Tipu Sultan

May 31, 2017

Another recent review from my Leicester Mercury column, this time of a remarkable new Indian restaurant – huge in scale, done up like a palace,  but serving village style food. Some of it I loved, some of it needed more love and attention. Interesting whatever…

Tipu Sultan
12-16 The Parade
Oadby
LE2 5BF

No doubt some people want their restaurant reviews to be all about the food. It’s a fair point, but such people will have to bear with me a little this week because there’s so much to say about the this jaw-dropping new restaurant before we even begin to consider its take on food from the North West of the subcontinent.

First off, the sheer scale of the place. It’s been converted and extended from the Old Library pub on The Parade in Oadby. With its upstairs function rooms it can feed some 350 people – I can’t think of another table-service restaurant in the county that comes close. It is attempting to repeat the success of its namesake in Birmingham with which it shares both size and a design aesthetic that takes in huge chandeliers (including in the Gents), gilt ceilings, huge gilded mirrors, deep pile banquette seating in rich purples and more classical Indian artworks than you can shake a dandiya stick at.

You are probably going to either love it or hate it, but you can’t ignore it. I couldn’t count the number of staff present on our midweek visit, but including in the glass-sided kitchen which is open for all to view, it had to be more than 50. The first person you encounter is at the welcome desk, then there’s a designated lady to show to your table – a necessity considering the vast scale of the place – and then a phalanx of busy, likeable, young waiters in smart suits who take orders and set and clear your table, while there’s another class of waiter who bring your food from the pass.

The place was very busy but everything seemed to operate like clockwork – truly impressive. The restaurant is halal and does not serve alcohol, and this appears to be a big draw with the more traditional Asian families. There were lots of big family groups dining – from bearded patriachs to young guys with sharp Riyad Mahrez-inspired haircuts and young kids. Unfortunately the six munchkins near us were rather hyped up and were running noisily around until they got fed – family-friendly is great, but it can have a downside.

Tipu Sultan was the late-18th century ruler of Mysore and a hero of the struggle against colonialism, and this whole show of magnificence is designed to make you feel like an emperor – “Majestic Dining” as their strapline would have it. The food is more representative of Tipu’s Mughal ancestors than of Mysore which is in the Southern state of Karnataka. This means most of it will be familiar to a British audience – seekh kebabs, tikkas and familiar curries plus a few desi-style specialities such as paya (lamb trotters), which you’ll often see in halal butchers but rarely in mainstream restaurants. So the décor may be regal but the food here is by and large home-style, rustic even.

My starter was sultani chops – four large mutton chops marinaded in herbs and spices and flame grilled served with a little salad including a delicious little apple chutney. They were superb. You had to quickly give up any idea of a knife and fork and just pick them and get stuck in (I did wonder why we were presented with a cleansing hot towel before the meal started) . Not as tender as lamb chops (which are also available), this scored very highly for flavour and spicing and were truly enjoyable. We also had sultani pakora – pieces of potato, aubergine, paneer and onion in a spicy batter. Again these were big and tasty rather than refined fine dining – maybe it’s inevitable in such a busy kitchen but the coating was a bit thick and thin in places, maybe it was all a bit rushed.

A main course course of peshwari chicken divided opinion somewhat. A lovely sauce, full of fresh ginger and slow-cooked green peppers had chicken on the bone, which made it tender and tasty but the chicken had really just been hacked up, so they were odd bits of drumstick bone and thigh bone around. I’m happy to try alternatives to breast meat but I felt this needed a bit of delicacy. Bhindhi Gosht was fine – plenty of tasty lamb in a thick sauce and while okra can certainly put some people off, this was cooked very nicely indeed.

Rice was fine and the breads impressed. Kashmiri naan (more commonly known as peshwari) may have lacked a lightness of touch but delivered on nutty sweetness with its almond, pistachio and coconut filling and the roomali roti – a lovely thin bread folded like a handkerchief – was perfect for wrapping tasting morsels and wiping up precious sauce.

So a remarkable, spectacular venue but with food which is more homely and prices which don’t require a sultan’s income – a combination that is likely to attract many.

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King Richard III

May 5, 2017

 

Just back from a great trip to Paris including a couple of delightful restaurant meals. Nonetheless, I still have happy memories from the week before of my first meal at the King Richard III, a lovely addition to the city centre. Here’s my review done for the Leicester Mercury.

King Richard III

70 Highcross St

Leicester

LE1 4NN

0116 262 6833

 

Various deranged heads of state seemed to be moving us towards nuclear war. Then it was announced we face a six week election campaign. And then City were knocked out of the Champions League. I needed cheering up.

Fortunately I had a table booked at Leicester’s newest dining pub, the beautifully renovated King Richard III. It’s another edge-of-Highcross location, right next to the Chinese cafe Spicy Temptations which I enthusiastically reviewed here a few weeks ago. The old pub was one of those euphemistically labelled “traditional”, though “rough” was a more commonly heard term. It’s passing has been mourned by a few regulars and a greater number of enemies of progress who would probably never have set foot in the place.

The new pub is a joint venture between Everards and the team behind the successful St Martins Tea and Coffee/Crafty Burger business in St Martin’s. So that’s the heft of Leicestershire’s biggest brewing concern combined with one of our leading nimble and creative independents.

It looks fantastic. Bright, airy, stylish but approachable. The front bar retains a pubby vibe and there are real ales from Leicester microbreweries as well the Everards range. The back room is more of a restaurant space, again looking lovely in green with artworks featuring local scenes by well-known Leicester printmaker Sarah Kirby.

Service is cheerful, friendly and competent, striking a good balance between informality and informed helpfulness throughout. We went only a few days after opening but service routines seemed well established and staff knew the menu well.

That menu is instantly appealing, especially across the starters which are have a light, modern feel based on classic fresh ingredients. Our little party tried a fair few of them. Smoked haddock, clam and leek chowder was beautifully balanced, given a little texture with a sourdough crumb floating on top. Like all the dishes here. it benefitted from being some presented in some really lovely plates and bowls. Chicken kara-age (Japanese fried chicken) was crisp, savoury and well-served by a mouth-tinglingly fresh dipping sauce with spring onion and honey and some strips of pickled kohl-rabi. Then there was sensationally soft and creamy burrata (mozzarella with cream) that was a sheer delight on the mouth and given texture from fresh walnuts and sharpness from pickled beetroot. A real delight.

Then there was an eye-catching crispy spiced lamb roll with lovely moist meat fried in a thin crumb served on pickled red cabbage with yoghurt, chilli and mint – the sort of dish that would earn an ambitious contemporary Indian restaurant great plaudits. Possibly winning the line-up of starters were little queenie scallops in a mini seafood stew with crisp smoked bacon and super-fresh peas (above right).

 Great flavours allowed to simply sing.

The kitchen is very proud of its robata grill, a Japanese-inspired indoor barbecue grill that cooks at very high temperature. It was shown to good purpose on a sirloin steak with a lovely dark, smoky seared outside but nice and rare inside. With a simple bearnaise and a little bowl of a super earthy but sweet mushroom ketchup it again highlighted this venue’s signature approach of high quality produce done simply but with flair. Lamb chops may not have been the sweetest I’ve ever had but again were brilliantly cooked on the grill, coming with a sparkling chimichurri sauce – all the sauces, dips, ketchups and extras here were notably fresh and zingy. We had them with some of the crunchy skin-on fries that fans of Crafty have come to know and love.

From the specials board came perfect roast cod with elegant barbecued cauliflower and romesco, a Spanish sauce made with red peppers and almonds. No need for a bowl of random veg here, these are well thought-out dishes.

There’s just three deserts on the current menu, including a cheese board, and we had a fine, springy, cinnamon dusted doughnut ball with a crème anglaise – or vanilla custard as this resolutely unponcey place lists it – and seasonal Yorkshire rhubarb.

As you can tell, we thoroughly enjoyed the King Richard. Co-owner and chef Chris Elliman, who has headed up fine dining kitchens as well as top-notch burger joints, seems to have nailed his vision of an unprententious dining pub focussed on great contemporary British food with a minimum of fuss. Great roasts, high quality seafood and fresh seasonal ingredients presented with flair but nothing that gets in the way of simple enjoyment.

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