I’ve reviewed the Olive Branch before on here and I suspect many readers will have been there themselves, but I went again for the Leicester Mercury recently and it never hurts to publicise good places again. Here then is the Mercury review which appeared last weekend:

The Olive Branch

Main Street
Clipsham
Rutland LE15 7SH

01780 410355

Cost – Three courses à la carte, around £28

Food served: Mon-Friday 12-2pm, 6.30-9.30pm
Sat 12-2pm, 7-30pm
Sun 12-3pm, 7-9pm

8 out of 10

The Olive Branch (pictured last Autumn!)

The Olive Branch (pictured last Autumn!)

Many people in Leicestershire and Rutland who take their food seriously are likely to have made it out to Clipsham and The Olive Branch. It’s a fair old schlep over from the city to this far corner of Rutland but for a pub so heavily garlanded with the industry’s top accolades, an hour’s drive through glorious English countryside doesn’t feel too much of a hardship.

Over the last 16 years the pub has gone from a boarded-up shell to last year being named pub of the year in the Good Pub Guide. It was recently the Michelin Pub of the Year and for 12 years even held a Michelin Star. It was a break from tradition from the tyre people to give a star a pub with such a relaxed informal style – heaven forbid, they don’t even have tableclothes. It didn’t please everybody, but it was a recognition that good cooking existed outside the temples of gastronomy.

We went over on a Monday night, which in some places of course is chef’s night off. But sometimes that’s the night you need to go, and indeed one of our party was a himself a chef on his night off – and he deserves to eat out when he can. You would hope though that a place of this quality was not about to let it’s standards drop just because it’s a quiet night after the weekend.

The first thing to note is what a beautiful building the pub is now. A terrace, a pergola, a dovecote, lovely stonework and slates – it ticks every country pub box there is. Inside there’s a warm welcome and an atmosphere that is calm, civilised but still distinctly pubby. I loved the little touches like the little chalkboard on your table with your name (assuming you have booked).

Pumpkin seed bread to start with was lovely. Our starters included pea and broad bean risotto, which our chef – naturally perhaps the most critical among us – enjoyed though he thought maybe it was 30 seconds underdone and lacked much in the way of promised toasted pine nuts. Hot-smoked salmon was a lovely piece of fish, and well matched with carpaccio of red and golden beetroot with a horseradish cream. It seemed to typify the Olive Branch approach, fine food done with style but without the need to over-elaborate or strive for novelty. Ham hock croquettes were tasty, well made and imaginatively paired with sweet peppers and scorched baby gem lettuce.

The mains again reflected that notion of the food, not the techniques or fashion, taking the lead. You could have had a Leicestershire ploughman’s with pork pie and Sparkenhoe’s fine red Leciester, or a prosaic-sounding chicken, leek and mushroom suet pudding. I suspect both would have surpassed expectations, though we all went for more overtly restauranty options. A taste of pork featured succulent pork belly, herby sausage and peppery black pudding, all brought together with super-intense gravy. The dish also featured a marvellous fondant potato that been simmered with cider giving it sweetish edge and a contrasting sauerkraut with apple and pine nuts. A pleasing and well-compiled plateful. Roast salt marsh lamb went down very well with our demanding chef, paired classically with some ratatouille and, more adventurously, very tasty chorizo hash browns. Our third main was a fine piece of cod, though there was some concern over whether a madeira sauce would be too rich for fish. In fact the dish was well-balanced with gnocchi and parsely puree and the sauce did not overpower.

Deserts included a fine mango parfait – though the advertised honeycomb and “white chocolate aero” seemed to have been replaced with some spun sugar and bruléed marshmallow. This was possibly the only example of Monday night syndrome. The dish was fine but the changes should have been explained. A bread and butter pudding made with danish pastry was inspired – rich and sweet. I couldn’t understand my friend’s decision to ask for marmalade ice-cream to be replaced with pistachio but some people are odd like that. The exotic vanilla flavouring of tonka bean crème brulée probably isn’t to everyone’s taste but paired here with rosewater shortbread it created a headily fragrant desert.

Friendly, calm service made for a very relaxed evening eating distinctly superior food. If you live to the East of our region, lucky you. If not, you should definitely consider The Olive Branch when you fancy a drive out to the country for a fine meal in a fine pub.

I think it is now in the public domain that the O Bar on Braunstone Gate, which hosts the  the Smokehouse restaurant, is to be sold off.  Sad news because it was a real bit of quality in an area of town that needed it. Chef Liam Watson has done a fine job in building a properly original venue there and as I understand it the restaurant is trading profitably, but the rebranded O Bar has failed to bring in the punters for its upmarket craft beer offering.

The cuisine and the beer are a natural match and the Orange Tree group know they have something worth preserving with.  I’m told we will see the Smokehouse reappear somewhere with a larger kitchen and more covers, but in a more promising location. Sadly that is not necessarily Leicester. I hope it is still within reach because I’d love to see how they can further develop the concept.

In the meantime, best wishes to the team and do try and get and down there while you can.

The “Big Question” being polled in today’s Leicester Mercury is not about religious assemblies, the possibility of Greece defaulting or court orders over parental custody of children. Bravely shunning the mainstream news agenda they’ve gone with “are there too many gourmet burger restaurants in Leicester?”.

The question is prompted by news that Five Guys could be opening in that empty former Santander building opposite the main entrance to Highcross. A couple of years back Five Guys and Shakeshack opened the same week in London to a hyped rivalry not seen since the Grea Blur/Oasis Standoff. The two US businesses have become stock market stars just a McDonalds star has started to wane.

I’ve never been to Five Guys, and it may be very good. It’s got a fast food approach to its restaurants, but  manages to price itself well in advance of the lively independents also setting up in Leicester – cheeseburger and regular fries is £12.  With Crafty Burger available three evening a week, and the estimable MeatCure about to open on Highcross Street, I’d like to think Leicester public will deem them surplus to requirements and support local businesses.

Right, now my views on Grexit…not really.

North's Afternoon tea

I will add something though – if you’ve really had enough of burgers for the time being, there’s a more genteel offering being launched by North’s Bar and Kitchen on Hinckley Road. On afternoons from Wednesday to Saturday they are now offering full afternoon tea featuring a selection of finger sandwiches, cakes, scones with jam and clotted cream,and a choice of tea or coffee and the option of a glass of champagne. Booking essential.

North’s has also extended its range of bottled craft beers f6orm Two Cocks brewery, for which it is the only stockist in Leicester. New arrivals include Roundhead, a fine traditional, malty  best bitter made form Cascade and First Gold hops, and which won a Great Taste Award last year.

 

Crafty Burger

June 12, 2015

I thought I’d put up my recent review of Crafty burger at St Martin’s in Leicester. It’s been up on the Leicester Mercury site  but to save you wrasslin’ with the pop ups on that site here it is plain wordpress format – as you’ll see, I think it’s a fine addition to Leicester’s scene.

crafty10

Crafty Burger

St Martin’s Tea & Coffee
2-6 St Martin’s Walk
St Martin’s Square
Leicester LE1 5DG

0116 251 2879

Open: Thu, Fri and Sat – 6pm-9pm

Cost – Burger, fries and pint of craft beer £14.

8 out of 10

St Martin’s Tea and Coffee has been one of the most lively independent businesses in Leicester city centre since starting life as a cookware shop. Since then it opened a coffee roastery, then combined the two businesses and opened a cafe, and eventually the cafe swallowed up the cookware business. Then in late 2014 it hosted Crafty Burger, a three night a week pop-up restaurant taking advantage of their fairly rudimentary kitchen.

It’s an indication of how businesses need to adapt to prevailing retail trends but also to follow their passion. Founder Andy Hall found himself more and more wanting to develop the coffee importing and roasting business which was starting to supply many of the emerging independent coffee business in the city. Those people needed barrista training and shiny Italian espresso machines too. Running a cafe alongside this wasn’t always easy.

All of which is the explanation for why Crafty Burger is now a permanent feature on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays. It’s an initiative of Chris Elliman, a man with good credentials as former head chef at one of Yorkshire’s top gastropubs, who with partner Andrea picked Leicester as a likely looking place to start anew.

After the success of the pop-up, the couple approached Andy Hall to go into partnership. They could take over the cafe and relaunch Crafty, freeing him to focus on the coffee business. A refurbishment followed with the coffee business relocating upstairs and a new kitchen installed downstairs.

Elliman has revamped the daytime menu at St Martin’s to make it one of the most interesting lunch time offerings in the city – from slow-cooked Cuban-style mojo marinated pork sandwiches (currently off the menu until they can get the electrics sorted to run all night for slow cooking), to an an extensive vegetarian selection such as a beautiful smoky aubergine dish, spiked with harissa and cooled with feta cheese, almonds, pomegrante, yoghurt and mint. It’s a delicate charmer of a dish that shows the chef is not just about big old burgers.

But Crafty is the focus of this review and big old burgers is certainly the focus there. I’ll come straight to the point and say that these are mighty fine examples of the genre. Beef is 28-day dry aged and ground and hand-pressed every day on site and the care in selection and in cooking shows. The pleasure is every bit that of a good steak. There’s a half a dozen choices and over a couple of visits I’ve tried the Farmyard Jam, given a sweetish edge from onion and bacon jam with maple, and the Mexican-themed El Gordo with jalapeno and corn relish, chipotle ketchup and Red Leicester. There wasn’t actually a great deal of heat I this but I didn’t want the glorious flavour of the beef overwhelmed anyway. Also remarkably good was the “Krispy Klucker”, a chicken burger made with tasty thigh meat which was beautifully tender inside a terrifically crunchy coating made, it seems, from rice crispies.

The influence of a skilled chef is evident in the qualities of all the extras too. “Pigcorn Poppers” were a delight – succulent little cubes of pork belly in panko crumb with a great relish made from pineapple, honey and chilli. Try and visit with a decent hunger because it would be a shame to miss these. Chicken wings basted in gochujang, Korean chilli paste, are hot, tasty and bang on-trend. A crunchy root vegetable slaw with and sour cream dressing had evidently had thought and care applied to its composition and preparation.

On a first visit fries were disappointingly soggy but this stemmed from a fryer malfunction, and on a subsequent occasion they were actually a highlight. Crisp, skin-on regular fries come with the burger but you can pimp them in a number of styles, and I can certainly recommend the nacho version with avocado, sour cream and jalapenos and the Spanish fries, with pimenton-spiced pork meatballs and garlic mayo.

There’s also craft beers from Purity, including their floral Lawless lager and the hoppy IPA Longhorn. If you fancy a desert they offer a salted peanut and chocolate gelato made specially for them by neighbours in St Martin Square, Gelato Village. It’s totally gorgeous.

You don’t go to a burger place for delicacy, but that’s not to say it can’t be done with flair, skill and originality and you get all of that with Crafty. It’s a lovely setting in the evening and the front of house is run by Andrea with great warmth. They buy local and it’s a quality-led, gimmick-free offering – just the kind of lively independent that adds character and distinctiveness to a city.

Dining on a diet

June 7, 2015

Over the last few weeks I’ve reviewed three burger restaurants plus an American barbecue venue – all very nice but maybe not great for the waistline.

So it was a pleasure to go to a “Dining on a Diet” last week at courtesy of personal trainer Joe Hanney of U Fit studios. I’d written a feature for the Mercury on Joe’s efforts to encourage his clients to realise they can dine out if they want to, even those who are on a strict weightloss regime. Eating out is of course one of life’s great pleasures and any diet is going to be more sustainable if it enables us to keep doing the things we enjoy.

Eating healthy is partly about making good choices  but it’s also about restaurants making those choices possible and Joe Hanney is working with a group of restaurants to try and get healthy dishes established on their menu. That feature was based on a lunch menu at Enderby’s Cini, and this was a follow up event  at a packed Maiyango in Leicester.

Chef Sav Tassari developed a light six course tasting which was a mere 700 calories. Starting with a simple but fiery plum and fresh ginger broth, we moved on to another oriental-styled dish featuring a sizeable piece of pollock seasoned with sesame seeds sitting on a noodle roll and a miso and wakame broth – these two dishes set the tone for a series of dishes which while they had been largely stripped of much in the way of fat or carbs, were still had plenty to excite the palate.

This was seen most clearly in the star dish of the evening – carpaccio of swordfish with a tremendous salad of apple, beetroot, hazelnuts and capers, dressed with foamy chilli emulsion. This was creative, beautiful and full of flavour.

Swordfish carpaccio

Swordfish carpaccio

Next up was a chicken breast poached, I assume sous vide, and flavoured with lime and black pepper. The delight for me of a chicken breast is a nicely crispy skin which has provided a basting a fat, but that wasn’t the style of the evening. Nevertheless the cooking technique had managed to really imprint the citrus and pepper flavours and with a little sweet potato mash and a black olive dressing there was still plenty to enjoy here. We finished up with a sharp, refreshing granita of grapefruit and coriander and a sugar free (though you wouldn’t have known it) mango mousse with kiwi and a banana dumpling.

I’m not about to drastically change my diet, but all of us could do a reminder that you don’t always need  butter, cream and all the rest to make an enjoyable meal.

* While we are here, one more interesting bit of news for Leicester city centre. The old Allied Irish bank in St Martin’s could  it seems turned into a restaurant and deli by Nottingham’s Daliliah.  Many chissits will have made it over to Dalilah’s fabulous deli and if they can mount something of a similar quality and with a similar vibe that would be a huge boost for the city centre.

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