A feast at Hambleton Hall

November 13, 2018

Notwithstanding upstarts such as John’s House, the benchmark for fine dining in Leicestershire and Rutland remains Hambleton Hall.  And last Saturday night I was privileged to join in a private dinner there to celebrate my friend Tara’s 40th birthday and, gentle reader, it was completely stunning.

Bad blogging I know, but I’m not going to give you a blow by blow account  – we were having far too much fun for me to turn on work mode – but let me just offer the menu here:

 

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So many of my favourite ingredients here and every one of them was prepared, cooked and presented brilliantly. Here’s a few of my highlights – as ever it can be the littlest thing makes a dish memorable:

  • little crisps of Jerusalem artichokes that captured that flavour to perfection
  • a sublime canape of celeriac with celeriac with black and white truffle. I clocked a couple of spare ones as we left the bar to go to our table. If you think I asked around to see if anyone else wanted them, you are very wrong.
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  • little beetroot macarons (left) that supplied wonderful earthy intensity to match with a creamy horseradish ice-cream.
  • an immense scallop – I’ve had smaller fillet steaks – with foaming green lemongrass broth.
  • the unexpected synergy between immaculate duck breast and spiced black beans, and the sweet/sour citrus of kumquat.
  • a white chocolate truffle with superb cherry interior.

In truth it was all excellent and served with quiet elegance by a brilliantly marshalled troupe of young waiters who glided in and out in choreographed fashion, leaving us to have the time of lives and enjoy the wonders before us.

It’s  no accident that Hambleton Hall  has the longest retained Michelin star in the UK. It was an absolute joy to be there – massive kudos to chef Aaron Patterson,  restaurant director Graeme Matheson and their respective teams.

Queen Victoria Arts Club

November 11, 2018

Dinner at the Queen Victoria Arts Club in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter on Thursday. The capsule review is that it’s a lovely place, we had some good food, but it’s clear neither the kitchen nor the food are fully up to speed yet.

One of the key reasons for this is that they lost head chef Steve Durham just before opening night in Mid-October and it’s currently unclear whether he’ll be returning. They’ve got in some emergency help and I’m assured “issues have been resolved and a firm plan is in place”.  However there were some very basic errors.

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Photo credit: Saul Morgan

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First off though , it’s a splendid environment. I enjoyed the sophistication of the dark green colour scheme and there’s a pleasing sparkle from immaculate glassware and cutlery. The view from the big windows across Orton Square to Curve is a really superb urban vista. Just to confirm, the venue’s restaurant is open to the public while other areas, including meeting rooms and an elegant but cosy basement bar, are either bookable or for use by members as they develop a membership scheme.

Some people seem to have got the impression it’s super-exclusive, but in fact the restaurant is not all that expensive and they want to attract regular, repeat custom not just special event dining – the opening menu sees starters around £5-8, main courses £14-£18.  I started with roast salmon, a small but perfectly cooked piece of fish which should have come on a slaw of shaved apple and fennel with dried tomatoes. However it actually came with some dabs of lime mayonnaise and  sugar snap peas, which should have been the accompaniments for our other starter of a salmon fish cake, which in turn got the slaw. So, three weeks after opening neither the chefs or the wait staff picked up that the dishes had got swapped somehow. The fishcake and slaw were both very tasty though.

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photo shame: me

A further issue came in that there was no offer of a wine list until we chased it up sometime after ordering. I ordered a white wine for the fish but it didn’t show up – eventually I chased again and it came just as I was finishing. The waitress was most apologetic, blaming some communication problem between her tablet and the till – not good enough.

Looking at the menu I was attracted to “lamb with peppercorn sauce” – I asked about the cut and the waitress thought it was loin, turned out to be shoulder. However, it was some of the best shoulder I’ve encountered in a long while, tender and well-flavoured with a terrific sauce. A fondant potato was technically excellent – combining the roast and poaching processes to perfection.  The vegetables were beautifully prepared and cooked too – though there was nothing to suggest they were “lightly pickled” as described on the menu.

My partner’s main was a terrific dish – moist, flavoursome roast chicken with a very well-balanced cream sauce with wild mushrooms and tarragon. It came sitting on some wonderful roast garlic mash – again a well-judged balance of flavours.

A word on the wines – a NZ sauvignon blanc (when it came) was excellent and the Chilean carmenere was a great match with the lamb. Looking at the well-stocked bar it does look the drinks offering is sorted at least.

A desert of a blackberry bavarois with charlotte russe cake was a bit under-flavoured, though a quince sorbet with it was excellent. I don’t think it benefitted from all being put in a glass with the sorbet on top – made it a bit hard to savour different elements of the dish.

It’s tough for any new business and losing one of your major assets just as you open must be a stressful experience. But if it’s to bring in the local businesses and the creative types who you’d think will be it’s main clientele, QVAC will need a period of stability and some sharper service.   At the moment I’d have to put it in the “promising” category.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little saddened this evening to hear that The Orange Tree group, a long-standing provider of lively, independent venues for Leicestershire, has sold up to the brewery and pubco Charles Wells.

The four venues  – Leicester, Loughborough and Nottingham’s Orange Tree bars and Loughborough’s Kelso will continue to trade until the spring, when conversion to Well’s “Pizza, Pots and Pints” format will begin. The brand focuses on cosiness – with wood-fired ovens proving pizzas and one-pot comfort food dishes in ceramic pots. Bedford-based Wells has around 200 pubs, most in Southern Central England.

The news follows the sudden closure at the weekend of The Clarendon, the popular Clarendon Park pub where I have seen many glorious Leicester City victories (going four up at Derby in the first half springs to mind) as well as the failure to beat Stoke which sent us down to the third division, a moment which until this wretched weekend seemed to be the worst moment in our history.  High rents and rates and a lack of support from the pubco are blamed by the tenants. It’s not clear what’s happening yet but it could re-open under new tenants in due course. Very sad to see a proper pub being treated this way.

 

 

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