Peppercorn Catering

April 25, 2017

A quick plug for family-run Leicestershire caterers Peppercorn, who’s double decker bus known as Ella Louise can now be found parked up at Abbey park over the summer. Peppercorn, who already run two cafes in Barrow and Anstey, have taken on the PavilWP_20170421_006ion café in Abbey Park which will open later this summer once a complete refurbishment is done.

They have also launched a new, next-day-delivery, postal service for their traybakes and they were kind enough to send me a selection.  I’ll have a good hefty slab over a mimsy cup cake any time and their bakes have all the virtues of the style – white chocolate tiffin (right) had a solid layer of chocolate with a rich, sweet, coconutty biscuit underneath, leavened with glace cherries.  Peanut butter brownies were also substantial but didn’t have the cloying texture of others I’ve had. Rocky Road  was full of badness in all the right ways.

A dairy and egg free apple cake seemed underspiced, underfruited and a bit dull though. I’m sure it must be hard to make much of interest without butter or eggs, so full marks for trying – I’m sure it will be appreciated as will others such as the gluten free chocolate slice and strawberry and honey cake.

For more information, visit Peppercorns by Post

Advertisements

The Spotted Duck

April 18, 2017

My latest review for the Leicester Mercury – a fine dining opening for hard-core foodies. Will be interested to see what Leicestershire makes of it:

The Spotted Duck
61 Leicester Road
Mountsorrel
Leicester LE12 7AJ
0116 237 6571

It’s been a while since we’ve had a really ambitious, fine dining restaurant to review. The last was probably John’s House in Mountsorrel which of course has gone on to win Leicestershire’s first Michelin star. And it’s hard not to think that the runaway success of John Duffin (just try getting a weekend booking) has influenced the opening of The Spotted Duck just a few yards up the Leicester Road.

This handsome new restaurant is a vehicle for the talents of Johnny Prince, a Leicestershire-raised chef who has worked stages – short work placements in kitchens – at some of the nation’s top restaurants including Hambleton Hall and the three-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsey. Still in his early 20s, he has been making a name for himself locally as a private chef and teacher.

The Spotted Duck now offers him further career progression. He is undoubtedly aiming high – it takes some chutzpah to create a very slick, glossy website with your own name and declare your “boundless ambition” and an aim of becoming the world’s youngest chef to hold two Michelin stars.

If that makes you think the restaurant might be horridly flash, fret not. This is a not just a beautiful, calm and elegant restaurant but the food is unpretentious and driven by quality ingredients and seasonality. For example, three of our dishes last week featured local wild garlic at its absolute stunning best before the plants flower.

duck2

But let’s get this straight from the beginning. If you’re looking for good hearty food and measure value by the number of roasties or the size of your naan, you may not be satisfied here. Maybe pick one of the many other splendid options we write about here every week. However if you’ve got the money ( three courses a la carte will be around £40 a head plus drinks) and are interested in seeing what a talented young chef does with fine ingredients then you will want to get along.

You’ll find a restaurant done out in smart greys, furniture with a rustic feel, nicely-chosen art work and a Bang and Olufsen sound bar giving out a smooth soundtrack. There are smartly dressed staff who float around being quietly effective. Chef Johnny seems to have effectively moved his pass out into the room and he is a very focused presence at the end of the bar area finishing plating and briefing staff.

We start with some very fine bread – lovely spongy white and rye sourdough with heavenly truffle and balsamic butter. This great start continued with an amuse of raw mackerel pieces with aerated pork skin and a charred cauliflower emulsion – a good combination of flavours and textures.

The dishes that followed all focussed on top quality ingredients given a chance to sing. My pigeon breast, cooked sous-vide I think, was extraordinarily rich and gamey and came with lightly charred onions, wild mushrooms, a punchy mushroom puree and some of those wonderfully fierce wild garlic leaves – a real forest medley. Then there was a single hand-dived scallop from the East Coast of Scotland, impeccably cooked, accompanied by a Granny Smith and celeriac purée and little crumbed cubes of “pig’s head” meat. These sweet and succulent little beauties were one of the highlights of the night.

My main course was poussin and lobster – the crustacean simply poached, the chicken simply roasted. The breast was wonderful, the leg possibly a bit overdone. There was a superb layered potato cake giving crunch and flavour, there was a fine, sweet carrot purée and a huge – too huge for the dish – barbecued onion that threatened to overhwhelm the other ingredients. Individually items were fine but for me they didn’t really all come together – I couldn’t really work out where it was all going.

More coherent was the loin of lamb with wild garlic. Firstly the loin itself was completely sublime – tender, pink and subtly infused with rosemary. The look it brought to my partner’s face was a joy to behold. Then it was matched with some crisp and fatty breast meat, a herby salad of pearl barley and quenelle of tapenade-style olives.

My desert was a white chocolate and cardamon mousse. This was sizeable, rich and delicious though picking holes I’d have been happy with a tad more spice and the mousse was very slightly grainy. The fresh mango and mango sorbet with it gave acidity which cut the richness of the mousse. My partner’s beef suet sticky toffee pudding had the richness of flavour you’d expect but a lightness you might not. The caramel sauce was superb.

The wine list is still relatively short at the moment but I suspect will build. We had a glass each of a house Pays d’Oc and Argentine Malbec – both were good enough to think it wasn’t really necessary to spend more.

The Spotted Duck was full enough on a Wednesday evening to suggest wording is spreading fast about the place. It’s not surprising – here’s a good-looking young chef with all the skills plus a rock’n’roll name and a flair for promotion. It’s going to be interesting to see how this develops.

Hercules Revived

April 10, 2017

Here’s a review from my Leicester Mercury column of a rather nice country pub out near Market Bosworth. We went midweek and it was doing good business – I suspect it’s one that many people could usefully bear in mind for Sunday lunch too:

 

Hercules Revived
Main Street
Sutton Cheney
Leicestershire
CV13 OAG

01455 699336

It’s been a while since we’ve been out to the West of the county to report on good places to eat. They do seem a bit harder to ferret out than in some other parts of Leicestershire and Rutland.

There are though some lovely old villages which seem to be calling out for great dining pubs. It’s good to report that Sutton Cheney is one of those villages and that Hercules Revived is one of those pubs.

Hercules

I’ve a memory of stopping off for a pint here a decade or so back and thinking it a nice enough old village pub. Back then it was just The Hercules – named after a celebrated racehorse in the 18th century owned by the Dixies, the owners of nearby Bosworth Hall until, ironically, losses on the geegees caused the spendthrift 11th baronet Sir Beaumont Dixie to sell up.

Hercules Revived opened its doors in December 2012 after a total refurbishment that retains a smart but cosy country pub environment downstairs and an upstairs restaurant which has a suite of stylish rooms for small and large groups. The pub has a good selection of local and regional cask ales, bottled craft beers and rare gins and the food offers a broad choice of menus over the week from full à la carte to lunchtime sandwiches, good value Monday and Tuesday night set menus, comfort and retro food nights and one-off special events such as a six-course beer-matched menu.

The main evening menu, like virtually all such pubs, offers it collection of staples – fish and chips, burger, steak and a penne arrabiata for the veggies. Looking at other tables, these seem to be well done but we were after more interesting fare. I started with a leek brulée, a savoury custard with a parmesan crust and served with two sizeable slices of lightly smoked applewood cheddar and grapes. The smooth bruleé was an excellent vehicle for the sweet flavour of leeks, though I would have liked more of the excellent wholemeal crostini – it worked best when the creamy leek was combined with crunchiness of the bread. Leek and cheese are of course a champion flavour match and while I suspect not everyone would warm to the texture, there was no doubt that the dish delivered on freshness and flavour.

We also had a terrific haddock fishcake – round and fat, lightly crumbed – served with lemon and pepper mayonnaise and surrounded by fresh prawns and a tomato concasse. Nicely made and elegantly presented, it tasted great and gave a sense that there was experience, skill and good judgment in the kitchen.

Mains were both substantial meaty feasts but also showed culinary intelligence. My duck breast at first seemed not quite pink enough for my preferences but on investigation it was moist and flavoursome and I wouldn’t have changed it. Coming with it was a delicious little shepherds pie made from leg meat which – in a slightly larger form – would have made a great comfort food lunch on its own. It was advertised as having a redcurrant jus, but that suggests simple meat juices and this was more of an epic sauce – thick, fruity and intense. Not subtle, but I really liked it.

Slow-braised belly of pork, a staple dish of your country dining pub but which can be deadly dull, was first-rate. A man-sized tranche of meat had a nice crusty outside and softly yielding inner, and there was much more porky goodness on the plate – a loose-textured honey-roasted sausage, a satisfying wedge of crackling and a pile of mash with faggot distributed through it. Apple sauce, wholegrain mustard and another rich, glossy sauce completed this unashamedly hearty dish which still had an elegance about it.

Wines are clearly an enthusiasm here with monthly tasting events designed to widen horizons of regulars and the list, while not huge, looks well chosen. There are tempting Meursaults and Barolos for those able to push the boat out, as well as around a dozen more humble bottles available by the glass. Our Argentinian malbec was excellent.

For desert passionfruit cheesecake was light, well-made and with neat slices of sweet, ripe mango and refreshing raspberry sorbet the plate was another goodlooking one. An individual dark chocolate tart needed finer pastry but with a rich ganache, a dab of salted caramel, peanuts and white chocolate ice-cream it was still polished off with a smile.

This independent pub is offering self-confident, highly competent pub restaurant food. It may not be at the very first rank of the region’s restaurants but under head chef Glyn Windross Hercules Revived is stretching out a lead over its competitors.

OK then, following the round-up piece earlier in the week a few updates and some more news.

fullagers

The team from Cured have confirmed that their new venue will be called Fullagar’s and is to be located in the revived Registry building on Pocklington’s Walk. The project will be a joint one with their pals who run the Attic, the upstairs bar at The Cookie on High Street (which remains unaffected). Opening early next month they promise “small plates and tall drinks”.

Also at The Cookie, I forgot to welcome Grey’s – the innovative team who run the food at the LCB Depot – who on 4th April took over the kitchen here. This time the strapline is “providing fresh, seasonal, food choices into the heart of Leicester’s music scene”.  They offer vegan, vegetarian and omnivore food  – look out for the likes of muffins with halloumi, balsamic, blueberries, pumpkin seeds and rocket, or with merguez and red pepper coulis, and salads such roasted cauliflower, pomegranate, chickpeas and tahini.

canteen

Meanwhile back at their home base plans are being made to further expand the wildly successful Canteen streetfood nights on the final Friday of the month. I couldn’t go in March but it seems an astonishing 1200 plus people went along – a real heartwarming figure, even if meant some were disappointed as traders sold out.  An extra two traders and an additional bar are being arranged for 28 April when traders will include the wonderful Caribbean food of Leave it to Esmie, stuffed Bao from Manchester’s Wallace and Sons, grilled meats from Street Souvlaki, Street Chef from the West Midlands, Gray’s themselves and two more to be confirmed.

Further update on the pizza joint Oscar and Rosie’s – it opens tonight at 4 Market Place.

Then a trio of new openings to mention, Most excitingly is The Spotted Duck in Mountsorrel, the first restaurant of young gun Johnny Prince. This is serious fine dining of type we’ve not seen too much of recently in Leicestershire and is clearly linked to the success of village neighbours the Michelin-starred John’s House. Not saying too much more just yet as I’m doing a  full review for the Mercury next week but it’s all rather splendid.

spotted

Then there’s Wygston’s House on Applegate, one of Leicester’s few medieval buildings which has now finally opened as a restaurant run by the people behind Taps, another restaurant in another of Leicester’s oldest buildings. The 15th century building has been renovated but retains lots of features and has a daytime café downstairs and more formal restaurant upstairs. The chef has described the food as “haute rustic” and from the menu I think I can see what he/she is on about  – eg rolled curried goat on a saffron pilaf with tomato curry sauce and fried plantain, rabbit pie “on a bed of” celeriac mash with peas and radishes. Sounds fairly sturdy stuff.

Finally, on the Parade in Oadby is Tipu Sultan, an incipient chain coming out of Birmingham offering “majestic dining” in fairly bling surroundings. Located in what was The Old Library bar it centres on Mughal cuisine form the North West of the sub-continent and has a number of desi-style dishes and items such as paya (lamb trotters). It looks very grand  – I hope the same effort goes into the food. Opens on 10 April.

PS. For all my lovely readers in Bristol – you know special you are to me  – please check out a new blog This Girl Eats by my wonderful niece Amy which will focus on the vibrant food scene of that city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know I don’t update this blog frequently enough for it to be an important source of news, but every now and again I feel the need for a round-up of stuff and today is one of those times.

First off, we’re getting very close now to the welcome opening of the King Richard III pub on Highcross Street, Leicester.  The website is up, bookings are being taken from 11 April (though the first couple of nights are already full for food bookings it seems).  I’m confident that head chef Chris Elliman, who has done such a good job with Crafty and St Martin’s café, will make this a great addition to the city scene. The menu looks a good combination of classic British roasts done on their Robata grill – a 1 kg dry-aged forerib of beef on the bone for two (£45) sounds a particular treat – and dishes with a little contemporary flair such as agro-dolce onion, sorrel and goat’s curd on sourdough toast (£5.50) and below, crispy spiced lamb roll, pickled red cabbage, yoghurt, green chilli and mint.

kriii

Also coming soon is the opening of what I think of as Plaza Claudio Ranieri – and it seems may actually  be called Champions Square. This is the area that used to be the indoor market and will shortly be a public space. This development is giving a chance for the further expansion of developments around St Martin’s Square. Already happening is the conversion of what was Molly O’Grady’s into the Knight and Garter – a joint development between Beautiful Pubs, Sam Hagger’s company that run the nearby Rutland and Derby  and the Forge Inn in Glenfield, and brewers Everards. This is a lovely , grade II listed building and is set to open in Mid-May with an 82-cover restaurant and an impressive drinks selection with a terrace overlooking the new square. I imagine the food will be of the crowd-pleasing variety but likely to be done well.  It may be  tough to overcome City people’s preconceptions about this site but I reckon Beautiful Pubs are up to the task.

Also brought in by the new square is Oscar and Rosie’s, a highly-rated independent pizza company founded by a Nottingham lawyer.  I’ve never tried their Nottingham outlet but they seem  to have a commitment to high quality ingredients. I’ve not got an opening date yet but it all sounds rather promising.

Opening on 13 April in Loughborough is Fenway’s, the reincarnation of the much-missed Smokehouse from Braunstone Gate.  Fenway’s on Baxtergate is the latest opening form the Orange Tree group and will also have Liam Watson from the Smokehouse heading up the Kitchen. The Leicester restaurant had a great indy feel about it – and indeed came about as a result of the Orange Tree bosses giving a creative young chef the chance to do his own thing. Fenway’s appears to have a more corporately-themed feel about it and a more generic smokehouse menu,  so I hope there’s still the opportunities for the chefs to play and experiment. Good news is that it looks like some of the splendid dishes Liam came up with are still present in some way on the menu  – including 12-hour smoked brisket, smoked ox cheek with house pickles and the legendary sticky toffee pudding with salted caramel sauce.

fenways menu

Part of Fenway’s menu

 

And finally, another ex Smokehouse chef is Martin Powdrill who also went on to do great work at Cured at Brewdog. He and co-chef Ollie have confirmed they have now have a new venue for their restaurant. More news is promised soon but the restaurant will have a new name to reflect the new location.

 

%d bloggers like this: