The Grey Goose, Gilmorton

November 26, 2015

I’ve done a couple of reviews of Sunday lunches for my Leicester Mercury column. It’s something I’m regularly asked to recommend – which is difficult in that most places should be able to do a decent A Sunday roast, and it’s hard to do that is stunningly better than everyone else, or indeed that you can do at home. So a lot of it is about the venue.  I started with a smart country pub:

Grey Goose
Lutterworth Road
Gilmorton
Leicestershire
LE17 5PN

01455 552555

Sunday lunch plays a special role in the lives of many Britons. For the lucky amongst us, it brings back happy memories of family life – for me, it was visits from my grandma and a gathering round the table while listening to Two-way Family Favourites.

Today it’s likely to be one of the few occasions when people eat together around the table. Pubs of course have latched on to this and the pub Sunday lunch is possibly as much as a ritual as the domestic one. So as Autumn sets in and our mind turns from salads to more substantial comfort food, this column will take a couple of looks at this Great British institution.

This week it is the Grey Goose in the South Leicestershire village of Gilmorton. Around six years ago the pub was extended and refurbished to the tune of of £1.3million – an expression of confidence at time when the economy was freefalling that if you provide good food the people will come. It’s steadily built a reputation over that time and the fact that Sundays now see it running three sittings to pack in the dinners shows that the appetite is still growing.

It’s a contemporary-styled building – lots of slate grey – with a large dining area and arriving at 12.30 there was a lot of bustle and chatter. We were asked for a drinks order before we’d even all sat down which raised fears we might be hustled along, but they would prove unfounded and service was very good throughout our stay.

The Grey Goose is a proper high-end restaurant in the week – we were hoping that standards would stay high on a day of the week when maybe some places would be happy to take the easy dollar. And looking at starters, they generally were. The exception was some under-seasoned devilled whitebait, with no discernible devilment, and a garlic mayonnaise with no discernible garlic – the fish themselves were ok but the dish failed to justify a £7.95 price tag. Much better though were some chunky lamb kidneys with wild mushrooms, two substantial chunks of lightly-breaded baked brie with plenty of cranberries and another dish of wild mushrooms in a roquefort sauce on sourdough toast. These were all substantial, well-cooked dishes with quality ingredients that set us up nicely for the main event.

The centre of the pub is given over to a carvery (main course – £13.95) on Sunday and this is what two of us choose. It’s an entirely pleasing experience, with three huge joints being carved and served with great bonhomie. This was a proper Dickensian, Mr Pickwick vibe. Servings are huge and you are welcome to mix and match the roasts – in this case Aubrey Allen beef, Leicestershire turkey and pork loin.

Turkey could wait for another day, but the beef was very good and the pork was sensationally good. You can then help yourself from the very wide selection of extras – acceptably crispy roasts, mash, peas, carrots, hispi cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli mornay, stuffing, yorkies, gravy, horseradish.

Of course at a carvery some things – Yorkshire puddings especially – can’t quite measure up to what can be done when you serve fresh from the oven at home, but this was in general a creditable effort. The pub managed a complex operation with commendable smoothness.

A nut roast is available but our vegetarian main courses were maybe preferable. A risotto of slow roasted tomatoes and creamy goat’s cheese was possibly a bit over salty but was deeply flavoursome and Thai vegetable curry was lively and vibrant and served with a touch of flair – it certainly measured up to versions I’ve tried in UK Thai restaurants.

The wine list is helpfully designed and annotated to make easier to pick an appropriate style and our Lunaris malbec from Argentina met with universal approval, though sadly the pub seems to have succumbed to the current fashion of serving its ale far too cold.

A couple of shared deserts of good, soft creamy ice-cream – we had salted caramel and pistachio – and a very light citric tart of lime and elderflower with some beautiful fat, sweet berries and we were done. Back home to fall asleep in front of the TV. On a weekend when we were mourning the deadly attacks on people enjoying simple pleasures in Paris, the pleasure gained from this time-honoured aspect of our lifestyle seemed especially sharp.

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Leicester Market on form

November 22, 2015

WP_20151121_17_37_07_ProThere was some gorgeous stuff on Leicester Market today. With the rutting season pretty much over there’s some wonderful venison coming down from Bradgate Park – including this handsome  chop which looks good enough to celebrate something special such as  – ooh – going top of the Premier League maybe?

There were also some beautiful blue swimming crabs and fat scallops that will make a few more great meals somewhere in Leicester tonight.

It certainly set my culinary senses racing in advance of the Winter Food Festival which takes place at the market tomorrow (Sunday) from 11-6pm.

News of an additional facility at a well-established restaurant and of a couple of interesting new openings that highlighting the diversity of Leicester’s dining scene.

To mark its 10th anniversary, Maiyango has converted its former deli at 52A Highcross St – which suffered during the major disruption that accompanied the creation of Jubilee Square – into The Tasting Room.  This warmly decorated space that can be booked for groups of up to 20 for private gatetherings,  where they can play own music along with their own bar tender, with free hire  when they pick a drinks package along with optional canapes, antipasti board  and nibbles.

Alternatively groups can book their own cocktails classes where a mixologist can take the group through the classics or help them create their own.

IMG_1789 (2)At the launch event I sampled a sublime gin jelly cocktail with tonic granita and coriander and you can see me on the right shaking a white chocolate and mint martini. Not my usual tipples but good fun.

I also tried this week a new London Rd restaurant Karamay, apparently one of the very first Westen Chinese restaurants in the country, featuring the cuisine of the Muslim Uighur people of Xinjiang. Their culture is quite distinct from the rest of China and the food has clear links to central Asian and Turkish food. I won’t say much here yet  as I’ll be writing a newspaper review soon but this was good, well-cooked comfort food in informal surroundings and I’ll definitely be going back.

Further up on London Road, another South Indian restaurant opened this week called Chettinad, a project linked to the vegetarian Shivalli on Welford Road and to a restaurant of the same name ion central London. Both of these draw inspiration – and I choose those words very carefully  – from Halli, the vegetarian restaurant opened by Jaimon Thomas which subsequently became the hugely successful Kayal.

The menu looks to draw broadly from the cuisines of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala  with lamb fish, chicken dishes and a wide range of dosas.  Looks very promising and a big improvement on the buffet place it replaces.

I also note somewhat sadly the venerable Taj Mahal, one of the City’s very first tandoori restaurants around the corner on Highfield St,  has finally closed to be replaced shortly by a “halal Gourment Burger restaurant” Lemon Pepper

With lively independent Turkish, Moroccan, Italian, Indian, South Indian, Szechuan and Uighur restaurants all with a few yards of each other, , London Road is becoming more and more of a food hotspot by the week.

I wrote enthusiastically about the Bewicke Arms a few weeks back after attending a launch party. Having given them a few weeks to settle in, I’ve now got round to doing a full review which appeared this weekend in the Leicester Mercury and which I reproduce below. As you’ll see, I wasn’t disappointed.  Great ingredients, great cooking – the place is a treat, especially for meat lovers.

[Edit: I see that from this week the Bewicke is now offering Great Food Club members 10 per cent off. For full details of the offer (and of the free-to-join Great Food Club – click here http://www.greatfoodclub.co.uk/offer/the-bewicke-arms/#.VktXADYnwaJ%5D

Bewicke3

Bewicke Arms
1 East Gate
Hallaton
Leicestershire
LE16 8UB

01858 555734

Cost: Around £28 for three courses.

When I first moved to Leicester in 1983 I asked around for country pub recommendations – and the Bewicke Arms in Hallaton came up most often. So I checked it out, and it was indeed a lovely pub in a lovely village. In those pre-gastropub days though I seem to remember its most celebrated dish being a chicken breast covered in Boursin garlicky herb cheese.

The bar, of course, has risen considerably since then. The Bewicke has continued to be a welcome country pub for locals, walkers, touring cyclists and so on but has never been a destination food pub. Indeed over the last couple of years it has shut and reopened a few times. Now though, all that has changed and it’s taken a dramatic leap towards the top echelon of dining pubs.

Local couple Claire and Simon Tait bought it this year and re-opened in September having hired a heavyweight team in the kitchen. Consultant chef setting the tone and getting the kitchen established is Tom Cockerill, who made his name locally with Entropy. Head chef is Glenn Cowl, who helped the Red Lion in Stathern win numerous accolades in recent years including Leicestershire Dining Pub of the Year.

The two have a similarity of approach which includes a genuine commitment to the local and seasonal ethos which is so often a matter of lip-service. The signature style is one of honest good food from the best ingredients. At a launch event they offered small versions of their bar menu including stunning fried fish in Grainstore bitter batter, pizza with locally-foraged mushrooms and a beautiful deserts such as an apple crumble made with Kentish cob-nuts, apples gown in the village and curds from a local herd of Red Poll cattle.

The restaurant menu stretches things more but still displays a trademark approach. A starter of grilled Dexter ox heart with salami from Rutland Charcuterie and parmentier potatoes, was a bit of a stunner, the cooking brilliantly showcasing the distinctive, nostalgic flavour of the meat. Lamb sweetbreads in a lightly deep-fried crumb was another success, paired with crispy little curls of duck breast prosciutto and a nicely sharp dressing with capers olive and sage. Proper gown up food with serious great flavours. A simple starter of whitebait was also very good indeed with a big hunk of chargrilled lime and point of feisty roasted garlic mayonnaise lifting the everyday into something a bit special.

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Picking a main course was tricky. Whole baked plaice with crab apples and a veloute with Hallaton-made Bottle Kicking cider was hard to resist, but I settled for breast of Mallard. Again this was perfectly cooked meat, with crisp skin with a honey and soy glaze, resting on leeks, caramelised onions and orange. Really sweetly-flavoured duck with a refreshingly light and clean presentation.

Many pubs do a belly of pork dish, but the Bewicke’s version put most to shame by featuring fantastic produce and cooking it simply. The pork from Suffolk-based, high-welfare Dingley Dell had superb flavour, while the gorgeous sprout-top greens with it were a revelation to someone who generally abhors this usual Christmas dinner abomination. A final main course of arrancini – risotto fried in a light crumb – with wild mushroom and Jersualem artichokes had great Mediterranen flavours though the dressing was maybe a bit heavy on the olive oil.

The vegetarian in our group was happy with her food but you do feel that it’s finding and cooking great meat – including often-looked cuts – that really floats this kitchen’s boat.

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(food pictures are dishes we had but are shamelessly borrowed from the chef’s site – ours weren’t good enough)

Deserts had all the virtues of the rest of the meal. A simple sundae of Hallaton-grown apples with, cream, ice-cream and toffee sauce with honeycomb and gingerbread(left) was light, sweet and offered a pleasing range of textures. Pumpkin and pecan pie with cinnamon ice-cream in a sweet little puff pastry cornet was both witty, sophisticated and gorgeous..

The high-achieving kitchen isn’t really matched yet out front. Apparently a restaurant manager left early on and there is a need for a more rigour – we were asked for our drinks order without being given a wine list, our waitress knew nothing about the beer offering and somehow managed to just ignore a question about the tremendous, malty bread that we were served up. Nothing disastrous there but the food deserves better.

The lovely setting of this pub, over-looking Hare Pie Hill, has always drawn visitors. Now there’s a definitely another good reason to go.

Huge thanks to those who attended and many congratulations to the White Peacock. Last night’s event for Soft Touch was not just a cheerful evening of great food but a highly successful fundraiser that will enable the charity to complete the kit-out of its kitchen training young people to prepare and enjoy and healthy food.

And elsewhere in the City centre during the same evening,  the restaurant was carrying off the Taste of England Gold Award in Leicestershire’s Excellence in Tourism Awards – with a highly commended going to 34 Windsor St. (Not to forgot my friend, and reader of this  blog, Richard Buckley who, not surprisingly I think we can agree, helped win the “tourism experience” of the year for his leading role in the reinterment of Richard III).

With front of house manager Charlotte off at the awards, the young White Peacock team managed to serve a six-course menu to more than forty people with admirable skill and elegance.

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The menu showcased great produce and a fine intelligence in dish construction. Highlight of the evening for me I think was gin and Earl Grey cured salmon – thick cut, lightly cured fish with a sweet edge and which sang of the sea. It was really effectively matched with slightly astringent pickled fennel, a tangy citrus crème fraiche and pared cucumber.

Gin and Earl Grey cured salmon

Gin and Earl Grey cured salmon

Picking up comments from others there was clear enthusiasm for the elegant starter of pickled beetroot with goat’s cheese mousse and a parmesan crisp and fig, which converted at least one person to the possibilities of the much abused beetroot. Another well-balanced dish that showed how a few fine ingredients can combine to really great effect.

Goat's cheese mousse, fig, beetroot and parmesan crisp

Goat’s cheese mousse, fig, beetroot and parmesan crisp

The desert of salted caramel panna cotta, toasted banana bread, banana sorbet and praline was a tour de force finish, the sorbet in particular getting people very excited.

Banana sorbet, sated caramel panna cotta

Banana sorbet, salted caramel panna cotta

One final point – a reminder that Leicester folk can check out some of the the impact of Soft Touch’s work at the weekly pop-up café on Thursdays 12-2pm at the New Walk premises (opposite Museum Square). Good variety  of sandwiches, soups and cakes prepared and served by young people with professional supervision at around just £2.50

It’s good to see that Cocoa Amore has successfully relocated to the St Martin’s area, further fuelling the sense that there’s a high quality independent food and drink cluster emerging there.

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The company has relocated from Silver Arcade to larger, two-story premises on Silver Street. I was fortunate to get a Wonkaesque Golden Ticket for their launch last week and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening checking out not only their great chocolates – single estate nibs through to really superior truffles – but some savoury dishes too. Canapes included smoked duck breast and mackerel on chocolate bread – which all worked surprisingly well.

The new shop is licensed and while not promoting itself as a bar, matching chocolate with wines and spirits is going to be of the attractions.

Upstairs is the production area and space for workshops where couples and small groups can learn about chocolate production around the world and make their own chocolates.

Self-taught chocolatier Pete Gardener (right) with Alan Pomfrett at the Cocoa Amore relaunch

Owner and self-taught chocolatier Pete Gardener (right) with Alan Pomfrett at the Cocoa Amore relaunch

The business was only formed three years ago and has won numerous awards, including being one of  only ten businesses to be invited to take part in the Chancellor’s Downing Street Christmas Market. I won’t hold that against them though and look forward to see them thrive in their location, just a few yards from great businesses such as St Martin’s Tea and Coffee and Crafty, Gelato Village, the Case and its Champagne Bar and the soon-to-be-opened Burleigh’s Gin Parlour.

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