Some of you may have heard that after 12 years on St Nicholas Place, Leicester’s Maiyango is to close later this month. Well, yes, but it’s not necessarily the bad news you may have feared. The restaurant will reopen under the same team but with a new name and a new concept in August.

I reviewed Maiyango for Metro when it first opened (and at least four times since) and have enjoyed watching it thrive and mature into one of the city’s most consistent, innovative and enjoyable smart restaurants.  It started with a global fusion style that was slightly hit and miss, but developed a self-confident signature style that successfully blended influences from all around the world.

Last week I sat down with founder and  boss Aatin Anadkat  who explained why, despite the pride in what they’ve achieved with Maiyango, he felt the time was right to tweak the format.

 

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Maiyango’s distinctive style

 

“We never really intended to be high end or a place that people think of just for special occasions – the idea has always been to be quirky, original and fun,” said Aatin. “I’m not sure so many people want to spend all evening in a restaurant any more – the time seems right to appeal to a wider spectrum of diners.  But we’ll definitely be keeping our brand values – we worked hard to get our AA rosette and will maintain our quality.”

The restaurant will shut after 22nd July for a complete overhaul, but Aatin is not revealing too much at the moment about the new style  – he understandably doesn’t want people to have preconceived ideas or to immediately compare to Maiyango. He will confirm, thankfully, it’s  not a burger restaurant.

For those who have loved the place, or who might want to know what they missed out on, Maiyango is holding two weeks of special events that mark their distinctive style. For full details and to book, go to their website ,  but briefly here’s what’s going on:

7 July  – Four course gin-tasting dinner, with matching gin cocktails

9 July – Deserts and cocktails evening

12 July – Six course wine-matching dinner

13 July – Four course dinner and cocktail tasting evening

14,15,21,22 July  – Six course “Best of Maiyango” tasting menu. There will be two sittings each night at 6pm and 9pm, with a menu featuring popular dishes from the last 12 years including  the likes of the “picnic loaf” with spiced ham, quail egg, cheddar mousse, apple sausage and bacon jam,   and seared king scallop with  sambal, samphire, coconut and lime leaf. A vegetarian menu is available at all events.

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Marabel

June 30, 2017

As most readers will know I’ve been reviewing for the Leicester Mercury for the last couple of years, and putting some of the more interesting reviews on here. Sadly the paper has decided to take the reviews “in house” – meaning they don’t have to pay an experienced freelancer like me but a staffer can do it as part of their job. Freelance people of any stripe will be aware of this phenomenon.

So no more Mercury reviews here I’m afraid – but I will try and keep the blog going with whatever news and reviews I can manage under my own steam. Here’s the last review done for the Mercury, based on an enjoyable couple of visits to a new Italian restaurant in Stoneygate.

 

 

Marabel

21 Allandale Road
Leicester
LE2 2DA
0116 270 3222

 

‘It’s not that “nouveau cuisine” is it?” asked the middle-aged man, warily. The waiter had just started to explain to him that Marabel is a cicchetti restaurant, featuring small plates for sharing and he seemed to feel he might be left hungry. Maintaining his equilibrium with admirable poise, the waiter suggested how he might like to order and assured him that the food would be nice and filling.

marabel1I suspect his little cameo may have been played several times over the last month since Marabel opened in the premises that previously housed the bar Mason and Brooke. Even in a place as apparently sophisticated as Stoneygate the concept of cicchetti doesn’t seem to have trickled down into the zeitgeist in the same way as tapas. But it is essentially the same concept, starting in the bars of Venice as simple sandwiches or snacks served with a drink, and later becoming pretty much synonymous with small versions of the national cuisine in a restaurant setting.

Marabel’s menu is a wide ranging collection of enticing Italian dishes at around £4 to £6 each plus the odd Spanish influence (patatas bravas should make the tapas penny drop). Appetisers such as San Daniele prosciutto with parmesan and aged balsamic set the tone for dishes that major on good ingredients treated simply and with a strong sense for flavour combinations. And on our first lunchtime visit that’s exactly what we got.

WP_20170601_007Crab piadinas (above) were delightful – flat breads stuffed with a well-balanced combination of crabmeat, lemon and mascapone. Pea and basil arancini were similarly excellent – deep-fried rice balls in a thin, crisp crumb with a garlicky mayonnaise, while a spinach and rocket salad was simple and fresh with plenty of thick shavings of parmesan. More substantial was a pasta dish of penne with 12-hour cooked beef ragu, a dish you’ve no doubt cooked at home but here was a genuine depth of flavour that made it restaurant-worthy. The same criteria I suppose applied to a lamb skewer (below – slatophobes fear not,  you do get provided with plates too) which had had been marinated in an oil, paprika chilli and mint to very good effect – the meat had been threaded with onions and peppers and barbecued in a clay oven.

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All these dishes were very well seasoned and dressed with herbs, crumbs, parmesan or oil – they felt cared for and designed to please.

The restaurant also describes itself as a wine bar and indeed the wine list is excellent, bearing the clear imprint of Simon March of Evington’s on Evington Rd. A shame then only two of each colour seem to be available by the glass. We certainly enjoyed the inevitable pinot grigio and a light, easy-going Bardolino that was full of cherries, but with Evington’s being my local shop I’m familiar with the wines on that list and with food as full-flavoured as this it would have been good to try something with more oomph such as the Marius Reserva from Southern Spain or the Salice Salentino Sampietrana from Puglia.

Anyway, I was keen to go back for an evening meal and this time picked some of the heftier dishes. Belly of pork was terrific, with soft, unctuous meat with sweet apple sauce and crispy sage leaves. The chicken cacciatora (literally hunter’s chicken) certainly had plenty of flavour but to my taste the tomato sauce was over-reduced and the dish was left a little dry, especially as only breast meat appeared to have been used. My mamma’s version (ok, granted, she’s from Battersea not Bologna) used moist leg and thigh meat and had plenty of sauce. A final dish of wild mushrooms in a creamy, garlicky sauce was exactly as it should be, ludicrously indulgent and terrifically tasty.

There’s little here that breaks boundaries or which will change your opinion of Italian cuisine but the food appears to be lovingly prepared by people who care about flavour and know how to treat ingredients. The environment and the service are very pleasant too. I think the format works a little better for a light lunch rather than a slap-up dinner but this is good food that will keep local peers such as neighbours Timo and Queens Rd tapas bar Barceloneta on their toes.

 

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.

Grounded Kitchen

June 13, 2017

Believe me,  it took me some courage to go into a place that offers food alternatively described as “nourish bowls” or “Buddha bowls”. I’ve a deep suspicion of anything that promises to do me good.

But I’m delighted I went into Grounded Kitchen, a new takeaway and cafe on Queen’s Road, Clarendon Park in Leicester. They have started with a simple offering of three dishes – Korean-inspired salads that combine avocado, cherry, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, cucumber, chestnut mushrooms and spring onions, served on short grain rice and with Asian style dressings plus chilli, chia seeds, corianders and sesame. There is a veggie option and those featuring bulgogi chicken and beef bibimap.

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I had the chicken and it was great – really lovely flavours and good fresh ingredients. The place has the Clarendon Park types swooning (though there’s a faction that are campaigning for brown rice of course), and with good reason. I may be a health food sceptic but I’m very happy to eat this and look forward to forthcoming salmon and gochujang (Korean chilli paste) dishes.

The restaurant is an initiative of Oadby lad Ahmed Kidy, who has spent  a lot of time working and travelling in the far East and has had help developing recipes from Korean pals.  He has also  developed a range of Japanese matcha and sencha  teas, including those steeped with the likes of mint, lime and spinach – this is definitely an alternative to the coffee culture on the rest of Queens Road.  If Grounded Kitchen continues its early success, we could be seeing more branches appearing soon.

 

 

 

This review for the Leicester Mercury focuses on a relocated, reconceived former favourite of this blog. I was worried that in the tweeting the concept, the quality of the food would suffer. To find out, read on…

 

Fenways
17-18 Baxter Gate
Loughborough
LE11 1TG
01509 210100

 

8 out of 10

The Smokehouse on Braunstone Gate was one of the city’s stand out restaurant successes of recent years. At the time of its closure there were some rumours of a possible reappearance in Loughborough.

Well it’s taken a while, but it turns out there was substance to the gossip and so a big welcome to Fenway’s. It’s part of the Orange Tree group, which already has the Orange Tree and the Kelso in the town, and while there are some obvious differences to The Smokehouse, the good news is that the head chef Liam Watson is back in charge and that the menu features some of the dishes that made the Smokehouse special. Crucially, it takes no shortcuts to those big smokey, barbecue flavours that characterise the food of the American South.

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Chef Watson plates up (photos from Fenway’s website)

Located in a large pub building, they’ve given it an extensive refurbishment that thankfully doesn’t go overboard on the American diner theme. Nonetheless Fenway’s is a different proposition to the rather intimate, bistro style of its predecessor. It’s big, informal, a bit noisy with a bar area at the back. Open all day from 12, it’s family-friendly, student- friendly, the staff are young and funky and there are craft beer and cocktails – it’s good fun.

We started off with excellent cocktails – one of their originals featuring locally-made Burleigh’s gin with cointreau, passionfuit and ginger beer, and a sophisticated adult milkshake with Jamaican rums, vanilla and chocolate ice-cream, ginger cake and milk.

Food starters included an absolutely stonking dish of smoked ox cheek. Smoked meats here are marinated overnight and smoked for at least 8 hours and the time given to it really shows. I went at the nuggets of beef with a knife and fork but the knife wasn’t necessary – it fell apart with a fork and had great depth and complexity of flavour. It was nuthin’fancy – served up in a pork-fat yorkshire pudding with gravy and nicely sharp house pickles – but it was proper cared-for food. Bourbon and orange cured salmon was a fruity delight too, allowing the flavour of the fish to come through, and with sourdough toast and plenty of green leaves it was still a substantial dish. Jalapeno and smoked onion hush puppies – fritters made with cornmeal batter – were light, crisp, tasty and the significant but sensible chilli heat was spoked with thyme and garlic sour cream.

My guests had admitted they probably wouldn’t have come in from the look of the place, but were by now really pleased they had come along. If the starters were substantial, the mains fully merited the “come hungry, we don’t mess about” warning on the menu. The core of the selection is burgers (28 day aged beef) and a variety of smoked meats – brisket, pulled pork, St Louis cut ribs and so on.

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From the burger menu we had the buttermilk fried chicken breast – moist, tasty and well-served by its dressing of avocado, pickles and sweetcorn and pepper relish. The sweet potato fries failed to impress – I tend to avoid them as the moisture content makes them hard to crisp but my friend who generally is a fan found these a bit flabby. I picked the house sausage bun, which came with lashings of the juicy, 14-hour smoked pulled pork. The sausage was a very long way from your traditional banger – more like the traditional Louisiana boudin, it was coarse-textured with a strong tang of offal. This maybe won’t be to everyone’s taste but well done to the chefs for not taking the easy way.

Both these came in a manchet bun, a traditional English bread that the menu claims to be better than brioche – and in this context I’d concur. Firmer and not so sweet, it’s an excellent burger bun.

One more main was 12 hour smoked brisket – copious amounts of beef dripping with a spiced gravy, piles of smooth mash and nicely spiked red cabbage.

We may have been stuffed but in the interests of reviewing we had to try deserts. Salted caramel sticky toffee pudding had been a highlight of The Smokehouse menu and reappears still in very good form – sprinkled with pecans and a touch of popping candy. My guests immediately made plans to bring their 10 year old daughter, a connoisseur of the desert. Key lime pie – sometimes a virulent green cliché – brought a big smile of delight. It was lightly bruléed and gave a great balance of sharp and sweet with a fine dark pastry case.

I was relieved to find that expanding the Smokehouse concept to a bigger and brasher format has been been done without sacrificing too much flair and quality. You’ll need to buy into the concept – it’s not for faint hearts or those who want pretty pictures on a plate – but if you do there’s much to enjoy.

I had a first look at the Knight and Garter last night  – and Sam Hagger’s Beautiful Pubs have done a terrific job at transforming this marvellous and strategically important building into a terrific asset for Leicester city centre.

The former Oirish pub Molly O’Grady’s is now a elegant pub and restaurant doing good quality pub food in a way that should attract families,  business people and casual drinkers alike. The fit out is reminiscent maybe of a sophisticated New York bar, or maybe a smart London steakhouse – not opulent or flashy, but with a smart contemporary style.

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For those that know the building, the bar that opened on to Hotel Street is now a sizeable restaurant area, with that entrance now sealed off. The bar area is accessed through the Market Street South entrance, and there’s a bookable downstairs function room too.

It’s unrecognisable from its former incarnation and boasts a brand new £350,000 kitchen which Hagger reckons makes it one of the most technologically-advanced pubs in the UK. The food offering includes some tremendous steaks from Owen Taylor butchers, with whom Hagger has built a long-term relationship for his other pubs The Forge in Glenfield and the nearby Rutland and Derby.  He explained last night they’ve initially even had their own beasts identified from field to abattoir – certainly the texture and flavour of last night’s trial tasting of picana and bone-in sirloin was spectacularly fine.

2017-06-01 19.27.09The drinks offering includes the Everards range but at least three other hand-pulled ales and, much to their excitement, unfiltered, unpasteurised Budvar Krausenden lager, delivered straight from the brewery and with a nice extra tang. Naturally there’s a good selection of gins and wines too.

After spending nearly two years full time on this project Sam Hagger retains his boyish looks and enthusiasm, but clearly has a determined, business head on him to pull this off.  The pub’s not quite finished yet – the outdoor terrace onto Champions Square is still to be done but should be a splendid place to look out from once the Square and Market building are completed. Also in a couple of years the upstairs room are likely to be done out as a boutique hotel.

All in all, this looks a splendid contribution to the ongoing redevelopment of the Market and St Martin’s area.

Tipu Sultan

May 31, 2017

Another recent review from my Leicester Mercury column, this time of a remarkable new Indian restaurant – huge in scale, done up like a palace,  but serving village style food. Some of it I loved, some of it needed more love and attention. Interesting whatever…

Tipu Sultan
12-16 The Parade
Oadby
LE2 5BF

No doubt some people want their restaurant reviews to be all about the food. It’s a fair point, but such people will have to bear with me a little this week because there’s so much to say about the this jaw-dropping new restaurant before we even begin to consider its take on food from the North West of the subcontinent.

First off, the sheer scale of the place. It’s been converted and extended from the Old Library pub on The Parade in Oadby. With its upstairs function rooms it can feed some 350 people – I can’t think of another table-service restaurant in the county that comes close. It is attempting to repeat the success of its namesake in Birmingham with which it shares both size and a design aesthetic that takes in huge chandeliers (including in the Gents), gilt ceilings, huge gilded mirrors, deep pile banquette seating in rich purples and more classical Indian artworks than you can shake a dandiya stick at.

You are probably going to either love it or hate it, but you can’t ignore it. I couldn’t count the number of staff present on our midweek visit, but including in the glass-sided kitchen which is open for all to view, it had to be more than 50. The first person you encounter is at the welcome desk, then there’s a designated lady to show to your table – a necessity considering the vast scale of the place – and then a phalanx of busy, likeable, young waiters in smart suits who take orders and set and clear your table, while there’s another class of waiter who bring your food from the pass.

The place was very busy but everything seemed to operate like clockwork – truly impressive. The restaurant is halal and does not serve alcohol, and this appears to be a big draw with the more traditional Asian families. There were lots of big family groups dining – from bearded patriachs to young guys with sharp Riyad Mahrez-inspired haircuts and young kids. Unfortunately the six munchkins near us were rather hyped up and were running noisily around until they got fed – family-friendly is great, but it can have a downside.

Tipu Sultan was the late-18th century ruler of Mysore and a hero of the struggle against colonialism, and this whole show of magnificence is designed to make you feel like an emperor – “Majestic Dining” as their strapline would have it. The food is more representative of Tipu’s Mughal ancestors than of Mysore which is in the Southern state of Karnataka. This means most of it will be familiar to a British audience – seekh kebabs, tikkas and familiar curries plus a few desi-style specialities such as paya (lamb trotters), which you’ll often see in halal butchers but rarely in mainstream restaurants. So the décor may be regal but the food here is by and large home-style, rustic even.

My starter was sultani chops – four large mutton chops marinaded in herbs and spices and flame grilled served with a little salad including a delicious little apple chutney. They were superb. You had to quickly give up any idea of a knife and fork and just pick them and get stuck in (I did wonder why we were presented with a cleansing hot towel before the meal started) . Not as tender as lamb chops (which are also available), this scored very highly for flavour and spicing and were truly enjoyable. We also had sultani pakora – pieces of potato, aubergine, paneer and onion in a spicy batter. Again these were big and tasty rather than refined fine dining – maybe it’s inevitable in such a busy kitchen but the coating was a bit thick and thin in places, maybe it was all a bit rushed.

A main course course of peshwari chicken divided opinion somewhat. A lovely sauce, full of fresh ginger and slow-cooked green peppers had chicken on the bone, which made it tender and tasty but the chicken had really just been hacked up, so they were odd bits of drumstick bone and thigh bone around. I’m happy to try alternatives to breast meat but I felt this needed a bit of delicacy. Bhindhi Gosht was fine – plenty of tasty lamb in a thick sauce and while okra can certainly put some people off, this was cooked very nicely indeed.

Rice was fine and the breads impressed. Kashmiri naan (more commonly known as peshwari) may have lacked a lightness of touch but delivered on nutty sweetness with its almond, pistachio and coconut filling and the roomali roti – a lovely thin bread folded like a handkerchief – was perfect for wrapping tasting morsels and wiping up precious sauce.

So a remarkable, spectacular venue but with food which is more homely and prices which don’t require a sultan’s income – a combination that is likely to attract many.

King Richard III

May 5, 2017

 

Just back from a great trip to Paris including a couple of delightful restaurant meals. Nonetheless, I still have happy memories from the week before of my first meal at the King Richard III, a lovely addition to the city centre. Here’s my review done for the Leicester Mercury.

King Richard III

70 Highcross St

Leicester

LE1 4NN

0116 262 6833

 

Various deranged heads of state seemed to be moving us towards nuclear war. Then it was announced we face a six week election campaign. And then City were knocked out of the Champions League. I needed cheering up.

Fortunately I had a table booked at Leicester’s newest dining pub, the beautifully renovated King Richard III. It’s another edge-of-Highcross location, right next to the Chinese cafe Spicy Temptations which I enthusiastically reviewed here a few weeks ago. The old pub was one of those euphemistically labelled “traditional”, though “rough” was a more commonly heard term. It’s passing has been mourned by a few regulars and a greater number of enemies of progress who would probably never have set foot in the place.

The new pub is a joint venture between Everards and the team behind the successful St Martins Tea and Coffee/Crafty Burger business in St Martin’s. So that’s the heft of Leicestershire’s biggest brewing concern combined with one of our leading nimble and creative independents.

It looks fantastic. Bright, airy, stylish but approachable. The front bar retains a pubby vibe and there are real ales from Leicester microbreweries as well the Everards range. The back room is more of a restaurant space, again looking lovely in green with artworks featuring local scenes by well-known Leicester printmaker Sarah Kirby.

Service is cheerful, friendly and competent, striking a good balance between informality and informed helpfulness throughout. We went only a few days after opening but service routines seemed well established and staff knew the menu well.

That menu is instantly appealing, especially across the starters which are have a light, modern feel based on classic fresh ingredients. Our little party tried a fair few of them. Smoked haddock, clam and leek chowder was beautifully balanced, given a little texture with a sourdough crumb floating on top. Like all the dishes here. it benefitted from being some presented in some really lovely plates and bowls. Chicken kara-age (Japanese fried chicken) was crisp, savoury and well-served by a mouth-tinglingly fresh dipping sauce with spring onion and honey and some strips of pickled kohl-rabi. Then there was sensationally soft and creamy burrata (mozzarella with cream) that was a sheer delight on the mouth and given texture from fresh walnuts and sharpness from pickled beetroot. A real delight.

Then there was an eye-catching crispy spiced lamb roll with lovely moist meat fried in a thin crumb served on pickled red cabbage with yoghurt, chilli and mint – the sort of dish that would earn an ambitious contemporary Indian restaurant great plaudits. Possibly winning the line-up of starters were little queenie scallops in a mini seafood stew with crisp smoked bacon and super-fresh peas (above right).

 Great flavours allowed to simply sing.

The kitchen is very proud of its robata grill, a Japanese-inspired indoor barbecue grill that cooks at very high temperature. It was shown to good purpose on a sirloin steak with a lovely dark, smoky seared outside but nice and rare inside. With a simple bearnaise and a little bowl of a super earthy but sweet mushroom ketchup it again highlighted this venue’s signature approach of high quality produce done simply but with flair. Lamb chops may not have been the sweetest I’ve ever had but again were brilliantly cooked on the grill, coming with a sparkling chimichurri sauce – all the sauces, dips, ketchups and extras here were notably fresh and zingy. We had them with some of the crunchy skin-on fries that fans of Crafty have come to know and love.

From the specials board came perfect roast cod with elegant barbecued cauliflower and romesco, a Spanish sauce made with red peppers and almonds. No need for a bowl of random veg here, these are well thought-out dishes.

There’s just three deserts on the current menu, including a cheese board, and we had a fine, springy, cinnamon dusted doughnut ball with a crème anglaise – or vanilla custard as this resolutely unponcey place lists it – and seasonal Yorkshire rhubarb.

As you can tell, we thoroughly enjoyed the King Richard. Co-owner and chef Chris Elliman, who has headed up fine dining kitchens as well as top-notch burger joints, seems to have nailed his vision of an unprententious dining pub focussed on great contemporary British food with a minimum of fuss. Great roasts, high quality seafood and fresh seasonal ingredients presented with flair but nothing that gets in the way of simple enjoyment.

Peppercorn Catering

April 25, 2017

A quick plug for family-run Leicestershire caterers Peppercorn, who’s double decker bus known as Ella Louise can now be found parked up at Abbey park over the summer. Peppercorn, who already run two cafes in Barrow and Anstey, have taken on the PavilWP_20170421_006ion café in Abbey Park which will open later this summer once a complete refurbishment is done.

They have also launched a new, next-day-delivery, postal service for their traybakes and they were kind enough to send me a selection.  I’ll have a good hefty slab over a mimsy cup cake any time and their bakes have all the virtues of the style – white chocolate tiffin (right) had a solid layer of chocolate with a rich, sweet, coconutty biscuit underneath, leavened with glace cherries.  Peanut butter brownies were also substantial but didn’t have the cloying texture of others I’ve had. Rocky Road  was full of badness in all the right ways.

A dairy and egg free apple cake seemed underspiced, underfruited and a bit dull though. I’m sure it must be hard to make much of interest without butter or eggs, so full marks for trying – I’m sure it will be appreciated as will others such as the gluten free chocolate slice and strawberry and honey cake.

For more information, visit Peppercorns by Post

The Spotted Duck

April 18, 2017

My latest review for the Leicester Mercury – a fine dining opening for hard-core foodies. Will be interested to see what Leicestershire makes of it:

The Spotted Duck
61 Leicester Road
Mountsorrel
Leicester LE12 7AJ
0116 237 6571

It’s been a while since we’ve had a really ambitious, fine dining restaurant to review. The last was probably John’s House in Mountsorrel which of course has gone on to win Leicestershire’s first Michelin star. And it’s hard not to think that the runaway success of John Duffin (just try getting a weekend booking) has influenced the opening of The Spotted Duck just a few yards up the Leicester Road.

This handsome new restaurant is a vehicle for the talents of Johnny Prince, a Leicestershire-raised chef who has worked stages – short work placements in kitchens – at some of the nation’s top restaurants including Hambleton Hall and the three-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsey. Still in his early 20s, he has been making a name for himself locally as a private chef and teacher.

The Spotted Duck now offers him further career progression. He is undoubtedly aiming high – it takes some chutzpah to create a very slick, glossy website with your own name and declare your “boundless ambition” and an aim of becoming the world’s youngest chef to hold two Michelin stars.

If that makes you think the restaurant might be horridly flash, fret not. This is a not just a beautiful, calm and elegant restaurant but the food is unpretentious and driven by quality ingredients and seasonality. For example, three of our dishes last week featured local wild garlic at its absolute stunning best before the plants flower.

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But let’s get this straight from the beginning. If you’re looking for good hearty food and measure value by the number of roasties or the size of your naan, you may not be satisfied here. Maybe pick one of the many other splendid options we write about here every week. However if you’ve got the money ( three courses a la carte will be around £40 a head plus drinks) and are interested in seeing what a talented young chef does with fine ingredients then you will want to get along.

You’ll find a restaurant done out in smart greys, furniture with a rustic feel, nicely-chosen art work and a Bang and Olufsen sound bar giving out a smooth soundtrack. There are smartly dressed staff who float around being quietly effective. Chef Johnny seems to have effectively moved his pass out into the room and he is a very focused presence at the end of the bar area finishing plating and briefing staff.

We start with some very fine bread – lovely spongy white and rye sourdough with heavenly truffle and balsamic butter. This great start continued with an amuse of raw mackerel pieces with aerated pork skin and a charred cauliflower emulsion – a good combination of flavours and textures.

The dishes that followed all focussed on top quality ingredients given a chance to sing. My pigeon breast, cooked sous-vide I think, was extraordinarily rich and gamey and came with lightly charred onions, wild mushrooms, a punchy mushroom puree and some of those wonderfully fierce wild garlic leaves – a real forest medley. Then there was a single hand-dived scallop from the East Coast of Scotland, impeccably cooked, accompanied by a Granny Smith and celeriac purée and little crumbed cubes of “pig’s head” meat. These sweet and succulent little beauties were one of the highlights of the night.

My main course was poussin and lobster – the crustacean simply poached, the chicken simply roasted. The breast was wonderful, the leg possibly a bit overdone. There was a superb layered potato cake giving crunch and flavour, there was a fine, sweet carrot purée and a huge – too huge for the dish – barbecued onion that threatened to overhwhelm the other ingredients. Individually items were fine but for me they didn’t really all come together – I couldn’t really work out where it was all going.

More coherent was the loin of lamb with wild garlic. Firstly the loin itself was completely sublime – tender, pink and subtly infused with rosemary. The look it brought to my partner’s face was a joy to behold. Then it was matched with some crisp and fatty breast meat, a herby salad of pearl barley and quenelle of tapenade-style olives.

My desert was a white chocolate and cardamon mousse. This was sizeable, rich and delicious though picking holes I’d have been happy with a tad more spice and the mousse was very slightly grainy. The fresh mango and mango sorbet with it gave acidity which cut the richness of the mousse. My partner’s beef suet sticky toffee pudding had the richness of flavour you’d expect but a lightness you might not. The caramel sauce was superb.

The wine list is still relatively short at the moment but I suspect will build. We had a glass each of a house Pays d’Oc and Argentine Malbec – both were good enough to think it wasn’t really necessary to spend more.

The Spotted Duck was full enough on a Wednesday evening to suggest wording is spreading fast about the place. It’s not surprising – here’s a good-looking young chef with all the skills plus a rock’n’roll name and a flair for promotion. It’s going to be interesting to see how this develops.

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