I was invited last week to provide a bit of feedback on the new menu at Maiyango. I enjoyed the work of chef Nick Wilson but it seems personal matters have drawn him away to Cambridge and now in charge behind the stove is Salvatore (Sav) Tassari.  Recruited with Nick Wilson’s involvement  as a possible successor, Sav has recently come to Leicester after four years cooking out in Tenerife but also has experience at a fine dining hotel in Chester and out in Italy.

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Andy Hall from St Martin’s Tea and Coffee with Aatin Anadkat of Maiyango

Before tasting though I was lucky enough to get a further insight into restaurant operations by sitting in on a session with Andy Hall from St Martin’s Coffee who has been charged with coming up with a new blend for Maiyango to grind. It’s great to see quality independent businesses co-operating like this. Andy had high hopes for a El Salvador Salmon Bourbon bean but while it was a complex bean the roast – done back in Central America – had not done it any favours, leaving it lacking body.  More promising was a blend from Brazil and Ethiopia.

On to lunch and I was able to sample some of Sav’s dishes – including a seemingly simple  but stunning starter of fragrant winter vegetables, including butternut squash, artichoke, beetroots. It’s billed as sweet and sour, but the slight spicing didn’t detract from the earthy essential flavour od the veg. Very impressive mains of a wonderful tender, rare beef fillet with asparagus, mushroom puree and truffle sauce showed really good balance of flavours, not easy with truffle. This impression was backed up by a taste of the steamed wild sea bass, spiced coconut laksa, bok choi, chilli and a refreshing mint relish which gave the whole lift.  A desert of a pineapple parfait with yoghurt foam and a foaming cucumber soup was a clever combination – the cucumber was a bit insubstantial on its own but with the pineapple it all made perfect sense.

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Winter vegetables

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Wild seabass

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Pineapple parfait

 

 

All in all it seems Sav has understood his brief here and is producing interesting food that continues the house style fine dining with international influences but strong local roots too. There’s plenty of invention and plenty for vegetarians and vegans too.

Coincidentally I reviewed one of Sav’s predecessor’s in my Mercury Column this week. Phil Sharpe opened the White Peacock in late 2013 and my impression is the place is really hitting its stride. We had a lovely tasting menu full of good flavours and confident cooking in a smart, upmarket but relaxed environment. It’s a lovely building too and provides an excellent dining experience in the heart of the city – you can see the review here 

One more bit of news, former general manager Mark Barbour has returned to the Red Lion, Stathern, after a gap of nine years. The pub holds a Michelin Bib Gourmand and is the Good Pub Guide’s Leicestershire Dining Pub of the Year for 2015, but owners  Sean Hope and Ben Jones recently announced that they are withdrawing from active management  to focus on their other venue, the wonderful Olive Branch in Clipsham.  Mark ran the pub fron 2002  to 2006 and since then has been training manager for the Bistro Pierre chain, opening its flagship Ilkley hotel,  and  general manager at the award-winning Fleece Inn at Addingham, West Yorkshire.

 

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I ran into Aatin Anadkat of Maiyango at last week’s Winter Food Festival at Leicester Market. He was buzzing over the prospects for his business – “these last few weeks it’s like I’ve had a shot of adrenaline” he told me.

Sweet potato and chipotle veloute, mango salsa

Sweet potato and chipotle veloute, mango salsa

Aatin launched the restaurant when not long out of University. It was stylish, cosmopolitan and offered something new for Leicester. Over the last decade Aatin and his colleagues showed considerable savvy and skill to not just secure the restaurant and bar, but to develop the City’s smartest boutique hotel, a banqueting operation running out of the St Martin’s House by the Cathedral and a Kitchen Deli on Highcross St.

So when his long-term head chef and friend Phil Sharpe left last month to set up on his own at The White Peacock, it was naturally one of the occasions when you drag out that old (apparently erroneous) notion that the Chinese word for crisis equates to “danger and opportunity”.  So, hence the adrenaline.

The opportunity to refresh the operation has seen the appointment of Nick Wilson as head chef. He is a hugely experienced chef but appears to be a great fit for Maiyango.  At a tasting session last week he provided a mightily impressive debut for a group of experienced and hard-to-please diners.

Things started off with Maiyango’s typically inventive cocktails (chilli and lemongrass mojito, star anise-flavoured oriental julep) and canapés including an exceptionally gorgeous cod and chorizo samosa.  The starter of a smooth sweet potato and chipotle veloute gave a real tingle to the tongue but was brilliantly paired with a cooling mango salsa and crunchy kohlrabi bhaji.

“We’re not doing fusion food.’ said our maître d’.  “We say this is modern European food with influences from the East”.  Fusion cooking doesn’t have a great name, but with food this good I don’t really mind what you call it.

roast cod, celeriac puree, curried mussels

Roast cod, celeriac puree, curried mussels

Next up came distinctly Eastern tandoori paneer and vegetable skewers with carrot pickle, sag aloo salad and a belting cherry tomato jam. Well cooked, with nicely balanced flavours, this was another winner.  Then came what I think most people thought was the star dish of the night – perfectly roasted cod with a seared edge, rich and smooth celeriac puree, crunchy aubergine crisps, wilted spinach and fantastic mussels with a lightly curried creamy broth. Great cooking and a very well-conceived dish.  To serve at least 30 people more or less at once and get things so right suggests Chef Wilson has very quickly got things right in the kitchen.

Glazed duck, leg hash

Glazed duck, leg hash

The main course of duck was a showstopper but for me had one or two elements too much.  The duck breast was great, the hash of duck leg in a sweetish/sourish sauce was really great. Cayenne potatoes could have been a bit spicier and  a bit crunchier, and while the bok choi and date puree both worked, another puree (squash?), orange and vanilla syrup and a smear of tapenade seemed to take the focus away from the main event of the dish. Some of the combinations worked in the mouth, others didn’t.

Desert featured a cardamom and white chocolate brulee.  Cardamom can be a bit of a beast used in delicate puds, but I thought the balance here was spot on and the result was totally delicious.

Overall then – very good cooking, well-composed dishes, served up by well-trained and charming staff.  I spoke to several people afterwards who said they’d always enjoyed Maiyango but had maybe got a little bored of the menu – and they were now eager to come back and try again.

No doubt that will music to Aatin’s ears. For Leicester diners, it seems the shot in the arm provided by a bit of friendly rivalry could have rich dividends.

Update:30/11/13 – …and congratulations to Maiyango for winning both Hotel of the Year and Taste of England Award in Leicestershire’s 2013 Excellence in Tourism Awards

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