Kayal

November 28, 2013

I’ve refrained from mentioning events at Kayal, not least because I’m a friend of owner Jaimon and it’s pretty hard to offer totally independent comment. One thing to clarify straight away though, because it seems there may have been confusion – the restaurant is open for business.

As probably most of you know, the Leicester branch made the rare distinction of mentions in the national press, reporting the singular misfortune of hosting a group of environmental health officers to dine, several of whom then went on to get sick.

The restaurant had received a full inspection – after a complaint – at the end of October and received a five star rating for cleanliness, as it has always done. Nevertheless they carried out a deep clean and reviewed procedures. When a couple of more complaints came in the restaurant shut while it worked with the council to get to the bottom of things. They disposed of all uncooked food, hired a specialist hygiene consultant and all staff were checked.

The culprit, according to council tests, were humble curry leaves – ground with coconut, ginger, mango and used in an (uncooked) chutney as an accompaniment.   They served this chutney for eight years but will not do so in future and all such accompaniments will now be cooked.

Jaimon says he has been touched by the understanding and support of Leicester people, including the customers who were ill.

I am happy to continue eating at Kayal, and indeed am reassured that health officers – who get to see a lot of sights in restaurant kitchens – should choose it for their own nights out.

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I ran into Aatin Anadkat of Maiyango at last week’s Winter Food Festival at Leicester Market. He was buzzing over the prospects for his business – “these last few weeks it’s like I’ve had a shot of adrenaline” he told me.

Sweet potato and chipotle veloute, mango salsa

Sweet potato and chipotle veloute, mango salsa

Aatin launched the restaurant when not long out of University. It was stylish, cosmopolitan and offered something new for Leicester. Over the last decade Aatin and his colleagues showed considerable savvy and skill to not just secure the restaurant and bar, but to develop the City’s smartest boutique hotel, a banqueting operation running out of the St Martin’s House by the Cathedral and a Kitchen Deli on Highcross St.

So when his long-term head chef and friend Phil Sharpe left last month to set up on his own at The White Peacock, it was naturally one of the occasions when you drag out that old (apparently erroneous) notion that the Chinese word for crisis equates to “danger and opportunity”.  So, hence the adrenaline.

The opportunity to refresh the operation has seen the appointment of Nick Wilson as head chef. He is a hugely experienced chef but appears to be a great fit for Maiyango.  At a tasting session last week he provided a mightily impressive debut for a group of experienced and hard-to-please diners.

Things started off with Maiyango’s typically inventive cocktails (chilli and lemongrass mojito, star anise-flavoured oriental julep) and canapés including an exceptionally gorgeous cod and chorizo samosa.  The starter of a smooth sweet potato and chipotle veloute gave a real tingle to the tongue but was brilliantly paired with a cooling mango salsa and crunchy kohlrabi bhaji.

“We’re not doing fusion food.’ said our maître d’.  “We say this is modern European food with influences from the East”.  Fusion cooking doesn’t have a great name, but with food this good I don’t really mind what you call it.

roast cod, celeriac puree, curried mussels

Roast cod, celeriac puree, curried mussels

Next up came distinctly Eastern tandoori paneer and vegetable skewers with carrot pickle, sag aloo salad and a belting cherry tomato jam. Well cooked, with nicely balanced flavours, this was another winner.  Then came what I think most people thought was the star dish of the night – perfectly roasted cod with a seared edge, rich and smooth celeriac puree, crunchy aubergine crisps, wilted spinach and fantastic mussels with a lightly curried creamy broth. Great cooking and a very well-conceived dish.  To serve at least 30 people more or less at once and get things so right suggests Chef Wilson has very quickly got things right in the kitchen.

Glazed duck, leg hash

Glazed duck, leg hash

The main course of duck was a showstopper but for me had one or two elements too much.  The duck breast was great, the hash of duck leg in a sweetish/sourish sauce was really great. Cayenne potatoes could have been a bit spicier and  a bit crunchier, and while the bok choi and date puree both worked, another puree (squash?), orange and vanilla syrup and a smear of tapenade seemed to take the focus away from the main event of the dish. Some of the combinations worked in the mouth, others didn’t.

Desert featured a cardamom and white chocolate brulee.  Cardamom can be a bit of a beast used in delicate puds, but I thought the balance here was spot on and the result was totally delicious.

Overall then – very good cooking, well-composed dishes, served up by well-trained and charming staff.  I spoke to several people afterwards who said they’d always enjoyed Maiyango but had maybe got a little bored of the menu – and they were now eager to come back and try again.

No doubt that will music to Aatin’s ears. For Leicester diners, it seems the shot in the arm provided by a bit of friendly rivalry could have rich dividends.

Update:30/11/13 – …and congratulations to Maiyango for winning both Hotel of the Year and Taste of England Award in Leicestershire’s 2013 Excellence in Tourism Awards

Aldo’s back in town

November 18, 2013

Regular readers may remember me enthusing last year after being invited to try a set of new dishes prepared by celebrity chef Aldo Zilli for the San Carlo group. Well, happy days, it’s happened again.

Aldo Zilli at Leicester San Carlo.     (photo: REDPIX/Jason Senior)

Aldo Zilli at Leicester San Carlo. (photo: REDPIX/Jason Senior)

Like many leading chefs, Zilli found there was a limit to the punishing hours required to keep restaurants at the top of their game. So he sold up to spend more time with the proverbial and to concentrate on consultancy – hiring out his knowledge, expertise and compelling passion to others. The fit with San Carlo seems a really genuine one. At our lunch in Leicester this weekend he called the group’s founder Carlo di Stefano “a genius” for building up a £60 million turnover business and keeping it in family hands, making it nimble and responsive as a business partner. There’s seems to be genuine admiration and respect on both sides.

So he’s now styled consigliere to the group – a trusted adviser dispensing disinterested guidance. This includes popping up to Leicester on occasions to inspire the chefs, present new dishes and generally give everyone a lift. This time round me and a few other local food writers got to share in the bounty.

Chilli garlic squid

Chilli garlic squid

We started with some wild mushroom and truffle crostini, followed with more of the sensational garlic and chilli squid I enjoyed last year.  This, said Aldo, was the best selling dish at his Zilli Fish restaurant and you can see why – incredibly tender squid with zingy chilli and crunchy little flakes of garlic (simmered in milk for five minutes apparently – takes some of the fierceness out.) We were even given a little master class in preparing the squid for grilling.

Another little demonstration focused on making chocolate pasta – a savoury version that would be later served up with a phenomenally rich and gamey hare ragu. Then there was fregola (pasta from Sardinia – kind of like giant cous cous) served up with langoustines and clams (plus a generous grating of bottarga – intensely-flavoured cured cod roe) and simply grilled Dover sole with butter, spinach and capers.

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Hand-made chocolate pasta (REDPIX/Jason Senior)

 

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Cutting pasta with “guitar strings”

 

Dover sole

Dover sole

Zilli’s dishes seem to sum up what’s great about Italian cooking – great ingredients, done simply and cooked either fresh and quick or long and slow as needed. These and other dishes will be appearing as specials on San Carlo’s menus over the winter – and at lunchtimes in the shared, small-plate “cicchetti” format that is increasingly successful at other restaurants in the San Carlo group.

 

Menu drooling

November 13, 2013

Menus – I love ’em.

As anyone who has ever walked past a new restaurant with me will testify, I’m almost certain to disappear for two minutes for a peer at the menu. A poorly written one is a disappointment and a warning. A straightforward one that hits the right notes gives a little thrill. Hmmm. Have I overshared there?

Two rather exciting menus came into my inbox today. Les Rosbifs Bar and Grill, which recently relocated from Northfield Farm in Rutland to Six Hills off the A46 between Leicester and Nottingham, are having a game night on 23 November which sounds packed with autumnal goodness.  There are canapés  including seared carpaccio of Leicestershire venison, juniper, smoked sea salt and pepper, roasted beetroot and sloe gin compote, plus smoked pigeon
and griottine cherry tapenade en croute. Then there’s a first course  of slow braised rabbit tartlet  with garlic gazed girolles, toasted pancetta and black truffle oil. There’s an epic sounding main course of shin of venison and ox-tail Bourguignon with vintage Lincolnshire Poacher and parsnip dauphinoise.  Pudding sounds equally warming  – apple and bramble crumble with roasted macadamia and oat crunch, Whissendine honey and damson whisky ice-cream. With palate cleanser and coffee and truffles for £29.95, it sounds a right deal.

chef watsonAnd secondly, we now have the first menus from Nick Wilson,  new head chef at Maiyango (right). It looks like evolution rather than revolution from the man who has helmed Michelin star and four rosette kitchens. New to the city, Nick describes Leicester as “a melting pot of people, culture and flavours” and reckons “it will be fantastic to explore different tastes and cooking techniques.”

I hope to be sampling some of the new the menu next week, but among the immediately appealing elements are starters such as king scallops, squash puree, squid and chorizo cannelloni, or presse of local game, bitter chocolate, pancetta, prunes and treacle bread. Front runners from the mains for me are seabass with thai spiced rissotto, crab croquette, coconut and shellfish bisque, and gressingham duck breast, leg hash, cayenne potatoes, bok choi, date puree, orange and vanilla syrup.  And well done to Nick for offering a complete tasting menu for coeliacs and even a couple of vegan options.

Right that’s enough menu drooling – I’m off to cook something…

The Smokehouse

November 11, 2013

Having already given quite a decent big-up to The Smokehouse pop-up at Leicester’s O Bar, I suppose I was a little nervous about it being a bit of a let down.

Fortunately, turns out I needn’t have worried. Aside from the pretty basic and uncomfortable seating, five of us had a gorgeous lunch there on Sunday. I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow review – the venue is already getting plenty of  positive coverage  – but the long and the short of it is that here was very good, down-to-earth flavour-led food at fair prices. We enjoyed pulled pork, 12-hour brisket with house rub and barbecued chicken with smoked bacon rub – all of them really showing the benefit of the long and slow treatment.

I really loved the sides too  – smoked fennel and aubergine salad with sweet raisin puree was a complete revelation, fennel and jalapeno slaw was lip-tinglingly good while delicious barbecue baked beans seemed to have had a hearty slug of maple syrup to give a sweet edge. Opinions were a little divided over the salt baked potatoes, baked in a pastry crust, but I certainly felt they gained something from the treatment.

Pick of the deserts was an absolutely stonking sticky toffee pudding with a salted caramel bourbon sauce. Definitely recommend finding space for that if it’s on when you go.

The craft beers were great, you’re even offered tasting if you’re unfamiliar to what contemporary brewers are doing. I  had  the Camden pale ale, and it was a good match for the food on offer.

Staff are lovely too and generally you want to thank everyone involved for giving it a go.  I’m sorry there’s no pictures, but anyway this isn’t pretty food to be admired on the plate –  it’s food to get stuck into and enjoy.  You should try it while it’s here. I’m certainly going back.

 

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Pizza is, supposedly, fast food.

But sadly too many people think that means fast food of the megachain variety to placate boisterous kids or calm the late-night munchies. But it’s really just fast in that done right it’s simple – dough with two or three quality ingredients cooked in under two minutes at an ultra-high temperature. The Italians know this and it’s the Americans who by and large have fed us the ersatz cheez’n’herb stuffed crust, ham and pineapple abominations.

IMG_0735 IMG_0734 IMG_0731Which brings us to the pizzeria Peter and that’s enough in Loughborough (I haven’t grasped the significance of the name, but no matter). This team of Neapolitans have made it their mission to “cure” the injured image of pizza. And after last night’s visit I’d say the patient is well on the way to recovery.

Sited in what was the old Crown and Cushion pub in Ashby Square, it’s a lovely place with cured meats hanging from the ceiling, herb plants adorning a huge communal slate table (from which we could tear a few bits of basil), an open kitchen, wafts of truffle oil and a happy buzz. It was a bit grim to have pass through some of the staff having a fag on the doorstep, but once inside not a foot was put wrong.

The pizzas were just heavenly.  And here there is a qualification to the fast food thing  – because Italy is also home to the Slow Food movement and these pizzas qualify as slow food too as they are made from sourdough which has been left to breathe, rise and develop flavour for at least 28 hours. The bases are thin enough to bubble and scorch as they cook, but with a beautiful textured crust giving a little more bulk and flavour.

The menu is encouragingly short and focused, with eight pizzas. I had tomato, mozzarella and spicy Italian sausage and each element was superb.  The tomato paste was the best I’ve encountered – intense flavour from San Marzano tomatoes – while the mozzarella (which we also had with a cherry tomato salad) was encouragingly British. An extensive search for the best lead them to Laverstock Farm in Hampshire apparently. The sausage was high quality, genuinely spicy and very moreish.

Rob had tomato, mozzarella, chorizo and gorgonzola and again each element stood out well. Quick simple, gorgeous food at £6 or £7 a pop – it’s a real winner.  I had a desert too, a hugely enjoyable chocolate  and pistachio semi-freddo, more of a chocolate mousse in my book,  but rich and tasty and served in a sweet little jam jar.

You can tell I enjoyed this place, and now to the best news of all.  I have some inside knowledge that another branch should open next year near Victoria Park in Leicester – in fact about 5 minute walk from my house. If you are based in Leicester, I wouldn’t wait though, go and give it a try in Loughborough.

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