With so many people now spending most of their day in reach of at least three social media channels, old fashioned blogs like this aren’t great for breaking news. But in case you missed it, there’s been a buzz this week over the return of the much-missed Smokehouse after a gap of nearly four-years.

smokehouse2       smokehouse

To begin with at least, this is just in the format of a pop-up kitchen taking over venues  and catering for events and festivals. Their first announcement of a kitchen takeover at Leicester’s Rutland and Derby Arms on 11th April led to an almost instant sell-out and a quickly-added second night on 10th April is selling fast too.  They are currently looking for more partners who might want to host a pop-up or takeover.


Chef Liam Watson, who developed the Smokehouse when it was based within the O Bar on Braunstone Gate, says he couldn’t be more delighted to find out there is still a hunger in Leicester for his brand of gutsy, original, flavoursome food based on his own extensive research and passion for smoking.

To book and keep in the loop for further Smokehouse events, visit their  website, facebook page site or follow on twitter @popupsmokehouse




Dutch Courage

March 5, 2018

Yeah I know this is supposed to be a Leicestershire and Rutland blog but the way I see it you guys all love your food and drink and can handle a recommendation wherever it is in the world.

I’ve just got back from a work trip to the Netherlands the Dutch tourist board, which was then prolonged for two days courtesy of The Beast from the East and an absence of flights from Schiphol. But the ill wind out of Siberia blew me some luck in the shape of  36 hours in the very lovely town of Haarlem. It’s just 20 minutes west of the airport but it a delightful town well worth a visit if you fancy something a bit more down to Earth than Amsterdam.

There’s an extraordinary market square and cathedral, beautiful canals and first-rate cultural attractions, not least the Frans Hals museum which has the world’s largest collection of this Golden Age painter and Teylers – the Netherlands oldest museum with a collection paying homage to the 18th century Enlightenment. But for our purposes here I’ll focus on the wonderful Jopen brewery.


Housed in a cavernous  former Church this marvellous brewpub has five gleaming 60 hectolitre tanks behind the bar which furnish forth some twenty of their own beers. These are displayed on huge screens with a scrolling focus on each one giving useful tasting notes and information  – a really big improvement over squinting at a pump clip in the hope of seeing something to help your choice. In Leicester terms I suppose you could think the West End Brewery fused with Brewdog, turned up to 11 on the dial and then evicting Richard III and setting up in the Cathedral.

The Dutch and Brits both had our colonial adventures in the East and both developed the IPA style in order to send beer that would last the long sea journey (the Dutch called theirs ‘duraebel scheepsbier” – try saying it out loud). The IPAs I tried were outstanding. Mooie Nel (the Dutch name for the North Sea) had plenty of fruit and bitterness (6.5per cent) but my favourite was Heavy Cross, a triple IPA with Citra, Nelson Sauvin and Hallertau hops which remained extraordinary fresh and well balanced even at 10 per cent (you can buy 125cl glasses – so think of it as a small glass of a lowish alcohol wine). The Rye IPA St Jacobus also impressed.

There’s stouts and other beer styles too, as well as wines and gin of course, and it attracts a bustling, mixed crowd. You can book tasting sessions (I teamed up with some friendly American expats for mine) and brewery tours, and plenty of people come here for the food too. All in all a great place to which to allocate a day of your visit.   To research your trip, you could try starting here: Visit Holland





Conventional Beers

February 15, 2018

I remember a typically droll Daily Mash piece about the local pub that added two draught ales and declared it was having “a festival”. Maybe it was fear of such ridicule that that made the LCB Depot and Gray’s call their event this weekend the Leicester Beer Convention.

20180215_183049In fact though they’ve brought together ten draught beers, four ciders and a range of bottled beers, all made in our fair county. They’ve set it up to coincide with a big weekend of Leicester Comedy Festival happenings.

Ok it’s not the most cosy of venues to spend the evening but this is a great way to help promote local brewers and if you are around and about at the festival Friday or Saturday evening you should pop in and try something. I managed three cheeky halves this evening, including two excellent IPAs,  Nook from Anstey Brewery and Spark from Tollgate. Both of these came in at around 5 per cent and while I like a hop monster as much as the next beardy, these were both more traditional in style  –  clean, fruity and just a little sweet. Even better was the Stout from the West End Brewery, a well-balanced dark beer with hints of coffee and toffee but very gluggable.




Gray’s Mexican dog with pulled pork and fixins.

In-house café Gray’s is putting on decent quality comfort food too – burgers, dogs, loaded fries etc. It opens from 5pm on Friday 16th and from 12pm on Saturday.

If you can’t get along, don’t forget the following Friday – 23 February – is the return of Canteen, the massively successful streetfood night at the Depot. This month marks its first anniversary and traders will include European Street Food Award Winners Baked in Brick and their wonderful chicken tikka, Chinese snacks from Dim Sum Su, a spicy take on fish and chips from The English Indian, gluten and dairyfree panAsian food from Canoodle and grilled meats from Street Souvlaki.

Canteen runs from 5pm and watch out for a Lion dance and other special events. to mark the Chinese new year.

Oh – and yes I realise they couldn’t call it Leicester Beer Festival because there’s already one of those and it’s coming soon…

  • One more thing.  Sadly the vast bulk of my contribution to last night’s Restaurant Rescue ended up on the cutting room floor. The programme makers clearly decided the story they wanted to tell here was about the personality and motivation of Pratik Master rather than the food itself. It was a fairly interesting insight into the restaurant world, though I think Russell Norman’s series “The Restaurant Man” did it all rather better.








Ok this is no sort of advance notice, but nobody watches TV at the time of broadcast anymore do they?

If you do though, you might like to watch Peyton and Polizzi’s Restaurant Rescue tonight at 9pm on Channel 5. Assuming  we made the final cut you can see me, my girlfriend Gill and fellow Leicester foodblogger Emily join Oliver Peyton at Indian fine dining venue Lilu on Highcross St.

Oliver P

Oliver Peyton. Not me.

The concept of the programme is to help struggling independent restaurants get back on track. The initial stage sees Oliver (restaurateur and judge from the Great British Menu) turn up with a couple of local food people to do an initial assessment and we went last November. Theoretically we were secret diners, but we were not exactly incognito and indeed we were rumbled the moment we entered. Nonetheless we had a range of clandestine filming and recording devices to capture our impressions. I myself sported some Joe 90 spex complete with tiny camera. Oliver’s job was then to work with Alex Polizzi to diagnose how the restaurant needed to change.

I went to Lilu a couple of years back and, while admiring its ambition, had been a little underwhelmed. More recently though I’ve been a fan of the lovely stuff that is portrayed on their Instagram account (@lilu_fine_dining) – but that of course is pictures, what about the actual food?

Without giving too much away, the verdict of the table was while some of the food was excellent there were issues with menu structure, pricing, and service.  I wasn’t able to go to a “post-diagnosis” meal to see what might have changed, so will be watching with interest tonight.




Heads up on a couple of interesting openings coming up in Leicester. Top of my list is Herb, the new vegetarian restaurant by Kayal on Granby Street.  Kayal has four branches and there weren’t plans for another, but Kayal Leicester had a long-term chef who had been pushing for his chance to focus on vegetarian cuisine. Given the recent big shift towards vegetarian and vegan lifestyles the time seemed right to give him his head.

The new restaurant is a little further down Granby St  on the opposite side from Kayal in in what was Cascade Amusements. The venue, set to open in the next couple of weeks, has massively improved this unlovely building, not least with a stunning piece of artwork that will be the talk of all who see it. Made by Keralan craftspeople is a huge bas-relief artwork in clay tiles recreating the da Vinci painting The Last Supper. The tiles were imported and lovingly reassembled over a couple of weeks and it makes an extraordinary impact – sorry I’ve not yet got a picture of it for you.  The rest of the venue is done out pretty much in similar style and shape to Kayal.

I’ve not seen a full menu but expect an extensive choice of Keralan food reflecting ayurvedic principles and reflecting contemporary dietary choices and requirements. You may remember Kayal was originally launched as a Karnatakan vegetarian restaurant Halli – if it recreates the quality that Halli showed it will be bound to do well not just with vegans  but with food lovers of every stripe.

I’m also intrigued to see that the old Shakespeare’s Head on Southgates is close to re-opening as a restaurant and bar Shakespeare’s House.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the old pub but did like that it hadn’t been “improved” over the years, preserving its unique 50s stylings. I was pleased  that it was on a CAMRA list of pubs they wanted to see protected.

The Leicester Mercury has given some details of how the new venue is shaping up. In parts it’s still recognisably the Shakies, – the two-bar structure retained, one being the restaurant side. But the classic décor has changed considerably with a strong forest theme. There appears to be some Polish influence to it all with carvings from trees in the Polish mountains and restaurant dishes such as beef cheeks with horseradish puree and  roast duck with baked apple, amandine potatoes and cranberry jam. There’s to be  day- long service, including breakfasts and – inevitably – Bard-themed cocktails.



Inside Shakespeare’s House – from the Leicester Mercury





San Carlo’s cicchetti

January 31, 2018

A couple of weeks back I mentioned San Carlo’s switch to a cicchetti menu at their Leicester restaurant on Granby Street. Maybe some will have thought this a move downmarket, towards a more casual, cheap and cheerful approach.

Having been there last night, such fears are very much unfounded. San Carlo has long been one of Leicester’s smartest restaurants – it’s one of the few venues where the cutlery and glassware really shine, the marble table-tops and fittings and decorations glimmer under spotlights and the wall to wall mirrors create both a sense of space and an aura of a place “to see and be seen”.

None of that has changed. It avoids being  blingy though and you simply feel transported to somewhere nicer than the centre of Leicester in January.   The excellent quality of the food has not changed either, it’s just that rather than a starter and mains approach, you select from a wide ranging menu of small plate dishes to share.

On our visit this week there were some jaw-droppingly good dishes. First to arrive at table were some lightly chargrilled avocados  in a completely sublime vinaigrette of olive, capers, chilli and mustard. Also knocking our socks off was a beautifully presented pumpkin risotto – suffused with saffron and truffle and pouring invitingly out of a baked gourd, with a backdrop of a terrific parmesan crisp studded with pink peppercorns  and rosemary.  The flesh of the pumpkin was sweet and soft, and the risotto was faultless. Beatiful fresh spaghetti with clams also impressed.


Pumpkin risotto


Charred avocado


Spaghetti with clams (spot the garlic!)







Other highlights included mash potato of such astounding richness as to render me speechless. Here was food that could only be conceived and created by people with a deep love of gastronomy  – spud whipped with huge amounts of butter, oil and truffle and lightly grilled with a parmesan crust. An utter dream.


Mash – but not as we know it.

Cacciuco, a Tuscan fish stew baked and presented  under a carapace of pizza bread was a rustic dish of white fish, prawns, mussels and clams  done with elegance and flair while a monkisfh and prawn spiedini (skewer) was simply done with lemon juice and olive oil.  I say simply  – one of the features of the food was that every dish was dressed copiously and appropriately with fresh herbs, oil, cheese or whatever worked to embellish. Straightforward, but generous cooking. There were one or two simpler dishes  – fritto misto and fried mozzarella balls that registered  as good rather than great but overall this was consistently pleasing food.


Unveiling the cacciuco



A quick mention for desert too – we shared a plate of delightful cassata, the Sicilian favourite with ricotta, ice-cream, candied fruits, chocolate and  other goodies.

A sparkling environment, run with friendly efficiency by manager Sergio and his team, serving ingredients of high quality cooked with care and respect – San Carlo offers much to the city centre scene.


  • We dined as guests of San Carlo’s but all views are my own. Other fine Italian restaurants are available  in the region, for example Sapori in Anstey which, fans of Italian fine dining may be interested to know is staging a special night on 27 February with Michelin-starred chef Vicenzo Gaurino of Spaltanna in Tuscany with live music and six course tasting menu. Details from Sapori


Beating the January blues

January 18, 2018

A belated happy new year to  all. January can seem to be a bit of a after-the-show non-event in food terms. But it’s good to report there’s some worthy things happening in Leicester.

Last night I had a fabulous dinner at the King Richard III – starting with a heavenly French Onion soup. Nicely caramelised onions in a lovely brown stock hid under a coverlet of croutons and a thick layer of gooey melted cheese. Served in a mini-marmite and twith top-notch sourdough toast and salted butter it was a really well-done French classic. Also impressing was a generous serving of salt and pepper calamari with impeccably crisp batter and zingy mayonnaise.

french onion kriii


Main courses highlighted the kitchen’s robata grill and the awesome smokey char it imparts. From the grill menu, the onglet steak was simply gorgeous with an almost gamey flavour, while the chips, onion ring and portobello  mushroom accompaniments were spot on.  Lamb chop and leg steak were equally as good, with a dauphinoise of spectacular richness and a pot of mushroom ketchup that was ideal for chip-dipping.

onglet kriii

Food this good  (I’m not sure I’ve had better steak in the city) is a pleasure enough, but for the whole of January there’s 20 per cent of food prices making it an extraordinary bargain – that onglet with the discount just about struggled to make it over a tenner.

Also brightening up the winter is news that San Carlo on Granby Street is introducing the cicchetti menu (think Venetian tapas) that has proved successful in their restaurants in London and Manchester. And from 26th January to 12 February (only until 5pm on Saturdays) there will be 50 per cent off dishes such as truffled burrata with parma ham, spaghettini with prawns and mussels, lobster risotto and Tuscan fish stew.

The Leicester restaurant has just been named UK Restaurant of the Year by Les Routiers, so this big discount is a great opportunity to try out their new approach.

Also intriguing me are two pop-ups launching in January. Building on the runaway success of both Canteen at the Depot and of the St Martin’s area, is the Cank Street Dining Club. I’ve not got to the bottom of who’s behind it, but their claim is “We take the elements we like best from different Street Food Cultures around the world and combine them to create our own dishes”. Apparently this means the likes of Korean galbi beef tacos, yakitori chicken and jerk pork loaded fries. It’s located on Cank Street, opposite Paper Tiger, and is open from 11.45 am to 8.30pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until 10 February. Vegan alternatives, natch.

KAIele6Also in St Martin’s is Kai, a stylish café which hasn’t quite pulled me in yet for its daytime menu of brunches, Buddha bowls and curries. I definitely intend to give it a try soon, including its pop-up incarnation on weekend evenings as the Yellow Elephant (as in Black Horse, Red Lion etc) doing  – loosely – Indian fusion version of pub classics. Hence crab and prawn scotch with lemon and chilli pickle, chicken tikka burger in a naan wrap and thali curries.

So, plenty of new year options for jaded palates.



It’s probably about time we had a smart restaurant open in Leicester. And the Black Iron at Winstanley House fits the bill rather nicely.

Just to set in context, Winstanley House is the new event venue and boutique hotel established in the centre of Braunstone Park. Some will know it as Braunstone Hall, the decaying grand house that had been something of a Grade II-listed thorn in the side of the County Council since it closed as a school in 1996. Historically it was the 18th century home of the Winstanley family,  lords of the manor roundabouts. Now it has been spectacularly renovated by the people behind the City Rooms, another historic venue in the city centre and now a four-room boutique hotel and wedding venue.

This, though, is of a different order. This is a big investment in Leicester – an old hulk has been turned into a very smart and flexible venue for weddings, parties, conferences, launch events and other such. It can cater for well over 400, with two lovely ballrooms, and there are 19 smart  bedrooms, including four very luxurious suites, which will appeal to smarter business travellers as well as wedding parties.

In addition to the modern banqueting facilities the venue also hosts the Black Iron, a smart English restaurant with the feel of Georgian country house. It’s comfy, roomy and smart without being intimidating.   Sometimes hotel restaurants are desperately sad – half-hearted efforts to feed a captive audience with dressed up but mediocre food. Fortunately this would appear to be a rather different beast.

Based a round a charcoal-fired oven and steaks from Onley Grounds Farm  near Rugby, this appears a proper restaurant that has had serious money spent on it and serious effort put in to sourcing. The menu is not cutting edge  but does appear well thought-out,  the kind of nostalgic “smart restaurant” food that retains wide appeal:  pan-roasted lamb’s liver with mash, bacon and sage; porterhouse steak with beef dripping fries; beetroot cured salmon; beef and ale pudding with horseradish mash.

I was invited on the launch night to tour the facilities and have dinner. It was a busy, exciting evening and obviously not a reflection of  how things will be come, say, a quiet night in  mid-January. Nonetheless it seems clear they have already got a lot of things right.

Ordering from a reduced  menu on the night, I was impressed with a timbale of Earl Grey smoked mackerel with avocado cream and pickled cucumber – there was  delicacy of touch and well-judged flavour profiles, making a dish that could have just been nice into a  genuine treat. A salad of “textures of beetroot” was that bit better than expected too – pretty as  a picture but with fine flavours too.

My rib eye steak was excellent but that star of the evening, improbably, were the beef dripping fires – terrifically crisp but with plenty of fluffy potato texture inside they also had a deliciously smokey aroma. They were worth the trip down on their own. Belly of pork with mash, spinach, burnt apple puree and cider jus might not have won originality awards but was executed very well.


The wine list has clearly been put together with care and enthusiasm and my compliments for the outstanding Zapa Oak-Aged Malbec Riserva (£24) brought out the bar manager who proudly explained their UK exclusivity on the wine.

For desert, a traditional trifle was served far cold but otherwise was a fine, unmucked-around classic, virtues shared by the warming sticky toffee pudding.


Overall then this was a very promising start. This first iteration of the menu looks good value too – you can eat for around the same as at Café Rouge, and I know which I’d prefer.

There’s an elephant in the room here – and that’s the Braunstone location for a smart hotel and restaurant. The building  is in the middle of the park and the drive along the approach road from the Hinckley Road makes you feel  you feel a long way from the city. I really hope any lingering postcode prejudice is overcome – this is a terrific asset to the city and in a few years time I think many people will be able to look back at special occasions and rites of passage observed here.










The Fish and The Chip

October 19, 2017

This week I finally got around to trying out The Fish and The Chip – the modern, slightly upscale take on the British fish and chip shop from the team behind Maiyango.

Leicester folk will know it as the place on Jubilee Square with the huge Union Flag frontage. It’s a huge turnaround for what was previously one of the city’s longest-established fine dining venues. Gone are the cosy booths and the adventurous  modern international cooking, and in comes a bright and breezy,  casual venue and a menu that built around fish and chips done really well. It’s draws ion the tradition but is  considerably  more refined than most chippies  – the gravy is made with red wine, the mushy peas are crushed fresh peas rather than vinegary marrowfats and you can opt for lobster and or side such  halloumi skewers with rocket pesto.


I loved the bright colours and the sauce-on-the-table environment and smiled to see the menu come in the form a four page newspaper. Naturally I tried the classic fish and chips (at £12- with cheaper lunch deals available  –  it’s about what you’d pay in decent pub) and was happy with the result.  A thin, herby and impeccably crisp batter was delightful and the fish was fine. Chunky chips were excellent too. There was not a spot of grease to be found on the plate. Garnishes included those superior mushy peas, a little pot of tartare and even some fine silverskins as a nod to the traditional pickled onion.


A side of a soft-shell crab slider was terrific – deep-fried crunchy crustacean with a well-judged chilli mayonnaise relish.


My veggie pal went for the Korean-spiced tofu burger with lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. Overall she felt that while there were “all sorts of lovely things” in there, more effort was need to getting the tofu to carry some flavour. She also used to work as a craft baker and was very disappointed with the quality of the roll – giving it a slightly withering “supermarket” designation. Our third member picked a surf and turf burger – spiced pork patty with king prawns, swiss cheese and pickles.  Flavours and presentation were rated highly but he found the brioche bun fell apart rather quickly.

We had wine but there is also a fun cocktail menu that echoes the somewhat seasidey theme  – candy floss daiquiri, mint choc chip cornetto etc. 

Staff were cheerful but there was one major fail with service, with my friends’ plates being cleared while I was still finishing my meal.

Speaking with owner Aatin Anadkat the next day, he knows there is some tweaking still to be done. Having separated himself from Maiyango’s hotel business, The Fish and The chip is his sole focus and a “new edition” of the menu is coming soon. Already introduced is a new lighter lunch menu with options such as crab and mango roll at under a fiver and lunch-sized  mains for not much more, including vegan and chips – meaning celeriac wrapped in nori and with a gluten-free crispy wasabi batter.

The key issue facing the venue is one of identity. The Maiyango heritage is a strong one, but people going expecting fine dining will be confused. Similarly fish and chip fans  those who like a cheap and cheerful, pile it high approach may not be attracted. But it would be a shame if people didn’t try it out because there’s plenty to like and it deserves to be judged on its own terms – it’s fun, the food is appealing (plenty of gluten free stuff), and it’s versatile enough to appeal to families, couples and groups of all ages.  I hope it finds its market.

[The unusually crisp photos come courtesy of Miguel Holmodinho – cheers Mike].







Pho, Leicester.

October 12, 2017

I don’t usually bother reviewing chain restaurants, but Pho – open now in Highcross – was definitely one I wanted to try.  My girlfriend used to visit her sister in Vietnam and she regularly regales me with tales of the sublime food – and on the few occasions I’ve tried it I’ve enjoyed the sharp, lively flavours I’ve encountered.

There are now 25 Phos, and this one seems to share the characteristics of chains at this stage of life. It’s not unpleasant, but the music is too loud, ethnic artwork fails to prevent a rather anonymous atmosphere and young staff seem overworked and while they may have learned the “please ask if you’ve any questions” mantra, their behaviour suggests they are being too closely monitored by a time and motion manager to actually talk about the food.



Summer roll

In fact, the food was actually rather nice. Summer rolls are light, zesty and packed with crunchy vegetables and chicken, and come with a nutty dipping sauce (their crispness set off a reverie of contrast with the fat-dripping Chinese “Spring rolls” that were once the preferred way of seeing off post-pub munchies.)  Pork and lemongrass meatballs were nice enough but felt a little mass-produced (the Pho website does state that food is “made fresh at each branch every day”). The nuoc cham dipping sauce was right up my street   – chilli, garlic, rice vinegar, sugar, lime juice and more combining to give that pleasing complexity that characterises South East Asian food.  (As I thought then, the meatballs didn’t really measure up to those I’d had over the road at Cured – and by the way, I had great meal there this week at their four course, gin-themed evening run with the Attic cocktail bar. Watch out for forthcoming bourbon and rum evenings- great food, great drinks, great value).




Pho Tom

“Pho” of course refers to the noodle soup that is a staple of Vietnamese food, and our Pho Tom, with king prawns, was delightful. The basis of a pho is a stock made from slow-cooked beef or chicken bones (veggie version available). Pho say they simmer theirs for 12 hours and I’d say it shows – this was a very complex broth with many layers of flavours. Vietnamese food is full of herbs and spices and pho is traditionally served with range of extra ingredients and condiments so you can spice up your dish just as it suits you. The big fat prawns were cooked just right too – they can be nasty and rubbery when overdone. We also had a rice bowl  topped with wok-fried leaves plus cucumber, radish and a wide variety of fragant green herbs plus spiced beef wrapped in betel-leafs. With appropriate use of the range of condiments available this was another very nice dish.


I’ll definitely be giving Pho some more custom – it seems considerably more interesting than, say, Wagamama, and as a gateway to Vietnamese food it does a very decent job. It might also be worth triangulating with a takeaway from Thai Esarn , which offers vibrant spicy, herby food from northern Thailand.




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