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.

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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.

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

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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].

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

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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).

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

Cured at the Cookie

September 19, 2017

I was pleased to be an early enthusiast for the work of Cured. Young chefs with a passion for flavours and produce who want to forge their own way – that’s the lifeblood of any city’s food scene. And to be based at a bar such as Brewdog – heaven.

So it’s great news that Martin and Oliver are finally back in town with a full-time base within lively independent cafe, cocktail bar and venue The Cookie. They keep the menu format of beautifully stacked platters for sharing – or for one if you’re as greedy as me – plus innovative side dishes and their own take on comfort food. This includes a burger yes, but also a “gobi cheese toastie” featuring spiced cauliflower in a turmeric cheese sauce on sourdough or soft duck tacos with jerked duck and pineapple salsa.

The model has also been moved on. The cures for their key elements are now spirits rather than beer. On your platter you’ll find a little jar of divine orange-scented duck cured and confited with Legendario rum that beats many a rillette in a French bistro. Then there’s bourbon and maple cured bacon like a sweet, fine ham, and purple-tinged salmon cured in Brooklyn gin and blueberries.  As before, the platters are packed with carefully chosen and well-executed extras that more than earn their place – sesame bread, crispy duck fat toasts, herb butter, crunchy house pickles, inspired zingy apple and ginger slaw, dill and pink peppercorn potato salad, apple piccalli, home-made chutneys and more (gluten free available).

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Small platter

The tapas-sized sides now include the like of Vietnamese meatballs with a belting, coriander-rich green chilli jam which knocks spots of most version of this increasingly common condiment. If the newly-opened Pho across the road can do Vietnamese snacks this good I’d be surprised and delighted. Then there’s jackfruit bhaji which combine sweetness and spice in a way that suggests a sophisticated, grown-up version of the guilty pleasure that is a banana fritter.

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Jackfruit bhaji with pineapple salsa

 

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Gin, blueberries, pink peppercorns and dill

This hugely enjoyable food can be enjoyed in the laid-back cafe surroundings of the Cookies ground floor, or the more tucked away environment of the upstairs Attic bar where the chefs’ pal Xander Driver is creating top-notch contemporary cocktails.

The Cookie looks a good cultural match for the business and the food deserves to be both sought out by serious food lovers and those simply out on the town and looking for sustenance (watch out for the late night street food offering from the front of the cafe on Saturday nights). Two people can have a platter and two sides for around £20 – the price of two burgers (but no fries) from Byron.

Taking influences from traditional techniques and from the multicultural cuisines that abound in our city, here is exciting food and a proper bargain. If this was in Shoreditch, the place would be over-run with hipster food writers – as it is, fill your boots Leicester.

 

Cured
68 High Street
Leicester
http://www.facebook.com/CuredLeicester/

A Tale of Two Burgers

September 14, 2017

It’s hardly an original observation to suggest that Leicester city centre must be at or approaching Peak Burger. GBK is the most recent to arrive, filling the former Laura Ashley store at the Clocktower entrance to Highcross.

Can’t say I’ve been particularly tempted to try it – I expect it’s ok, but really Crafty has pretty much closed the book on burgers in Leicester.  But now there are signs that what the industry refers to as “better burgers” are now overflowing into the suburbs. In the last week I’ve visited a couple of venues to the South of the city. with similar names but quite differing approaches.

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Boo on London Rd is a sharply-branded independent at the quality fast-food end of the market. It’s halal and would appear to be attracted to the area by the hugely popular Turkish mangal Konak next door and Heavenly deserts one door further. It’s bright, open and friendly, offering a short, focussed menu featuring 28-day aged Aberdeen angus patties in 4oz, 6oz or 8oz combinations with the likes of cheese, pickles, onion rings, home-made sauces and their own surrogate bacon in the form of smoked beef strips. A halloumi version is available for the veggies.

boo2Our  4oz Haystack (£6.00) was great  – very decent meat, crispy battered onions and pleasingly gooey sauce on a good brioche. A 4oz “Chickaboo” chicken breast (£5.50) was moist and tender, though I was wasn’t much taken with the crispy coating. It certainly wasn’t comparable to buttermilk fried chicken I’ve had at both Cured and Crafty. Fries (£2) were good – sort of fat chips but scoop-shaped which made them perfect for dipping.

We also tried chicken wings (£3.50) which come in two “house” sauces –  buffalo hot sauce or a sweet and sticky version. These were great, nice and messy.  Hand-spun milkshakes  (£3.50) – one chocolate, one strawberry – were both excellent, sweet and creamy.

Boo looks like an ambitious business run by young guys looking to do things the right way and with a good approach to garnering customer feedback and acting on it. They’ve already been top in a Leicester Mercury poll of burger outlets.  They are social media savvy and understand their market well. I can imagine going back.

Across the park and up Queen’s Road is Moow. A sit-down restaurant with table service, this lies in what was Cultura and is run by the people behind 1573 steakhouse in the city centre and the newly-opened Halcyon Kitchen also on Queen’s Rd. It’s an attractive space and the jolly welcome from staff  on a very quiet midweek lunchtime made my lone diner experience very pleasant.

The menu is slightly wider – a dozen or so options including lamb, fish and chicken burgers and three vegetarian choices.  I had a bacon burger (£7.95)- and while everything was nicely presented, I wasn’t all that impressed. The 6oz burger made from “our own blend of Longhorn chuck, shin and rump steak” mince lacked succulence. I think that mix needs a bit more fat and maybe there was an issue with resting too, but whatever it was, the burger was rather dense and dry. The bacon strips were very crispy which didn’t help and I couldn’t detect any of the promised chilli jam. So while the brioche bun  and the onion ring were fine, and the fries (£2.50) excellent – the overall impact was rather disappointing.

The restaurant is licensed with beers and wines on offer, but I was tempted by one of the “hard shakes” – in my case a caramel shake laced with Jack Daniels (£6.50) which was delicious, a highlight of my day. Alcohol-free and – somehow – dairy-free shakes are also available.

Both restaurants have kids’ menus and are clearly keen to attract the family market. Horses for courses, and these two venues may only be half a mile a part but live in different worlds and are each adapted accordingly.

 

Toastbusters at Canteen

August 16, 2017

Somehow I seem to be very adept at being out of Leicester on the last Friday of the month. Which is an irritation because that’s when the hugely successful Canteen street food event takes place at Leicester’s Depot.

This month  – Friday 25 August – will be a particular  shame if I do have to miss it, as one of the new traders is Toastbusters, an initiative of charity Soft Touch, of which  I’ve been a board member for many years. Toastbusters is a social enterprise run with refugees and asylum seekers who attend regular cooking sessions at our base at 50 New Walk. The project combats isolation and helps people to learn new skills and share old ones. Sharing recipes from their homelands is a great way to mix. Their menu at Canteen  will include delicious toasted wraps with a range of exotic vegetarian and vegan fillings served with salads and relishes.

Toastbusters

Other traders include Street Souvlaki, bao buns form Wallace and Sons, barbecue  meats from Grill Brazil and great Caribbean food from the wonderful Leave it to Esmie. Lots more activities planned as this event continues to grow – details here.

maiyangofishRight, so the secret is now out. Maiyango is to relaunch as …”The Fish and The Chip”.

The move from globally-influenced fine dining to nostalgic British tradition couldn’t really be more pronounced. And to hammer home the handbreak turn the new restaurant comes with a statement paintjob of a massive Union Flag across its frontage. I’ve not seen images of the interior.

The new menu starts with classic fish and chips, mushy peas and tartar sauce. And at first site there’s little obvious attempt at gussying this up as gastro fish and chips – also on the menu is cheese and onion pasty and chips, fish finger club sandwich and sausage and chips. But the sausages are Lincolnshire, the fries can be skinny or fat, and there’s red wine gravy. Look more closely and Thai fishcakes and lobster and fries appear too. I suspect this won’t just be bog-standard fare.

There will be equally classic deserts  – massive ice-cream sundaes and so – and there will still be cocktails.  Founder Aatin Anadkat said he wants it to be fun and it looks like it will be. It may however have to walk a difficult line between being nostalgic and ironic, between being populist and quality. Knowing the business, I’d back them to get it right but the proof will be in the eating.

It opens on 17 August – to book visit Maiyango

[Edited – apologies for getting the name wrong in the initial draft of this article]

I’m not going to say too much just now but if you are vegetarian and you love Leicester’s Kayal – and who doesn’t? –  then I have some very exciting news for you.

A new venue from Kayal is set to open on Granby Street in the Autumn that will feature Keralan and other South Indian vegetarian food in a smart, full-service environment.  Kayal itself started off life as the vegetarian Halli and some of the staff team have been keen for some years to start another pure veggie venue with a focus on healthy food. Crucially, Kayal is unaffected.

With a con-fusion food barn opening this week in the form of Rickshaw Ricks (from the people who brought you Red Hot World Buffet), and another apparently buffet planned nearby, it’s great to hear there’s still space for food with quality, roots and integrity.

Had rather a good week with three noteworthy meals locally.

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At the weekend I thoroughly enjoyed the Best of Maiyango tasting menu of which I wrote last week .   We’d been travelling up from down south on the day and were stuck motionless of the M25 for three hours and hence missed the first course.  Staff though were extremely helpful and flexible for us – stand out dishes for me were a super piece of seabass sat in a pool of lightly spiced coconut laska and with a fantastically bright and zingy coriander, mint  and green chilli chutney, plus a witty  terrine combining smoked ham, a mousse of cheddar cheese, quail’s egg, apple and a lip-smacking sweet-savoury relish of bacon jam.  But it was all good  – much as I’m looking forward to Maiyango’s replacement, I’ll really miss this level of food. There may be places left for the last two nights of the restaurant  on Friday and Saturday this week  – check on 251 8898 if you fancy going.

Then out in Rutland we had a super lunch at the King’s Arm’s, Wing. A leg of wild boar was wonderfully gamey and came with an intense sticky jus,  an apple stuffed with black pudding, red cabbage and a lovely rich dauphinoise. We also had a tremendous piece of turbot, sat on a hollandaise with samphire, asparagus and crayfish – caught by chef himself I believe. Here’s a restaurant that really takes produce seriously – it’s one of the few places where cliches about home made, artisan, and local and seasonal really merit being taken seriously. Every ingredient of these dishes was first rate. Sadly no pictures I’m afraid.

At a less exalted level but still very enjoyable was a light lunch at the Knight and Garter by Leicester market. A tasty porchetta and rocket sandwich  in a large crusty roll had a pot of pokey mustard sauce for dipping – it went down well with a pint of the unfiltered Budvar which is the bar’s speciality. Also impressing was a salad of perfectly cooked duck egg, with sauted jersey royals, asparagus and shavings of parmesan (or similar anyway).  I’d be happy to go back for more.

 

 

Some of you may have heard that after 12 years on St Nicholas Place, Leicester’s Maiyango is to close later this month. Well, yes, but it’s not necessarily the bad news you may have feared. The restaurant will reopen under the same team but with a new name and a new concept in August.

I reviewed Maiyango for Metro when it first opened (and at least four times since) and have enjoyed watching it thrive and mature into one of the city’s most consistent, innovative and enjoyable smart restaurants.  It started with a global fusion style that was slightly hit and miss, but developed a self-confident signature style that successfully blended influences from all around the world.

Last week I sat down with founder and  boss Aatin Anadkat  who explained why, despite the pride in what they’ve achieved with Maiyango, he felt the time was right to tweak the format.

 

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Maiyango’s distinctive style

 

“We never really intended to be high end or a place that people think of just for special occasions – the idea has always been to be quirky, original and fun,” said Aatin. “I’m not sure so many people want to spend all evening in a restaurant any more – the time seems right to appeal to a wider spectrum of diners.  But we’ll definitely be keeping our brand values – we worked hard to get our AA rosette and will maintain our quality.”

The restaurant will shut after 22nd July for a complete overhaul, but Aatin is not revealing too much at the moment about the new style  – he understandably doesn’t want people to have preconceived ideas or to immediately compare to Maiyango. He will confirm, thankfully, it’s  not a burger restaurant.

For those who have loved the place, or who might want to know what they missed out on, Maiyango is holding two weeks of special events that mark their distinctive style. For full details and to book, go to their website ,  but briefly here’s what’s going on:

7 July  – Four course gin-tasting dinner, with matching gin cocktails

9 July – Deserts and cocktails evening

12 July – Six course wine-matching dinner

13 July – Four course dinner and cocktail tasting evening

14,15,21,22 July  – Six course “Best of Maiyango” tasting menu. There will be two sittings each night at 6pm and 9pm, with a menu featuring popular dishes from the last 12 years including  the likes of the “picnic loaf” with spiced ham, quail egg, cheddar mousse, apple sausage and bacon jam,   and seared king scallop with  sambal, samphire, coconut and lime leaf. A vegetarian menu is available at all events.

Marabel

June 30, 2017

As most readers will know I’ve been reviewing for the Leicester Mercury for the last couple of years, and putting some of the more interesting reviews on here. Sadly the paper has decided to take the reviews “in house” – meaning they don’t have to pay an experienced freelancer like me but a staffer can do it as part of their job. Freelance people of any stripe will be aware of this phenomenon.

So no more Mercury reviews here I’m afraid – but I will try and keep the blog going with whatever news and reviews I can manage under my own steam. Here’s the last review done for the Mercury, based on an enjoyable couple of visits to a new Italian restaurant in Stoneygate.

 

 

Marabel

21 Allandale Road
Leicester
LE2 2DA
0116 270 3222

 

‘It’s not that “nouveau cuisine” is it?” asked the middle-aged man, warily. The waiter had just started to explain to him that Marabel is a cicchetti restaurant, featuring small plates for sharing and he seemed to feel he might be left hungry. Maintaining his equilibrium with admirable poise, the waiter suggested how he might like to order and assured him that the food would be nice and filling.

marabel1I suspect his little cameo may have been played several times over the last month since Marabel opened in the premises that previously housed the bar Mason and Brooke. Even in a place as apparently sophisticated as Stoneygate the concept of cicchetti doesn’t seem to have trickled down into the zeitgeist in the same way as tapas. But it is essentially the same concept, starting in the bars of Venice as simple sandwiches or snacks served with a drink, and later becoming pretty much synonymous with small versions of the national cuisine in a restaurant setting.

Marabel’s menu is a wide ranging collection of enticing Italian dishes at around £4 to £6 each plus the odd Spanish influence (patatas bravas should make the tapas penny drop). Appetisers such as San Daniele prosciutto with parmesan and aged balsamic set the tone for dishes that major on good ingredients treated simply and with a strong sense for flavour combinations. And on our first lunchtime visit that’s exactly what we got.

WP_20170601_007Crab piadinas (above) were delightful – flat breads stuffed with a well-balanced combination of crabmeat, lemon and mascapone. Pea and basil arancini were similarly excellent – deep-fried rice balls in a thin, crisp crumb with a garlicky mayonnaise, while a spinach and rocket salad was simple and fresh with plenty of thick shavings of parmesan. More substantial was a pasta dish of penne with 12-hour cooked beef ragu, a dish you’ve no doubt cooked at home but here was a genuine depth of flavour that made it restaurant-worthy. The same criteria I suppose applied to a lamb skewer (below – slatophobes fear not,  you do get provided with plates too) which had had been marinated in an oil, paprika chilli and mint to very good effect – the meat had been threaded with onions and peppers and barbecued in a clay oven.

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All these dishes were very well seasoned and dressed with herbs, crumbs, parmesan or oil – they felt cared for and designed to please.

The restaurant also describes itself as a wine bar and indeed the wine list is excellent, bearing the clear imprint of Simon March of Evington’s on Evington Rd. A shame then only two of each colour seem to be available by the glass. We certainly enjoyed the inevitable pinot grigio and a light, easy-going Bardolino that was full of cherries, but with Evington’s being my local shop I’m familiar with the wines on that list and with food as full-flavoured as this it would have been good to try something with more oomph such as the Marius Reserva from Southern Spain or the Salice Salentino Sampietrana from Puglia.

Anyway, I was keen to go back for an evening meal and this time picked some of the heftier dishes. Belly of pork was terrific, with soft, unctuous meat with sweet apple sauce and crispy sage leaves. The chicken cacciatora (literally hunter’s chicken) certainly had plenty of flavour but to my taste the tomato sauce was over-reduced and the dish was left a little dry, especially as only breast meat appeared to have been used. My mamma’s version (ok, granted, she’s from Battersea not Bologna) used moist leg and thigh meat and had plenty of sauce. A final dish of wild mushrooms in a creamy, garlicky sauce was exactly as it should be, ludicrously indulgent and terrifically tasty.

There’s little here that breaks boundaries or which will change your opinion of Italian cuisine but the food appears to be lovingly prepared by people who care about flavour and know how to treat ingredients. The environment and the service are very pleasant too. I think the format works a little better for a light lunch rather than a slap-up dinner but this is good food that will keep local peers such as neighbours Timo and Queens Rd tapas bar Barceloneta on their toes.

 

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