I was  invited to yesterday’s launch of the new branding for Everards beers. With big plans for their new brewery, offices, restaurant and cycle centre out near Fosse Park now reaching a crucial stage, the rebrand emphasises the companies Leicestershire roots – hence from today you’ll see their main logo use the portrait of founder William Everard and the words “Everards of Leicestershire”.

EVOL Low Detail Light Base Black & Gold Logo [3-7cm] CMYK

Their four key beers get a rebrand with beautiful nostalgic illustrations from local design agency Juice featuring a Leicestershire fox character, though Tiger retains a distinctive Tiger design that emphasises  its links to the Royal Leicestershire Regiment and to the rugby club.  Beacon is clarified as “Beacon Hill” and Old Original’s design is linked back to the original brewery in Southgate Street

Everards Beer Range Illustration

The new branding also gives a little more information on each beer – hence from today onwards you’ll find pump clips that explain a little more about taste and style   – hence the 5.2  per cent Old Original is described as “rich and fruity amber ale”. I’m all for such clarity at point of purchase and find it hard to believe much beer is just given a stupid name and left to sell itself.

I know some find their beers a little “safe”, but personally I’ve always enjoyed Tiger – a solid well-balanced best bitter – but it was a long while since I’d sipped Old Original and enjoyed a swift half at the launch event very much. I also admire the way Everards – still a family-owned company   – seems to do business. It supports other local food and drink businesses,  keen to have partnerships rather than growth at all costs. Its pubs are reliably good and independent licencees with vision – such as Sam Hagger of the Rutland and Derby and The Forge and Jay Cooledge of the Griffin and Odd John’s –  get the chance to develop their pubs their way.

Oh yes, the new brewery – the move across the ring road to the 12 acre Everards Meadow site is now just dependent on the planning decision from Blaby Council expected in July. Good luck to them.

OLD ORIGINAL POSTER

 

 

 

The Real Ale Classroom

December 14, 2015

WP_20151210_21_32_34_ProA quick welcome to the Real Ale Classroom. This micropub on Allandale Rd in Stoneygate opened two weeks ago with an impressive range of beers served straight from the barrel and immediately became one of the more interesting places in the city to have a quick pint.

It’s small and cramped when it’s full but that’s rather the point with micropubs – you have to go in within an attitude of being willing to shove along let someone sit down and, in what we’re told is a most un-British way, have a chat with those around you.

There will regularly be 5 or 6 ales on – I think there were 8 the night I visited – with a range of styles and strengths and mainly from local brewers. Even the gin and tonic came from Leicestershire distillers Two Birds.  With traditional pubs closing, this model of small, sociable  and quality beer-focused  venues could point the way forward

Sunday lunch at The Font

December 1, 2015

Here’s the second in a pair of Sunday lunch reviews for the Leicester Mercury. I was keen to recommend a place that wasn’t a posh country pub restaurant but an honest, great value, urban venue that was ideal for a relaxed wander down to for a pint and some roast beef. The Font fits the bill perfectly – at £12 for three courses it doesn’t break the bank, the food is fine and it’s well run:

The Font
52 ½ Gateway Street
Leicester LE2 7DP
0116 319 7855
Food service – Mon-Sun 12-7pm

Doing this job, I’m often asked for recommendations for places to eat. It’s a question that usually prompts a lot more back from me – who’s going, what do they like, what’s your budget, will you be driving, are you looking for formal or informal?

Pointers for a good Sunday lunch are a particularly common request and my questions are just the same. Most restaurants or pubs that do food should be able to rustle up a decent Sunday roast, and so the key questions are budget and the kind of venue you want. Last week I reviewed a smart country pub in a relatively remote village that for many is priced in the special treat category. This week it’s a funkier urban venue that is easily accessible for most city-dwellers and which offers tremendous value.

The Font will be well-known to those connected with nearby De Montfort University and the Royal Infirmary. But, tucked away on a back street, it’s a bit off the map for many others who might enjoy its relaxed Sunday vibe. You wouldn’t describe it as cosy – it’s a large, high-ceilinged room in modern building with a long bar with some high stools and ledges for perching and some fairly rough old furniture laid out like a refectory. That said, while there’s piles of magazines and fliers around the place, it doesn’t have that Student Union feel of some of chain pubs in the area. It feels like an independent place run by people who care and where everyone is welcome.

It’s regular menu is fairly standard drinker’s fare of burgers, nachos, all day breakfasts and so on but done well enough to suggest that standards matter to the kitchen. On Sundays the lunch offering is slimmed down to a couple of starters a choice of three roasts and a couple of desserts. At £12 for three courses this looked a bargain – as long the food was of good standard.

I started with a great peppery leek and potato soup, with big crunchy croutons and a cheffy chiffonade of leeks to garnish. Winter had finally arrived on the day of our visit and this was a very good warming soup dish with good flavour and texture. The other starter was of ham hock croquettes – well-made, tasty little nuggets with some fresh, crisp leaves in an excellent honey and mustard dressing.

WP_20151122_14_52_26_ProOur roasts – one beef, one turkey – were absolutely fine. Plenty of good quality meat, some really outstanding roast potatoes and excellent freshly prepared yorkshire puddings. There were three vegetables including some cheese-topped broccoli in portions than amounted to an elegant sufficiency rather than the Desperate Dan approach you can find yourself adopting at a carvery.

The pub does have some good offers on wine but on this occasion we stuck to a couple of craft beers from Meantime and Vedett – both a happy match for a Sunday lunch.

WP_20151122_15_21_25_ProDesserts changed from the printed menu, offering confirmation that dishes here are prepared from fresh and when they’ve gone they’ve gone ,rather than another batch being defrosted or whatever. Home-made rice pudding with home-made raspberry jam and chocolate brioche soldiers was unashamed nursery pudding heaven and a cheesecake with chocolate shards and chocolate sauce was equally appealing.

Staff reflect the venue – young, somewhat hipster but friendly, efficient and solicitous.

No-one would claim this is truly outstanding food unmatched in the Midlands, but for a relaxed, informal but good quality lunch in the heart of the city along with the Sunday papers or a group of friends, the Font does a very good job and at a great price.

The Grey Goose, Gilmorton

November 26, 2015

I’ve done a couple of reviews of Sunday lunches for my Leicester Mercury column. It’s something I’m regularly asked to recommend – which is difficult in that most places should be able to do a decent A Sunday roast, and it’s hard to do that is stunningly better than everyone else, or indeed that you can do at home. So a lot of it is about the venue.  I started with a smart country pub:

Grey Goose
Lutterworth Road
Gilmorton
Leicestershire
LE17 5PN

01455 552555

Sunday lunch plays a special role in the lives of many Britons. For the lucky amongst us, it brings back happy memories of family life – for me, it was visits from my grandma and a gathering round the table while listening to Two-way Family Favourites.

Today it’s likely to be one of the few occasions when people eat together around the table. Pubs of course have latched on to this and the pub Sunday lunch is possibly as much as a ritual as the domestic one. So as Autumn sets in and our mind turns from salads to more substantial comfort food, this column will take a couple of looks at this Great British institution.

This week it is the Grey Goose in the South Leicestershire village of Gilmorton. Around six years ago the pub was extended and refurbished to the tune of of £1.3million – an expression of confidence at time when the economy was freefalling that if you provide good food the people will come. It’s steadily built a reputation over that time and the fact that Sundays now see it running three sittings to pack in the dinners shows that the appetite is still growing.

It’s a contemporary-styled building – lots of slate grey – with a large dining area and arriving at 12.30 there was a lot of bustle and chatter. We were asked for a drinks order before we’d even all sat down which raised fears we might be hustled along, but they would prove unfounded and service was very good throughout our stay.

The Grey Goose is a proper high-end restaurant in the week – we were hoping that standards would stay high on a day of the week when maybe some places would be happy to take the easy dollar. And looking at starters, they generally were. The exception was some under-seasoned devilled whitebait, with no discernible devilment, and a garlic mayonnaise with no discernible garlic – the fish themselves were ok but the dish failed to justify a £7.95 price tag. Much better though were some chunky lamb kidneys with wild mushrooms, two substantial chunks of lightly-breaded baked brie with plenty of cranberries and another dish of wild mushrooms in a roquefort sauce on sourdough toast. These were all substantial, well-cooked dishes with quality ingredients that set us up nicely for the main event.

The centre of the pub is given over to a carvery (main course – £13.95) on Sunday and this is what two of us choose. It’s an entirely pleasing experience, with three huge joints being carved and served with great bonhomie. This was a proper Dickensian, Mr Pickwick vibe. Servings are huge and you are welcome to mix and match the roasts – in this case Aubrey Allen beef, Leicestershire turkey and pork loin.

Turkey could wait for another day, but the beef was very good and the pork was sensationally good. You can then help yourself from the very wide selection of extras – acceptably crispy roasts, mash, peas, carrots, hispi cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli mornay, stuffing, yorkies, gravy, horseradish.

Of course at a carvery some things – Yorkshire puddings especially – can’t quite measure up to what can be done when you serve fresh from the oven at home, but this was in general a creditable effort. The pub managed a complex operation with commendable smoothness.

A nut roast is available but our vegetarian main courses were maybe preferable. A risotto of slow roasted tomatoes and creamy goat’s cheese was possibly a bit over salty but was deeply flavoursome and Thai vegetable curry was lively and vibrant and served with a touch of flair – it certainly measured up to versions I’ve tried in UK Thai restaurants.

The wine list is helpfully designed and annotated to make easier to pick an appropriate style and our Lunaris malbec from Argentina met with universal approval, though sadly the pub seems to have succumbed to the current fashion of serving its ale far too cold.

A couple of shared deserts of good, soft creamy ice-cream – we had salted caramel and pistachio – and a very light citric tart of lime and elderflower with some beautiful fat, sweet berries and we were done. Back home to fall asleep in front of the TV. On a weekend when we were mourning the deadly attacks on people enjoying simple pleasures in Paris, the pleasure gained from this time-honoured aspect of our lifestyle seemed especially sharp.

The Red Lion, Stathern

October 7, 2015

My recent review of The Red Lion, Stathern, for Leicester Mercury:

There was a fair degree of concern in North-East Leicestershire last year when it looked like this much-lauded pub was going to be sold off. A long-term holder of Michelin’s Bib Gourmand for good food at moderate prices, it regularly featured in the smart papers as one of the nation’s top country pubs and picked up awards such as Leicestershire Dining Pub of the Year 2015 in the Good Pub Guide.

The sale never quite happened. Co-owners Sean Hope and Ben Jones did however withdraw from active management to concentrate on their other venue, the equally celebrated Olive Branch in Clipsham, Rutland. It would now be run by the returning Mark Barbour, who had been general manager from 2002 to 2006. There was a change in the kitchen too with new head chef Luke McGowan taking over. It seemed the place remains in good hands, and the Dining Pub of the Year gong was recently re-awarded for 2016. On the day of our visit, however, it was announced it had lost the Bib Gourmand (the tyre people don’t like change or uncertainty).

So was there evidence of eyes being taken off the ball? No – this remains a completely delightful dining pub with excellent cooking and competent, relaxed service.

It doesn’t actually look all that when you arrive. But its fairly nondescript outside hides a cosy but not twee interior of beams and yellow plaster. There’s a welcoming bar with good selection of draught beers – the light, golden Red Lion Ale is made for them by Grainstore in Oakham – rustic wooden tables and, in an apparent search for quirky, Leicestershire’s finest collection of colanders on the wall.

The menu is printed out daily on a simple piece of paper and ranges from fish finger sandwiches through to smart though not overblown dishes such as crab and crayfish risotto or blade of beef with girolles and truffle sauce. There’s a “Dine for Less” menu with three courses for £17.50 which looks a compelling offer but this time time we went à la carte.

Top marks for a little loaf of toasted pumpkin seed bread with a lovely open texture and soft crust with orange and thyme butter. Choosing a starter was a simple affair once I saw a listing for partridge with damsons and chorizo. The bird’s breast was perfectly roasted, while in effective contrast the leg had been neatly pared, crumbed and fried. With bang-on seasonality the meat was paired with sweetened, poached local damsons. I was slightly nervous about the chorizo and it was a bit too powerful – it didn’t ruin it but it just felt a bit of a Mediterranean intruder on a gentle, autumnal British plate.

Goats cheese panna cotta was strongly-flavoured and, pleasingly, had a bit more texture than the smooth desert version. With its ideal partner beetroot, this time in ketchup form, and a salad with pea shoots and pak choi, it was a great lunchtime starter.

We both chose fish for main courses – both were perfectly cooked with a crisp skin and yielding white flesh, but in ways which maintained the characteristics of the fish. Sea bass was soft and delicate and came with fresh egg linguini, doused in a simple veloute sauce with tiny brown shrimp, fresh peas left al dente and copious chives. The firmer, meatier hake fillet was matched with an appropriately rich gravy made with roast chicken and the dish also featured retro little balls of breaded scampi, charred leeks and superb “crispy potato” – a slice of thinly-layered potato cake cooked in butter to give a satisfying crunch.

These were dishes that wear their high quality lightly – uncomplicated but well thought out, with fine ingredients and good cooking throughout. With a glass of superb Chilean sauvignon blanc from Casas del Bosque, which was on a par with celebrated New Zealand expressions of this grape, this was a fine lunch.

For desert a super-rich chocolate and amaretti mousse gateaux impressed with shards of white and dark chocolate, a quenelle of light chantilly and smooth, refreshing orange sorbet.

The food may be exceptional but this is a village pub and you might find live music on a Sunday, take-away fish and chips on a Friday for locals and other proper pub things. It’s good to report on a down-to-earth Leicestershire classic on good form.

The Bewicke Arms launches

September 29, 2015

I was able to get out to Hallaton this weekend for the launch party of the Bewicke Arms. I’ll keep most of my powder dry for when I get to do a proper review but the bottom line is that this lovely country pub looks to be back near the top of the list of Leicestershire pubs worth the trip.

It’s looking smart, it’s got the beers, it’s got the views, and now it’s got the food too. Consultant chef Tom Cockerill has developed the approach with head chef Glen Cowl, who helped make The Red Lion at Stathern into the County’s Dining Pub of the Year last year and this, and they will be cooking in a signature style of good quality, honest food with a strong, and genuine, local and seasonal ethos. At the launch party we enjoyed some tasting portions of top-notch fish fried in Grainstore bitter batter, herby sausages with impeccable buttery mash and crispy onions, pizza with locally-foraged wild mushrooms and some wonderful deserts including divine buttermilk pannacotta with figs and crème brulee with rich lavender shortbread.

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They are currently in a soft launch phase and the main menu and bar menu are being slowly rolled out in the coming weeks. With plenty of comfy bar space, smart but cosy dining area, big function upstairs and the Hare Pie tearooms across the yard this is once again going to be a versatile and popular place to drink and eat.

Edit – A few more pictures below – courtesy of CoolasLeicester

Bewicke 2 Bewicke Bewicke3 Bewicke Arms

I’ve reviewed the Olive Branch before on here and I suspect many readers will have been there themselves, but I went again for the Leicester Mercury recently and it never hurts to publicise good places again. Here then is the Mercury review which appeared last weekend:

The Olive Branch

Main Street
Clipsham
Rutland LE15 7SH

01780 410355

Cost – Three courses à la carte, around £28

Food served: Mon-Friday 12-2pm, 6.30-9.30pm
Sat 12-2pm, 7-30pm
Sun 12-3pm, 7-9pm

8 out of 10

The Olive Branch (pictured last Autumn!)

The Olive Branch (pictured last Autumn!)

Many people in Leicestershire and Rutland who take their food seriously are likely to have made it out to Clipsham and The Olive Branch. It’s a fair old schlep over from the city to this far corner of Rutland but for a pub so heavily garlanded with the industry’s top accolades, an hour’s drive through glorious English countryside doesn’t feel too much of a hardship.

Over the last 16 years the pub has gone from a boarded-up shell to last year being named pub of the year in the Good Pub Guide. It was recently the Michelin Pub of the Year and for 12 years even held a Michelin Star. It was a break from tradition from the tyre people to give a star a pub with such a relaxed informal style – heaven forbid, they don’t even have tableclothes. It didn’t please everybody, but it was a recognition that good cooking existed outside the temples of gastronomy.

We went over on a Monday night, which in some places of course is chef’s night off. But sometimes that’s the night you need to go, and indeed one of our party was a himself a chef on his night off – and he deserves to eat out when he can. You would hope though that a place of this quality was not about to let it’s standards drop just because it’s a quiet night after the weekend.

The first thing to note is what a beautiful building the pub is now. A terrace, a pergola, a dovecote, lovely stonework and slates – it ticks every country pub box there is. Inside there’s a warm welcome and an atmosphere that is calm, civilised but still distinctly pubby. I loved the little touches like the little chalkboard on your table with your name (assuming you have booked).

Pumpkin seed bread to start with was lovely. Our starters included pea and broad bean risotto, which our chef – naturally perhaps the most critical among us – enjoyed though he thought maybe it was 30 seconds underdone and lacked much in the way of promised toasted pine nuts. Hot-smoked salmon was a lovely piece of fish, and well matched with carpaccio of red and golden beetroot with a horseradish cream. It seemed to typify the Olive Branch approach, fine food done with style but without the need to over-elaborate or strive for novelty. Ham hock croquettes were tasty, well made and imaginatively paired with sweet peppers and scorched baby gem lettuce.

The mains again reflected that notion of the food, not the techniques or fashion, taking the lead. You could have had a Leicestershire ploughman’s with pork pie and Sparkenhoe’s fine red Leciester, or a prosaic-sounding chicken, leek and mushroom suet pudding. I suspect both would have surpassed expectations, though we all went for more overtly restauranty options. A taste of pork featured succulent pork belly, herby sausage and peppery black pudding, all brought together with super-intense gravy. The dish also featured a marvellous fondant potato that been simmered with cider giving it sweetish edge and a contrasting sauerkraut with apple and pine nuts. A pleasing and well-compiled plateful. Roast salt marsh lamb went down very well with our demanding chef, paired classically with some ratatouille and, more adventurously, very tasty chorizo hash browns. Our third main was a fine piece of cod, though there was some concern over whether a madeira sauce would be too rich for fish. In fact the dish was well-balanced with gnocchi and parsely puree and the sauce did not overpower.

Deserts included a fine mango parfait – though the advertised honeycomb and “white chocolate aero” seemed to have been replaced with some spun sugar and bruléed marshmallow. This was possibly the only example of Monday night syndrome. The dish was fine but the changes should have been explained. A bread and butter pudding made with danish pastry was inspired – rich and sweet. I couldn’t understand my friend’s decision to ask for marmalade ice-cream to be replaced with pistachio but some people are odd like that. The exotic vanilla flavouring of tonka bean crème brulée probably isn’t to everyone’s taste but paired here with rosewater shortbread it created a headily fragrant desert.

Friendly, calm service made for a very relaxed evening eating distinctly superior food. If you live to the East of our region, lucky you. If not, you should definitely consider The Olive Branch when you fancy a drive out to the country for a fine meal in a fine pub.

Brewdog has arrived

April 16, 2015

I was lucky to get a preview of the new Brewdog bar on Friar Lane, Leicester last night – their  27th bar, opening just after the Barcelona branch. What’s good enough for Lionel Messi is clearly good enough for Esteban Cambiasso.

brewdog 2

 

I was really impressed. The bar is nice enough, but the main thing is great beer and great staff who were totally convincing in their interest in the product and their passion to sell it. They have 20 beers on draft, some from their own brewery near Aberdeen and others from a range of small and microbreweries, including those where Brewdog has made investments themselves.

WP_20150415_19_09_20_Pro

We tried a fair few, starting with Brewdog’s very hoppy pale ale Vagabond which being gluten free is going to please a lot of people. The Boon Oude Kriek was a sensational sour cherry beer, much less sweet and more complex than most bottled versions I’ve had.  The 5 A.M. Red Ale was very drinkable and only the Zeitgeist black lager  – combining treacly stout flavours with the freshness of a lager – wasn’t really to my taste.

You will see from the graphic above that the beers are strong and expensive. I know there are people out there who will bemoan the craft beer scene as a fad to fleece the foolish and that you can get good beer much more cheaply at a ‘Spoons. I won’t rehearse all the arguments but I would say you’re getting reliably good product here and all those who want to drink different beer in a different setting are welcome to. I’d certainly be content to drink two pints of Punk IPA than three pints of much of what is sold in Leicester.

The whole “we’re so anarchic” schtick of Brewdog can sometimes get a bit wearisome but there is no denying they make compelling beer.  What’s more, having criticised Bill’s for the practice of using tips to make up their staff’s hourly rate, I say well done to Brewdog for paying the  Living Wage.

Finally  Co-founder James Watt – or his press person at least  – knows how to get on the right side of us; “Leicester is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city and we’re thrilled to be finally setting up a BrewDog home there,” goes the press release.

“We want this bar to serve as an inspiration to microbrewers, home brewers and craft beer drinkers in the region. The passion for great craft beer has taken firm roots in the symbolic heart of England and continues to thrive.”

The Berkeley Arms

February 23, 2015

I had a really splendid meal at the Berkeley Arms in Wymondham last week (it’s around half-way between Melton and Oakham).

Chef Neil and front of house manger Louise met at Hambleton Hall and their pedigree is clear. The pub runs with relaxed skill that makes the customer feel important without any formality.

We started with close-textured but light and springy Hambleton bread with great salty butter. Starters of  terrine of ham hock with a sharp, crunchy piccallili and a pork and black pudding paté with apple compote were beautifully made and presented – great technique.  A smoked salmon and crab roulade also had  salsa of avocado with finely diced cucumber and showed great flavour combinations.

(from The Berkeley Arms website)

(from The Berkeley Arms website)

A main of beef fillet had was superb and my braised leg of hare was perfect February  comfort food, brilliantly matched with poached pear and caramelised walnuts for crunch and taste.   There was a more delicate approach on show with tender loin of rabbit that had been wrapped in spinach and parma ham. The dish looked stunning and again showed a high level  of classic skills. Saucing on all three dishes was impeccable.

Perfect rice pudding had a brulée topping and a side of brandy-infused prunes, while a hefty vanilla pannacotta wobbled provocatively, surrounded by pared segments of blood orange.

Highly recommended for those wanting great food in a country pub environment. Booking needed, certainly at weekends.

For my full review in the Leicester Mercury  – go here

 

Brewdog comes to Leicester

February 20, 2015

After the good news for pizza lovers with last week’s opening of Peter and that’s enough in the old Welford Place, comes good news for beer drinkers. After a couple of false alarm rumours, there is now confirmation of Brewdog opening in Leicester. They will be sited in what was previously Will’s Bar on Friar Lane in the city centre (sort of round the back of  the market). Work starts immediately and it will open in April with some 20 beer taps and a food menu.  Also promised are vintage pinball and arcade games.

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