Ok, so I’ve not posted here for a long time. There’s plenty of reasons for this. For one thing, blogging of the type I’ve done here over the last 10 years seems to fit less easily with the bite size nature of more instant social media platforms – newsy bits seem better suited to twitter or instagram. Plus there’s now a great job being done across various channels by the likes of Cool as Leicester in keeping people up to date.

I’m sure there is a lingering interest from some in well-written (hopefully), longer-form reviews and reflections. I wish I could do more of these but it’s difficult now there’s no newspapers wanting independent reviews. Equally it’s a difficult time for Leicester’s restaurants – there’s activity at the lower and middle parts of the market but it’s not easy at the top end.

Anyhow just to get my own thoughts in order as much as anything, I thought I’d reflect a little on where we are now. I’ll just focus on the city for now.

It was hugely disappointing to see that the King Richard III didn’t make it – the food was fantastic and while they were regularly busy at weekends, the midweek trade wasn’t there for them – especially sad when there were some bang average places not far away doing ok. At least it means that Chris and Andrea can put energies back into Crafty at St Martin’s Tea and Coffee with its exuberant burger menu. It would be nice to think new operators will do something worthwhile at KRIII.

For smart food in the city I lean towards Lilu (watch our for owner Pratik Master relaunching his family convenience store in Wigston next month as a deli promoting lots of fine local produce) and the Knight and Garter’s brasserie-style offering. On the edge of the city is the Black Iron at Winstanley House in Braunstone Park, which really impressed me and from which I get consistently excellent reports.

 

Of the other contenders, I’ve not been to The White Peacock since chef Patron Phil Sharpe moved on, but one regular tells me it has been inconsistent. The place is now owned by the Koban group, which also runs Aspects in Enderby and has recently bought The Lansdowne on London Road and Fenway’s in Loughborough from the Orange Tree group and also the 1573 Steakhouse on the edge of Highcross. There’s the venerable Case, which you have to admire, but much as I love the venue the food has tended to leave me a little indifferent – not been for several years though. I hope to give the Queen Victoria Arts Club another go after a mixed result when I went soon after it opened.

At a more everyday level the Fish and The Chip seems to justify Aatin Anadkat’s decision to move away from fine dining with his bright and breezy, classy chip shop, and Crafty burger continues to attract large numbers. There’s also much interest in the Asian sector – Kayal and its vegetarian sister Herb continue to produce outstanding food and the more humble likes of Spicy Temptations and Wakaze are a delight. Paddy’s Martin Inn, Mithaas and Mumbai Inn are very different places which have all impressed me in recent months. Korean food is at last making an impact with Ongi and the wonderful Grounded Kitchen and I’m looking forward to trying Oppa – a new Korean barbecue place on High Street. I’m also quite fond of the Vietnamese chain Pho – though would love to see a quality independent doing south-east Asian food in the city.

Delilah’s is of course a big loss to the city and to St Martin’s in particular but let’s not forget there are still many terrific cafes and food and drink retailers in that area. Mrs Bridges is an under-appreciated gem, St Martins is quality as are Gelato Village, Cocoa Amore, Kai, The Bottle Garden, The Two Tailed Lion, 33 Cank St and others.

There’s now two competing streetfood nights competing for the pay day dollar on the last Friday of the month, and recently one of them, Canteen, has started having traders in New Market Square on Wednesdays during the day (12pm-8pm).

One word too for an unprespossessing little fast food outlet called Cha Cha’s Griddle at the bottom end of London Rd. It’s not going to change your world, but its Kolkata streetfood Kathi rolls – parathas lined with egg and wrapped around chicken or lamb kebabs or veg are fresh, hot, tasty, cheap, filling and just the thing when you want something quick and on the go. The likes of pau bhaji, bhel poori, and samosa chaat also available – run by nice people too.

So what is there to look forward too? In my neighbourhood I’m delighted to see that we’ve now got a Moroccan restaurant, with Al Ma’idah opening imminently on Queen’s Road. It will soon be joined by the reappearance of Friends Tandoori, a Belgrave institution which disappeared a decade ago. Clarendon Park has long needed a good Indian restaurant and hopefully this will be it. Also on the horizon on Queen’s Road is a new bar and restaurant in what was Cultura. Not many details yet but it’s an initiative of the people behind 33 Cank St and they’ve got a good chef on board so I’m hopeful.

In town the biggest news is probably Mowgli coming to St Martins – if it can maintain the liveliness and quality of its original branches then I can’t wait. But there’s the doleful example of Bill’s before us for places that can’t reproduce the magic ad infinitum.

OK that’s enough. Do let me know if there’s anything you want to add or feel I’ve got  wrong and I hope to be back soon, or at least when I’ve got something to say.

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Ok it’s about time I wrote something here. This time it’s something of a reflection on the city centre and the ever-onward march of the cocktail bar and of 45 West (makers of Burleigh’s Gin)  in particular.

I went out for a little tour of their distillery and gin school near Nanpantan, last week (these are regular events now  – see http://burleighsgin.com/tours).It’s on a gratifyingly boutique scale, with a centrepiece of a shiny 450 litre copper still “Messy Bessy” (below right). German made, it’s got a pleasing number of pipes, levers, columns and chambers, though really compared with wine, whisky or even beer, the manufacturing of gin seems fairly simple – buy alcohol and boil it up with some flavourings, put it an a bottle and bring in the branding consultants. If Toby Fairweather can do it, how hard can it be?

 

Ok, a little unfair, but the simplicity is the reason they can run gin schools in the same room where you can come and use a mini-still, select your botanicals from a rack of jars and leave with your own unique bottle at the end of the day.  You can’t do that at Talisker.

The school has been that successful that they’ve opened another in the heart of Leicester. Located in the corner of the new Market Square (that shop adjacent to the Knight and Garter and which used to sell posh furniture?), this has 24 mini-stills and a private bar area. They are hoping to crack the corporate market as well as riding the general wave of gin enthusiasm.

It is the company’s third venue in the St Martin’s area. There is their Bottle Shop and Bar (the one beneath The Case restaurant) launched partly as a market research base for their Burleigh’s products but which appears rammed with aspirational types every  weekend.  Then they also recently opened a champagne and fine wine bar in St Martin’s (opposite the entrance to  St Martin’s Tea and Coffee), and which I hear will shortly start to feature food from Martin Powdrill at Cured. I had one of his great platters at The Cookie on Wednesday this week before seeing the awesome David Thomas Broughton in the downstairs venue – a world class Leicester night out  – and I think that could be a very fruitful match for both of them.

bottlegardenSt Martin’s Square already has the delightfully intimate  33 Cank Street cocktail bar, and now has added  The Bottle Garden,  an urban garden-themed  “botanical style bar and café” coming from the people behind the Outerspace garden shops in Stoneygate and Wistow, again focused on premium spirits which has had a flying start (I’ve not been yet).

 

Just around the corner is yet another cool new cocktail bar The Gadabout. It is in the building that previously housed Taps bar and the Opera House restaurant – one of Leicester’s oldest and most characterful spaces – and is getting praise for great service.

Naturally the big Pubcos have cottoned on to this trend, with Stonegate having rebranded the Slug and Lettuce on Market Street as The Distillery – though fortunately as well as pitching for cocktail trade they also seem to retain a commitment to real ale and to craft beers, and it looks an ok place to catch the match with a bowl of wings or whatever.

Beer aficionados though will probably be heading back to St Martin’s where the latest, but probably not the last, new opening is The Tap in the Square (the unit that was previously The Deli in the Square). Initially a temporary venture, this is a collaboration between Leicester brewers Framework and Welford Road beer specialist Brewklopedia and their sister shop, 23 Wine and Whiskey on Granby Street. It has four taps – three Framework and one guest  – as well as other drinks supplied by the partners. An excellent bolthole during Xmas shopping.

I said probably not the last as I see Grillstock has gone into administration. I understand administrators want to sell it as a going concern  but obviously its future is in doubt. Sad to see to see any business in trouble and I liked the enthusiasm of the owners when I met them at the launch, but I just didn’t find the food good enough. Given the pace of change outlined in this blog post, I suspect someone will be eagerly eying up that site.

  • Update 7/12/17 – Grillstock is now out of administration. They have closed their London restaurant, but appear bullish about the future of their business which also has two restaurants in Bristol and one in Bath.

 

 

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