The big increase in small breweries is an – almost – unalloyed pleasure. The sense that anyone can make beer has unleashed all sorts of new and exciting beers, and a few duds, pushed of course by the concept of “craft”. The new products come from a range of players – home brewers wanting a business, existing tiny brewers given a new lease of life, well-trained and well-backed start-ups, and bigger brewers finding a way to ride the new wave.

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I’d heard good things about Round Corning Brewing in Melton, but wasn’t sure where they stood on this continuum. A visit to meet the pair behind it has inspired me to think this is one of the best conceived and executed new breweries in the region and one that is making beers right up there with the best of UK.

The company was founded by two Irishman who met in New Zealand. Head brewer Colin Paige is a graduate of the celebrated Heriot Watt University brewing course. Over the last 25 years he has set up breweries and produced award-winning beer in places including Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand. It was in Wellington where he met business partner Crombie Cryan and between them they came up with the idea to create their own brewery. It could really have been anywhere until fate gave them a shove towards Melton Mowbray.

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Colin Paige (left) and Combie Cryan

As it happened a friend had just bought Melton Cattle Market. That’s the largest town centre cattle market in the UK. One that generates some 350,000 thirsty visitors every year, that is a social and economic hub for the farming industry for miles around, and one that is in the heart of a town with a thriving independent food and drink scene. Not only that, but the East Midlands has the lowest level of market penetration by small independent breweries in the UK. Just one and a half pints out of every 100 comes from an indy. So the market opportunity was definitely there.

20190920_125219With money raised from friends and family, some £650,000 was spent in kitting out the brewery and creating a simple, down to Earth brewery tap with clear sight to the mash tuns and fermenting vessels. You walk in just yards from the chatter of the auctioneer and are immediately assailed with heady smell of hops.

It’s a proper rural business in the heart of its community, but it’s being done with excellence in mind. The use of water softening and steam for example is not cheap but it does help give the brewer far greater control. ‘So what does “craft” really mean?’ states Colin. ‘In my mind it’s the pursuit of excellence and that’s what we are about. Also balance, innovation and drinkability – maybe overused words in brewing but they can result in great beers.’

20190922_161200Round Corner are currently selling their great beers in 120 pubs and their brewery tap. The core range is characterised by distinctive, crisp beers done very well – no self-consciously wacky stuff, no straining for an elusive, illusory zeitgeist. They include Frisby, a bright, clean lager that picked up a Silver at the International Brewing Awards and Gun Metal, a black lager with a creamy head and counter-intuitively crisp taste which won a Gold and immediately established them as a serious presence. My personal favourite was Hopping Spree, a 6.8per cent hop bomb and among the best in this style I’ve ever tried. With centennial, cascade, amarillo, simcoe, mosaic and citra hops, it positively erupts with flavour.

There are usually a couple of seasonal specials – they are currently coming to the end of Drover’s , a dry-hopped summer pale ale. Watch out soon for something fitting for Oktoberfest. Also coming is another black lager with some barrel aging from a Barbados rum cask, a smokey rauchbier and an oyster stout.

Colin and Crombie plan to grow the business in controlled way. They want to keep their product premium and to continue to exploit their firm East Midlands base, not least by teaming up with other Melton independent food businesses. There are also considerable tax duty advantages to keep the brewery under a certain size. With that big 98.5 per cent of the market to aim at though, here’s a go ahead operation with plenty of scope to grow.

 


 

 

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Brunch at 100&Six

August 12, 2019

I continue to hear great reports of 100&Six on Queens Road (reviewed enthusistically here on 23 March) and thought I’d go today to check out the brunch menu. And it’s gone straight to the top of my list for places to brunch in Leicester.

Their take on a full English (£8.50) was simply blissful – sophisticated but most definitely not poncey. It featured pillowy-soft scrambled egg with fresh herbs; sweet honey-cured bacon; proper grown-up hash browns with both crunch and potato flavour; high-quality black pudding with that iron-rich tang of blood; and a tomato and bean cassoulet that would win-over the most harded bakedbeanophobe.

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Gill went down the sweeter end of the menu with the apparently highly popular French toast (£7). And I’m not surprised this dish has won over Clarendon Park – thick, toasted slices of eggy brioche are doused in blood orange syrup and sprinkled with almonds, and it’s completed with skilfully-grilled, sweet and firm nectarines. A really smart, light mid-morning treat, which we made slightly more substantial with an extra side of that honeyed bacon.

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Its a complete delight to find such quality food cooked by a chef with a flair for flavour and a well-balanced approach to innovation.

The brunch menu is served Monday to Saturday from 10am to 2pm and other choices include a watermelon fruit salad, pecan and banana granola, sweet potato fritters with maple, chilli and feta. The full small plate menu is also available from 12pm.

 

Much as Queen’s Rd gets lauded as a place of lively independent venues, there’s always been a sense that it doesn’t really rise to its potential as far as restaurants are concerned. So here’s a hearty cheer for 100andSix, the bar and restaurant that opened at that address this week. We just popped in for a quick supper, but that was more than enough to suggest this is some of the best and certainly most interesting food available in the city.

The site has in recent years been home to Don Leone, Cultura and Moow, none of which set things alight. This new venue may well be a better fit for Clarendon Park. It is an initiative of Kal Ruparell, who knows the area well from having run Dos Hermanos bar and who is also behind the classy city centre cocktail bar 33 Cank St. The downstairs bar area is geared around cocktails and wine, and the upstairs area more for dining – and this is where things get interesting.

Head chef is Martin Powdrill, well-known to readers of this blog as being behind Cured, a fantastic operation running out of Brewdog and later the Cookie in Leicester City Centre. Martin’s distinctive approach has been with cures, smokes, fermentations and other approaches to building flavours and highlighting quality ingredients. With 100andSix he has been given the chance to refine and elevate his approach from interesting platters of pub food to elegant, exciting restaurant food. The whole thing has a Nordic feel, with the daytime offering focussing on smorrebrod, open sandwiches such as roastbeef with Danish remoulade, horseradish, crispy onions, pickled green onion and tarragon.

The main menu is mainly presented as nibbles and small plates (“don’t mention tapas” implores the menu) that offer flexibility in terms of snacking, sharing or building up to a more substantial meal. Most dishes are between £2.50 and £10 – with a couple of more substantial dishes such as hangar steak with celeriac fondant (£14) and monkfish cooked in blackened banana leaf with shallots, choy sum, almond, lemongrass and yukon gold potato (£19).

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Cured cod (picture from the restaurant’s Facebook page)

We were having a little treat after two-hour evening work meeting, and sure enough the food on our order of five plates between three lifted spirits immensely. Triple cooked chips with a thyme and garlic rub were superb, while little strips of black treacle and burnt barley candied bacon were a real revelation. Beautifully prepared, these would have been easy to get wrong but provided a lovely balance of crispness and chewiness while the sweetness was well judged. Then there was delicately sliced duck breast sprinkled with liquorice powder and doused in a sensational fermented prune foam, giving a terrific fruity punch and a slight fizz on the tongue. Sea asparagus and charred broccoli completed the dish. There was more superb innovation with our vegan dish of fried avocado (I know!) with a light tempura coating and smoked chilli ponzu sauce and ginger and cucumber salsa. This was another well-constructed dish with stunningly fresh and clear Asian flavours. Finally there was a ceviche-style dish of cod cured in cazcabel tequila with little dabs of a banging saffron aioli and a super squid ink cracker that had both visual and taste appeal.

20190321_205402Alongside our dishes was a complementary selection of pickles and extras that, the kitchen advises, are served to work as condiments to complement the main dishes. These were hugely successful too – from little strips of chilli that gave a fantastic uplift to the chips, to beautifully soused strips of cucumber and slices of lemon that had been lightly confited (I think) giving a mild sweetness to the inherent sharpness.

100andSix may not please those who like to fill up on meat and carbs but there are plenty of places for pizza and kebabs. Here though there is fine, unusual and innovative cooking and an exciting approach to flavours. I’m looking forward to trying those sandwiches and to seeing what ther take is on traditional Sunday lunch.

  • Sorry for the lack of photos – mine just didn’t cut it, but the food does look delightful. 

A little saddened this evening to hear that The Orange Tree group, a long-standing provider of lively, independent venues for Leicestershire, has sold up to the brewery and pubco Charles Wells.

The four venues  – Leicester, Loughborough and Nottingham’s Orange Tree bars and Loughborough’s Kelso will continue to trade until the spring, when conversion to Well’s “Pizza, Pots and Pints” format will begin. The brand focuses on cosiness – with wood-fired ovens proving pizzas and one-pot comfort food dishes in ceramic pots. Bedford-based Wells has around 200 pubs, most in Southern Central England.

The news follows the sudden closure at the weekend of The Clarendon, the popular Clarendon Park pub where I have seen many glorious Leicester City victories (going four up at Derby in the first half springs to mind) as well as the failure to beat Stoke which sent us down to the third division, a moment which until this wretched weekend seemed to be the worst moment in our history.  High rents and rates and a lack of support from the pubco are blamed by the tenants. It’s not clear what’s happening yet but it could re-open under new tenants in due course. Very sad to see a proper pub being treated this way.

 

 

As some Leicester readers may have picked up, the remarkable Gelato in the Square event returns to St Martin’s Square this week. This time with added support from the likes of Leicester BID and companies Agrimontana and Carpagiani, it will be even more significant for Leicester.

GelatoThe weekend of 26/28 October will see a truly a truly world-class gathering of top makers from UK, Italy and the USA, including hosts Antonio and Daniele from Leicester’s Gelato Village. All the gelatieri are committed to principles of using natural, seasonal ingredients and the theme of “a unique flavour journey” will see them push the boundaries with exciting creations. Among the confirmed creations are “Memories of a Tortello”, with eggs, butter and sage, “Pirandello” with toasted almond, lemon zest and homemade almond and chocolate brittle, and “Year after Year”containing whisky, mascarpone and chocolate and coffee from Sao Tome. There will also be plenty of vegan friendly sorbettos.

As last year there will be special talks and demonstration to highlight how high quality makers perfect their product. It’s a great opportunity for East Midlanders to try something exceptional. For more details see visit Gelato in the Square . [Full disclosure – I’ll be one of the judges picking a winner at the end of the weekend.]

Elsewhere the new Queen Victoria Arts Club on Orton Square in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter has opened its restaurant. The club combines a membership model which provides access to a members basement bar and various booking privileges for its meeting and function rooms,  with a restaurant open to the public. I had a long chat with chef Steve Durham at a launch event and he seems excited by the challenge of running a high end restaurant and catering function in a beautifully restored Victorian building in the heart of the city. He has worked at high levels in the industry and his opening menu features interesting takes on classics of British cuisine – the likes of Brown Windsor soup with beef cheek, pressed pork and smoked black pudding terrine, and venison with chocolate and black cherry sauce. Given it’s position opposite Curve, a pre-theatre menu is available.

The King Richard III is bringing back a full menu for the winter months, having gone with a lighter touch chicken-focused menu over the summer. It established itself as one of the very best dining options in the city and if you’ve not been, it definitely deserves a visit. On the menu are starters such as porter-braised potted ox cheek or double Gloucester rarebit with leeks, pink pickled onion and tomato jam. Mains include wonderful March Farm steaks and wild mushroom, squash, chestnut and lentil wellington.

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Nisha Katona

Finally, exciting news that Indian streetfood restaurant Mowgli is coming to St Martin’s Square in the new year. The growing chain has six restaurants in the Midlands and North, with the Liverpool original recently listed as one of their favourites by food critics Marina O’Louhglin and Giles Coren. If Marina likes it, I’m pretty damned sure I will. Founder Nisha Kantona told thebusinessdesk.com that she’d been looking to open in Leicester but didn’t want to go near the big shopping centre – “ I spent a few nights and days in St Martins square – It feels very Mowgli and I loved its feel instantly.” She has also described Leicester as the “bright light’s, big city” when it comes to Inidan food. Mowgli’s menu is wide ranging and massively appealing – it takes in streetfood favourites such as bhel puri and South African bunny chow, vegetarian dishes such tea-steeped chickpeas and meats such as Manchurian chicken wings and a lamb curry simmered with anise, plums and chickpeas. Very much looking forward to this one.

The Two Tailed Lion

June 23, 2018

Having watched Ahmed Musa hopefully double his resale value with two goals against Iceland yesterday, I went to celebrate with a few Friday beers at the opening evening of The Two-Tailed Lion last night.

This elegant little bar – the name alludes to Simon de Montfort’s crest –  is a great addition to the burgeoning scene around St Martin’s. It’s located on Millstone Lane in what was The Case’s wine shop. So it forms a part of a splendid and diverse trio of pubs, being opposite The Rutland and Derby and adjacent to The Blue Boar. Indeed you could say it is culturally in-between those two as well, taking a pinch of the former’s style and quality  and a teaspoon of the real ale, CAMRA-cred of the latter. In other words, exactly the kind of bar every city needs in 2018 to complete its range of watering holes.

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It’s run by Matt and Alice,  the couple who ran the pop up Tap in the Square in  St Martin’s earlier this year. They know their beer and the initial offering is three cask ales and six kegs, including a big hoppy double IPA and an increasing fashionable sour gose  infused with lime.

I was particularly pleased to see details of the selection properly displayed – I know a good pub will encourage you to ask about a beer or will offer tastings, but I do get irritated by having to squeeze barflys out the way in order to peer at a little pump clip for clues.   Breweries represented include Leicester’s Framework as well as some of the more cutting edge companies from around the UK include  Welsh wizards Tiny Rebel, Somerset’s Wild Beer Company and the unfiltered, unpasteurised specialists DEYA from Cheltenham. Be aware that such beers don’t come cheap – you may find of the stronger ales are over £4 a half – but there’s 10 per cent off for us CARA members and I suppose it keeps out the volume drinkers.

hopsIt’s in a characterful Georgian building and the understated  décor nicely fuses the aged and the contemporary. There’s a couple of cosy downstairs booths and two rooms upstairs including a tasting room for events with lovely, hop inspired lampshades.

So, welcome to a seriously beer-focused bar with a touch of sophistication. I hear food will be coming soon too.

I enjoyed a terrific afternoon this Saturday at the 45 Gin School. Part of the continuing rapid development around St Martin’s and Centenary Square this venue – known as The Distiller’s Kitchen – hosts courses on the flavouring and distillation of gin and, wonderfully, gives you the chance to craft your own unique 70cl bottle to take home at the end.

 

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Distiller Ed Gibson outlines the process

 

It’s all done with a very light touch and the emphasis on having a great time while learning. On arrival you’re given you’re first gin and tonic before the group are called to order by Ed Gibson, chief distiller for 45 West who are makers of the Burleigh’s range of gins. There’s nothing too mystical about gin making – it’s basically grain spirit boiled up with juniper and other flavourings – and so Ed is able trot over the basics fairly swiftly and in entertaining style. We each have our own mini still (copper of course, it helps avoid sulphites spoiling our gin) and our base mix of juniper, orris, angelica root and coriander seeds.

 

 

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Your choice of botanicals

 

Once we’ve heard about the options in terms of gin style – spicy, floral, herby, citrussy whatever – we’re able to pick our selection from a range of more than 60 botanicals. Gill and I veered towards the floral, adding the like of rose buds, hibiscus flowers, elderflower and silver birch. Ed’s trained nose is around to give opinion and advice on everyone’s selection and then it’s simply tip it into the spirit in our personal still and go upstairs for a cocktail making (and drinking) masterclass.

 

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Gill shakes some coctail action

 

By the time we return our stills have started to trickle out the good stuff. We wait, dipping our fingers in the stream in order to check the flavours are still alive, eventually making the cut once a dull harshness takes over. The spirit is now at around 85 per cent ABV so we then dilute it to our desired strength with pure water.  To complete the fun you get the chance to make your own label and have the bottle properly sealed.

 

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The finished product

 

It’s an extremely satisfying process and I can’t wait to crack open the bottle and confirm my sense that we are naturally gifted gin-makers.

The courses last up to around three hours and cost is £115 for one, or £145 for a couple making one bottle, and there are opportunities midweek and Saturdays.  If you go on the 45 Gin School website you can buy a voucher and enter your desired date to see what’s available.

 

 

 

Upcoming events

May 23, 2018

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Good to see a couple of returning food events here in Leicestershire. The Pop Up Smokehouse has announced its second takeover event. This time Liam Watson (above)and his team will be cooking their bold and hearty take on US barbecue at the atmospheric Globe on Millstone Lane on Tuesday 19 June from 5pm to 10pm. I can tell you this in safety now because I have booked my table already  – last time out they filled up very quickly. There are several ways to book but maybe try their website first.

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Also now announced are details of the second  Edible Forest, Charnwood’s woodland-themed food festival which runs from 9-16th September. Top pick for serious diners must be the Secret Gourmet, which will see a forest-inspired menu created by local chefs John Duffin (of Mountsorrel’s Michelin-starred John’s House) and Paul Leary, who’s work is well-known to Leicestershire diners over the last 15 years. Menu details are being held back, as is the location but it’s promised to be a historic location somewhere near Shepshed – cost is £70.

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There are some less heady options – such as the chance to have brunch, picnic or dine in a clear ‘pod’ in the heart of the forest. Then there are chances again to have tea inside Old John in Bradgate Park or to enjoy guided foraging walks around the forest.  There will also be live music and DJ events with Charnwood’s own Burleigh’s gin having a strong presence. Details available here.

One more thing – heads up to vegan readers about Plant and Bean, who promise to combine plant-based ingredients with exciting flavours and a streetfood vibe. I believe there is a link to The Fish and The Chip restaurant on St Nicholas Place, and certainly that’s where there their first takeover event is happening in June,  with a delivery service and more events promised soon. No further details yet but track them down on Instagram @plantandbean.

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A coy hairstreak at Ketton

I had a hard morning running around a quarry in Rutland in a largely fruitless chase for Green Hairstreak butterflies. So I was a in need of some lunch. It was then I realised I was close to the Fox and Hounds in Exton and my heart gave a little leap.

I had a really tremendous meal a couple of years back at this gorgeous country inn but it’s just that little too far from the city for an easy drive out.  I’d heard that Glen Cowl – known to many through his work at the Red Lion Stathern and the The Bewicke Arms in Hallaton- had taken over as head chef so this was a good opportunity to revisit. And it was lovely to find the place in robust form.

The pub is achingly pretty on the outside and has a lovely, slightly dishevelled charm inside. A warm feeling got even warmer when I saw found they had my book (The Leicestershire and Rutland Cookbook) open on the bar.  By the time I settled in a huge old squishy chesterfield and supped a lovely half of bath Gem ale my spirits were soaring.

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Crab croquettes

I picked two courses from the prix fixe menu (£16) and was shown into the dining room  which looks out over the large and – on days like this – massively inviting garden. I started off with crab croquettes, two lovely crisp balls with plenty of crab, sat on a salsa of pomegranate and grapefruit. Those two fruits carry a fearsome acidity  but the amounts were just right, so nothing overwhelmed but you could mix and match the salsa and croquette to get more of a seafood hit or more citrus.

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Lamb shoulder

Main course was another generous plate of shoulder of lamb with truffled pomme puree. Like the starter this was a potentially dangerous dish that succeeded through balance executed. Lamb shoulder is never exactly a gourmet treat but this, coming from the Launde estate on the other side of Oakham, was very good – full flavoured and tender, while that puree was rich, smooth and with enough truffle to be present but not to dominate excessively. A nice sticky jus, slightly charred artichokes and fresh broccoli completed the dish.

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I finished with a second half of Gem while sitting in the garden sunshine with a Rose Tremain novel, a full stomach and a great sense of well-being. Food and service were a credit to the Graham family who took over the place in 2015. I just wish it was a bit nearer.

 

 

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.

 

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