For a restaurant in an area full of relatively well-heeled potential customers with a keen desire to eat out, Al Maidah on Queen’s Rd, Leicester, seems to have adopted a strange marketing policy.

I’ve never seen a place fly so low under the radar. It’s quite an achievement these days after two months trading to have seemingly no online presence or media footprint whatsoever – no website, no social media, not even a Tripadvisor comment. Yes there’s a shop front, but no menu or other information displayed. It would appear to be Moroccan but what does it serve and how much does it cost? There’s no obvious way to find out, short of going in and sitting down. So that’s what we did.

mintteaIt has all the hallmarks of the family-run neighbourhood restaurant – the kind of place where younger members hang around out front and fight for the control of the music  (pleasant North African sounds) or pop out for extra parsley from the supermarket. It’s quite small and done up with some appealing desert-chic touches – camel trains in silhouette on the walls, miniature tagines on display, and cute little fabric figures with which to pick up the hot handles of your exquisite mint-tea pots. In the bijou upstairs room there’s even a floor-seated area replete with cushions for traditional  laid back dining.

The menu covers the usual suspects of Maghreb cuisine – spicy harira soup, tagines, cous cous and grilled meats, with a couple of specifically Tunisian touches such as the use of molokhia greens.  There are popular dishes such as  a sweet lamb tagine with almonds and apricots and a cous cous royale which contains a bit of everything including merguez sausages. Oh, and main courses are between around £8 and £14. couscous.jpg

We picked a chicken cous cous and a kefte tagine (lamb meatballs), along with sweet mint tea and a mint mojito mocktail (the restaurant does not serve alcohol). Both came delightfully presented and piping hot. The on-the-bone chicken with vegetables and chick peas sat on a generous helping of cous cous and came with a sauce for ladling over. My friend found it over-salty and struggled a bit with some flabby chicken skin but the flavours in the dish were excellent and the chicken very nicely tender. My tagine came enticingly bubbling to the table and proved very good eating  – delicately aromatic spiced lamb in a stew with onions, tomatoes and coriander with a couple of eggs baked shaksuka-style into the sauce. The lightly toasted arabic bread was excellent too.
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Neither dish was particularly spicy-hot, though whether this is concern over timid Clarendon Park palates or simply the chef’s preferred style for these dishes I’m not clear.

The overall dining experience was maybe not as smooth it should have been. Neither the “dish of the day” or the beautiful-sounding fresh Morrocan pastries listed were available.  Trying to put a positive light on this it shows that “freshly prepared” probably means just that, but on the other hand, we were a couple of slightly disappointed diners. Also while our waiter was lovely and helpful, we didn’t get our mojito until we chased it up, and we heard another table say when checking out that they hadn’t received everything they had ordered.

 

 

So no hipster reinvention or fusion stuff going on here – just good traditional, regional, comfort food that many should want to check out. Despite the lack of profile, word does seem to be getting around and there were respectable numbers and a diverse clientele on our wet Tuesday night visit. A weekend trip beckons.

 

 

 

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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.

Grounded Kitchen

June 13, 2017

Believe me,  it took me some courage to go into a place that offers food alternatively described as “nourish bowls” or “Buddha bowls”. I’ve a deep suspicion of anything that promises to do me good.

But I’m delighted I went into Grounded Kitchen, a new takeaway and cafe on Queen’s Road, Clarendon Park in Leicester. They have started with a simple offering of three dishes – Korean-inspired salads that combine avocado, cherry, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, cucumber, chestnut mushrooms and spring onions, served on short grain rice and with Asian style dressings plus chilli, chia seeds, corianders and sesame. There is a veggie option and those featuring bulgogi chicken and beef bibimap.

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I had the chicken and it was great – really lovely flavours and good fresh ingredients. The place has the Clarendon Park types swooning (though there’s a faction that are campaigning for brown rice of course), and with good reason. I may be a health food sceptic but I’m very happy to eat this and look forward to forthcoming salmon and gochujang (Korean chilli paste) dishes.

The restaurant is an initiative of Oadby lad Ahmed Kidy, who has spent  a lot of time working and travelling in the far East and has had help developing recipes from Korean pals.  He has also  developed a range of Japanese matcha and sencha  teas, including those steeped with the likes of mint, lime and spinach – this is definitely an alternative to the coffee culture on the rest of Queens Road.  If Grounded Kitchen continues its early success, we could be seeing more branches appearing soon.

 

 

 

The Tiny Bakery

February 27, 2014

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Clarendon Park is pleasant little part of Leicester. It’s a densely packed, prosperous area set strategically between the posh bits of Knighton and Stoneygate and Leicester University.

The peace and calm of its shopping area has recently been ruffled by the imminent arrival of a local Tesco. But the independents who still predominate on the Queen’s Road are not giving up. In fact, there’s a heart-warming story of a new opening.

The Tiny Bakery, which opens on 1 March, is in fact located right next to the Megagrocer at 98 Clarendon Park Road. It’s everything Tesco isn’t  – local, artisan, handmade, transparent. It’s founded by Lindsay Abraham, a local woman who’s been baking cakes for friends and for local cafes such as Fingerprints for a few years. She will now be selling her own cakes, and has teamed up with David Belcham, another local baker who supplied local shops with artisan bread using the moniker One Man and his Loaf. He jumped at the chance at moving from a home baker to a small scale commercial operation. Add in a local pastry and patisserie specialist and you’ve got a team of people raring to go to supply people with high quality baked goods.

“Actually, I don’t think Tesco is competition,” says Lindsay.  “We know people are looking for good bread, and if you want lovely bread and beautiful cakes, you don’t go to Tesco”. Quality of course comes with a price and the bread and cakes will be more expensive (but much  better for you) than the Chorleywood loaves and trans fats doughnuts common at supermarkets, but they are sure the demand will be there.

“People will have a choice to make,” says David. “If it’s good enough, people will be prepared to spend a bit more”.

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“The difference is in the taste” – Lindsay Abraham and David Belcham talk bread

Their premises were formerly a chocolatiers and most recently used by a wedding cake specialist. Lindsay has kitted out the rear bakery with commercial mixer, fridge and oven and the front shop is being transformed into a stylish little café. To begin with the shop will be selling “everyday” loaves from Evington’s Ethel bakery, supplemented  by handmade speciality loaves from David, using flour from Leicestershire’s Claybrooke Mill.  Expect wholemeal, multi-seed and rye to begin with, but the glory of this kind of operation is that they can be nimble and responsive – as customers let them know what they want, the bakers can respond with spelt, sourdough, whatever. At least one day a week there will be gluten-free loaves available.

Lindsay will be supplying cakes, cookies, macaroons, meringues and cream cakes and there will also be croissants, pain au chocolate and Danish pastries. There’ll be coffee supplied from the excellent St Martin’s Tea and Coffee, and just a few seats where you can take a few minutes out to relax.

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Kitting out the Cafe

“Clarendon Park already has a great butcher plus greengrocers, delis, chemists and so on. Now it will have a place for great bread and cakes, so it will in effect be a one stop shop – people won’t need to go to a supermarket,” says Lindsay. “It’s what people want. We’ve already got 330 likes on Facebook before opening  – and that’s not just my friends! – and we’re happy to compete on quality. The difference is in the taste.”

* The Tiny Bakery opens on Saturday 1 March. It will be open from 8.30am to 4pm (later on Thursdays), six days a week.

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