottle Kicking Cider Company and it’s the Hallaton-Medbourne Easter rumble that seems to be the marketing focus, rather the apples – which are apparently a blend of handpicked fruit from Leicestershire and Gloucestershire.

Having launched last Easter, the entire draught stock sold out at at the Welland Valley and Grainstore cider festivals, but the bottles are available at 50 outlets in the area. I got mine at the Case shop on Millstone Lane in the city centre.   In Leicester it’s also available at Taps bar and Entropy, while county outlets include Duncan Murray wines in Market Harborough and Wing Farm shop, or pubs such as the Nevill Arms, Medbourne or the Olive Branch in Clipsham.

The makers at Cross Farm, Hallaton, are currently preparing for the next pressing  in October – good luck to them.

Forest Park

August 15, 2011

The Forest Park on Hinckley Rd, Leicester Forest East, isn’t really the sort of place I’d rush to try. Part of the pub restaurant chain Table  Table, its menu has the familiar family-friendly staples of burgers, chilli, breaded scampi, “chicken and ribs combo” and so on.  You kind of suspect not a lot of cooking as such is done in the kitchen.

I was however intrigued that they are now running a “Best of British”  seasonal menu changing every month. The menu even has a little map of the UK with arrows pointing to show where ingredients come from and each entry elaborates further –  the whitebait are “mainly landed in Brixham  by the ‘Constant Friend’ fishing boat skippered by Dave Herfox, coxwain of Torbay lifeboat for 28 years”.  So is this a cynical attempt to sound sophisticated,  or a genuine move to source better food and support small suppliers?

I tried Dave’s whitebait as a starter, the fish seemed fine but they hadn’t really been done justice by a really thick crumb. Why do that to a delicate little thing like whitebait I don’t know. They were served nicely with a surprisingly delicate gooseberry relish – so a good dish let down by a lack of finesse.  Gill’s starter was field mushroon topped with Blacksticks blue cheese from Lancashire  (“handcrafted in small batches from locally-sourced pasteurised cow’s milk”) and bacon.  These were two huge, very meaty mushrooms that had been well grilled, cooked through but very succulent, and the melted cheese topping was excellent. Nothing too individual or  strongly flavoured to scare the horses here but hearty and tasty food.

For main course I selected the Leicestershire offering of a Long Clawson Stilton and broccoli tart.  It had the strengths and weaknesses of the previous dishes  – the main elements were actually pretty good. The stilton was well-chosen, the tart well made and tasty,  but the accompanying huge pile of plainly boiled potatoes was a few carbs too far. It just seemed as if the kitchen’s main aim was that no-one was going to leave this restaurant saying “this poncey food’s all well and good but you never get enough veg”. The salad too was ok but again lacked a little lightness of touch, a little artistry that would have lifted everything.   Gill’s dressed crab (caught by “a fleet of 60 small fishing boats in the cold North Atlantic waters”) was simple, fresh and excellent – wouldn’t criticise it and the salad with it seemed to show a bit more imagination too.

Deserts kept up the hearty and tasty approach. Kentish apple and damson lattice pie was an acceptable pub Sunday lunch style piece of patisserie and the custard that came with it (made in the Chiltern hills from fresh Jersey whole milkand rich double  cream”) was  far better than the yellow gloop often found desecrating crumble. Ripe tart  (“based on a traditional recipe which originates from the village of Ripe in the Sussex South Downs”) was something of treat, a huge slice of tart with a coconutty filling, lots of black cherry compote and a mountain of a very decent vanilla ice-cream.

I think I’d give Table Table the benefit of any doubt and commend them for trying to push their own boundaries a little and respond to customer interest in seasonality and provenance. That said, it would be even better to see more evidence of a lighter touch in the kitchen, a greater awareness of balance in individual dishes.

One more thing  – we were very impressed with our waitress, who was genial, well-informed and sensitive to our needs. What you hope for in a chain restaurant but do not always get.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dish for Leicestershire

August 12, 2011

Leicester’s city centre management organisation LE One is keen to get entries for it’s competition to uncover what it somewhat optimistically calls “Leicestershire’s Favouritie Dish”.

It’s a  simple idea – just send them your recipe, either an old family one or something new you’ve discovered or indeed invented. They want it to be  a “signature dish” of the Cornish Pasty, Lancashire Hotpot variety,  but seem fairly relaxed about what it might be. There’s something of a hint that dishes that reflect Leicester’s diverse cultural mix would be welcomed, but that would seem to allow anything. Apparantly they’ve already had curried shepherd’s pie so don’t do that  – but hopefully you wouldn’t, it does sound a rather desperate attempt at being “diverse”.

Anyhow,  you enter in one of four categories 16-18s, Over 18s, Quirky or Professional.  Four finalists will be selected and these will be cooked by professional chefs at a cook-off and tasted by a panel of judges. There’s a decent prize for the winner  of £1,000 in kitchen equipment from John Lewis and Fenwick’s, with three runners up gaining a place on a cookery course at Maiyango.

Deadline is 4th September and you can enter by visiting  www.leicestershirecookoff.co.uk.

Make jam not war

August 10, 2011

All things considered, today I feel we need to hear stories of people co-operating on a human level and trying to build constructive relationships. Looking around for something, anything, heartwarming in the area appropriate to theis blog I was cheered  to see Entropy on Hinckley Road is offering to barter food and drink vouchers in exchange for people’s excess allotment produce.  Yesterday 3kg of damsons were swapped for two pints of lager and at this moment are becoming jam. Contact Tom Cockerill if you’ve got good produce you think he might be interested in.

Northumbrian damsons – what would you do?

Me, I’m just back for a trip up north and actually returned  with a big bag of damsoms from a farm shop in Corbridge. My friend Sylvia who’s an artist introduced me to the fruit and influenced by her I love them as much for their colour as for their taste.  I’m currently trying to decide whether this batch will also become jam or go towards flavouring a bottle of vodka. Anyone else got any good ideas for around 1kg?

One more thing  – best wishes to Cassie and the staff at the Exchange Bar in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter who suffered broken windows last night.  Hope they and everyone else can get back to what passes for normality soon.

Most meat eaters probably don’t want to think too deeply about the killing of the beast that lies upon their plate.  The very word abattoir some find upsetting.  But I think carnivores should probably welcome the opening of a Leicestershire Quality Meat, a  £2 million abattoir in Six Hills, Leicestershire. The new facility will contract slaughter for farmers and butchers and it seems there are plans to establish a co-operative trading enterprise that will supply directly to restaurants and caterers. It will aslo help in the training of  student vets (and trainee butchers) from local colleges.

Matthew O’Callaghan, head of the Melton Food Partnership says it will help reduce food miles, reduce travelling for livestock and help in establishing provenance.

O’Callaghan has led the campaigns to get protected geographic status for pork pies and Stilton and he can clearly feel another campaign coming on: “It will also allow us to apply for protected status for some of our Leicestershire beef and lamb, similar to schemes elsewhere in Scotland, Wales and the Orkney Islands.”

 

Leicester Born and Bread

August 3, 2011

Jessica from Leicester Born and Bread

I’ve been following my friend Jessica’s Facebook posts as she’s been trying out various adventurous  bread recipes. What I hadn’t realised was that she was preparing to launch herself on the Leicester public as our latest artisan breadmaking business. Leicester Born and Bread – do you see what she’s doing there?- is offering handmade, preservative-free loaves on a local basis. Heck if you live in the West End of Leicester she might even drop it round by bike.

As a committed vegetarian Jessica  might miss out on some of life’s great pleasures, but it does mean bread – good bread, healthy bread – is especially important to her.   Hence she’s developed a really exciting  product range which will complement many different meals – from everyday white or wholemeal loaves to speciality breads such as rosemary and sundried tomato soda bread, pumpernickel and sesame and chilli cornbread. Sweeter options such as courgette and walnut loaf are also available.  Jessica uses Doves Farm organic flour.

I don’t think she officially starts trading for a couple  of weeks,  so in the meantime,  take a look at the lovely website – http://www.leicesterbornandbread.co.uk – and start thinking about what you might fancy ordering.

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