Maiyango

February 22, 2016

Regular readers will have seen several posts on Maiyango over recent years. I’ve got to know its founder Aatin quite well and he keeps me informed of new developments, but it  was about time I did a proper independent review for the Mercury.

Fortunately the kitchen was on great form and we thoroughly enjoyed dinner  as you will see from the review below.

 

Maiyango
13-21 St Nicholas Place
Leicester
LE1 4LD

Tel: 0116 251 8898

Leicester city centre is not over-run with high-end restaurants. Some foodie types I know regularly complain of having to drive out to Rutland or to neighbouring cities to find what they want.

Maiyango though, now celebrating it’s 10th year, is definitely a candidate for encouraging the discerning, demanding diner to stay local. Set up by Leicester boy Aatin Anadkat it has developed over that decade from a young man’s brave, but slightly chaotic attempt to create a restaurant inspired by travelling, to a sophisticated, high-performing venue offering contemporary dishes with influences from around the world. It also has a classy breakfast, brunch and daytime menu and a smart boutique hotel upstairs too.

One thing that hasn’t changed too much from the early days is the décor – it still has a dark, exotic feel with swathes of beautiful fabrics surrounding circular booths and lampshades that bring to mind an Istanbul coffee house.

Current head chef Salvatore Tassari has been in post for nearly a year now and judging by this visit he is really hitting his stride.

His menus reflect the house style but bear his own stamp too, bristling with international influences from starters such as sweet potato dumplings in ginger and spring onion broth to deserts such as lime leaf crème brulée with ginger and lemongrass sorbet.

We picked the mid-week four course tasting menu, giving some highlights from the à la carte for what I’d call a bargainous £25.

Things kicked off with bread with some herby rosemary and garlic oil and a super condiment of salt, seaweed and sesame that pumped out umami.

Then a little amuse bouche of a buttery mini-baked potato with a lemony cream cheese filling. Very nice, though oddly prosaic in light of what was to come.

The first course proper was an outstanding dish of sensationally tender and flavoursome soy-marinated ox cheek, with a disc of dashi gellee (a light Japanese fish stock), topped with tempura of a minty, citrussy shiso leaf and sitting in light, creamy coconut and chilli broth. A sort of elegant, fine dining deconstruction of a rustic beef rendang with delicate counterpoints of flavour and texture.

Then came pollock that had been slow-cooked in a water bath, a process which firms up the texture without danger of overcooking and retains moisture and flavour. It was then wrapped in wilted romaine lettuce leaf, adorned with curried lentils, and dressed with little pinched shoots of coriander. A dish that delivered more than it promised and which was cooked and assembled with great care and attention. It was also a great match with a glass of zesty albarino

The third savoury dish again showed a thoughtful approach with contrasting textures and flavours with an Asian vibe. Thai-spiced corn-fed chicken breast was tender and moist, sitting into a complex miso broth with mung beans and dabs of vibrant green coriander purée. At the side was a was a money-bag dumpling filled with crayfish and on top was a mini-mountain of crunchy shavings of sweet potato. A lot going on, but it all came together splendidly.

We finished with a handsome-looking, technical dessert of five-spiced white chocolate mousse with a rosewater sorbet, crystalised rose petals and hibiscus jelly. The mousse could have been a bit firmer and the spice didn’t really come through but these are minor points compared to the gorgeous pairing of white chocolate and roses. The mousse was contained in a gossamer-thin sugar cylinder which in less skilled hands might have been a crunchy intrusion but here disappeared on the tongue, it’s main function being an architectural one giving shape and form to the dish.

Maiyango won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Some may find the whole cocktail bar atmosphere a bit too, dare I say, young for them. The lighting and the music isn’t great for those who struggle with hearing or vision, but it’s worth persevering.

Critics from national newspapers have been fairly sniffy about Maiyango in the past, as they they generally are about Leicester. But just as our football team has not been intimidated by the metropolitan elite, I’m not sure diners should. I’m not saying Maiyango is about to top the Premier League of UK restaurants but, as with the Foxes, there is much to cherish and enjoy.

 

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I’m loving the sound of the latest initiative from Crafty at St Martin’s .  For one night only on 2nd March  6-8.30pm they will become a burger free zone and turn into a taqueria.
They promise a  night of celebrating Mexico’s finest street food – a relaxed affair with latino music, paper plates and no bookings. Given the quality of everything else they do I’m confident this will be exciting stuff.
There will be (gluten-free)  corn tacos with a choice of fillings at 3 for £6, including:
Smoked chipotle ox cheek, pickled red cabbage, crema
Pork carnitas (crispy braised pork), lime, pico de gallo
Stewed chicken in achiote, roasted pineapple salsa
Pinto beans, chihuahua cheese, pico de gallo, crema

There will also be a range of sides such as nachos, guacamole, escabeche vegetables and of course Mexican beer and tequila. If it’s a success they promise they have more ideas up their sleeve.

Now I just need to work out how I get away early from an evening meeting I’ve got booked…

Taps etc

February 16, 2016

Below the picture is  a recent review for the Leicester Mercury of  city centre bar/restaurant Taps. I liked it, and while it may not be the best food in the city, it’s definitely a well-run place in a lovely building and is an adornment for the city.

The owners of Taps are becoming significant players in the city centre. They are in the process of converting one of Leicester’s very few medieval buildings  – Wygston’s House on Applegate – into a “high end”restaurant which will focus on local produce. And at the other end of the scale they own, and are now closing, the Lamplighter’s which, no way of getting round this, is probably  the city centre’s dodgiest pub.

It’s a bit of a conundrum this. At one level this daytime karaoke, Dodge City lager pub is a liability to folks trying to run more sedate  businesses in the area. On the other hand, I hear the Police (and no doubt some other licensees)  quite like the fact it corrals trouble into one place and it gives them a likely  venue to find people of interest. Apparently it’s nice and profitable too.  But where are people who don’t fit in elsewhere going to go  – and how exactly do we control the more chaotic elements anyway?

Whatever, the owners have, to the acclaim of other local businesses, decided to give up trying to tame the place and are converting it into a 1950’s rock’n’roll American diner.

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Taps

Sometimes you realise you’ve misjudged a place. Taps, for me, is one such.

I knew the building of course – one of central Leicester’s gems. It’s a photogenic, 17th century building close by the Cathedral and Guildhall and has a beautiful atmospheric interior full of nooks and crannies. That includes a basement area that has you working out just how far you were from that car park and that king.

In the early noughties it was for a while a fondly-remembered fine dining venue known as the Opera House. In 2008 it became Taps, a bar with the distinctly unusual feature of being able to pour their house lager from a tap at your own table. It seemed it a bit of a novelty, but eventually the realisation dawned that this was a bar that was serious about beer. It has a good collection of classic Belgian and international beers, and indeed a fine selection of gins, bourbons and other spirits. The food though? Again it took a while for the penny to drop that this had developed into a bar/restaurant and that over time the menu has become really quite interesting –

There’s burgers and sandwiches, yes, but there’s also quite ambitious menu available lunchtimes and evenings with the likes of chicken ballotine stuffed with shitake mushrooms and tarragon or crab salad with beetroot cream and charred chicory.

I went along early on a Friday night not expecting to find many diners but again I’d been a bit slow off the mark in assessing the development of the place and the dining tables were fully booked. The staff, who I will say right now were fantastic over the course of two visits, were able to find me a little corner of the bar area if I was ready to order there and then.

I started with a creamy seafood chowder with saffron. This was a hearty, warming affair packed with mussels, fish and most of all whelks, which were somewhat rubbery but then they are, aren’t they? A decent start though and there was some good basic bread served with it and butter with flakes of sea salt. My initial reaction then was that if wasn’t the finest food available in the city, then it at least it was being prepared by people with a bit of nous and an interest in pleasing the diner.

I decided to do a bit of beer matching and found the fruity, robust Belgian blond ale La Chouffe went very nicely with the soup. Main course was a big, well-seasoned hunk of loin of venison, cooked medium rare. It was very good, and had a decent jus along with a charred clementine that you could use to gently squeeze out some citrus flavour. Kale was a good choice of greenery but the rosti didn’t quite work. The key for me with rosti is the balance of crispy pan-fried outside to a thin barely-cooked layer within – but this was too thick and while it had interesting seasoning there was too much raw potato.

The beer match, worked out in discussion with the very well-informed waitress, was the gorgeous Icelandic toasted porter Einstok, full of coffee and chocolate flavours that complemented the venison beautifully.

At a subsequent lunch time visit I had spinach and feta tortellini, which were big bruisers rather than fine and delicate. If the pasta was a bit heavy-handed, the filling was well done and a sage cream sauce was excellent. A desert of lemon tart was billed as a “baked lemon custard” but was nothing of the sort. The classic lemon tart is a test for the kitchen but this was simply a lemon-curdy cream that been piped into a pastry case – nicely sweet and sharp but not a lemon tart. There was a good fruit coulis and berries with it though, and it was all presented with a bit of panache.

This time round I also tried the Chilean craft IPA Rothhammer – a light but flavoursome version which doesn’t overwhelm the tastebuds. Apparently this is the only outlet in Leicester and one of the first in the UK.

Taps is offering an interesting line food and in the main the quality appears good. With its excellent drinks offering and staff doing a fine job of making you welcome and feel looked after, other sceptics should give it a visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am no great comedy fan. Some of the least enjoyable nights of my life have been spent cringing with embarrassment at car-crash gigs (I’m looking at you Josie Long!)

But I was intrigued by the sound of George Egg’s Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival show during which he prepares a three-course meal using only the items to be found in a hotel bedroom. And this was at the lovely surroundings of Upstairs at the Western  – a steeply-raked theatre space above the Western pub of maybe 50 seats that is run by an enthusiastic team of volunteers and puts on a regular programme of dram, spoken word and comedy (www.upstairsatthewestern.com).

The set-up is of the stand-up traipsing around the country and finding himself once again faced with grabbing a late-night kebab or trying to be inventive within the confines of a Premier Inn. It’s somewhere between a comedy gig and one of the cooking demonstrations you get at food festivals. Here though the chef has a confident line in banter, fleshed out with pleasantly surreal visuals such as a short film of painting marmite on twiglets.

The realisation dawns that yes this really is cookingon stage –  he really is buttering the hot plate of an iron and making pancakes on them. He also manages to fillet a sea bream and poach it in a kettle with a holder fashioned from bent clothes hangers, make a salsa verde with seasonings half-inched from an M&S café and crush some hazlenuts using a Gideon bible.

timthumb www.georgeegg.com

We got to taste afterwards and it was actually very tasty – Mr Egg seemed to be doing a good trade in selling his recipe cards too.

Not an awful lot of jokes, nor much of a narrative structure, but as an exploration of making the most of your surroundings this was a fun way to pass an hour. There’s no excuse for the continued employment of Tim Lovejoy on Sunday Brunch while George Egg is available. Well, there’s no excuse for the employment of Tim Lovejoy full stop but you get the idea.

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