Phil Sharp 1

Phil Sharpe at The White Peacock, with artwork commissioned from youth arts charity Soft Touch

I had a good sit down last week with Phil Sharpe, tousled-haired supremo of the White Peacock on New Walk. We had a long chat about his approach to getting involved with local producers and local community groups for a piece for Great Food Club.

We also touched on some interesting aspects of menu development. I visited a couple of times when it first opened and found the restaurant delightful and the food to be beautifully cooked and presented, but lacking a bit of adventure. Flavours were all a bit muted. Phil more or less admitted he played it a bit safe to begin with – he had no day off between finishing his head chef role at Maiyango and opening his own place and so maybe dish development got a little lost in getting everything else sorted.

Some eight months down the line and the reins are starting to be loosened. He sets monthly menus and gives his team a challenge to change and develop dishes over three months, encouraging everyone to look at the strengths of a dish and the potential to refine or develop it.

“We’re also trying out the molecular approach, and our customers definitely welcome us being more creative,” said Phil.  “We produced a deconstructed mozzarella tart starter with caramelised onion ice-cream and basil powder – it’s been flying out the kitchen. More popular than scallops even.”

At weekends Phil reckons 50 per cent of his customers go for the eight-course tasting menu at £45 which currently takes in the likes of goat’s cheese mousse, kalamata olive crisp, pickled beetroot, pine nut dressing  and roasted woodpigeon with apple and stilton risotto, port and blueberry jus.

It’s good to be reminded that Leicester city centre does offer adventurous cooking and that there’s a market for it. Probably time to give it another go.

Eye on the prizes

August 13, 2014

A very quick post offering congratulations to a couple of local producers. Firstly, Oakham Ales (a Peterborough-based brewery now but one I still think of as local, not least because I often drink their beers in my local bar Babelas) have come second in overall search for the UK’s Supreme Champion Beer at Camra’s Great British Beer Festival with their pale, refreshing, grapefruity ale Citra200citra.

This beer single-handedly turned my mate from a lager-lover into an ale-admirer. It’s a great transitional beer for those looking for hoppier flavours but put off by darker beers.

And then there’s another success for Archer’s Butchers on Queen’s Rd (whose owner Sean – below – can on the odd occasion be found in the bar mentioned above). His hugely popular biltong won a Gold Star in the Great Taste Awards announced this week.

IMG_0666Having a very quick look at the awards, there was more local success in the form of  a coveted three Gold Star rating for Northfield Farm’s 21-day aged mutton and single stars for their merguez and pork and herb sausages and for Woodhouse Farm’s Tamworth sausages. A couple of Long Clawson cheeses also picked up awards.

 

Great Food Club

August 8, 2014

Many, maybe most, readers will know about Great Food Club. It’s a great initiative for the East Midlands, providing a great source of information about the region’s best independent restaurants, cafes and food producers and supplying handy discounts too. Founder Matt Wright, for whom I do the odd bit of writing, has produced a short (74 second!) film that explains what it’s all about.  Membership is free so if you’ve not yet joined, have a listen to Matt and see what you think.

 

You can also find out more at www.greatfoodclub.co.uk

You may remember a few months back my enthusiastic review of Loughborough pizzeria “Peter and that’s enough” (and I’ve heard plenty of excellent feedback since).  At the time it seemed they were close to getting premises for a Leicester branch in Clarendon Park. While access and other problems scuppered that, it seems that they have now secured premises in Leicester – and it’s the magnificent Welford Place.

Herb forests adorn the communal table at Peter and that's enough

Herb forests adorn the communal table at Peter and that’s enough

This former Gentlemen’s Club (from a time before the phrase had seedy connotations) was home  in 1990s to a lovely restaurant run by Sarah and Lino Poli. It was a great loss to the city when they retreated out to Kibworth to open Firenze (now seafood restaurant The Lighthouse) and later Boboli.   I have particularly fond memories of the venue and being best man at my pal’s wedding there. We serenaded the happy couple with a version of Cotton Eye Joe, led by Leicester music legend Kevin Hewick.

I digress. But I reckon the restaurant has every chance of being more successful than the marriage turned out to be. It may be four or five months before they open,  but if they stick to the formula that has made Loughbrough such a success – simplicity, authenticity, quality, fun, value – it will be worth the wait.

 

I caught up with Maiyango founder Aatin Anadkat on Friday  and had an interesting chat about new developments for the business.

With the Jubilee Square development finally nearing completion and the Richard III visitor centre opening around the corner last week, Aatin recognised there was an opportunity here for the restaurant and boutique hotel business to have a bit of a rethink. Over the last nine years the fine dining restaurant has developed into one of the city’s best, but there’s a limited lunchtime market for a smart restaurant. With a bustling new public square right outside the front door the time was right to develop a more informal all-day breakfast and lunch menu that could appeal to tourists, shoppers, serious lunchers and hotel residents alike.

Atin Anadkat at Maiyango

Aatin Anadkat at Maiyango

So the first step was to abandon the traditional buffet breakfast served upstairs in the hotel and create a funky brunch approach that is open to all and served in the restaurant.  Aatin was inspired by informal, quirky diners sprouting up in areas of London such as Kings Cross and Smithfield – “all that over complicated, pretentious stuff – that’s gone!”.

One look at the breakfast/brunch menu – which runs until 2pm – and you can see that this stands a good chance of sweeping up a big chunk of the city centre’s  breakfast market. Standing out immediately for me was huevos rancheros – jalapeno and tomato compote, fried eggs, tortilla, sour cream refried bread and chorizo. I secretly snuck back on Sunday morning to give this a try but they’d sold out  – disappointing, but at least suggests a freshness in preparation (I wonder how often they run of things at Coast to Coast). Instead I had Maiyango Benedict, a beautiful prepared version featuring lip-tingling jalapeno cornbread, poached free-range eggs, two hefty tranches of ham with  creamy hollandaise given a little sharpness from, I think, gherkin. Very good indeed. There’s also, of course, the full English, a vegetarian version with grilled asparagus, slow roasted tomato, flat mushroom, sautéed sweet potato and eggs, plus healthy options such as organic granola or a fruit board with water melon, pineapple, seasonal berries, greek yoghurt, blossom honey and fresh mint leaves. There’s also choices of smoothies and pastries from the in-house bakery.

The lunch menu, available until 5pm, reflects the international cast of the restaurant’s evening menus, with the likes of an Asian tasting plate with sweet potato and coriander bhaji, tandoori paneer skewer, moong lentil dahl, squash and spinach samosa, and kohlrabi and shallot pakora. Then there’s small plates such as sticky pulled pork with kimchi flat bread and celeriac slaw. The more substantial lunches include Moroccan lamb burger, spiced root vegetable fries and slaw, or lemon grass and chilli infused salmon with coconut and basil broth.

Prices? More than nearby Wetherspoons for sure, but that’s hardly the point. This is quality stuff and you could have a light lunch and drink for around a tenner or a bit of a blowout for £20.

With other tweaks, such as the reintroduction of draught beer (including Freedom lager), I think there’s a compelling case for now considering Maiyango as a classy daytime cafe as well as a stylish destination dining venue.

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