I suspect quite a few readers will have dreamt of chucking in their day job to set up a little food business. Nathalie Salles has done it. And lovers of authentic French choux pastry should be delighted.

praline

I met Nathalie selling her glorious little sweet and savoury choux buns at Belgrave Food Fair last month under the name Choux’tique. She came to England from France to study product design at De Montfort but eventually tired of the corporate world. It turns out she’s an old friend of a friend and is baking out of her home just around the corner from me near Victoria Park, Leicester.

IMG_4191She’s now on a mission to broaden our awareness of just what can be done with choux pastry – and not least to correct our notion of the éclair. “Here you see eclairs filled with whipped cream – but in France that’s not an eclair! We use different flavours of crème patisserie.”

Her core range then includes little choux buns filled with divine praline or chocolate crème pat, and chouxquettes, favourites back in France but relatively unknown here, which are simply sprinkled with pearl sugar.

Then there are savoury versions – gougères topped with cheese or filled with bacon or, in the case of “le petit toad”, sausage. She’s also now producing non-choux savoury loaves, speckled with ham and olives or sundried tomato and olives. Wherever possible she’s sourcing from local traders – “It’s really good to develop a relationship with your suppliers,” she explains. “And the quality tends to be so much better than supermarkets.”

These treats are beautifully light and very versatile. Whether sweet or savoury they are perfect for a mid-morning break and as snacks or finger food at meetings, parties and events. Nathalie would love to help establish the French tradition of turning up to friends with a little gift of patisserie. Bigger, showstopper items such as Gateau St Honoré a spectacular Piece Montée can also be ordered.

ham and olive

She’s currently building up awareness at fairs and foodie events and direct sales are taking off too – they can be picked up from Victoria Park Road or orders over £20 can be delivered free within two miles. If you want to give them a try call on 0116 210 8168 or 07974 140515, or check out more information www.facebook.com/tryit.itsfrench or on instagram it’s choux.tique .choux banner

 

 

 

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The Leicester Food Hop

October 2, 2018

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

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

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Salt and pepper squid from The Fish and The Chip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Plant and Bean takeover

June 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

 

 

Cafe Delhi

April 24, 2018

delhi chaat

Samosa Chaat

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

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

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

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

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

cafedelhi

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

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

Herb
96 Granby Street
Leicester LE1 1DJ
0116 233 2715

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Herb has been a long time coming, but now that it is here Leicestershire should celebrate the arrival of a compellingly beautiful restaurant offering first-rate food from Kerala.

The food happens to be vegetarian, indeed 95 per cent of menu is or can be made vegan, and many dishes – clearly marked – are gluten free and nut free. But omnivores should not be put off – it’s simply great food. End of.

The restaurant is part of the Kayal family – which has four other restaurants including the first one which is also on Granby St around 50 yards away. One of the Kayal chefs, dosa master Ramdas Krishna, had long been pushing Kayal founder Jaimon Thomas to open a vegetarian restaurant that could feature Keralan herbal cuisine. Eventually, with the recent big rise in those moving towards a meat-free diet, the time was right for a place that provides a properly smart setting to showcase such food.

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The property chosen was a former amusement arcade, which has now been transformed into a stunning space which glitters with deep green and copper tones. There’s fishermens’ lamps and copper kettles on the ceiling and other features such as a real-life waterfall and clay-tile artworks, including a jaw-dropping representation of da Vinci’s The Last Supper. The design spec really has been seen through in great detail.

Some of the food will be familiar from Kayal’s menu but there’s obviously a much wider diversity of vegetarian dishes. Over the course of two visits during the first week I had some really excellent dishes.

 

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The Herb platter featured aubergine, courgette, asparagus, baby sweetcorn, mushroom and tomatoes all marinated in herbs and lightly grilled to maintain a little crunch and maximum flavour. There were also some chick fritters, lightly crisp out on the side, creamy on the inside. Served with herb and coconut chutnies this was a magnificent shared starter for two. Other starters of Sev puri and aloo papadi chaat both combined the tang and sweetness of yoghurt and tamarind with the pleasing texture contrast of crisp pastry. Uzhunnu Vada – doughnuts made from lentil flour with accompanying chutnies  – are substantial enough but remain light and fluffy. Portions are quite sizeable but this was food we just wanted wolf down.

For main dishes you can pick from a wide range of some 20 dosas or uttapams and a similar variety of main course curries, palyas, thorans, biriyanis and more. Some will sound relatively straightforward for the newcomer – vegetable korma, chana masala – but there is much more to tempt the adventurous, such as maybe green papaya stew or pavakka pachadi, bitter gourd with coconut and yoghurt.

I had a beautifully crisp sundhari dosa, where the traditional potato filling was augmented with sweet beetroot and brushed with a red onion chutney. It came with more of those vibrant chutnies and a superb sambhar (the traditional lentil and vegetable stew). Baby aubergine masala was the kind of dish to show a sceptical meat eater to demonstrate that you’re really not missing out. Tender as you like aubergine with tomatoes, paneer, omion and spices in thick sauce that bears the signature flavours of dishes over the road at Kayal. We enjoyed that with a lively, vibrant green herby rice.

Potichoru bijo birinayi was steamed inside banana leaves rather the pastry case as in dumpukht style and was a light, fragrant mix and vegetable and paneer.

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All of these dishes had the appeal of freshly cooked food made with care. There is that underlying Keralan note of mustard seed and curry leaf tempering and plenty of coconut, but there is also tremendous variety of tastes from herbs and from vegetables which are allowed to express their own flavours.

Deserts are worth considering but will probably split the crowd. Kulfis – for once served at an appropriate temperature are crowd pleasers, though dishes such as ada prahaman – rice flakes in a sweet rich dressing of jaggery, cardamon, chashews and ghee – are best left to those with a really sweet tooth (i.e. me).

Herb is fully licensed and the wine list is definitely worth exploring – a glass of the house pinot grigio was lovely and fruity for what can be a pretty bland wine.

Price-wise, you can eat like a king for around £15 to £20, and there is a range of lunchtime dishes at around £4. All in all, great food – too good to leave to the vegetarians – a great platform for it too.

Lilu

March 23, 2018

I mentioned recently my involvement with the Channel 5 programme Restaurant Rescue which put Leicester restaurant Lilu under the microscope. I didn’t write a review of that visit late year given the somewhat artificial nature of the visit and the fact that maybe it would change once Alex Polizzi and Olver Peyton had given their verdict.

Now though I thought time was right to go back under my own steam and see what has changed. The short answer, is very little. Polizzi and Peyton advised owner Pratik Master to drop his prices and the set price and introduce an a la carte menu. But he and his chef JP are not interested in competing with traditional curry houses. The vision is a traditional fine dining approach but which highlights Indian food. So there’s no long list of curries  but a limited menu – five or six choices of starter and mains – of meticulously plated dishes using fine ingredients.

The pricing does set it apart from more mainstream restaurants – two courses for £35 is a big ask for people who might look at £20 as a more typical spend in an “Indian restaurant”. Oliver Peyton’s argument was that in a set price menu everyone would pick the big ticket items – rack of lamb, soft shell crabs – and he would never make money. Pratik feels that is what set them apart and feels the set price approach gives clarity.

So, what do you get for your money? Complimentary poppadoms may not be that unusual but here there are six distinctive and vibrant housemade chutnies and sauces – the pineapple was especially tangy. And then while we waiting for starters there were two more amuse bouches. A little pani puri – beautifully presented – was a nice little little flavour bomb of herbs and spices and a spiced tomato soup had something of the feel of a hot Bloody Mary. Absolutely delicious.

My starter was a salmon fillet, rather too politely spiced I felt, but that allowed plenty of salmon flavour through. It came on an aloo tikki-style disc (a spiced potato cutlet) with a couple of other cheffy touches of edible flowers and tamarind-infused sauce. It was very good – I don’t want to labour the point but this was not usual curry house fare. Gill’s starter was Mumbai chaat – a street food dish of crispy pastry shells with filling of spiced and herbed potatoes along with crunchy sev – little pieces of chickpea noodles – along with tangy tamarind sauce and pomegranate-spiked yoghurt. There’s a solid tradition of this snack food being elevated to grander surroundings and here your invited to create your own combination at table. It felt fun and it tasted lovely.

We avoided the lamb and the crab – we’d tried them on the Channel 5 visit and had very positive memories. This time I went for the “game of the day” choice which was duck. This was a simply presented but perfectly cooked breast, rubbed with with well-judged spice mix and coming with dabs of fruity yoghurt and bramble gel and a pot of thick, rich chocolate-infused sauce. There was a tower of spicy potatoes and tomatoes t and while each element was fine it maybe needed a more fluid sauce to bring it all together.

Gill’s dumpukht biriyani-based thali was acknowledged as a dish in development but it was a complete stunner. The pastry-encased rice centrepiece, vented with an artfully-folded poppadom was fragrant with rosewater and tender pieces of lamb. Around it sat half a dozen bowls – a great lamb chop curry, a beautifully balanced dhal, okra, yoghurt, tandoori-spiced paneer and crunchy kachumber salad. Oh yes and a little mango lassi too. This was a great showcase for the kitchen’s skill and indeed Indian cuisine in general.

A shared desert was another treat – delicatelyfloral rose kulfi was paired with a quenelle of smooth, dark chocolate ganache on a crunchy chocolate base. A delicate combination well worth keeping space for.

With the little amuses, the blingy wine list, and the refined presentation, all the grammar of contemporary fine dining is here. But this is not a stuffy environment, service is skilled and helpful but the ethos is very clearly focused on customer satisfaction. Pratik himself is a down-to-Earth presence with an infectious enthusiasm for his food.

Lilu does a very capable job of offering a sophisticated version of a cuisine this country sometimes thinks of as just comfort food. It’s not going to be for everyone, not least because of the price, but it’s run with love and is a welcome option for those looking to explore beyond curry house standards.

* Follow their website or Instagram feed  for some excellent frontline reports of how they are developing dishes – more inspiring than my somewhat pitiful efforts above.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

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