Eating at Highcross

June 27, 2014

If you’re in Highcross this weekend and looking for a bite to eat, I think I’d head off to an independent café or restaurant. However, if you’ve always wanted to try one or other of the chains there, this could be the time.  The centre’s Summerdine promotion sees tastings, freebies with a foodie bingo game and discounts such as 25 per cent off food at Pizza Express and 20 per cent off at Nando’s, Yo Sushi and Coast to Coast. Visit the website for details.

Next Monday also sees the opening of Red Hot Buffet, which at £2 million is possibly the biggest ever single investment in a Leicester restaurant. It’s located on the corner of the High Street and the Shire’s Lane entrance to Highcross, where the late, unlamented Litten Tree pub once was. I remember this business when it was first set up in Nottingham, and this branch is the first to open since serial restaurant entrepreneur Luke Johnson’s Risk Capital Partners (oh the romance!) bought the business. It’s great that people want to invest in Leicester and that 70 people now have jobs serving the 420 covers, but this all-you-can-eat Italian, American, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and British restaurant will need to be a lot better  – an awful lot better – than its counterparts I have visited in Leicester if it is to tempt me in.  Actually I think it probably will be.

I hope people like it, but most of all I hope that its effect is to draw in more potential diners to the city centre, rather than to hoover up all business. Dinner with a large glass of wine on Friday night is £20 – cheap, but of course it’s only a bargain if it’s any good.

Also coming soon to Highcross is Byron, the upscale burger joint beloved of George Osborne (but I won’t hold that against it), Chimichanga – which served meh-Mexican food on Silver Street for a couple of years, Stone Baked Pizza and the Australian juice bar Boost.

 

 

 

Grainstore Brewery Tour

June 10, 2014

Many of my pals could not organise a piss-up in a brewery. Fortunately Jamie is not one of them – and he did the honours by getting us all out to Rutland’s Grainstore Brewery, a handy 10 yard stagger from Oakham Station.

BeerThis was a perfect way to spend one of those awkward post-season, pre-World Cup Saturdays when you’re really not sure what to do, but you’re definitely not going to Highcross. Grainstore put on a range of tours – we went for the full monty which, for £20 involves a little film, a comprehensive tour of the building and introduction to the brewing process, a tutored tasting, an excellent ploughman’s lunch and, oh, yes, two hours free beer.

Grainstore is a kind of in-between business, bigger than the new breed of micro-breweries, but still tiny on a national scale. Located in a fine old Victorian building it still has the basic layout of an old tower brewery and an engaging feeling of an overgrown brewpub mixing modern equipment with bodge-ups.

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Our tour guide Iain was a lovely host, even if some of his jokes had a well-worn feel about them. He was funny, well-informed and exhaustive, and it was pitched well for the beer enthusiast. I came away with a greatly enhanced view of what goes into making a pint. What was particularly pleasing was to see how the “waste” products such as spent grains and excess yeast get put back into the food chain with other leading local food producers such as Northfield Farm, Hambleton Farms and Hambleton Bakery.

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Grainstore has around 10 ales, around six of which were available for us on the day. I liked them all but found a relatively narrow flavour palette – there was strong family resemblance from the dark Rutland Panther through the hefty 1050 bitter, the session ale Cooking, and the lighter Gold. They went down very well with a ploughman’s featuring local stilton and red Leicester, bread from Melton Mowbray, pickles from the allotmments over the rail line, and of course, pork pie.

So if that sounds like your thing  – highly recommended.

 

 

 

I received invitations from friends to both lunch and dinner at the Queen of Bradgate yesterday. Given the relative rarity of such events, I accepted them both.

And I was glad I did, because the food was without exception well-cooked, nicely presented and full of flavour. My lunchtime chilli wouldn’t have done much for the hard-core heat addict, but the slow cooked beef shin was really tender and tasty, coming with zingy guacamole and rich, thick sour cream. Emma’s ham hock and gruyere fritters were well-cooked and flavoursome too, though the main course portion probably need more than the  slight puddle of mustard sauce.

chicken, ham, leek

In the evening  a bigger group of us tucked into the likes of a hefty chicken, ham and leek pie and a beautifully seasoned pork chop cooked with apples, saute potatoes and a light cider sauce. It might sound like the bulky, comfort food of “pub grub” infamy, but these were well-made dishes done with a light touch and a real regard for a balanced plate.  The vegetarian option on the printed menu was perfunctory, but a conversation with staff soon rustled a  couple of further options and those who chose the pasta with asparagus and spring vegetables seemed absolutely delighted with their offering.

lemon bakewellDeserts too were traditional but done with a touch of quality. My pain au chocolat bread and butter pudding was exactly what you’d want when ordering such a dish, while the lemon curd bakewell was another success.

It’s not food that pushes boundaries  then – it’s just really nice, well-prepared food that cares about the diner. It’s very much in launch mode right now  – they are still trying to work out issues such as how to balance the music in the drinking areas and the dining area, and staff were, let’s say, keen rather polished. All in all,  a welcome addition to eating and drinking scene in the city centre and one that has obliterated the memory of its previous incarnation.

(Thanks to Mike for the pictures).

 

 

 

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