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My veal chop

One of the saddest events of recent months was the closure of the King Richard III on Highcross Street – a delightful reinvention of a city centre pub with really fine food at reasonable prices. They couldn’t quite get the midweek trade or seemingly convince people with the “country pub in the city” thing.  So it seemed good news that the Beautiful Pubs Collective, who also have the nearby Rutland and Derby and Knight and Garter as well the Forge Inn in Glenfield, have reopened it in partnership with freehold owners Everards.

There was quite an extensive refurb over the spring, but seemingly little building work. The layout of the pub is identical but there is some more theming around the titular monarch and the front room seems a little more “pubby”. Apologies to the designer who probably sweated buckets over pantone swatches to get the right shades, but to philistines such as myself the feel doesn’t seem to have changed much – it’s still handsome and atmospheric. Interestingly the menu hasn’t taken much of a swerve from previous regime either.

The KRIII is now billed as a chop house, one of those terms like ‘brasserie’ that I suspect many people would find difficult to define precisely in words but nevertheless create a very clear mental image. A chop house should be somewhat old-fashioned (wood panelling a must) and provide generous, Pickwickian slabs of meat. The King Richard delivers this in spades.

The menu is shortish and focused (possibly narrow depending on your point of view) and appealing to enthusiastic carnivores. Envisioning a substantial lunch, Matt (from Great Food Club – do join) and I started our lunch with two of the small “while you wait” starters and the first impression was great. Tomato concasse (£3.50) showed good knife skills with finely-diced, flavoursome tomato and herbs on grilled sourdough, crucially served at a good temperature rather than out of the fridge, while truffle-scented polenta fritters with wild mushrooms (£4) were crisp and had well-balanced fungal flavour.

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Barnsley chop with salsa verde

The real appeal seemed to be the grilled meats, cooked quick and hot on the robata grill which remains in the kitchen. And sure enough, the arrival at table of our main courses was a genuine wow moment. My veal chop (£19 – I think prices change with weight as available) dominated its plate imperiously, its huge bone careering off to the middle of the table. It was beautifully charred, and simply dressed with quenelle of rosemary butter and a couple of delightfully sweet/tart miniature plums. It maybe looked like it missed some sauce/gravy but it absolutely did not need it, being tender and juicy enough as it was. Possibly slightly under-seasoned it was still a wonderful thing to demolish.

Matt’s Barnsley chop (£16) was equally epic – I’d say a good inch and a half thick but like the veal, cooked impeccably. Head chef Chris Owen has worked in Japanese restaurants before and clearly knows his way around a robata. Sides are extra and we shared a portion of fine, fat, beef dripping chips and some broccoli given an oriental hit with chilli. A carafe of Argentinian malbec was exactly the right accompaniment. Apple crumble crème brulee for pud was straightforward and delicious.

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Previous chef patron Chris Elliman had a background in pub fine dining and oversaw a menu of classic British and European food – a French onion soup still burns brightly in my memory, along with a burrata salad and a simple onglet steak. Encouragingly the food and service here is still high quality, if possibly a little more pricey and smaller in range. Whether this new incarnation can succeed remains to be seen, but on this evidence it deserves to and I’m certainly looking forward to another visit.

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It’s notable that while the chain phenomenon has successfully exploited Italian and French cuisines, there’s been less of a tendency for them to replace the British curry house. Interesting then that we have two burgeoning chains opening in Leicester. (You could argue three if you include the exciting news about Tandem – Cyrus Todiwala’s sixth restaurant that will open in the former Memsaab premises in August, but that’s a very different kettle of tilapia).

On 12 August we’ll get Mowgli in St Martin’s Square, the tenth branch of this expanding, generally highly-rated Indian street food cafe founded by ex-lawyer Nisha Katona. First up though is the Tamatanga on Shires Lane in the Highcross. This may only be the third branch – following Birmingham and the original in Nottingham – but it ticks all the hallmarks of the ambitious chain. Big shopping centre location close to other nationally known brands; large space with industrial fans and extractors above; endless piped music; peppy but inexperienced young staff in branded T-shirts following strict service protocols; an aspiration to a “laid-back vibe”; and a quick turnover approach which no doubt suits the contemporary diners who famously don’t want to sit around for hours in a restaurant but of course also enables multiple table-turnings for the operator.

So, Tamatanga doesn’t have have that much to distinguish itself from its near neighbours but it’s press launch last week seemed to impress the bloggerati, so Gill and I went for lunch. For all its casul style – paper menus as table mats, cutlery coming as an “eating kit” prepacked in a paper envelope, the food itself seems a bit pricey. Wraps with “our legendary tama fries” £11ish,  curries with rice or naan from £11.95, upwards, small plates and chaat dishes at around £6. There is though a lunch time offer that means you can get a main course and a soft drink for around a tenner.

No starters as such, food is delivererd as and when ready, but first up for us were small plates of onion bhaji (£4.95) and lamb samosa (£5.45). The bhaji were not good – thickish pucks that were crispy enough on the outside but quite unpleasantly doughy and undercooked inside. We liked the bright-tasting coriander chutney with them though. The samosa were also a bit mixed – the filling was tasty and the tamarind chutney sublime, but while it was good to see thick flaky pastry rather than crisp filo, they were excessively greasy.

We were on firmer ground with our main courses – my delhi lamb curry was a generous bowl of rogon josh with good distinctive spicing and reasonably tender lamb. The ghee-laden naan were pretty good too. A chicken biryani was also well-spiced with plenty of tender meat – if it had been my main dish I think I would have preferred a vegetable curry with it rather than the large bowl of raita but that might be a matter of taste. But for the rather odd addition of a pile of salad leaves this was on a par with the standard popular British Indian.

How much you enjoy Tamatanga might well be down to your choice in restaurants – or maybe just your needs on the day. I enjoyed most of the food and would be happy to try more, even if ultimately I’m likely to prefer a more traditional restaurant environment or the vibrant spicing and textural contrasts of a samosa chaat from the likes of Narorough Rd cafe Mithaas.

A few yards up the road from Bindu Patel’s new venture Sanctua lies Tipu Sultan. It’s hard to imagine two more different restaurants. The latter is a huge, vibrant, blingy affair with sizzling platters of meat flying out of the kitchen. Sanctua on the other-hand offers completely plant-based cuisine in what is probably the most stripped down, relaxing eating environment in the region.

Patel is a Leicestershire lass but has worked at some stellar locations in London – including Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Gymkhana and Trishna and has staged at La Gavroche. She has recently returned to veganism and it is this , combined with a distaste for the waste she saw at many restaurants, that has set the tone for her highly distinctive first venture of her own.

You step into a small lobby to be welcomed with quiet politeness and then shown into the main room where you are welcomed by gentle birdsong, artworks featuring wildlife, plants chosen for their air-purifying qualities and bare, unlaid tables (dishes are brought to the table with relevant cutlery). There is a menu, but really just for information – you just have the set menu of the week, three courses and amuse bouche at £30 (allergies can be catered for if discussed at booking.).

This of course is a dream for the kitchen – makes it far easier to plan and buy and, crucially for their vision, virtually eliminates waste. If there are any leftovers I understand they are taken back for the chef’s rabbit.

20190615_183020 1The menu currently changes weekly and is themed around a particular cuisine – Patel’s parents have roots in Malaysia and Africa and both cultures have featured in the early weeks,  but on our visit the emphasis was central American. First up was an amuse of a corn cracker with refried beans, salsa and coriander chutney. It immediately raised our expectations – bright spicing, lively salsa, delicate micro-herbs, this was a fine canape.

Next up were two vegetable and soya mince empanandas with chimichurri. Quite why soya mince was chosen I don’t know – not a pleasant texture and no particular taste. Everything else about the dish was excellent though – Patel clearly knows how to pack flavour in to vegetables and both the pastry and the intense green chimmichurri sauce were fine.

20190615_183800Another aspect of the restaurant’s approach to sustainability is to shop at our local market and use produce that is in good condition but may not be aesthetically appealing – to use a term I find irritatingly twee, “wonky veg”. It certainly works here with the main course also impressing. Several terms here I had to google I admit but at its core was pozole rojo – a fiery red broth made with dried chiles and hominy, kernals of maize that have treated with an alkali to soften them up. This was fabulous – complex notes added from “our own secret Yucatan spice blend”.

20190615_184635The usual pork in the dish was replaced with chickpeas and puled jackfruit, a common vegan fall-back which I know divides opinion but I really like for its texture and distinctive mild flavour. There was crunch and carbs from a terrfic fried tortilla, delicious little slices of lime-cured radish, coriander rice, vegan sour cream and even a nod to chef’s Gujarati heritage with sambharo (spiced cabbage). The dish also came with excellent sides of a terrific guacamole garnished with pomegrante and a nutty, garlicky, spicy salsa macha.

Desert was “food of the gods” chilli chocolate pots. I suppose I was expecting a routine mousse with a little bit of chilli, but this was quite sensational. It appeared to be simply melted chocolate with a couple of flakes of dried but this was dreamy stuff, packed with punchy fruit and spice notes. The slightly doughy cinnamon-dusted churros were a disappointment but the memory of that chocolate will live long with me.

20190615_190847“A lot of our customers are meat-eaters [hello!] who are looking to try something something different” said Patel to leading industry publication in June. “I’m not trying to preach a different way of life to them or convert them to veganism. Sanctua is a celebration of vegetables and our customers understand that.”

There will obviously be those who are put off by Sanctua but there are plenty of places catering for those with the love of a steak or fried chicken. For those looking to cut down or cut out meat, it’s great that there is a fine dining alternative for them that takes vegetables seriously.

The Merchant of Venice

June 15, 2019

MOV1New from today on Granby St, Leicester, is an intriguing Italian café that brings an original take to the city’s increasingly competitive coffee market.

The Merchant of Venice, located right by the big crossing that brings thousands of people into the city every day from the railway station, is a Shakespeare-themed venue, complete with original paintings of the Bard and scenes from the eponymous play. There are also several sets of scales should you wish to weigh out a pound of flesh and plenty of other curios and artworks to make you ponder.  It’s a joint development by Jaimon Thomas, the man behind the similarly beautiful Kayal and Herb restaurants, and his friend Basilio a former manager at San Carlo and now coffee supplier for legendary Viennese roasters Julius Meinl.

MOV5Like most Italians, Basilio is passionate about coffee and this café is very much about Italian coffee culture rather than the American one that dominate the chains. The coffee offering is supplemented by some fine looking Italian patisserie produced especially for them and a short menu of all-day breakfasts, salads and home-made classics such as arancini, lasagne and bruschettas – with vegans catered for too. Eventually this will build up further for evening openings with meals and cocktails but for now the focus is on breakfasts (it opens from 7am) and daytime snacking.  Oh and the Italian brunch menu takes in the classic full English and my “Leicester breakfast” included a first-rate sausage and perfectly cooked fresh mushrooms that suggests that while the menu is relatively humble, they are serious about good food.

I think a lot of people will enjoy cosy catch-ups in this fun and original cafe.

 

 

 

 

 

For a restaurant in an area full of relatively well-heeled potential customers with a keen desire to eat out, Al Maidah on Queen’s Rd, Leicester, seems to have adopted a strange marketing policy.

I’ve never seen a place fly so low under the radar. It’s quite an achievement these days after two months trading to have seemingly no online presence or media footprint whatsoever – no website, no social media, not even a Tripadvisor comment. Yes there’s a shop front, but no menu or other information displayed. It would appear to be Moroccan but what does it serve and how much does it cost? There’s no obvious way to find out, short of going in and sitting down. So that’s what we did.

mintteaIt has all the hallmarks of the family-run neighbourhood restaurant – the kind of place where younger members hang around out front and fight for the control of the music  (pleasant North African sounds) or pop out for extra parsley from the supermarket. It’s quite small and done up with some appealing desert-chic touches – camel trains in silhouette on the walls, miniature tagines on display, and cute little fabric figures with which to pick up the hot handles of your exquisite mint-tea pots. In the bijou upstairs room there’s even a floor-seated area replete with cushions for traditional  laid back dining.

The menu covers the usual suspects of Maghreb cuisine – spicy harira soup, tagines, cous cous and grilled meats, with a couple of specifically Tunisian touches such as the use of molokhia greens.  There are popular dishes such as  a sweet lamb tagine with almonds and apricots and a cous cous royale which contains a bit of everything including merguez sausages. Oh, and main courses are between around £8 and £14. couscous.jpg

We picked a chicken cous cous and a kefte tagine (lamb meatballs), along with sweet mint tea and a mint mojito mocktail (the restaurant does not serve alcohol). Both came delightfully presented and piping hot. The on-the-bone chicken with vegetables and chick peas sat on a generous helping of cous cous and came with a sauce for ladling over. My friend found it over-salty and struggled a bit with some flabby chicken skin but the flavours in the dish were excellent and the chicken very nicely tender. My tagine came enticingly bubbling to the table and proved very good eating  – delicately aromatic spiced lamb in a stew with onions, tomatoes and coriander with a couple of eggs baked shaksuka-style into the sauce. The lightly toasted arabic bread was excellent too.
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Neither dish was particularly spicy-hot, though whether this is concern over timid Clarendon Park palates or simply the chef’s preferred style for these dishes I’m not clear.

The overall dining experience was maybe not as smooth it should have been. Neither the “dish of the day” or the beautiful-sounding fresh Morrocan pastries listed were available.  Trying to put a positive light on this it shows that “freshly prepared” probably means just that, but on the other hand, we were a couple of slightly disappointed diners. Also while our waiter was lovely and helpful, we didn’t get our mojito until we chased it up, and we heard another table say when checking out that they hadn’t received everything they had ordered.

 

 

So no hipster reinvention or fusion stuff going on here – just good traditional, regional, comfort food that many should want to check out. Despite the lack of profile, word does seem to be getting around and there were respectable numbers and a diverse clientele on our wet Tuesday night visit. A weekend trip beckons.

 

 

 

With summer coming in, the street food events are taking off.

Last night saw the launch of the 2Funky Street Kitchen, a new venture from the 2 Funky bar complex on Braunstone Gate. It’s got a lot going for it, including a large indoor bar and a large covered outdoor area right over the canal. This is great right now for cooing over squadrons of swans and cygnets, ducks and ducklings, but sadly you are also looking out over jettisoned bottles, fagends and assorted other litter. Last night saw Derby-based El Contador offering tacos, made from cornmeal on the night – I had their chicken mole which was an outstanding little morsel that put much UK Mexican food I’ve had to shame.

So during June there will be events on Fridays and Saturdays including Martin Brothers Pizza on 7th, Carribbean barbecue on 21st and El Contador again on 28th. Other special events include a “bottomless bubbles and bao brunch” on 15th. To be honest, I don’t think I’m 2Funky’s key demographic and it was all a bit loud for me but if you’re more of a party animal this could be just the thing for you. Check out the 2Funky website for full details.

Elsewhere there’s good news that Bobby Ananta, the ever-cheerful stalwart from St Martin’s and Crafty, is back from a spell back home in Java and has an Indonesian streetfood night planned at Crafty for 12 June. It’ll be a no-bookings evening and I’ve no menu details yet, but Bobby is a super chef – his rendang is jaw-dropping – and I’m confident it’ll be great.

Of course work continues across St Martin’s on Mowgli, the classy Indian streetfood chain which should be opening “late summer”. More good news for the square is that the former Grillstock unit has been taken and while details are currently super-secret, I’m told it will be a great addition for Leicester. And one last thing, another informal mini-chain Indian restaurant arrives shortly with Tamatanga, whom many will know from Nottingham, opening on Shires Walk in Highcross in Mid-June.

The White Peacock

March 19, 2019

peacockwbsThe White Peacock has stood proudly at the bottom of New Walk, Leicester for a good few years offering one of the city’s most smart, sophisticated but relaxed environment’s for good food.

The restaurant was set up by former chef patron Phil Sharpe, who earned his spurs in the city at Maiyango. Some 18 months ago Phil decided he’d had enough of the stress and sold up to the Koban Group, a locally based company which also runs Aspects in Enderby (and more recently has bought Leicester’s Lansdowne and 1573 bar and grill).

I’d not been in since Phil departed, but last week went down and tried the tasting menu. First thing to say is that not only have the excellent staff team been retained, but the classy interior and the fine dining approach have not been messed with – this is still a very pleasant environment to enjoy a cocktail and good food.


The nine course menu started with what is described as a plate of snacks. This felt a bit random and unfocused – there was a sausage roll that was really not very nice, a little rice crisp with a smart crab salad, a crisp little bird nest of fried potato and a superb tranche of hake in squid ink batter. The four things stood on the plate like strangers, reluctant to talk to each other. There was maybe some sort of allusion to the British seaside going on but I think it would work better to just keep the hake and maybe create another proper crab course to replace the rest.

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Ox cheek with yeasted cauliflower puree

Next up was a hefty slab of beautifully slow-cooked ox cheek, served with a yeasted cauliflower puree and a light, sweetish ponzu sauce. This was great – good hearty food given a smart twist. Then came cured salmon with cucumber, fennel and avocado mousse – a beautifully composed dish which looked great and had good clean flavours. The salmon in particular pleased, with a little light scorching on top but otherwise with a sashimi-like quality.

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Salmon with cucumber, fennel and avocado mousse

Then a little break with a palate cleansing yuzu sorbet livened up at table by being given a good hearty slug of prosecco.

Last of the mains was a really beautiful piece of tender, medium rare, fillet of beef with nice and crunchy pommes anna (basically thinly sliced layers of potatato cooked with butter), herby lovage puree and a Madeira sauce. Lovely as this was, I don’t think ox cheek and beef fillet should be on the same tasting menu – it made the meal feel a bit lop-sided. There was a faux-pas with the steak – some of the tape used to keep it in shape during cooking had been left on.

20190307_215641We transitioned to sweet with a quenelle of excellent goat’s cheese mousse served simply with fine lightly pickled red onion. One of the pleasures of this meal was that all the dishes were beautifully plated, both in choice and variety of plates and in the arrangements.

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Cherry baked Alaska

 

The first desert sounded right up my street but was a bit disappointing – cherry baked Alaska with almond meringues and almond brittle. Obviously this being a tasting menu you don’t want huge deserts but the baked Alaska was just too small to allow the different elements to interact properly. The cherry element had gone before I knew it, unable to deal with the sweet Italian meringue, which I felt need a bit more attention from a flame.

The slight frustration with the Alaska was made more pointed with final main element – a large, super-rich chocolate fondant tart with tonka bean milk gel, chocolate tuile and tonka bean crème anglaise. All elements were done very well but it felt a bit much at the end of such a meal – though of course I still just about managed to clear up a couple of first-rate petit fours with the coffee.

We had the wine matching and there were some lovely choices including a fulsome Australian shiraz with the steak and a stunning black muscat with the baked alsaka. But a rather light Chevanceau from Herault failed to stand up to the ox cheek.

Service throughout the evening was charming and helpful, and the pace was just right. Maybe not the best structured tasting menu I’ve ever had, but plenty to like in a restaurant that will give pleasure to many.

Ok, so I’ve not posted here for a long time. There’s plenty of reasons for this. For one thing, blogging of the type I’ve done here over the last 10 years seems to fit less easily with the bite size nature of more instant social media platforms – newsy bits seem better suited to twitter or instagram. Plus there’s now a great job being done across various channels by the likes of Cool as Leicester in keeping people up to date.

I’m sure there is a lingering interest from some in well-written (hopefully), longer-form reviews and reflections. I wish I could do more of these but it’s difficult now there’s no newspapers wanting independent reviews. Equally it’s a difficult time for Leicester’s restaurants – there’s activity at the lower and middle parts of the market but it’s not easy at the top end.

Anyhow just to get my own thoughts in order as much as anything, I thought I’d reflect a little on where we are now. I’ll just focus on the city for now.

It was hugely disappointing to see that the King Richard III didn’t make it – the food was fantastic and while they were regularly busy at weekends, the midweek trade wasn’t there for them – especially sad when there were some bang average places not far away doing ok. At least it means that Chris and Andrea can put energies back into Crafty at St Martin’s Tea and Coffee with its exuberant burger menu. It would be nice to think new operators will do something worthwhile at KRIII.

For smart food in the city I lean towards Lilu (watch our for owner Pratik Master relaunching his family convenience store in Wigston next month as a deli promoting lots of fine local produce) and the Knight and Garter’s brasserie-style offering. On the edge of the city is the Black Iron at Winstanley House in Braunstone Park, which really impressed me and from which I get consistently excellent reports.

 

Of the other contenders, I’ve not been to The White Peacock since chef Patron Phil Sharpe moved on, but one regular tells me it has been inconsistent. The place is now owned by the Koban group, which also runs Aspects in Enderby and has recently bought The Lansdowne on London Road and Fenway’s in Loughborough from the Orange Tree group and also the 1573 Steakhouse on the edge of Highcross. There’s the venerable Case, which you have to admire, but much as I love the venue the food has tended to leave me a little indifferent – not been for several years though. I hope to give the Queen Victoria Arts Club another go after a mixed result when I went soon after it opened.

At a more everyday level the Fish and The Chip seems to justify Aatin Anadkat’s decision to move away from fine dining with his bright and breezy, classy chip shop, and Crafty burger continues to attract large numbers. There’s also much interest in the Asian sector – Kayal and its vegetarian sister Herb continue to produce outstanding food and the more humble likes of Spicy Temptations and Wakaze are a delight. Paddy’s Martin Inn, Mithaas and Mumbai Inn are very different places which have all impressed me in recent months. Korean food is at last making an impact with Ongi and the wonderful Grounded Kitchen and I’m looking forward to trying Oppa – a new Korean barbecue place on High Street. I’m also quite fond of the Vietnamese chain Pho – though would love to see a quality independent doing south-east Asian food in the city.

Delilah’s is of course a big loss to the city and to St Martin’s in particular but let’s not forget there are still many terrific cafes and food and drink retailers in that area. Mrs Bridges is an under-appreciated gem, St Martins is quality as are Gelato Village, Cocoa Amore, Kai, The Bottle Garden, The Two Tailed Lion, 33 Cank St and others.

There’s now two competing streetfood nights competing for the pay day dollar on the last Friday of the month, and recently one of them, Canteen, has started having traders in New Market Square on Wednesdays during the day (12pm-8pm).

One word too for an unprespossessing little fast food outlet called Cha Cha’s Griddle at the bottom end of London Rd. It’s not going to change your world, but its Kolkata streetfood Kathi rolls – parathas lined with egg and wrapped around chicken or lamb kebabs or veg are fresh, hot, tasty, cheap, filling and just the thing when you want something quick and on the go. The likes of pau bhaji, bhel poori, and samosa chaat also available – run by nice people too.

So what is there to look forward too? In my neighbourhood I’m delighted to see that we’ve now got a Moroccan restaurant, with Al Ma’idah opening imminently on Queen’s Road. It will soon be joined by the reappearance of Friends Tandoori, a Belgrave institution which disappeared a decade ago. Clarendon Park has long needed a good Indian restaurant and hopefully this will be it. Also on the horizon on Queen’s Road is a new bar and restaurant in what was Cultura. Not many details yet but it’s an initiative of the people behind 33 Cank St and they’ve got a good chef on board so I’m hopeful.

In town the biggest news is probably Mowgli coming to St Martins – if it can maintain the liveliness and quality of its original branches then I can’t wait. But there’s the doleful example of Bill’s before us for places that can’t reproduce the magic ad infinitum.

OK that’s enough. Do let me know if there’s anything you want to add or feel I’ve got  wrong and I hope to be back soon, or at least when I’ve got something to say.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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