I had a fascinating chat yesterday with Sangita Tryner, the woman behind the extraordinary Delilah’s deli in Nottingham, which is set to open its second branch in Leicester.

And we can start to get very excited. The new deli will be located with the old Irish Bank in St Martin’s, within an impressive banking hall which will enable the shop to replicate the formula which has made Nottingham so successful. So with the high ceilings there will be space for a mezzanine dining area which sit people close to some of the beautiful original features. The hall itself will stock an immense selection of cheeses, wines, charcuterie and other deli goods displayed in order to let customers get close to the produce.

I can’t say a lot more at this stage  but it was inspiring to hear Sangita talk about her confidence in Leicester and where it is going right now. Work on the building could start as early as next week, when the result of grant applications to protect some of the heritage features  of the building should be known. Then we are looking at an opening in April or May.

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Leicester Market on form

November 22, 2015

WP_20151121_17_37_07_ProThere was some gorgeous stuff on Leicester Market today. With the rutting season pretty much over there’s some wonderful venison coming down from Bradgate Park – including this handsome  chop which looks good enough to celebrate something special such as  – ooh – going top of the Premier League maybe?

There were also some beautiful blue swimming crabs and fat scallops that will make a few more great meals somewhere in Leicester tonight.

It certainly set my culinary senses racing in advance of the Winter Food Festival which takes place at the market tomorrow (Sunday) from 11-6pm.

It’s good to see that Cocoa Amore has successfully relocated to the St Martin’s area, further fuelling the sense that there’s a high quality independent food and drink cluster emerging there.

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The company has relocated from Silver Arcade to larger, two-story premises on Silver Street. I was fortunate to get a Wonkaesque Golden Ticket for their launch last week and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening checking out not only their great chocolates – single estate nibs through to really superior truffles – but some savoury dishes too. Canapes included smoked duck breast and mackerel on chocolate bread – which all worked surprisingly well.

The new shop is licensed and while not promoting itself as a bar, matching chocolate with wines and spirits is going to be of the attractions.

Upstairs is the production area and space for workshops where couples and small groups can learn about chocolate production around the world and make their own chocolates.

Self-taught chocolatier Pete Gardener (right) with Alan Pomfrett at the Cocoa Amore relaunch

Owner and self-taught chocolatier Pete Gardener (right) with Alan Pomfrett at the Cocoa Amore relaunch

The business was only formed three years ago and has won numerous awards, including being one of  only ten businesses to be invited to take part in the Chancellor’s Downing Street Christmas Market. I won’t hold that against them though and look forward to see them thrive in their location, just a few yards from great businesses such as St Martin’s Tea and Coffee and Crafty, Gelato Village, the Case and its Champagne Bar and the soon-to-be-opened Burleigh’s Gin Parlour.

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It’s asparagus time!

May 15, 2015

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I’ve just spent a great morning out at Cattows Farm near Heather in North West Leicestershire with farmer James Ludlam as he brings in the asparagus.  This quintessential early summer crop has become increasingly popular as people discover the joys of seasonal eating and Cattows Farm is one of the very few places in Leicestershire where you can buy it at the farm door thanks to their splendid farm shop.

 

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This 300 acre mixed farm now has four acres given over to asparagus and for six or seven week from the beginning of May it is a useful, labour intensive but high value crop for them. It also helps bring in the public in advance of the soft fruit PYO season in June. The majority of is either sold direct at the farm or used at their popular café – indeed  tomorrow (Saturday 16th) they are even doing an eight course  tasting menu featuring the likes of asparagus pate, pork and asparagus wellington, asparagus risotto and even coffee with candied asparagus. One or two local greengrocers and restaurants also take it but, said James, they have steered clear of the wholesale market and unrealistic demands of supermarkets.

It was great to see such great quality English food being grown, harvested and sold on site and marketed with flair and integrity. Even the trimmings are used as feed for their herd of Herford/South Devon crosses.

If you want to get you hands on a few bunches, you can find Cattow’s Farm on the Swepstone Road, a mile or so out of Heather, which itself is just to the West of Ibstock. The season traditionally lasts to Midsummer Day but is at its height over the next three weeks. It’s a lovely place for a visit with a great café and well-stocked shop. If you’re after a few recipes  – try visiting the  British Asparagus website.  Me? I’m off to knock up some hollandaise…

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Great Food Club Awards

March 22, 2015

Many readers will be members of the Great Food Club, Matt Wright’s project to highlight and celebrate great independent restaurants, retailers and food producers here in the Midlands. Now for the first time GFC is running an Award programme, giving everyone a chance to vote for their favourite in each of these three categories. There will be shortlists produced for each of the six areas GFC covers (Leicestershire & Rutland, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Warwickshire & West Midlands) and the writing team at GFC (which includes me) will select overall winners.

You can vote for anyone as long as they based in the Midlands and are not part of a national chain. Note also you don’t have to be a member, though if you’re not, you really should be – membership is totally free and your card gets you a range of discounts and special offers at some 200 of the best food places in the region. More importantly, perhaps,  it plugs you into a network of news and information about what’s happening through detailed profiles, newsletters, blogs, recipes and events.

So go here to vote, and then here to join up. Voting is open until late May.

GFC card

 

For what is Harborough?

October 31, 2014

There’s a wonderful song by Half Man Half Biscuit that lists the qualities of the fenland town of Chatteris

“Three good butchers, two fine chandlers,
An indoor pool and a first class cake shop
Ofsted plaudits, the envy of the Fens
Prick barriers at both ends”

The pay-off is that without the presence of the songwriter’s beloved, these qualities are as nought:

“For what is Chatteris if you’re not there?
I may as well be in Ely or St Ives”

imagesAnyway, this poignant number was brought to mind yesterday as I walked around Market Harborough. Its food offering is really impressive for a town of its size – pump-primed of course by well-heeled London escapees and commuters. It’s got a very tidy indoor market with a decent butchers and fishmongers but also specialist Japanese, Spanish and Chinese food stalls.

Then out in the town itself there are numerous good delis, a respectable range of restaurants, a great butcher (Bates), and two top-rate craft bakers (Hambleton and The Garage). Duncan Murray Wines is an example to all independent retailers, there’s an intriguing new micropub, and  an excellent kitchenware shop. In Farndon Fields – a 20 minute walk from the town centre – it has possibly the county’s biggest and best farm shop. Interestingly the supermarkets – the cheap ones, the middling one and the posh one – are all grouped more or less together in a ghetto near the town centre, easily ignored if you want or suitable for a quick raid. (The crisis ridden, allegedly fraudulent one is out on the Eastern edge of town).

Anyway – if you don’t know the place and that sounds good, pay it a visit. If it doesn’t, you may as well be in Corby or Coalville.

It Hasbean a pleasure

October 13, 2014

I was delighted to meet one of my food heroes last week. I’ve been buying Steve Leighton’s coffee for over five years now, making online orders to his company Hasbean. I ‘m hoping quite a few readers here may have discovered him through the link to the site which has been at the bottom of the homepage since the this blog started.

Not only does he offer a great range of small-batch coffees, often from producers he knows and has visited personally, but he is an instinctive master of social media. His infectious and exuberant enthusiasm shines through all aspects of the business, not least through his In My Mug podcasts – little newsy filmed reports in which he also tastes a coffee of the week.

The occasion of us meeting was Steve’s visit to a party to open the Pocklington’s Walk offices of Rock Kitchen Harris, the Leicester communications business which helped develop his website. I know several of the staff there are regular readers here (Hiyaaa!!) and I’ll return the compliment by saying buying through the Hasbean site is a very simple and well-planned process.

Steve used the occasion to film an episode of In My Mug – see below, though I recognise  it may not mean all that much to those who weren’t there. It does, though, give an idea of the kind of deeply informative jollity he brings to the process of buying your beans.

If you’ve not really understood the appeal of great coffee, I recommend you look at Coffee 101, the introductory course Steve has prepared that comes to you in series of emails over 10 days. I’ll finish by repeating one of my favourite sayings, which also got a run-out at the RKH do, “Life is too short for instant coffee”.

Eye on the prizes

August 13, 2014

A very quick post offering congratulations to a couple of local producers. Firstly, Oakham Ales (a Peterborough-based brewery now but one I still think of as local, not least because I often drink their beers in my local bar Babelas) have come second in overall search for the UK’s Supreme Champion Beer at Camra’s Great British Beer Festival with their pale, refreshing, grapefruity ale Citra200citra.

This beer single-handedly turned my mate from a lager-lover into an ale-admirer. It’s a great transitional beer for those looking for hoppier flavours but put off by darker beers.

And then there’s another success for Archer’s Butchers on Queen’s Rd (whose owner Sean – below – can on the odd occasion be found in the bar mentioned above). His hugely popular biltong won a Gold Star in the Great Taste Awards announced this week.

IMG_0666Having a very quick look at the awards, there was more local success in the form of  a coveted three Gold Star rating for Northfield Farm’s 21-day aged mutton and single stars for their merguez and pork and herb sausages and for Woodhouse Farm’s Tamworth sausages. A couple of Long Clawson cheeses also picked up awards.

 

Personally I’m very partial to whisky. Some other people, not so much. But for those who do appreciate the Uisge Beatha, a good tasting taste class is a hard idea to resist.

And informal wine and spirit tastings are something of a boom industry all over the country. The Drinking Classes is an umbrella group that co-ordinates teams of experts delivering sessions on whisky, gin, vodka, rum tequila and cocktails and me and my pal Kevin turned up to their Leicester session at Will’s Bar at 6pm last Saturday. Run by young mixologist Will – not of the said Bar but of Drinking Classes’ subset the Whisky Mavericks – this was a very pleasant way to start a Saturday night.

IMG_0915 Whisky MavericksLooking at the publicity, Whisky Mavericks seems to be  based on the premise that whisky is seen as boring and needs rescuing from stifling tradition. A curious idea that I never really bought when it was first ran up the flagpole by someone wearing red glasses over 30 years ago. It’s even stranger when you realise that Will doesn’t try too hard to be modish or wacky in any way and in fact just delivers a perfectly mainstream tutored tasting.

It’s entry level stuff, starting off with a fruity punch and moving on to half a dozen drams, representative of some major styles. We started with my favourite Tomintoul, a creamy Speyside single malt, and then moved to the peatier 12 year old Bowmore from Islay – enjoyed with a plain chocolate digestive. Then there was Grants,  Jim Beam Bourbon and a 15 year old Genfiddich Solera.

While he confessed he was more of a gin enthusiast, Will was pretty well informed and kept up a steady supply of historical and cultural background information. Things I learnt included the origin of the name  Monkey Shoulder, that Grant’s triangular bottle was designed to prevent “breakages” in the dockyards and that age-statement whisky may soon disappear as the burgeoning Chinese middle-classes buy up everything available.  Also that the world’s biggest selling whisky is called Bagpiper, featuring a bekilted man in a turban on the table, and strictly speaking is not even whisky as it involves molasses.

So a very convivial hour and half. Can’t say I’d be pulled in at the advertised rate of £65, but there seems to be plenty of Groupon offers around at around the £25 mark – which makes it a pretty good option for a present or just a great activity for a group of mates. More details here. An alternative in Leicester is the monthly spirit tastings run by The Urban Alchemist (who many will know as Roop from Leicester’s Manhattan 34 bar) at Taps bar near the Cathedral.

Kevin enjoys a dram

Kevin enjoys a dram

The Tiny Bakery

February 27, 2014

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Clarendon Park is pleasant little part of Leicester. It’s a densely packed, prosperous area set strategically between the posh bits of Knighton and Stoneygate and Leicester University.

The peace and calm of its shopping area has recently been ruffled by the imminent arrival of a local Tesco. But the independents who still predominate on the Queen’s Road are not giving up. In fact, there’s a heart-warming story of a new opening.

The Tiny Bakery, which opens on 1 March, is in fact located right next to the Megagrocer at 98 Clarendon Park Road. It’s everything Tesco isn’t  – local, artisan, handmade, transparent. It’s founded by Lindsay Abraham, a local woman who’s been baking cakes for friends and for local cafes such as Fingerprints for a few years. She will now be selling her own cakes, and has teamed up with David Belcham, another local baker who supplied local shops with artisan bread using the moniker One Man and his Loaf. He jumped at the chance at moving from a home baker to a small scale commercial operation. Add in a local pastry and patisserie specialist and you’ve got a team of people raring to go to supply people with high quality baked goods.

“Actually, I don’t think Tesco is competition,” says Lindsay.  “We know people are looking for good bread, and if you want lovely bread and beautiful cakes, you don’t go to Tesco”. Quality of course comes with a price and the bread and cakes will be more expensive (but much  better for you) than the Chorleywood loaves and trans fats doughnuts common at supermarkets, but they are sure the demand will be there.

“People will have a choice to make,” says David. “If it’s good enough, people will be prepared to spend a bit more”.

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“The difference is in the taste” – Lindsay Abraham and David Belcham talk bread

Their premises were formerly a chocolatiers and most recently used by a wedding cake specialist. Lindsay has kitted out the rear bakery with commercial mixer, fridge and oven and the front shop is being transformed into a stylish little café. To begin with the shop will be selling “everyday” loaves from Evington’s Ethel bakery, supplemented  by handmade speciality loaves from David, using flour from Leicestershire’s Claybrooke Mill.  Expect wholemeal, multi-seed and rye to begin with, but the glory of this kind of operation is that they can be nimble and responsive – as customers let them know what they want, the bakers can respond with spelt, sourdough, whatever. At least one day a week there will be gluten-free loaves available.

Lindsay will be supplying cakes, cookies, macaroons, meringues and cream cakes and there will also be croissants, pain au chocolate and Danish pastries. There’ll be coffee supplied from the excellent St Martin’s Tea and Coffee, and just a few seats where you can take a few minutes out to relax.

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Kitting out the Cafe

“Clarendon Park already has a great butcher plus greengrocers, delis, chemists and so on. Now it will have a place for great bread and cakes, so it will in effect be a one stop shop – people won’t need to go to a supermarket,” says Lindsay. “It’s what people want. We’ve already got 330 likes on Facebook before opening  – and that’s not just my friends! – and we’re happy to compete on quality. The difference is in the taste.”

* The Tiny Bakery opens on Saturday 1 March. It will be open from 8.30am to 4pm (later on Thursdays), six days a week.

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