The Leicester Food Hop

October 2, 2018

If you are looking for a easy to way to get a glimpse into some of Leicester’s more interesting independent food venues – the Leicester Food Hop should be right up your proverbial.

The idea is that on one day  – specifically Saturday 13th October – you can buy a ticket and run your own self-guided, self -timed daytime tour around five venues, each of which will serve you up a drink and a tapas-sized dish that will highlight their food.

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Salt and pepper squid from The Fish and The Chip

The venues involved are The Fish and The Chip, King Richard III, The Knight and Garter, The Parcel Yard, and The Olive  – the Greek street food café on Belvoir Street. It runs between 12pm and 5pm, so you’ve got up to an hour in each venue if you want. Organisers Cool as Leicester will email you a starting venue and suggested route. Tickets are £30 for five dishes and five drinks (small glass wine or half pint of beer) – for details visit Cool as Leicester

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The Wheatsheaf at Greetham

September 21, 2018

I’ve been meaning to get out to The Wheatsheaf for a good few years. Leicester-trained chef Carol Craddock had a serious career in London – anyone who has worked with Simon Hopkinson at Bibendum is going to be worth trying – and she’s well-known among cheffy circles.

She and partner Scott eventually returned home, as many do, and their unpretentious village pub is in the heart of Rutland’s dining belt – around three miles from other excellent dining pubs including The Fox and Hounds in Exton, The Olive Branch in Clipsham and the Jackson Stops Inn in Stretton. Which makes it a bit of a trek from Leicester but we were delighted we made the effort.

20180919_214142It’s a pleasant vista arriving at the warm Rutland stone building. A little stream flows through the garden and a bevy of ducks quack out a welcome. But it’s an unprepossessing entry into the building – through some basic outbuildings, past a pool table and into the bar and restaurant area. It’s cosy, traditional and basic. The staff are in jeans and trainers, but the welcome is warm and throughout the evening service is friendly, skilled and attentive, creating a relaxed atmosphere. It’s a place that doesn’t feel it has a lot to prove – and in this instance that’s a really good thing.

There is an exceptionally good wine list for a pub of this type, reflecting the Craddock’s involvement in setting up Vinoteca in London perhaps. Sadly a bottle of 2011 Chateau Batailley at £65 was beyond my means but that mark-up is not too bad.

20180919_182651The food is also very good – if it came in swanky surroundings you’d call it fine dining. Doesn’t seem appropriate to use that term here. It’s just generous, stylish, modern British classics done by a chef on top of the job. White onion and cider soup with cheddar was extraordinarily good – a hearty, creamier version of French onion soup, it was deeply flavoured, brilliantly seasoned and completely delicious. Scallops could maybe have been seared a bit more for my taste but the caulifower puree with them was a revelation – packed with flavour – and the crispy bacon very good too.

Main courses of duck and lamb were generous portions and cooked bang on. Rump is my favourite cut of lamb because it comes with a nicely lubricating overcoat of fat, and here the cooking gave me both moist pink meat and a darkly seared, crusty edge. The lamb came from Launde just across the A47 and was very satisfying along with a sizeable pot of warming, cheesy shepherd’s pie. Gressingham duck came with roasted pickled peach – which sounded like a gimmick but was an inspired match.

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We couldn’t manage a desert on this occasion but we did stretch to four brilliant chocolate truffles and a glass of desert Riesling.

So, don’t go expecting either deference, crisp linen table clothes and stylish design or food that is sprinkled in chia seeds and big on vegan options. But for high quality restaurant food in a pub, this ticks a lot of boxes.

Leicester Beer Week

September 20, 2018

I’m a little but tardy here but a quick reminder the today marks the start of the inaugural Leicester Beer Week.  It’s a lovely idea that focuses on special events and special offers that celebrate and promote our local beer culture with  go-ahead local pubs and local brewers.

There’s been a lot of work done by volunteers, not least my pal Jamie Stenson, to get people on board and there are plenty of interesting events. I’m kicking myself for missing today’s “Meet the Brewer” session at the Two-Talied Lion with the people behind the wonderful Cloudwater brews.

For a full listing of offers and event go to Leicester Beer Week

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Baked in Brick

September 17, 2018

Those of you who are regulars at Leicester’s streetfood event Canteen* will be familiar with Baked in Brick. Their street food cooked out of ovens in a Mini Cooper have always proved popular and recently they have been acclaimed as the Best of the Best at the European Streetfood Awards for 2017.

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Building on that success they’ve now opened a restaurant, based at Birmingham’s cultural industries hub The Custard Factory in Digbeth. If you’re ever in Brum and in the market for lunch it’s definitely worth the walk out to Digbeth (maybe 12 minutes from New Street, 2 from the bus station). The design might be a bit edgy, with one of those minis careering out of the walls, but on my visit we found the atmosphere is pleasingly cheerful and unpretentious.

The menu focuses on pizzas from the brick oven in the open kitchen. There’s big bags of 00 flour around the place and mountains of tins of san marzano tomatoes – they take their ingredients seriously and you’ll also find local produce such as Lincolnshire Poacher and Colston Bassett Stilton involved. I had their award winning dish of a calzone stuffed with deeply flavoursome beef shin ragu, wild mushrooms, cheese and basil – it was fantastic, right down to the stilton dip for the crust. A fresh salad with mildly smoked burrata and heritage tomatoes was great too, while salty padron peppers, pan-roasted in the pizza oven were the best I’ve encountered.

As you might imagine there’s a good selection of craft beers – I had the Cannonball hop bomb from Magic Rock (I wouldn’t try going back to work after that one) – and a small but good-looking choice of wines. With such quality at around £10 a pizza, it all adds up to a compelling offer.

 

* Not sure exactly what’s gone down here but Canteen has announced it will be moving to a new venue, while previous host LCB Depot has launched its own event Last Friday to replace it. It starts on 28 September and will run along similar lines to Canteen – streetfood, cocktails and live comedy. Canteen has been promising details of its relocated plans but I’ve not seen them yet.

Update 23/9/18:  The new venue for Canteen is to be The Morningside Arena – home of the Leicester Riders and just off Belgrave Gate. The event seems to be going head-to-head with Last Friday and promises more space and less queueing. Will be interesting to see if the audience can grow to support both events.  Here’s a link to a short  promotional film: Canteen

It seems to be getting harder and harder to run a proper, sit-down-and-have-a-serious-meal restaurant. The Indian restaurant subset is battling the headwinds – Paddy’s Marten Inn, Kayal and Herb have given me lovely meals in busy environments this summer – but the trend towards informal grazing seems to be gathering pace.

Last year in Leicester we saw the fine dining Maiyango morph into the bright and breezy The Fish and The Chip, a fun and high quality take on the traditional British seaside chippy. Now this month the King Richard III suspends its marvellous menu of steaks and  grills and modern European classics for a three month takeover by Crafty Chicks, which could be interpreted as a gastropub take on the ubiquitous chicken shop (note traditional Sunday lunches are still being served.)

Crafty, of course, is the King Dick’s owners Chris and Andrea Elliman’s brand which offers the city’s best burgers over at St Martin’s Tea and Coffee. The core poultry offering here is Crafty Fried Chicken marinated in a spices and buttermilk, or barbecue chicken grilled on the robata grill with their own barbecue spice rub (two pieces £5, whole jointed chicken £18). The sides are pure Crafty – skin-on fries,  poutine, chipotle coleslaw, watermelon with lime, mint, peanut and chilli etc.  It looks brilliant for casual sharing.

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kimchiI popped in at lunchtime and had a very quick sandwich of katsu chicken (£5, above) – panko-coated fried breast with tonkatsu sauce, kewpie mayonnaise and slaw. It was full of Japanese umami loveliness but the flavours were a bit unfocussed maybe – lacking something central and distinctive. A side of cucumber kimchi was an inspired touch – deceptively spicy. I hope to get back soon for some barbecue chicken.

No doubt some of the issues facing  restaurants are down to seasonal issues  – the World Cup played its part and the extraordinary extended hot summer is not doing restaurants any favours. But there are also longer term trends both cultural and economic that make the £25 plus per head meal out an ever harder sell.

Fair play to the Ellimans for keeping nimble and trying to keep on top of the market. That said, I hope in the winter months we get a chance to try more of their wonderful steaks, warming soups and elegant deserts.

 

 

 

The Pop-Up Smokehouse

June 21, 2018

Ok it’s not the prettiest plate of food you’ll ever have, but welcome back to the Pop-Up Smokehouse in all its full-flavoured, meaty loveliness.

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Somewhere in this underwhelming picture of the meat platter (for two) served up this week at their one-night-only takeover at Leicester’s Globe pub there is a spicy St Louis cut pork rib, a deep and smoky shin of beef and ale stew, a pot of sweetly fruity pulled pork, sesame-spiced chicken wings and  tender, shredded beef brisket.

Terrific as those meaty elements are, the great thing about The Smokehouse’s food is that all the little accompaniments are just as good if not better. Beautifully tender pickles inside a crisp batter, wonderfully creamy mash, delicately-smoked tomatoes and possibly our favourite item of all, simple raw carrot with a light cardamon-infused sousing.

You can see the full menu below. On reflection, I wished we’d shared a platter for one and picked a  couple of those small  dishes – I’m particularly regretting not managing to find space for the scallops with smoked romesco, and indeed the rum baba desert. That said there still much so much to enjoy. Congratulations to Liam, Ollie and the rest of their team – do look for their next takeover wherever it may be.

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Plant and Bean takeover

June 13, 2018

Full details are now available of the Plant and Bean takeover of The Fish and The Chip which I mentioned last month.

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The vegan pop-up will replace The Fish and The Chip’s usual menu for the period Thursday 21 June to Sunday 24 June. The approach is described in rather awkwardly modish language as  “mindful plant based ingredients mixed with a whole family of worldly flavours”, but there’s no denying some it sounds most enticing.

The menu is the usual starters, mains deserts structure along with salad bowls plus sides and kids’ options and a three course meal comes in at under £20. Starters include grilled kaffir lime and thai basil corn cakes with sriracha mayo, and chick pea, potato and samphire spiced chaat with amchur and almond yogurt. Mains are mainly burgers and sandwichs , ranging from their take on a Cubano – a toasted sandwich with smoked mushrooms, charred red peppers, caramelised red onions, cheddar, wholegrain mustard and pickles – to a middle Eastern flatbread with spiced roasted aubergine, courgette and mushrooms with ras el hanout chickpeas served on a flatbread with red pepper hummus and pomegranate salad.

There’s 20 per cent off for the soft launch on the Thursday, and there are live DJs on Friday and Saturday evenings.  If you can’t get down, the full menu will also be available for delivery via Deliveroo from 22 June.  For more details and the full menu see The Fish and The Chip website.

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

Cafe Delhi

April 24, 2018

delhi chaat

Samosa Chaat

Another month, another leading Leicester Indian restaurant launches a brand-extension vegetarian branch.

After the launch of Kayal’s stunning Herb, the well-established, high-performing Memsaab in Highcross has launched Cafe Delhi in the highly competitive environment of Melton Road. Memsaab is themed around ladies of the Raj, and the new restaurant also has a thoroughly worked-through theme, in this case the street food scene of Delhi.

There’s been no shortage  of vegetarian food in the area, from Bobby’s  – which had legendary status even when I rocked up in Leicester in 1983 – to numerous sweet marts doing a fine line in bhajis, dhokla, samosas and other sweet and savoury snacks. Cafe Delhi though is a lot smarter than most though. It’s got a handsome blue (teal? turquoise?) and gold colour scheme and plenty of fun retro prints with an open kitchen behind a big window at the far end.

The menu is broad and more, erm, pragmatic than the relatively purist Herb. So here there are plenty of “soya” dishes and contemporary streetfood favourites such as Nepali momo, Manchurian dumplings and even Chip Butty inspired by , well, let’s say Yorkshire. I’m assuming most of it either is or could be made vegan if you leave out the yoghurt, but you’ll obviously need to check.

We had a quick lunch today and the food was terrific. Light and  fluffy idli (steamed rice and lentil cakes) came with an amazing sambhar – richer and sweeter than most – and coconut chutney. Samosa chat is probably the dish I dream about most away from Leicester and this was a hugely enjoyable one. The balance of soft pastry, nicely spiced chick pea curry, crispy vermicelli, cooling yoghurt and sweet tangy tamrind is heavenly. A tandoori roti was one of the best breads I’ve encountered for a long-time – beautifully soft and flaky. The masala chai, coming in a beautifully decorated tea pot,  was a bit too reserved for me – I like it pungent and fragrant.

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Service on weekday lunchtime was a bit too laid back for our liking – our dishes came five minutes apart and staff seemed a bit preoccupied – but I’m definitely going back.  Chaats and snacks are around £3 to £5, with a range of curries and veggie tandoori kebabs at £5/6.  Especially appealing seems the thali at £10.95, served up on crescent-shaped copper thalis which fit snugly around your plate.

Cafe Delhi
47 Melton Rd
Leicester LE4 6PN
0116 266 5500

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