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.

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