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.

 

6 Degrees

June 27, 2017

 

IMG_3166Six Degrees is in many ways a modest little café on the busy London Rd. It serves excellent coffee from Leicester’s St Martin’s (soya and oat milk available for vegans), lovely cakes from “a lady in Wigston”, a nice line in freshly made sandwiches (bacon, brie and sweet chilli, peri peri chicken etc) and light snacks.

But what makes it particularly noteworthy is that is that is run by the Leicester charity Open Hands Trust and 100 per cent of the profits go to helping vulnerable and underprivileged local people with clothes, food, furniture and help with issues such self-esteem, English language and pre-school provision.  There’s a small core of paid staff backed by a team of 30 volunteers, who range from retired folk to youngsters seeking a bit of work experience to regular customers who just like the idea and want to contribute.

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The shop was apparently a dream of manger Hazel Nash  – as in she literally had a dream about running a café  – which chimed with the ambitions of the charity. It’s been open for just over a year and the combination of social enterprise and friendly, accessible environment is popular with students from the nearby university (free Wi-Fi available), local business people and those coming and going up and down the London Road. They’ve been so busy they already converted their basement into a cosy extra space.

What’s good is that it doesn’t come across as either worthy or done on the cheap. “People say to us – ‘this is so nice but you’re raising money for charity – how does that work?!’,” deputy manager Katherine told me.

And the name?  An allusion to the “six degrees of separation” meme and hence an allusion to the idea that we all connected.

  • Just to add if you are in New Walk area you should also consider popping  in to the regular Thursday lunch-time pop-up café at Soft Touch, 50 New Walk. I’ve been a trustee of Soft Touch for many years and can bear witness to the tremendous work it does using the arts and creativity with young people. Look here for more info.

OK then, following the round-up piece earlier in the week a few updates and some more news.

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The team from Cured have confirmed that their new venue will be called Fullagar’s and is to be located in the revived Registry building on Pocklington’s Walk. The project will be a joint one with their pals who run the Attic, the upstairs bar at The Cookie on High Street (which remains unaffected). Opening early next month they promise “small plates and tall drinks”.

Also at The Cookie, I forgot to welcome Grey’s – the innovative team who run the food at the LCB Depot – who on 4th April took over the kitchen here. This time the strapline is “providing fresh, seasonal, food choices into the heart of Leicester’s music scene”.  They offer vegan, vegetarian and omnivore food  – look out for the likes of muffins with halloumi, balsamic, blueberries, pumpkin seeds and rocket, or with merguez and red pepper coulis, and salads such roasted cauliflower, pomegranate, chickpeas and tahini.

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Meanwhile back at their home base plans are being made to further expand the wildly successful Canteen streetfood nights on the final Friday of the month. I couldn’t go in March but it seems an astonishing 1200 plus people went along – a real heartwarming figure, even if meant some were disappointed as traders sold out.  An extra two traders and an additional bar are being arranged for 28 April when traders will include the wonderful Caribbean food of Leave it to Esmie, stuffed Bao from Manchester’s Wallace and Sons, grilled meats from Street Souvlaki, Street Chef from the West Midlands, Gray’s themselves and two more to be confirmed.

Further update on the pizza joint Oscar and Rosie’s – it opens tonight at 4 Market Place.

Then a trio of new openings to mention, Most excitingly is The Spotted Duck in Mountsorrel, the first restaurant of young gun Johnny Prince. This is serious fine dining of type we’ve not seen too much of recently in Leicestershire and is clearly linked to the success of village neighbours the Michelin-starred John’s House. Not saying too much more just yet as I’m doing a  full review for the Mercury next week but it’s all rather splendid.

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Then there’s Wygston’s House on Applegate, one of Leicester’s few medieval buildings which has now finally opened as a restaurant run by the people behind Taps, another restaurant in another of Leicester’s oldest buildings. The 15th century building has been renovated but retains lots of features and has a daytime café downstairs and more formal restaurant upstairs. The chef has described the food as “haute rustic” and from the menu I think I can see what he/she is on about  – eg rolled curried goat on a saffron pilaf with tomato curry sauce and fried plantain, rabbit pie “on a bed of” celeriac mash with peas and radishes. Sounds fairly sturdy stuff.

Finally, on the Parade in Oadby is Tipu Sultan, an incipient chain coming out of Birmingham offering “majestic dining” in fairly bling surroundings. Located in what was The Old Library bar it centres on Mughal cuisine form the North West of the sub-continent and has a number of desi-style dishes and items such as paya (lamb trotters). It looks very grand  – I hope the same effort goes into the food. Opens on 10 April.

PS. For all my lovely readers in Bristol – you know special you are to me  – please check out a new blog This Girl Eats by my wonderful niece Amy which will focus on the vibrant food scene of that city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of quick recommendations for you to ponder over Christmas.

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Wakaze is a lovely, easily-over-looked Japanese restaurant at 74 High Street, Leicester. There’s a rash of Far Eastern cafes and restaurants along that stretch and that’s far preferable to more garish chicken shops. Wakaze is a stripped down, modern kind of café run by a couple of entrepreneurial Chinese students from Leicester University  who have teamed up with a Japanese chef.  Service is quick, helpful and friendly and there’s a smart open kitchen at the back of the room that seems to run with quiet efficiency.  Nigiri sushi was very good indeed – especially the mackerel,  gyoza dumplings were great and ricebowl donburri dishes warm and comforting.  I’ve  been a couple of times and am keen to go back to try more.

Regular readers need no introduction to St Martin’s Tea and Coffee and their great daytime food.  I had another terrific lunch in there this week – Indonesian pork with char-grilled hispi cabbage.  This is one of a number dishes making use of their new rotisserie grill and had unctuous fatty pork with beautiful layers of sweet and sour flavours from spicing, a nutty sauce, black and white sesame,  lime, pumpkin seeds and more. There was fiery lime and  chilli rice too.  I hear very good reports of the vegan  version featuring spiced and grilled cauliflower.

I also heard some exciting news from chef Chris Elliman too that plans are afoot for a new project – can’t say too much but Leicester city centre should be a getting a new gastropub next year.  Chris headed up the kitchen at General Tarleton near Knaresborough in Yorkshire  – a renowned dining pub I would sometimes stop at on journeys up to the North East – and he knows all about doing high quality, straightforward British classics.

Finally, Anatolia on Allendale Road, Stoneygate. When this opened it was a bit of scruffy chippy, at odds with the chi-chi environment around it.  Over the years it has morphed into a rather smarter Turkish café but I must admit I’ve given it a wide berth. Last night though we enjoyed some fine Central Turkish mezze  – sublime yoghurt-laden aubergine was probably the star but the meat dishes were excellent too. It’s fully licensed and the service is friendly and competent too. It’s a lot less frantic than similar places on the Narb’ and London Road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had a lovely morning out recently at White House Farm in Keyham, where farmer Matt Stone is producing tremendous raw milk, butter and cream.

“Raw” means unpasteurised, in other words not heated until everything in it is dead. In the past this was a important health measure but it also took away a lot of the taste. Nowadays raw milk can be produced under license and with strict hygiene controls – and so the “old-fashioned” taste is available once again.

Matt comes from a long line of dairy farmers. But after his family farm in Ratcliffe-on-the-Wreake was sold he looked around  for somewhere where he could build his own herd. The semi-derelict White House Farm suited his purposes and he and his young family moved in. Initially he was going to do conventional contract milking, but after he was let down, he decided to try something different.

Keeping a day job as a herd manager elsewhere, he and wife Katie have started their own business with just three cows – two Freisians and a Red Poll. Currently everything they make disappears almost immediately through sales at the farm gate and the occasional car booter and farmers’ market to people desperate to get that old-fashioned flavour

The milk has a full flavour and a much cleaner feel in the mouth. “You can use it just like pasteurised milk, though people get through more of it because it’s far more palatable to just glug it back,” says Matt. “People with allergies and sensitivity also seem to find it much easier to digest.”

The cream and the butter too are exceptionally good. The extra thick double cream is perfect with a bowl of local-grown strawberries, while the butter is so good on toast you really don’t want to spoil it by putting on anything else. Note these are ‘live’ products and have no preservatives – they may not last as long as supermarket but, then again, you’ll probably find they disappear more quickly too. .

Many of their regular customers are from Eastern Europe and the Middle East, who crave the produce because “it tastes like it used to back home”. Ironically perhaps, the Brexit vote has also seen a boost with more people thinking about supporting local businesses. Many regulars drive from all over Leicestershire, Rutland and beyond.

The little dairy parlour, immediately adjacent to the cows’ barn and with its simple, traditional equipment like the butter churn is the perfect antidote to impersonal agribusiness and supermarket conformity. The herd will shortly double in size, but this will remain a small business where the farmer knows each of his cows really well.

Stone’s milk is currently available in two litre bottles for £2, the butter at £3 for 200g and cream at £150 for 200ml. You can call in at the farm on Ingarsby Road, Keyham, but it’s best to order ahead by calling on 07883 471865. Watch out soon for other products including ice-cream, yoghurt and buttermilk. For more information see http://www.facebook.com/stonesdairy  and if you are a Great Food Club member (and if not why not?) watch too for an offer coming soon.

Hammer and Pincers

August 16, 2016

My recent review from the Leicester Mercury. Always good to find an old favourite is on good form.

The Hammer and Pincers
5 East Road
Wymeswold
Leicestershire
LE12 6ST

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I first reviewed the Hammer and Pincers around 12 years back. Since that time it has, as restaurants must, tacked and trimmed to meet prevailing economic currents but has remained in high esteem among East Midlands diners. A quick look at the online menu suggested chef and owner Danny Jimminson is currently back to offering appealing, fine dining dishes, so a good time to go back and see how it’s doing I thought.

Jimminson has a strong CV, including training at the Savoy with Anton Edelmann, but crucially for a chef who wants to prosper, he can also pick talent. A few years back he gave a job to a 16 year old local lad who had just been expelled from school – and now fiery Tom Sellers and his Michelin-starred Restaurant Story is the talk of all London.

Sellers own CV refers to his first job “in a pub”, but in truth the Hammer and Pincers is not really one of those. Wymeswold already has The Windmill, part of the Little Britain Pub Company (along with Rothley’s Bluebell and The Curzon in Woodhouse Eaves), and from August former Leicestershire cricket stars Stuart Broad and Harry Gurney are re-opening the Three Crowns, so the village is well-equipped for pubs. This is more a smart, stylish destination dining venue.

We struggled to get a table in the week we wanted to go as the restaurant was booked up with proud parents and their offspring celebrating graduation. You can see why it’s so popular for such events – the menu reeks class and the place is run by with friendly efficiency by Sandra Jimminson and her well-trained team.

Our meal started with superb bread – sweet walnut and raisin and nicely savoury rosemary foccacia. Both were so good we were pleased to be offered a second round when they saw we’d wolfed down the first lot.

Then starters – both tremendously thought-through dishes that offered a wide range of pleasures. A large, pillowy raviolini was stuffed with chorizo – suitably chopped and cooked to create a spicy, sauce-like filling – and smeared in a great smoked garlic purée. It sat on a little bed of sweet onion marmalade and then there were salad leaves covered in generous shavings of manchego, a little twist on more usual parmesan. Bringing it all together was a completely wonderful little pot of intense pork stock made with Pedro Ximenez sherry – completing the Spanish-Italian fusion style of the dish.

Our second starter was a real beauty, a ballotine combining duck liver and confit leg meat rolled in crushed pistachios with a toasted brioche roll, with lovely little balls of poached peach and melon and a sour peach purée. It looked a picture and tasted as good as it looked.

 

Then there was a palate-cleansing cucumber and herb sorbet – heavenly stuff – before tucking into our mains. I don’t know if it says more about me or the Hammer and Pincers but I realised afterwards that the two main courses were pretty much identical to those ordered on that first visit. Fortunately there was no real drop-off in standard in the intervening years. Mustard-rubbed fillet of beef was impeccable, and the sauce with it showed – like the porky one with my starter – that the kitchen takes no short cuts in with its stocks, jus, gravy whatever. There was a sort of pastilla of 48- hour cooked shin and a tremendous potato cake with thyme and smoked bacon plus roast heritage carrots. It was a hefty dish for a summer menu but great steaks will always sell and this was certainly that.

From the specials menu I ordered monkfish with lobster and crayfish risotto, not least because I was keen to pair it with one of the Rieslings that German-born Sandra had added to the wine list. Monkfish doesn’t have the kind of sublime texture and flavour of, say , turbot or halibut, or even a really good piece of cod, and it needs strong flavours around it. The risotto was indeed rich and intense with fish and herbs, though for me it was little overdone – I think risotto always needs a just a little bit of bite left in the rice. There was also an unnecessarily huge pile of peashoots with it – on this occasion a case of more is less. So a satisfying, if not perfect dish, but a great match for the Dr Loosen Riesling from the Mosel valley.

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(pics are from Hammers and Pincers website – not my meal)

 

Our shared desert was dreamy though, if you are a chocolate lover anyway. A pavé of chocolate sponge topped with rich ganache came with a light mousse contained in a quenelle of thin, crisp chocolate, a perfect raspberry sorbet, fresh raspberries and dabs of raspberry gel.

Well constructed dishes, solid classsical technique, fine ingredients and careful service all typify the Hammer and Pincers. It’s certainly a place to celebrate but should also just be enjoyed by anyone who loves their food.

I did suggest there might be a full review of Onggi coming – and here it is:

Onggi
98 Welford Road
Leicester LE2 7AB
Tel: 0116 224 5851

Some time back, maybe 20 years ago, there was a Korean restaurant on Granby Street. It seemed rather smart and interesting, but it was before its time. I never got there and I’m supposed to be one of these adventurous foodie types. It was also in the days before there was a large contingent of students from the Far East to fuel the demand. So it didn’t last and Leicester, this famously diverse city, has never really developed a taste for Korean food.

That has started to change with the arrival of specialist food shops, and I’ve even tried cooking a few things with ingredients from a Korean shop on the edge of Clarendon Park. Now though we have a genuine Korean restaurant to try, and I think it’s going to be a hit.

Onggi on Welford Rd (between the Bricklayers Arms and the Prison) is a relatively humble cafe and takeaway but it scores highly on all the things that make you want to go somewhere. Atmospheric, friendly, clean, professional, good value and, of course, food that is fresh, tasty and cooked with love and care.

As suggested above, I’m no expert on Korean food and judging by my research, people are put off by a reputation for excessive heat and sharp flavours. Nonetheless I’d say Onggi is the ideal place for the timid to give a try.

First off, there’s a very friendly welcome from the staff, who spoke perfect English and are keen to be helpful. On our visit the few tables were packed with young Chinese people, so we were given some menus to inspect and retired to the nearby Swan and Rushes for some of their fine ale. Half an hour later we returned ready to order.

First off, there were little complimentary plates of crunchy beans in a salty, sesame marinade and of kimchi. This, famously, is fermented cabbage – essentially spiced sauerkraut – which Koreans have with every meal. I’ve had some pretty horrible versions from foil pouches in oriental supermarkets but this was great – mild but distinctive and a lovely way to get the tastebuds up and running.

We then started by sharing kimchijeon – jeon are savory pancakes, in this case stuffed with kimchi – and though simple this was an exceptionally tasty dish, the kind of crisp, freshly cooked street-food you dream about. It had with it a sweetish, sourish soy-based dipping sauce that you could happily drink by the spoonful.

Main courses include bubbling one-pot stews and soups with various combinations of meat, fish, tofu and vegetables, rice-based combinations cooked and served in hot stone bowls and Korean barbecue dishes. In fancier places you might get the chance to cook these latter dishes at your table, and while they come plated here, my beef bulgogi was delicious. Bulgogi is something of a cult dish – thinly-sliced strips of beef in a slightly sweet marinade cooked quickly on a grill to give a nice caramelisation. Here it’s served with gorgeously sticky rice and a hot, but not frightening, chili sauce along with large lettuce leaves with which you can make up little parcels.

Our other main – dolsot jeuk-deopbat- was one of those dramatic hot stone bowl dishes with succulent pork, mushrooms, pepper and other vegetables in a bright, lip-smacking sauce on top of steamed rice.

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We had three little side dishes – £2 a pop – and we loved them all. Braised burdock root – not immediately attractive to Western ears maybe – was a lovely little salad of matchsticks of the root with an umami-rich dressing, while modum namul gave use three little piles of various seasoned green veg. Gim – crispy seaweed (above) – involved staggeringly lovely sheets of dappled, emerald-green seaweed with an intense salty tang of the sea. They tasted lovely, though I was almost more tempted to put a frame round them and hang it on the wall.

The venue is not licensed but there is a range of intriguing soft drinks and flavoured teas to go with your meal – we had a big pot of barley tea, a caffeine-free drink with mildly nutty taste made from roasted grain.

As an introduction to Korean food Onggi seems perfect. Informal, friendly and with flavours that should appeal to a variety of palates, it’s a welcome addition to Leicester’s range of restaurants.

 

 

So last night I was invited to a preview event at another new restaurant in booming St Martin’s.  This time it was a Mexican/South American venue Bodega Cantina, located in what was the Sweater Shop. It’s an independent business with branches in Birmingham and Worcester, so it’s good to see Leicester chosen as the next location.

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It’s a casual sort of place with a great bar packed with exotic mescals and rums and it’s run with great enthusiasm by  general manager Ben who has a background with Pizza Express and TGIFridays and chef Ellis Andrew, who had been working round the corner at The Case. While menus across the group are the same, the message put out last night was very much that all food is produced fresh on site and that chefs have the freedom to buy locally.

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Judging by what we were able to sample last night the food is closer to Las Iguanas than to Wahaca – fun, tasty and enjoyable but more the background to a night out than destination dining or breaking the mould. Dishes range from the street food vibe of quesadillas, burritos and nachos through to smaller dishes such as Brazilian coxinhas and sea bass ceviche and larger plates including Venezuelan chocolate chilli chicken and grilled swordfish with mango salsa. There’s a vegan menu too.

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Prices are moderate, the cocktail list extensive  and – as far as it was possible to tell – it’s going to be a cheerful, buzzy sort of place.

 

 

 

It opens properly on Monday – and I predict a lot of people are going to have fun nights out here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A quick little plug for Onggi, a Korean restaurant and takeaway at 98  Welford Road  (between the Bricklayers Arms and the prison).  It’s been a while since we’ve had a Korean restaurant in the city and while this is a fairly humble sort of place, I’ve really enjoyed the two meals I’ve had there recently. Fresh, zingy kimchi-stuffed pancakes, spicy, crunchy chicken wings and LA Galbi – thinly sliced beef short ribs quickly barbecued with a sweet marinade – were among the highlights. Then there were beautiful, crisp leaves of seaweed (below) – a treat for the eyes and the palate.

 

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Hopefully there will be a full review shortly in the Leicester Mercury – and on here  – but if you like the idea get down there soon. Their main clientele of Chinese students are starting to disappear for the summer so it’s a good time to go.

 

The Royal Oak

June 7, 2016

Another lovely country pub for you  – this time in the north of the county. The Royal Oak was featured in The Leicestershire and Rutland Cookbook and I was pleased to see they have a good display of it in the restaurant.  This is another review from my Leicester Mercury column:

 

The Royal Oak
The Green
Long Whatton
Leicestershire
LE12 5DB

Long Whatton is a pleasant village on the Northern edge of Charnwood. It’s close to some massive, noisy and busy pieces of infrastructure in the shape of East Midlands Airport, Donnington Park and the M1 and A42 junction, but it is tucked away off the main routes and remains both surrounded by greenery and reasonably peaceful.

It is, then, a great location for a gastropub with accommodation,  hence why it attracted the attention of brothers Chris and Alex Astwood. With 20 years of hospitality experience, including fine dining restaurants, they recognised the opportunity in 2010 here for a smart pub with smart food and stylish rooms. Together with chef James Upton, that’s just what they have created

The pub combines rural character with contemporary styling and on our Saturday night visit both the bar and restaurant areas were packed with both locals and, judging by the branded jackets and t-shirts on show, teams from the Superbike World Championships at Donington racetrack.

The food and drink they were enjoying is based on making the most of local ingredients wherever possible – there’s a detailed list of local suppliers on the menu – and reflects the diversity of the customer base. There’s pub classics of fish and chips and steaks and these are done at a high level – triple-cooked chips, home-made pea purée and so on – but the real interest is in the highly seasonal main menu. The dishes here position themselves some way above the more routine kind of dining pubs, but avoiding anything too fancy-dan. It’s not intimidating, just attractive-sounding dishes that seem to be put together with thought and flair.

And that is what we got. Both our starters were completely satisfying affairs. A dense, meaty mackerel fillet had been cured and charred and served on top of a fine potato salad with a mustard and dill dressing, a smart little salsa of cucumber and a delicious, crunchy tuile made with fennel seeds. The little microherbs – apparently from the kitchen garden – were not just a mimsy addition but gave real little punches of flavour.

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Extract from the Royal Oak’s Spring 2016 menu 

 

The judicious combination of flavour and texture was also present in the another highly seasonal starter of charred asparagus with poached duck-egg, intensely-flavoured dried parma ham crisp, shavings of parmesan and a wonderful wild garlic mayonnaise. See what I mean? Nothing too flashy but good ingredients, good technique and well-composed dishes.

Rack of lamb was another really good dish. Beautifully cooked, it was a credit to the kitchen and to suppliers Coppice Farm near Swadlincote. It had a lovely crust made with pine nuts and more wild garlic and came with crushed Jersey royals, and petit pois a la Française – with braised baby gem lettuce, pancetta and a light creamy sauce.

The meat in a supreme of chicken was also first rate, seasoned to absolute perfection too. Best of its accompaniments was charred cauliflower, a really good way of getting the most out of this sometimes anodyne veg. A sauce of sweetcorn and cumin chowder didn’t really convince me as an ideal match, but it was executed well, as were the little discs of fondant sweet potatoes, even if they were a bit too sweet for my palate.

The drinks list at the pub is high standard. We started with a divine citric gin and tonic with Burleighs gin (distilled in Charnwood), and a delightful half of the hoppy Charmer from Charnwood brewery. There are some well-chosen wines available by the glass and a French Malbec was a brilliant companion to the lamb.

Deserts had less menu appeal for us, the likes of Millionaire shortbread cheesecake with jelly bean fudge and chocolate syrup might have their place but sounded a bit overly sweet at the end of a quite sophisticated meal. We did try a lemon posset with poached rhubarb though and it was excellent. A lovely contrast between sweet and sharp, and again texture was an important element – there was still a bit of bite in the rhubarb and there was some little discs of a crumble topping that been baked to give serious crunch.

This was lovely meal, with competent, confident service from a friendly and well-run front of house team. No surprise that the Royal Oak draws in people from the airport and race-tack, it should also be on the list for residents of Loughborough and beyond.

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