I enjoyed a terrific afternoon this Saturday at the 45 Gin School. Part of the continuing rapid development around St Martin’s and Centenary Square this venue – known as The Distiller’s Kitchen – hosts courses on the flavouring and distillation of gin and, wonderfully, gives you the chance to craft your own unique 70cl bottle to take home at the end.

 

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Distiller Ed Gibson outlines the process

 

It’s all done with a very light touch and the emphasis on having a great time while learning. On arrival you’re given you’re first gin and tonic before the group are called to order by Ed Gibson, chief distiller for 45 West who are makers of the Burleigh’s range of gins. There’s nothing too mystical about gin making – it’s basically grain spirit boiled up with juniper and other flavourings – and so Ed is able trot over the basics fairly swiftly and in entertaining style. We each have our own mini still (copper of course, it helps avoid sulphites spoiling our gin) and our base mix of juniper, orris, angelica root and coriander seeds.

 

 

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Your choice of botanicals

 

Once we’ve heard about the options in terms of gin style – spicy, floral, herby, citrussy whatever – we’re able to pick our selection from a range of more than 60 botanicals. Gill and I veered towards the floral, adding the like of rose buds, hibiscus flowers, elderflower and silver birch. Ed’s trained nose is around to give opinion and advice on everyone’s selection and then it’s simply tip it into the spirit in our personal still and go upstairs for a cocktail making (and drinking) masterclass.

 

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Gill shakes some coctail action

 

By the time we return our stills have started to trickle out the good stuff. We wait, dipping our fingers in the stream in order to check the flavours are still alive, eventually making the cut once a dull harshness takes over. The spirit is now at around 85 per cent ABV so we then dilute it to our desired strength with pure water.  To complete the fun you get the chance to make your own label and have the bottle properly sealed.

 

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The finished product

 

It’s an extremely satisfying process and I can’t wait to crack open the bottle and confirm my sense that we are naturally gifted gin-makers.

The courses last up to around three hours and cost is £115 for one, or £145 for a couple making one bottle, and there are opportunities midweek and Saturdays.  If you go on the 45 Gin School website you can buy a voucher and enter your desired date to see what’s available.

 

 

 

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Upcoming events

May 23, 2018

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Good to see a couple of returning food events here in Leicestershire. The Pop Up Smokehouse has announced its second takeover event. This time Liam Watson (above)and his team will be cooking their bold and hearty take on US barbecue at the atmospheric Globe on Millstone Lane on Tuesday 19 June from 5pm to 10pm. I can tell you this in safety now because I have booked my table already  – last time out they filled up very quickly. There are several ways to book but maybe try their website first.

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Also now announced are details of the second  Edible Forest, Charnwood’s woodland-themed food festival which runs from 9-16th September. Top pick for serious diners must be the Secret Gourmet, which will see a forest-inspired menu created by local chefs John Duffin (of Mountsorrel’s Michelin-starred John’s House) and Paul Leary, who’s work is well-known to Leicestershire diners over the last 15 years. Menu details are being held back, as is the location but it’s promised to be a historic location somewhere near Shepshed – cost is £70.

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There are some less heady options – such as the chance to have brunch, picnic or dine in a clear ‘pod’ in the heart of the forest. Then there are chances again to have tea inside Old John in Bradgate Park or to enjoy guided foraging walks around the forest.  There will also be live music and DJ events with Charnwood’s own Burleigh’s gin having a strong presence. Details available here.

One more thing – heads up to vegan readers about Plant and Bean, who promise to combine plant-based ingredients with exciting flavours and a streetfood vibe. I believe there is a link to The Fish and The Chip restaurant on St Nicholas Place, and certainly that’s where there their first takeover event is happening in June,  with a delivery service and more events promised soon. No further details yet but track them down on Instagram @plantandbean.

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A coy hairstreak at Ketton

I had a hard morning running around a quarry in Rutland in a largely fruitless chase for Green Hairstreak butterflies. So I was a in need of some lunch. It was then I realised I was close to the Fox and Hounds in Exton and my heart gave a little leap.

I had a really tremendous meal a couple of years back at this gorgeous country inn but it’s just that little too far from the city for an easy drive out.  I’d heard that Glen Cowl – known to many through his work at the Red Lion Stathern and the The Bewicke Arms in Hallaton- had taken over as head chef so this was a good opportunity to revisit. And it was lovely to find the place in robust form.

The pub is achingly pretty on the outside and has a lovely, slightly dishevelled charm inside. A warm feeling got even warmer when I saw found they had my book (The Leicestershire and Rutland Cookbook) open on the bar.  By the time I settled in a huge old squishy chesterfield and supped a lovely half of bath Gem ale my spirits were soaring.

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Crab croquettes

I picked two courses from the prix fixe menu (£16) and was shown into the dining room  which looks out over the large and – on days like this – massively inviting garden. I started off with crab croquettes, two lovely crisp balls with plenty of crab, sat on a salsa of pomegranate and grapefruit. Those two fruits carry a fearsome acidity  but the amounts were just right, so nothing overwhelmed but you could mix and match the salsa and croquette to get more of a seafood hit or more citrus.

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Lamb shoulder

Main course was another generous plate of shoulder of lamb with truffled pomme puree. Like the starter this was a potentially dangerous dish that succeeded through balance executed. Lamb shoulder is never exactly a gourmet treat but this, coming from the Launde estate on the other side of Oakham, was very good – full flavoured and tender, while that puree was rich, smooth and with enough truffle to be present but not to dominate excessively. A nice sticky jus, slightly charred artichokes and fresh broccoli completed the dish.

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I finished with a second half of Gem while sitting in the garden sunshine with a Rose Tremain novel, a full stomach and a great sense of well-being. Food and service were a credit to the Graham family who took over the place in 2015. I just wish it was a bit nearer.

 

 

I was at the King Richard III today to do some filming with Leicester chef Kwoklyn Wan and fellow food writer Laura Morrighani for the BBC East Midlands’ Inside Out slot. We had a chat about what people are looking for in restaurants nowadays in the context of the struggles facing several well-known chain restaurants.

Fortunately we also got fed  – which gives me a chance to mention that the KRIII has now introduced a fine grazing menu to complement it’s regular restaurant offering. For those that hadn’t realised,  the pub has a new head chef in the form of Martin Powdrill –  who should be well known to regular readers as the man behind Cured at Brewdog and The Cookie. The grazing menu includes  his signature platters – which the three of us were able to enjoy today – and which  combine terrific breads with innovative cured meats, terrines, cheeses, slaws, purees, pestos,  pickles and other sorts of loveliness.  Shared between three its just over £7 a head and is a lovely way to complement a few beers or glass of wine. Its freshness, originality and creativity also points to just why some of the more formulaic and , let’s face it, mediocre chains have been struggling.

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Also available are the likes of ox cheek or Korean pork buns or snacks  (3 for £12.95) such as sesame Japanese wins, pork and black pudding sausage roll with smoked beer ketchup, poutine, beef jerky and jersey royal and cauliflower pakoras.

Food is served from 5.30 pm and at lunchtimes from Friday to Sunday. The grazing menu looks great in itself  but should also serve as good way for newbies to check out this really fine food pub.

As for the filming – transmission won’t be until September but rest assured I’ll remind you nearer the time.

 

 

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