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.

 

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Aldo Zilli at San Carlo

December 6, 2012

It may be freezing outside but I’m sitting here nice and warm following one of the great lunches.  I was fortunate enough to be invited as a guest to try out some of the dishes coming out of a new partnership between ‘sleb chef Aldo Zilli and the San Carlo group.

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Aldo Zilli at San Carlo, Leicester

Zilli sold off his London restaurants earlier this year, blaming greedy landlords for turning Soho into yet another chain zone. He told me today he had been going to take a year off but was persuaded by Carlo di Stefano to help him out in developing his cicchetti concept. “I respect Carlo as one of the best operators in the Italian restaurant business,” said Zilli.  “Back in Venice, cicchetti really just means food you’ll have in a bar – the Italian tapas. He’s taking that idea and moving it on  – and I’m happy to work with him to take it to another level. That means motivating the kitchen staff and encouraging them to realise you don’t have to mess around with this food – you must let the ingredients do the talking.”

So at San Carlo, Leicester today we were treated to a hugely impressive range of dishes, starting with a gently sweet and sour Sicilian caponata – slow cooked mediterranean vegetable stew.

Squid with chilli

Squid with chilli

Then simply fried calamari with chilli – succulent with gentle slow-burn background heat and then some thinly-sliced raw porcini and parmesan.  This was lovely, earthy cuisine that will put you off Pizza Hut for life. Ironically the next plate was a kind of pizza – and one of the very best dishes I’ve ever had. Squares of bread grilled with raddichio, melted gorgonzola, white truffle and walnuts. Simply done but those ingredients really did talk and will live in the memory for some time.

Zilli made his name as a seafood chef and it kept coming.  Thick fillets of gurnard were simply grilled and supplied with a stunning buttery sauce of shrimp and capers. Beetroot risotto (one of my very favourite dishes) came with sweetly roasted scallops and al dente orecchiette pasta with clams and more truffles. I’ve pretty much given up cooking monkfish as I find there’s such a narrow window between under and over cooking. Our version had been left a bit too long for my taste, but the dressing of fennel and sambuca was great.  And I nearly forgot, an awesome side dish of fondant artichoke – unpeeled, thinly sliced jerusalem ‘chokes cooked in stock and butter that was reduced to a fudgy richness. Quite wonderful. We finshed up with delicious souped-up pannettone – sliced and layered with a mascapone and marsala cream and forest fruits and topped with some zabaglione brulee. Not a huge amount of cooking there but supreme comfort food at Christmas time.

It’s some time since I’ve been to San Carlo – I liked the food but found the atmosphere a bit boistrous for my liking. Aldo says these dishes and others like them will now be appearing as specials  – as long as they can keep up the standard when the famous chef is not on the pass, a good reason for going back I’d say.

Gurnard with shrimp and caper sauce

Gurnard with shrimp and caper sauce

Aldo panettone

Panettone

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