Review – Poacher’s Brasserie

April 15, 2016

Right, so here’s another Mercury review.  I had half expected Poacher’s Brasserie to be a one of those so-so places that tries to be a bit smart but doesn’t have the skills to back it up. But I was pleased to find it was better than that.  It may not be destination dining but the food was good – cooked with care, conceived with  a bit of thought and with no obvious failings. That counts for a lot.

Poacher’s Brasserie, Thurlaston

Poacher’s was an established, well-known face on the Leicestershire dining scene that went missing. Owner Chris Tandy went off to pursue other interests and let the place to a number of different operators, none of whom lasted very long.

So last year he took the place back, refurbished it, and set about regaining some of the old regulars and attracting new diners out to this somewhat isolated village between Leicester and Hinckley. A head chef with international experience was recruited but went fairly quickly, but nonetheless reports came in that the place was on good form.

From the road it is certainly a handsome proposition – a 17th century cottage standing opposite the Norman village church and graveyard. Inside the door there’s a lovely big fireplace, huge soft sofas and a sizeable bar area that is fine for locals to pop in for a drink.

Out the back is a surprisingly large modern extension, a warm environment though be prepared for walls decked out with animal skulls to play on the poachers theme. There’s space for around 80 diners and a flexible layout with moveable partitions. This helps the venue stage events such as sporting nights – Emile Heskey and Geordan Murphy are both featuring soon – and theatrical evenings such as “Only Fools and Three Courses” where actors interact with diners.

Our visit though was on a quiet, post-Easter evening. We took advantage of an appealing midweek offer of a free bottle of wine for a pair of diners having at least two courses each. I feared some real plonk, but the sauvignon blanc from France was a perfectly respectable,enjoyable wine with characteristic hints of gooseberry and apple.WP_20160331_19_14_35_Pro

The menu may not be that wide but that for me suggested a suitably focused kitchen and there was certainly enough appeal to whet the appetite. When our starters came it quickly became clear we were in pretty safe hands. Pigeon breast (right) was beautifully cooked, enough searing to give flavour but pink enough in the middle to maintain tenderness. It came with a good salad of slightly bitter radicchio and parsley and a sweet walnut dressing, plus a little bonbon of black pudding. A well-presented, nicely thought out dish.

Scallops were also handled with confidence and care, and served with slightly spicy black pudding and crushed peas. Not devastatingly original combinations but there’s a reason this match-up is popular and when it’s cooked as well as this it’s a very pleasing dish.

We were served mainly by the owner himself. He has a somewhat laconic demeanour that, judging by social media reports, some don’t warm to. We however found him relaxed and very happy to talk about their food and what they were doing with the restaurant.

Main courses also featured very competent cooking. Cod loin had been wrapped in prosciutto and cooked under a very hot grill – the ham was crispy, almost like a crust, and intensely flavoured, but the cod inside was still perfect. With a few quenelles of a creamy mash, rich enough here I’d say to warrant a designation of pommes mousseline, along with pea purée, a few shavings of pickled fennel and a cod velouté, this impressed.

Chicken breast with sautéed potatoes and chorizo is not exactly a dish setting too many technical challenges but again it was done here in way that elevated it above home cooking. Tender, flavoursome chicken with a fine herby jus that infused thyme throughout the dish. Char-grilled asparagus was maybe slightly overdone but was still a welcome presence on this plate of superior comfort food.

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A desert of vanilla crème brulée was, rather alarmingly, brought to table firmly ablaze (right). I’ve not seen this done before but I’m all for a bit of theatre in restaurants and while it meant the burnt sugar wasn’t as crisp as usual, I enjoyed it all – including the very rich homemade shortbread. A panna cotta was served in a flip-top jar, denying the diner the pleasure of the wobble, but it was good stuff and served with plenty of fresh berries and a stylish chocolate wave.

Poacher’s may not please those looking for huge bowls of spuds and green veg as a sign of good value, but there’s plenty of pubs doing that. But for its well-cooked, carefully considered dishes presented with a bit of restaurant flair, Poachers is most welcome back.

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