The King’s Arms, Wing

March 25, 2012

After a terrific  lunch last year, I’ve been keen to get back to the King’s Arms, Wing, and have a proper run at the menu. Friday night I persuaded three pals to come along. It’s such a delightfully cosy place and it has such a great approach to food, I felt it can’t go wrong. And, hooray, it didn’t.

It’s a lovely old pub in a suitably out of the way Rutland village, with a roaring log fire, chickens and fruit trees out the back  and a serious kitchen that is signed up to the  Slow Food philosophy. In season there’s lots of local game, but then almost everything comes from within a few miles and you can find details of most of their suppliers on a big map in the bar. There’s even a smoke house attached to the pub which means all smoked and cured produce is made on site – eels, Rutland Water trout, game and more.

(image from the King's Arm website)

The menu changes with what is coming through door but always seems to read beautifully. Take my starter  – terrine of suckling pig, foie gras, pistachios and raisins, with quince jelly, apples and game chips. It looked and tasted as good it sounds,   all elements coming through and creating a real luxury dish. Then there were diver caught scallops,  coming with cauliflower puree, toasted hazel nuts and a powder of grated egg yolk, while another pressed pork terrine from the specials board was deemed a huge hit, with a mustard pickle and some sensational air-dried ham.

The wholemeal bread was among the best I’ve ever had in any restaurant, coming with good butter overlain with flakes of sea salt.

My main course was the traditional Lombardy pairing of osso bucco and ristto milanese. The risotto was maybe a bit overdone to my taste but the flavour was knockout  – strong but overpowering saffron and a good stock in there somewhere. The osso bucco was as rich and rustic as you’d want – a cross cut of veal shank which gives the marrow bone plenty of chance to infuse a powerful sauce.  We tried more veal in the form of a T-bone steak from Welland Rose Veal – another fabulous-looking hunk of meat that was beautiifully seasoned and cooked.  Monkfish came 70s-style disguised as scampi, breadcrumbed and deep-fried, even down to a few bones  fashioned into a fan-tail. But it was a joke in the best possible taste, not sacrificing the delicacy of the fish, which came with saffron-turned potatoes and wild mushrooms in a creamy crayfish-claw bisque.  Our final main was a pigeon and winter vegetable ragout – generous amounts of  smokey pigeon in a kind of inverted hotpot. The meat  impressed with both texture and depth of flavour.

We really weren’t up for some of the substantial puds on offer. A couple of us tried samples from the a sizeable list of home ice-creams – top of the list was the beautiful strawberry, made with fruit from nearby Manton, and the malted milk chocolate and apple tea sorbet also impressed, though a Kirsch cherry flavour was rather anonymous.

So we felt really well fed by the end and talked about how we’d like to pick the place up and plonk somewhere in the middle of Leicester. Well, that might not be fair on the people of Rutland, but you take the point – the Almanack tries to emulate this kind of pub but falls a long way short. My only regret was we weren’t there next weekend for the special managalitsa menu – a four-course homage to the curly-coated pig with a wineflight at £44.  We’ll definitely be looking out for specials of that sort.

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Sourdough Loaf

March 24, 2012

Sourdough from Leicester Borna nd Bread

Here’s a thing of beauty –  a tangy sourdough loaf from Jessica at Leicester Born and Bread, about to have an encounter with a slab of Brixworth pate from Northants, and a bottle of Jaipur IPA by  Thornbridge. An excellent lunch for a sunny Spring morning and great preparation for a battling performance and defeat of  Hull City. Enjoy the rest of the weekend everyone.

Patisserie Valerie

March 20, 2012

I have fond mormories of visiting student friends in London in the early 80s and lingering over coffee and cakes in the Soho Patisserie Valerie. It had genuine cachet as a purveyor of heavenly cakes and pastries in a continental style – and remember this was before Starbucks or anyone else had rolled out the “Third Place” concept.

The brand slowly expanded to a couple more venues in central London until 2006 when the brothers who owned it sold a £6 million share to the investment vehicle of Luke Johnson, he who made Pizza Express the ubiquious sight it is now.  Since then there’s been aggressive exapnsion and there are now 49 of them, with several more due to open, including – and here we get to the heart of the matter – Highcross Leicester next week.

Now that anyone with a fiver in their pocket can get a cappuccino and a frangipane tart I’m duty-bound to complain that the place will not have the same appeal as when we would sit in Old Compton Street reading orange-spined paperbacks.  That said, a coffeee house that takes pastries seriously – well, I have to be supportive. I’ve not been to one of the roll-out Pat Vals but will go along when it opens in Highcross. Unless it blows me away,  any independent who woos me with decent coffee and a generously-loaded florentine is likely to take preference thereafter.

Any views on whether it’s a soul-less sellout or manages to be a fair facsimilie of a French cafe patisserie are welcome. I promise to feed back here later.

The Almanack

March 18, 2012

Recently I’ve heard more widely diverging views about The Almanack than any other venue in Leicester – some love it, some have been disppointed.  It makes life a little difficult for itself by its urban gastro pub schtick, its upfront detail on provenance and quality and its pretty smartish restaurant pricing.  It says “we’re quality” and it needs to deliver. I remember a very pleasant lunch when it first opened, but subsequent visits have been a bit ordinary really.

I really like the feel of the place and staff are generally charming and helpful. In the context of Highcross it’s a lovely little retreat. We met for lunch this weekend and I picked the ‘favourites deli-board’. Very nicely presented it included a  decent pork liver pate, some very good spicy hummous, a tasty little haddock fishcake type thing, a slice of fairly ordinary brie, some crunchy raw veg, homemade tomato chutney and  pitta bread.

It was all good stuff – if I’d stopped off the A1 on a drive north and found this in a random pub,  I’d be pretty happy, but it wasn’t something to make a song and dance about. At £11.50 I would not say it was tremendous value. I was meeting up with old friends so we had lots of stories to share, but tellingly none of them felt moved to break off and make any comments about their lunches.

So my take on The Almanack is a lovely place to take time out from the shopping hustle and bustle.  I want to be on its side and I’d not baulk at going back to eat but the feeling lingers that it’s just not quite as good it could be and wants to be.

Cod, cream and cider

March 1, 2012

Enjoyed a fabulous piece of cod from Brady’s fishmongers last night.   The thick end of a piece of fillet it was perfect for pan frying.  I adapted a Jason Atherton recipe and served it with winter cabbage and a cider and cream sauce.  I softened a little shallot with  a few dices of smoked streaky, added a good splosh of cider and reduced by half, a little fish stock and reduced again and then a  little cream. I blanched the cabbage and finished it for another couple of minutes in the cream sauce. The cod took maybe 3 minutes each side in a hot pan. givng it the lightest of crusts,  and I filled it out with a garlicky dauphinoise. Definitely one to repeat this, but absolutely crucial was the quality of the fish. Beautifully fresh,  it had a delicate flavour and flaked most gratifyingly.

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