Chateau Musar tasting dinner

September 23, 2014

It’s been quite a week, culminating in the utter euphoria of the King Power stadium on Sunday. But man can not live by 5-3 wins alone, great food and wine is also pretty vital, and fortunately I had some of that too.

The Chateau Musar tasting dinner at Maiyango kicked off with canapés including crunchy kohl-rabi bhajis and smoked salmon mousseline, with a glass of Musar’s dry and elegant Rosé Jeune made from 100 per cent cinsault. Then Ralph Hochar, grandson of Musar’s founder Gaston, gave us a comprehensive introduction to the history of wine-making in the Lebanon and the foundation of this remarkable vineyard in the Bekaa valley.

Ralph Hochar

Ralph Hochar

It’s an inspiring and fascinating tale, even if he was a bit, erm, thorough for some of those keenly waiting to taste the fruits of his labour and to see how well they matched chef Nick Wilson’s menu. We were to try four vintages of Musar’s trademark red, starting with the 2007 matched to a beautifully spiced rabbit pastilla with a carrot and burnt orange purée. This is the most recently released vintage (the 2006 is not yet ready to be released, we learnt, as harvesting and winemaking were done in less than ideal circumstances due to a little local difficulty with the Israeli army). It was great – rich and spicy though not excessively so, and was in total harmony with the dish. The 2003 was surprisingly different, lighter and more delicate and another great match for our wild sea bass with char-grilled asparagus and a spiced bouillabaisse.

IMG_1246With a main of Lebanese spiced rump of local organic lamb with a smoky aubergine purée,  we had two vintages to compare – the 1999 with its tobacco and leather notes and the awesome 1995. Apparently 10 years ago the tannins in this were harsh, but now it’s just a superb complex wine, still with plenty of fruit but hinting at darker flavours too.

There was a superb dessert of a gooey chocolate marquise with tobacco ice-cream (needs an open mind but seriously enjoyable) and a mouth-tingling salted cocoa nib tuile. The balance of salt, sweet and bitter with a dangerous flavour such as tobacco confirms a serious intelligence at work in the kitchen here.IMG_1248

I didn’t much care for the two whites we tried with cheeses but they seemed to have their fans in the room. Ralph Hochar accepted they were “more difficult for people to understand”. He was utterly charming, but I think that was me told. We finished up with a glass of Musar’s arak,  anise-flavoured spirit distilled from local obaideh grapes and clocking in at a feisty 53%,  but surprisingly clean and smooth. A fine digestif.

What I took away was a sense of just how varied the vintages of a great wine can be and a huge respect for the people who have built this business in such extraordinary circumstances.  This was a great opportunity for fine food and wine matching.

* Oh and if you think this is all a bit fancy and pretentious, here’s a more humble Middle Eastern recommendation – Falafel Land on Gallowtree Gate. From this tiny little hutch on the edge of what looks a hideous buffet barn, I had today freshly-made crunchy, nutty Syrian falafel in flatbread, with salad and pickles – £2.50. Delicious.

Look, it's my blog and I decide what pictures go in Ok?

Look, it’s my blog and I decide what pictures go in, ok?

Parcel Yard’s local feast

September 18, 2014

Now this I like the sound of.  Leicester’s Parcel Yard is showing signs of moving beyond it’s initial offering of great craft beers and not bad pub grub towards something more ambitious. In early October is staging a “seasonal local feast” with appetising food and drink from within 30 miles.

At £25 a head for an aperitif and  three courses with matching drinks and this sounds a proper deal, at least if the chefs are up to it. Things kick off with a Two Birds gin and tonic, distilled in Market Harborough. First course is a salad of partridge, blackberries and Colston Bassett stilton, with a glass of Fynbury cider from Rutland, followed by a Cottingham venison stew with a glass of Steamin’ Billy’s own 1485 ale, and then Hedegrow crumble with a glass of Brewster’s APA, brewed in Grantham by CAMRA favourite Sarah Barton.

The event runs on Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th October. For full details book through the website or call the pub on 0116 261 9301.

Gelato in St Martin’s

September 10, 2014

Good to see some food activity around St Martin’s Square in Leicester. Newly opened in what was once a hip clothes store is Gelato Village, an independent business offering “artisan gelato” – two words some will find tiresomely modish.  But as far as I can tell, Gelato Village seems the real deal in term of offering genuine gelato (basically a slightly lower-fat, softer textured Italian-style ice-cream), that is hand made on the premises (you can see in the kitchen) and uses fruit from Leicester Market for its sorbets.  There’s no artificial colourings, flavourings or preservatives and a refreshing absence of gimmicky flavours.

IMG_1245

You can try up to three flavours in any one of three sizes.  I found the tiramisu maybe a little bland, but the Bonet – named after the famous Piedmontese desert with chocolate, amaretti biscuits, caramel and rum – and the sour cherry ripple were superb. It’s a proper treat, no mistake, and I hope they find people will eat good quality gelato all year round.

I note also that a new fine food deli is set to open in the square – don’t know anything more about it and it looks a few weeks off yet.

All this comes on top of St Martin’s Tea and Coffee seeming to be doing well after it’s transition from cookshop and to fully-fledged café and coffee roaster. It’s got a good vibe going there and I had a great doorstop sandwich last week with soft, pillowy bread and a feisty fennel salami filling. In addition Mrs Bridges continues to offer probably the best café food in the whole city – my brunch the other day of duck leg confit hash on sourdough toast was simply gorgeous.

 

 

 

Dining Pubs of the Year

September 4, 2014

It may only be September, but already we have been given the 2015 County Dining Pubs of the Year from the Good Pub Guide.  No great surprises locally, with the Red Lion at Stathern winning the laurels for Leicestershire and Rutland – its sister pub The Olive Branch,  last year won the overall national pub of the year title.

Many congrats to them and to The Martin’s Arms, just over the border in Colston Basset which won the Nottinghamshire award for the fourth year in a row. Head chef is Bradley Bickerton, who used to work at Watson’s and – if memory serves – The Opera House in Leicester, as well Nottingham venues Tonic and the Nottingham Contemporary. I know Bradley’s mum and have followed his career since he was a relatively humble pastry chef, so it’s great to see him doing so well.

I’ve not been, but Brad says he’s trying to push the level a bit a further still. The style is modern European with occasional nods to current trends such as American smokehouse and fusion.  Off the current menu I’d go for Vale of Belvoir pigeon with Scottish girolles and pickled wild plums, Moroccan lamb rump with chickpea tagine and who could resist this doughnut peach cheesecake?:

10622731_597635303680899_1711981564872772417_n

I don’t know where that American ambassador who’s gone home complaining we only eat “lamb and potatoes” was dining, but he should have got out a bit more.

 

 

 

 

 

Chateau Musar Dinner

September 2, 2014

untitledOne for wine lovers here – Maiyango has pulled off a bit of a coup by getting Ralph Hochar, a scion of the family behind legendary Lebanon label Chateau Musar, to host a tasting and dinner at the restaurant on 17th September. There will be a six course tasting menu, paired with wines from Musar, at £65 a head. Booking details here

%d bloggers like this: