Tatra Eastern Corner

August 26, 2015

I really enjoyed a recent visit to Tatra Eastern Corner on Northampton Street, Leicester to review for the Mercury.   It had all the positive qualities of a restaurant cooking homely food for exiles. Leicester knows better than almost anywhere else that one of the first things that migrant communities do when they arrive is open restaurants.  The taste of home is a vital part of soothing the transition to somewhere new.

At some point, of course, there’s usually a crossover where the host community catches on to what’s on offer. Some of you, for example, may have heard of curry – I’m told it’s becoming quite popular.

And so we come to Tatra Eastern Corner, a restaurant and bar in Leicester city centre that is offering a home from home to Slovaks and Czechs. Whether in 20 years time bryndzové halušky (sheep cheese dumplings) will be as firmly fixed in the nation’s psyche as chicken tikka masala I have my doubts, but it’s clear that there is plenty for all of us to enjoy in the tasty, robust food being offered here.

Slovak food is based on a small number of distinctive dishes which are complemented by influences from Hungary, Poland, Austria and other surrounding nations. You won’t find lamb or much fish, but plenty of pork, beef, cheese and beans. In the main its hearty, peasant food, designed to fuel hard labour in the fields, but it does come with bold flavours too.

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Goulash and dumplings (from Tatra Eastern Corner’s website)

I started with a bean and smoked pork knuckle soup. On a day when the English summer was doing a fair impression of a November morning, this was a simple but tasty and warming dish. Red kidney beans in a rich tomato based soup with plenty of strongly-smoked pork, which I would describe as “pulled” if such a voguish term didn’t seem inappropriate for a dish that gave the impression of having ancient roots.

We also had fried Slovak sausage, another delicious way to serve up pig served with bread and mustard that may have looked like the mild American stuff you put on a hotdog but which was seriously powerful. Even better were three other little accompaniments of horseradish, pickled red cabbage and a cracking little beetroot relish.

We washed it down with Czech Kozel beer – which was ok, though the beer snob in me thinks it was probably better before industry giants SABMiller got their hands on the brand. Also available though are beers such as Urquell and Golden Pheasant, various local firewaters made from pear, cherry and plum, and a range of Slovak soft drinks.

Main courses were taken from the slow-cooked section of the menu. Roast pork with sauerkraut was a generous plateful with hefty slabs of tender pork flavoured with mild garlic and matched with nicely sweet and sharp cabbage. There was a sizeable portion of dumplings, sliced like bread and much lighter than they looked, though they still defeated me. Hungarian goulash was tremendous, unrecognisable from the pallid version that would occasionally turn up on British restaurant menus in my youth. A mouth-tingling beef stew in a rich, spicy sauce suggesting shedloads of fresh paprika. This really felt like food prepared with love.

I was lightly teased for being a dumpling lightweight by the cheerful Matthias, one of the team behind the restaurant and who – rather wonderfully – is actually a vet originally from Burundi. He studied in Slovakia, married a local lass and eventually they moved here. By day he works for the Food Standards Agency, by night he helps his wife and the chef run the restaurant.

With walls adorned with pictures of Bratislava and Kosice, the vibe here is clearly Slovak but it feels welcoming to all. It’s worth bearing in mind it is a bar, not just a restaurant, and on our Friday night visit refreshment had clearly been taken by some of our amiable fellow guests. Homely rather than sophisticated, this is definitely a place to try for those with an appetite for something hearty and authentic.

Windows on New Walk

August 23, 2015

I reviewed the Belmont Hotel’s restaurant Windows on New Walk  for the Leicester Mercury recently.  I’m not a great fan of hotel restaurants due to considerable experience of their mediocrity.

The Belmont though wasn’t too bad at all.  There’s a new chef  there  which prompted the visit there was a sense of kitchen standards being quite high and the food on the plate was in the main well thought out, well-cooked and nicely present.

A starter of  smoked duck breast, Bosworth Battlefield Blue cheese and roasted walnuts, sprinkled with microherbs turned out to be a really fine combination of flavours and textures, presented with dainty flair. Our other starter was a complete contrast in style, a warm puff pastry tart of wild mushrooms. A hearty affair with plenty of fungi in a rich cream sauce, further livened up with a judicious splash of truffle oil and a perfectly poached egg that oozed satisfyingly over things. Not exactly cutting edge but none the worse for that.

Main courses include a range of locally-sourced steaks (a reminder perhaps that a key constituency here is blokes away from home dining on their own), some old school classics such as whole baked lemon sole with capers and beurre noisette, and a selection of those quite ambitious, attractive-sounding dishes that have so often let me down. The respectable standard of starters had raised hopes though.

My slow-roast rabbit dish justified higher expectations. It was a skilfully prepared, well-cooked and very enjoyable dish. Rabbit can easily dry out but this was tender as you like, with the drumstick left on the bone and the thigh stuffed with a lively chicken and chorizo forcemeat. It made a good plateful with sauted new potatoes, savoy cabbage with bacon lardons, cauliflower purée and a red wine sauce. If I was picking holes, the cabbage was a little drab and a little more sauce was needed but this was a lot better than experience has led me to expect.

A classic duo of confit shoulder and roast rump of lamb also passed muster. The rump could and should have been a bit pinker, just to emphasise the contrast in taste and texture with the slower cooked shoulder. And again a little more sauce would have helped to mop up a sizeable rosemary and garlic fondant potato but a good dish.

We were pleased to see most of the wine list was available by the glass and our Argentinian Malbec and Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon were both excellent.

Deserts pleased though didn’t dazzle. My white chocolate and rhubarb tart was, of course, very sweet, but the rhubarb that should have offered a tart contrast was bland and mushy and ginger syrup didn’t really show up. White chocolate sorbet was delicious but overall the dish didn’t have the dialogue it needed. Another desert of an elegant coffee and praline cheesecake with mango sorbet and a tropical fruit salad had great constituent parts but we weren’t convinced they all benefited from being on the same plate.

It’s a sophisticated place, though you never quite forget you are in a hotel. You kind of felt the friendly staff all had other jobs to be getting on with rather than being able to give you undivided attention, and it’s never good to have tables relaid around you as you finish your meal. That said, we walked away feeling well fed and thinking there’s plenty of Leicester diners who might enjoy this too.

A few weeks back my friends had twins (Hi Benny! Hi Freya!). Mum and Dad are wont to frequent restaurants and we plan on going out to one together again in – ooh, about 2021.

We have, however, already managed a night in with the baby monitor and a delivery. This was facilitated by Deliveroo, a service well established in London and which has recently launched in Leicester.  Basically it is an outsourced delivery service for independent restaurants  and others that would not normally offer it themselves. So if you want or need to eat at home, or in the office during the day, you are no longer limited to standard takeaways. We had a variety of tagines from Marrakech on Highfield Street and it all worked splendidly.

A few weeks later I met Jason Mann, Deliveroo’s man in the Midlands, who explained a bit more about the concept. Deliveroo has its own team on bikes and scooters, who position themselves strategically around the city centre. Diners go on the Deliveroo website where they can see the restaurant menus – edited to include just the deliverable items – and make an order and pay. Restaurants are notified and accept the order, then your delivery guy picks it up and delivers. You can pick a time slot if ordering ahead, or the average delivery time from ordering is 32 minutes.

There’s a minimum order of £15 and a standard delivery charge of £2.50. Currently it only operates within a radius of 2.5 kilometres of the city centre, though that might change in future.  At the moment  there are around 25 restaurants in the scheme, including Maiyango (from their daytime menu), Crafty Burger, Peter Pizzeria, Carluccio’s, Kuru Kuru Sushi, Cedars Lebanese, The Smokehouse, Yesim, Queen of Bradgate and the Slovakian bar and restaurant Tatra Eastern Corner (look out for my review in the Mercury this coming Saturday).

I was invited to try out the service on them, and again it all worked fine. The website is admirably streamlined and ordering is straightforward. The delivery came on time to the minute, and the food – old-school Chinese from the newly-relaunched Peking on Charles Street – came in good condition.

I had a few questions about how it all operated and Jason offered to talk to a couple of restaurants and  make a little film for this blog, so I emailed a few questions and they went to talk to Peter Pizzeria and Cedars Lebanese. Here’s the result!:

An intriguing new venue opens in Leicester this weekend. Haycock  and Tailbar Associates open a “cocktail and supper room” on Belvoir Street. It has low-key branding with just a logo on a big black door, so no windows or other signage. It’s actually the building that was Young’s Camera shop on the corner of Albion St and Belvoir St.

Inside the black door is a dark room with bar, rocking that speakeasy vibe with sharply focused lights on booths.  Not the place to show off your new frock. Apparently inspiration comes from supper rooms in 1950s Berlin. I thought that was mainly a bombsite but maybe not.

The owners have been running a venue in Northampton, and like that the Leicester restaurant has a focus on novel steaks which you cook at table on hot bricks.  At a pre-launch event last night we were given reindeer, French mouflon sheep, rose veal and beef fillet.  I enjoyed them all hugely, though I’m not yet convinced that cooking them yourselves is the best way to enjoy it. I think on a regular night, new diners will be talked the process a bit more so…

Haycock and Tailbar

Also available on occasions, or when prebooked,  are the likes of Waygu beef, Alpaca, Zebra, Kangaroo, Crocodile and Ostrich.  “We don’t see exotics as a gimmick,” states the menu. “They are highly nutritious offer a very wide  range of flavours and textures and …are sourced from the wild or only farmed on a small scale.”

Starters also include exotics, though nice as it was I’m not sure Camel con Carne was a huge improvement on more mainstream meat. As the self-proclaimed gourmand at the table I was somewhat bullied into having the mealworm croquettes – perfectly pleasant as long as you didn’t actually look at them.

Oh and while I’m not a huge expert, the cocktails seemed great. Prosecco, Courvoisier and crème du mure is definitely something on the list for next Christmas.

It opens on Friday and you can see more here: Haycock and Tailbar

Bonzai Sushi

August 11, 2015

Leicester is to get another sushi restaurant.

Bonzai has been trading successfully in Carlton Street, Nottingham, for seven years and the Leicester branch is their first expansion. It will be located in the former Petit Four, on the corner of Hotel Street and Horsefair Street opposite McDonalds.

The Nottingham menu is huge  and as well as individual sushi and sashimi items it includes a wide range of main courses of rice and noodle bowl, teppanyaki set meals and Malaysian, Thai and Korean dishes. In other words, it seems to be more of a sit down restaurant than the street-food vibe  of the tiny Kuru Kuru which has been exciting Leicester’s sushi lovers this year. I do hope there’s room for both.

If anyone has experience of the Nottingham branch do please share here.

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