There’s been welcome confirmation this week that Canteen – the Street Food night previewed in December at LCB Depot in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter – will continue as a regular monthly “last Friday” event from February.

The next event will be on Friday 24th, which neatly coincides with the Comedy Festival and will feature stand-up as well some of the UK’s top street food outlets parked in the rear yard, a DJ, full bar and a specialist cocktail bar.

Among the traders will be Birmingham-based Baked in Brick, winners of the 2016 UK Street Food Awards. Founded by an alumni of the Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons no less, they serve Neapolitan style pizzas from a wood-fired oven out of the back of a 1964 Mini Cooper (and grilled chicken tikka from the front).

baked-in-brick

The evening is billed as a place for “friends and families, creative types, city residents, students and stressed out city workers to mingle and have a great evening” and judging by the December evening they’ve got the mix right. It runs from 5pm-11pm and entry is free, with children welcome until 9pm. Each trader will be offering a vegetarian offering.

  • One quick note  – it seems to be public news now that the next St Martins/Crafty project I alluded to in an earlier post will be the renovation of the Richard III pub on Highcross St as a high quality dining pub. There is backing from Everards for the conversion and I’m entirely confident that the St Martin’s team will do a great job of creating a go-to dining venue.

 

 

I’m loving the sound of the latest initiative from Crafty at St Martin’s .  For one night only on 2nd March  6-8.30pm they will become a burger free zone and turn into a taqueria.
They promise a  night of celebrating Mexico’s finest street food – a relaxed affair with latino music, paper plates and no bookings. Given the quality of everything else they do I’m confident this will be exciting stuff.
There will be (gluten-free)  corn tacos with a choice of fillings at 3 for £6, including:
Smoked chipotle ox cheek, pickled red cabbage, crema
Pork carnitas (crispy braised pork), lime, pico de gallo
Stewed chicken in achiote, roasted pineapple salsa
Pinto beans, chihuahua cheese, pico de gallo, crema

There will also be a range of sides such as nachos, guacamole, escabeche vegetables and of course Mexican beer and tequila. If it’s a success they promise they have more ideas up their sleeve.

Now I just need to work out how I get away early from an evening meeting I’ve got booked…

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.

crafty10

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.

The “Big Question” being polled in today’s Leicester Mercury is not about religious assemblies, the possibility of Greece defaulting or court orders over parental custody of children. Bravely shunning the mainstream news agenda they’ve gone with “are there too many gourmet burger restaurants in Leicester?”.

The question is prompted by news that Five Guys could be opening in that empty former Santander building opposite the main entrance to Highcross. A couple of years back Five Guys and Shakeshack opened the same week in London to a hyped rivalry not seen since the Grea Blur/Oasis Standoff. The two US businesses have become stock market stars just a McDonalds star has started to wane.

I’ve never been to Five Guys, and it may be very good. It’s got a fast food approach to its restaurants, but  manages to price itself well in advance of the lively independents also setting up in Leicester – cheeseburger and regular fries is £12.  With Crafty Burger available three evening a week, and the estimable MeatCure about to open on Highcross Street, I’d like to think Leicester public will deem them surplus to requirements and support local businesses.

Right, now my views on Grexit…not really.

North's Afternoon tea

I will add something though – if you’ve really had enough of burgers for the time being, there’s a more genteel offering being launched by North’s Bar and Kitchen on Hinckley Road. On afternoons from Wednesday to Saturday they are now offering full afternoon tea featuring a selection of finger sandwiches, cakes, scones with jam and clotted cream,and a choice of tea or coffee and the option of a glass of champagne. Booking essential.

North’s has also extended its range of bottled craft beers f6orm Two Cocks brewery, for which it is the only stockist in Leicester. New arrivals include Roundhead, a fine traditional, malty  best bitter made form Cascade and First Gold hops, and which won a Great Taste Award last year.

 

Crafty Burger

June 12, 2015

I thought I’d put up my recent review of Crafty burger at St Martin’s in Leicester. It’s been up on the Leicester Mercury site  but to save you wrasslin’ with the pop ups on that site here it is plain wordpress format – as you’ll see, I think it’s a fine addition to Leicester’s scene.

crafty10

Crafty Burger

St Martin’s Tea & Coffee
2-6 St Martin’s Walk
St Martin’s Square
Leicester LE1 5DG

0116 251 2879

Open: Thu, Fri and Sat – 6pm-9pm

Cost – Burger, fries and pint of craft beer £14.

8 out of 10

St Martin’s Tea and Coffee has been one of the most lively independent businesses in Leicester city centre since starting life as a cookware shop. Since then it opened a coffee roastery, then combined the two businesses and opened a cafe, and eventually the cafe swallowed up the cookware business. Then in late 2014 it hosted Crafty Burger, a three night a week pop-up restaurant taking advantage of their fairly rudimentary kitchen.

It’s an indication of how businesses need to adapt to prevailing retail trends but also to follow their passion. Founder Andy Hall found himself more and more wanting to develop the coffee importing and roasting business which was starting to supply many of the emerging independent coffee business in the city. Those people needed barrista training and shiny Italian espresso machines too. Running a cafe alongside this wasn’t always easy.

All of which is the explanation for why Crafty Burger is now a permanent feature on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays. It’s an initiative of Chris Elliman, a man with good credentials as former head chef at one of Yorkshire’s top gastropubs, who with partner Andrea picked Leicester as a likely looking place to start anew.

After the success of the pop-up, the couple approached Andy Hall to go into partnership. They could take over the cafe and relaunch Crafty, freeing him to focus on the coffee business. A refurbishment followed with the coffee business relocating upstairs and a new kitchen installed downstairs.

Elliman has revamped the daytime menu at St Martin’s to make it one of the most interesting lunch time offerings in the city – from slow-cooked Cuban-style mojo marinated pork sandwiches (currently off the menu until they can get the electrics sorted to run all night for slow cooking), to an an extensive vegetarian selection such as a beautiful smoky aubergine dish, spiked with harissa and cooled with feta cheese, almonds, pomegrante, yoghurt and mint. It’s a delicate charmer of a dish that shows the chef is not just about big old burgers.

But Crafty is the focus of this review and big old burgers is certainly the focus there. I’ll come straight to the point and say that these are mighty fine examples of the genre. Beef is 28-day dry aged and ground and hand-pressed every day on site and the care in selection and in cooking shows. The pleasure is every bit that of a good steak. There’s a half a dozen choices and over a couple of visits I’ve tried the Farmyard Jam, given a sweetish edge from onion and bacon jam with maple, and the Mexican-themed El Gordo with jalapeno and corn relish, chipotle ketchup and Red Leicester. There wasn’t actually a great deal of heat I this but I didn’t want the glorious flavour of the beef overwhelmed anyway. Also remarkably good was the “Krispy Klucker”, a chicken burger made with tasty thigh meat which was beautifully tender inside a terrifically crunchy coating made, it seems, from rice crispies.

The influence of a skilled chef is evident in the qualities of all the extras too. “Pigcorn Poppers” were a delight – succulent little cubes of pork belly in panko crumb with a great relish made from pineapple, honey and chilli. Try and visit with a decent hunger because it would be a shame to miss these. Chicken wings basted in gochujang, Korean chilli paste, are hot, tasty and bang on-trend. A crunchy root vegetable slaw with and sour cream dressing had evidently had thought and care applied to its composition and preparation.

On a first visit fries were disappointingly soggy but this stemmed from a fryer malfunction, and on a subsequent occasion they were actually a highlight. Crisp, skin-on regular fries come with the burger but you can pimp them in a number of styles, and I can certainly recommend the nacho version with avocado, sour cream and jalapenos and the Spanish fries, with pimenton-spiced pork meatballs and garlic mayo.

There’s also craft beers from Purity, including their floral Lawless lager and the hoppy IPA Longhorn. If you fancy a desert they offer a salted peanut and chocolate gelato made specially for them by neighbours in St Martin Square, Gelato Village. It’s totally gorgeous.

You don’t go to a burger place for delicacy, but that’s not to say it can’t be done with flair, skill and originality and you get all of that with Crafty. It’s a lovely setting in the evening and the front of house is run by Andrea with great warmth. They buy local and it’s a quality-led, gimmick-free offering – just the kind of lively independent that adds character and distinctiveness to a city.

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