January 20, 2016

My latest review for the Leicester Mercury:

I have written before about how London Road is thriving right now with a diverse and exciting range of independent restaurants. This particular venue at the top end near the Evington Road junction had been something of an exception, with a couple of unconvincing attempts at a buffet restaurant and a Turkish-style grill failing to lure in diners. Now though there’s an all togther different proposition in the shape of Chettinad, a South Indian focusing on the cuisine of Tamil Nadu.

This is a smart, welcoming place with an attractive frontage announcing it as a “South Indian Village Restaurant”. If that looks and sounds familiar that’s because this is from the same stable people who run Shivalli – the popular “Village Vegetarian” restaurant on Welford Road in the city. Chettinad though offers chicken, lamb and fish dishes as well as a fairly wide vegetarian offering including a range of dosas.

This is also the second branch branded as Chettinad, the first being in the heart of London just off Tottenham Court Road. The Sri Lankan co-owners of Shivalli had it seems been doing some property deals and rather than sell the London venue they thought they would try their own restaurant. It’s gone really well and with a sous chef keen to get the chance to head up his own kitchen, Leicester was chosen for the next one.

The menu will be familiar in some respects to the many who have enjoyed the Keralan food at Kayal but Tamil food has its own character. Can I describe the differences to you in precise detail? Afraid not. But I will say right away that all the food we had was vibrantly spiced, each dish distinctive and with plenty of fresh herbs and spices and liberal use of curry leaves, coconut, ginger and mustard seeds in particular.

We shared the mixed platter of starters and were impressed by every element. King fish fillets had taken their marinade well and were coasted in a crisp, spiced batter. Huge tiger prawns tasted fresh, well-cooked and again featured beautifully crisp coating. Chunks of Poricha Kolli – the popular street food snack from Chennai also known as Chicken 65 – were deeply moreish, with enough red chilli to get the forehead gently glowing. The aadu chukka was probably my favourite – a dry dish with lamb cubes cooked with red onions, black pepper, ginger, green chillies and a host of other fresh spices giving an intense flavour.

Service was excellent, with staff friendly and keen to offer advice and comment about the dishes – there was real enthusiasm on show.

After a suitable gap we hit the main courses. Lamb madras may seem like a British curry house staple where it is often just an indicator of relative chilli heat. But Madras – now known as Chennai – is the capital of Tamil Nadu and you hope a Tamil restaurant will do the dish the justice and this was another good dish. Deep in colour from red chilli it had a good range of salt, sweet and sour flavours coming through. Our other main was another lamb dish, the classic Chettinad curry here made with 23 different spices apparently. Lighter, milder than the madras, this still had a great complexity of flavour.

Simple steamed rice was very good, while possibly my favourite thing of the whole feast were the kallu dosa, or appam – soft pancakes made with soaked and fermented lentils and rice. These had remarkable tangy, almost citrussy, background notes and gave everything around them a lift.

A couple of vegetable sides added to the richness and variety of flavours on show including the ginger-rich Tamil aubergine curry kathrika ara kullambu, and a great lentil and spinach daal.

Against our better judgement we tried a dessert as they are by and large proper homemade offerings, not frozen ice-creams. Jaggery dosa was sweet with palm sugar, coconut and nuts – in truth my palate and appetite were both played out by now but worth investigating if you feel you have the space.

Distinctive food, well-trained service, fair pricing (the set lunch looks a real bargain) – Chettinad is certainly a welcome addition to the city’s diverse Indian restaurant scene.

I had a fascinating chat yesterday with Sangita Tryner, the woman behind the extraordinary Delilah’s deli in Nottingham, which is set to open its second branch in Leicester.

And we can start to get very excited. The new deli will be located with the old Irish Bank in St Martin’s, within an impressive banking hall which will enable the shop to replicate the formula which has made Nottingham so successful. So with the high ceilings there will be space for a mezzanine dining area which sit people close to some of the beautiful original features. The hall itself will stock an immense selection of cheeses, wines, charcuterie and other deli goods displayed in order to let customers get close to the produce.

I can’t say a lot more at this stage  but it was inspiring to hear Sangita talk about her confidence in Leicester and where it is going right now. Work on the building could start as early as next week, when the result of grant applications to protect some of the heritage features  of the building should be known. Then we are looking at an opening in April or May.

The closure of the Smokehouse on Braunstone Gate was a real sadness last year. But it is good to see that the Orange Tree group are continuing to experiment with their food offer, their latest innovation being a “Meet and Eat” event designed to conjure a supper club atmosphere within the Orange Tree on Leicester’s High Street,

The first event is on Wednesday 13 January and will then be  be quarterly  – or more often if they prove popular. They are designed to appeal to solo diners, groups of friends or couples, with tables will be arranged to encourage conversation. The menu for the first event includes starters of scallops with apple and ginger puree, braised cheeks with caremlised white onion terrine or butternut squash fritters with roast peanut sambal. Mains include flat-iron steak with chimchurri, roast monkfish with olives and mussels or wild mushroom fettucine. Desserts are cheeseboard, banana and mango samosas with passionfruit sorbet or chocolate, ricotta and hazelnut pavlova

Cost is  £25, thouh that includes a welcome drink.   Advanced booking and pre-ordering is required – contact the venue on 0116 223 5256.




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