The Best of 2015

December 28, 2015

It’s been an exciting year for Leicestershire and Rutland restaurants, and I’ve been thinking back over some of the great food I’ve encountered this year. Here’s a sample of ten of my best culinary experiences of 2015 ,as done for the Leicester Mercury|:

1)St Martin’s Tea and Coffee, Leicester

This could have had three entries in the top ten. First off, the day-time cafe regularly features an epic sandwich – the Cuban has layers of marinated pork that chef Chris Elliman has slow-cooked overnight, along with more meat, cheese and pickles that combine in a remarkable way. Working alongside Elliman is Javan-born chef Bobby Ananta providing a South-East Asian slant on the menu, and his beef rendang was a complete revelation. Warmly-spiced slow-cooked meat that fell apart, plenty of toasted coconut and fresh salad spiked with lime juice. Finally, from Thursday to Saturday evening the venue hosts Crafty’s, serving up the best burgers in the county.

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2) Kayal, Leicester

It seems every week some celebrity chef turns up to learn from the Kayal crew, most recently it was Ainsley Harriot and, erm, Len Goodman filming there. It’s understandable as there is a long list of fine dishes on offer here along with some of the best service you’ll encounter. It’s hard to pick a favourite but I’m always knocked out by the Kottayam Egg Fry starter – an Easter special among Kerala’s Syriac Christian community and somewhat prosaically described here as a “batter-fried boiled egg with chutney”. It’s a beautifully tangy, vibrant curry that everyone should try.

3) The Berkeley Arms, Wymondham

I’d been wanting to get to this highly-rated country pub between Melton and Oakham for years and finally made it in the Spring. I wasn’t disappointed and stand-out dish was a braised leg of hare with poached pear and candied walnuts, a tremendous combination of flavours and texture.

4) The White Peacock, Leicester

Chef Phillip Sharpe has settled into his New Walk restaurant very comfortably and is producing elegant, fine food in sophisticated surroundings. A duck terrine from the tasting menu last Spring still lingers in the memory as combining great flavours with refined presentation. Wrapped in cabbage and made into a perfect cylinder, it was matched with charred brioche toast, a fruity mango salsa and little discs of crunchy radish.

5) 34 Windsor St, Burbage

A lively, swanky, welcoming fine dining restaurant that appears to be thriving with new head chef Arran Shaw. A long spell in Italy inspired Arran with the principles of the Slow Food movement and a respect for quality ingredients. That all came together in a marvellous starter of vibrant home-cured salmon with beer mustard and red and gold beetroot, plus a slice of remarkably complex Russian black bread – the result of several years recipe development.

7) John’s House, Mountsorrel

After a review last summer I speculated that the big national food guides might soon catch on to the remarkable food on offer here. A few months later it was granted Leicestershire’s first Michelin Star. I loved the domestic feel of John’s House and while all the dishes impressed with their focus on fabulous ingredients, it was the canapes served as we sat on the sofa pondering the menu that landed a memorable knock-out blow – a dreamy duck liver parfait served in a little cornet with a dash of sweet cumberland sauce and topped with a savoury crunch of chicken skin.

Duck liver parfait

8) Bewicke Arms, Hallaton

New owners and new chefs have at last turned this well-known country pub into a real destination for diners. Chefs Tom Cockerill and Glenn Cowl do things the right way – as evidenced by a superb starter of grilled Dexter ox heart, lightly grilled and served with locally-made salami. A dish like that is a real statement of intent from the kitchen.

9) Maiyango, Leicester

Owner Atin Anadkat has skilfully steered this business over the last decade, expanding to include a stylish boutique hotel. This year it gained a new head chef in the form of Sav Tassari. He can do big and gutsy – I remember an epic fillet steak – but he also builds on the restaurant’s reputation for delicacy and for catering for vegans and vegetarians. Fitting then, that my top memory is of simple but stunning starter of fragrant winter vegetables – fine specimens including squash, artichoke and beetroots in a gentle sweet and sour dressing which let the essential earthiness through.

10) The Salmon, Leicester

If I was asked to show a foreign visitor an example of British food at its very best I could happily take them to any of the fine establishments written about here. However I might just settle for The Salmon. On a Friday evening, with the serious business of the week largely done, I can think of few finer moments than when halfway down the second pint of some or other real ale in this award winning pub, one of your friends disappears to the bar shortly to be followed back by a barmaid with a large Stilton-topped pork pie, cut neatly into manageable slices, and a jar of mustard. The pub was set to change ownership in December – I hope the pies stay in place.

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I wrote enthusiastically about the Bewicke Arms a few weeks back after attending a launch party. Having given them a few weeks to settle in, I’ve now got round to doing a full review which appeared this weekend in the Leicester Mercury and which I reproduce below. As you’ll see, I wasn’t disappointed.  Great ingredients, great cooking – the place is a treat, especially for meat lovers.

[Edit: I see that from this week the Bewicke is now offering Great Food Club members 10 per cent off. For full details of the offer (and of the free-to-join Great Food Club – click here http://www.greatfoodclub.co.uk/offer/the-bewicke-arms/#.VktXADYnwaJ%5D

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Bewicke Arms
1 East Gate
Hallaton
Leicestershire
LE16 8UB

01858 555734

Cost: Around £28 for three courses.

When I first moved to Leicester in 1983 I asked around for country pub recommendations – and the Bewicke Arms in Hallaton came up most often. So I checked it out, and it was indeed a lovely pub in a lovely village. In those pre-gastropub days though I seem to remember its most celebrated dish being a chicken breast covered in Boursin garlicky herb cheese.

The bar, of course, has risen considerably since then. The Bewicke has continued to be a welcome country pub for locals, walkers, touring cyclists and so on but has never been a destination food pub. Indeed over the last couple of years it has shut and reopened a few times. Now though, all that has changed and it’s taken a dramatic leap towards the top echelon of dining pubs.

Local couple Claire and Simon Tait bought it this year and re-opened in September having hired a heavyweight team in the kitchen. Consultant chef setting the tone and getting the kitchen established is Tom Cockerill, who made his name locally with Entropy. Head chef is Glenn Cowl, who helped the Red Lion in Stathern win numerous accolades in recent years including Leicestershire Dining Pub of the Year.

The two have a similarity of approach which includes a genuine commitment to the local and seasonal ethos which is so often a matter of lip-service. The signature style is one of honest good food from the best ingredients. At a launch event they offered small versions of their bar menu including stunning fried fish in Grainstore bitter batter, pizza with locally-foraged mushrooms and a beautiful deserts such as an apple crumble made with Kentish cob-nuts, apples gown in the village and curds from a local herd of Red Poll cattle.

The restaurant menu stretches things more but still displays a trademark approach. A starter of grilled Dexter ox heart with salami from Rutland Charcuterie and parmentier potatoes, was a bit of a stunner, the cooking brilliantly showcasing the distinctive, nostalgic flavour of the meat. Lamb sweetbreads in a lightly deep-fried crumb was another success, paired with crispy little curls of duck breast prosciutto and a nicely sharp dressing with capers olive and sage. Proper gown up food with serious great flavours. A simple starter of whitebait was also very good indeed with a big hunk of chargrilled lime and point of feisty roasted garlic mayonnaise lifting the everyday into something a bit special.

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Picking a main course was tricky. Whole baked plaice with crab apples and a veloute with Hallaton-made Bottle Kicking cider was hard to resist, but I settled for breast of Mallard. Again this was perfectly cooked meat, with crisp skin with a honey and soy glaze, resting on leeks, caramelised onions and orange. Really sweetly-flavoured duck with a refreshingly light and clean presentation.

Many pubs do a belly of pork dish, but the Bewicke’s version put most to shame by featuring fantastic produce and cooking it simply. The pork from Suffolk-based, high-welfare Dingley Dell had superb flavour, while the gorgeous sprout-top greens with it were a revelation to someone who generally abhors this usual Christmas dinner abomination. A final main course of arrancini – risotto fried in a light crumb – with wild mushroom and Jersualem artichokes had great Mediterranen flavours though the dressing was maybe a bit heavy on the olive oil.

The vegetarian in our group was happy with her food but you do feel that it’s finding and cooking great meat – including often-looked cuts – that really floats this kitchen’s boat.

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(food pictures are dishes we had but are shamelessly borrowed from the chef’s site – ours weren’t good enough)

Deserts had all the virtues of the rest of the meal. A simple sundae of Hallaton-grown apples with, cream, ice-cream and toffee sauce with honeycomb and gingerbread(left) was light, sweet and offered a pleasing range of textures. Pumpkin and pecan pie with cinnamon ice-cream in a sweet little puff pastry cornet was both witty, sophisticated and gorgeous..

The high-achieving kitchen isn’t really matched yet out front. Apparently a restaurant manager left early on and there is a need for a more rigour – we were asked for our drinks order without being given a wine list, our waitress knew nothing about the beer offering and somehow managed to just ignore a question about the tremendous, malty bread that we were served up. Nothing disastrous there but the food deserves better.

The lovely setting of this pub, over-looking Hare Pie Hill, has always drawn visitors. Now there’s a definitely another good reason to go.

The Bewicke Arms launches

September 29, 2015

I was able to get out to Hallaton this weekend for the launch party of the Bewicke Arms. I’ll keep most of my powder dry for when I get to do a proper review but the bottom line is that this lovely country pub looks to be back near the top of the list of Leicestershire pubs worth the trip.

It’s looking smart, it’s got the beers, it’s got the views, and now it’s got the food too. Consultant chef Tom Cockerill has developed the approach with head chef Glen Cowl, who helped make The Red Lion at Stathern into the County’s Dining Pub of the Year last year and this, and they will be cooking in a signature style of good quality, honest food with a strong, and genuine, local and seasonal ethos. At the launch party we enjoyed some tasting portions of top-notch fish fried in Grainstore bitter batter, herby sausages with impeccable buttery mash and crispy onions, pizza with locally-foraged wild mushrooms and some wonderful deserts including divine buttermilk pannacotta with figs and crème brulee with rich lavender shortbread.

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They are currently in a soft launch phase and the main menu and bar menu are being slowly rolled out in the coming weeks. With plenty of comfy bar space, smart but cosy dining area, big function upstairs and the Hare Pie tearooms across the yard this is once again going to be a versatile and popular place to drink and eat.

Edit – A few more pictures below – courtesy of CoolasLeicester

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