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.

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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.

 

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.

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