Cafe Rouge

September 3, 2010

I took some criticism for a less than enthusiastic welcome to Cafe Rouge in Leicester’s Highcross.  I did stress at the time my views were based on prejudice born from the scorn of the big beast food critics and my own distaste for it’s over the top, theme park Frenchification. I’ve been urged to give it a try and I finally got along for a quick lunch this week.  And the verdict – well maybe not as bad I feared but nothing to get excited about.  

Working in its favour, and I’m not really giving credit to owners Tragus for this, was a beautiful late summer day and a chance to catch up with an old friend.  Sitting outside in the traffic free enviornment of Highcross was really very pleasant.    Foodwise my “terrine maison” was nice and smooth but a bit grey around the gills and was light on flavour,  though the caramelised roscoff onion chutney was very palatable to a sweet tooth like mine.  My main of salade de Toulouse  was nearly there.  The Toulouse sausages were great – coarse, garlicky and smoky, they were chopped up in a bowl of potatoes, more nicely caramelised onions and some good  perppery leaves. The main problem was the leaves were massively overdressed and were wilting in a puddle of oil at the bottom of the plate.  Judy had the confit leg of duck with a plum sauce, french beans and a gratin dauphinoise – which wasn’t too bad at all. The duck had been preserved and crisped up well, the plum sauce  had flavour  – and real plums – and the gratin was a decent effort, being rich with a nutmeggy crust but underneath the potatoes were somewhat underdone.   Our waiter was competent but the whole experience would have been enhanced with a smile and some warmth.

So it was ok but I’m not exactly won over by the place – I still find that corporate vibe offputting.  I’d be prepared to go again for a more extensive tasting, but it won’t be  top of my list.

Bank Holiday Monday saw five of us leap in the car and travel out to Rutland. We were in the mood for a superior lunch and had settled on the the Marquess of Exeter in the lovely, orange stone village of Lyddington.  I first came across chef patron Brian Baker around three years back at the Fox and Hounds in Knossington.  He had previously had a high-flying career including being the then youngest chef to receive a Michelin star, spells as private chef to Elton John, Valentino and a clutch of Mexican billionaires, and as a consultant to top London venues. The Knossington pub was a return to his native Rutland to run a simple, down to earth gastro pub.

The Marquess is still a pub, all be it a little grander, but still has the virtues of keeping it simple but  keeping it good. There’s nothing too modish about the menu here, it has the solid virtues of good ingredients and classic dishes done with intelligence.  Our starters included a technically excellent chicken liver parfait which was maybe slightly overpowered by an extraordinary, remarkably tangy fig chutney.  A deeply savoury, twice baked Lincolnshire Poacher souffle bubbled invitingly, while  squid – often ruined with flabby batter and the finest sweet chilli sauce Blue Dragon can manage – came simply grilled with a rocket salad and freshly-made spicy salsa.  A simple, well-prepared asparagus starter showed seasonality is important here too.

It’s the main courses that exemplify Baker’s approach.  Two of us shared a huge rib of Derbyshire beef, and another two a slow-cooked shoulder of lamb. Both were served on boards to carve at table and both were extremely good. The beef  was beautifully seasoned, tender, and cooked perfectly – darkly caramelised on the outside, dramatically red inside. It came with a boat of bearnaise and a big dish of perfect pommes frites.  Apologies for not having my camera with me – look on the gallery section of the website and you’ll get an idea though.  The lamb barely needed carving it was so tender and had enough lovely fat to keep it moist. There were also classic mint and redcurrant sauces, another large terrine of boluangere potatoes (braised in stock – a dauphinoise without the cream) and hispi cabbage. Our final main was a hefty pork steak, kaffir lime rice and butternut squash curry with a seriosuly spicy side of butternut squash chutney.   This was generous, tasty, food-lovers food.  

Somehow we forced  down some deserts  – my homemade kesar manago sorbet was delightful, and was given a big lift with the simple addition of a few flakes of toasted coconut, the semolina and vanilla mousse outperformed expectations as a light summer desert while a creme brulee was also exemplary.

So we ate very well. Shame our young waiter seemed to resent working bank holidays and offered neither a smile nor a sense that he was particularly interested in what we had ordered or what we might want next.  Other staff were  fine.  The room is light and airy, somehow smart but informal and cosy too – it’s a classy operation.

Restaurant round-up

February 9, 2010

Late notice I know but it seems Connie’s Nine Mile, the Caribbean restaurant/takeaway on Evington Road is featured in tonight’s edition of the Hairy Bikers – BBC 2 8pm, though I suppose iplayer will have it too if you’re interested.  I’ve eaten there a couple of times and been to a few events for which they’ve catered and it’s been good, tasty stuff.

And props to Entropy. The Hinckley Road restaurant  bar is celebrating its 10th year by running a series of events to raise money and awareness for the mental health charity Mind. There’ll be a wine tasting, gourmet night, birthday party and boss Cassie is running the London marathon  – if you feel like backing her, go here.

Interested to see the people behind the Fat Cat chain have diversified from city centre cafe  bars and opened up a village pub.  The Crown in Anstey appears to be run with the same verve as the cafe bars and the menu looks more appealing. I like Fat Cat as a  bar but have been disappointed with the food, lacking any kind of finesse or subtlety it always seemed just about filling up thirsty drinkers.   The Crown offering has most of the current shibboleths of the gastro pub menu – ham hock terrine with apple chutney, beer battered fish and chips, sticky toffee pudding and so on. I’m curious to find out if it’s done with a bit more commitment than Fat Cat. Good to see faggots appearing on the menu too – I trust they are not Brain’s.

I just missed out on a new pop up restaurant run by Greengages. Apparently on 6 Feb they took over a disused pub in the county and provided a meal by a chef “who has worked in some the countries (sic) best resaurants”. Don’t know how it went or if they are doing it again but would be interested to hear more if anyone knows.

Not sure what’s happening at Flores but it’s been shut the last few times I’ve looked, with tables unlaid. Friends who tried to book got a slightly curt email back saying they  were “currently closed”.

Pear chutney

December 16, 2009

There’s a lovely sweet smell in the kitchen tonight, a big pan of christmas present chutney bubbling away on the stove top. I have a real weakness when it comes to chutney and buy far more than I actually use, so I’ve got numerous bottles secreted away at the back of kitchen cupboards – and while most of this one will be given away, it’ll no doubt add to my backlog.  This one is a spcied pear chutney – one kilo of rocha pears, peeled cored and diced, around 200g of sultanas, 100g of prunes roughly chopped, 300g of muscavado sugar and 400ml of vinegar – I possibly should have  used cider but I settled for white wine. Basically it’s just left to cook down and thicken for a couple of hours, with some ginger, cinnamon and crushed allspice berries added  to taste.  Will be lovely with  bit of gammon.

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