I know I’ve written about Delilah’s already, but for the sake of completeness, here’s my review of the food offering from this weekend’s Leicester Mercury. Unfortunately the Ngolo Kante analogy is already out of date, but hey ho, heroes come, heroes go…

Delilah’s Fine Foods
4 St Martins
Leicester LE1 5PL

The St Martin’s area is booming. Finding a buried king, building a tourist attraction and a public square and investing heavily in improving the public realm will generally do that.

But you also need an entrepreneurial spirit to make the most of those developments and Leicester’s independents have certainly risen to that challenge. And now with the opening of Delilah’s the area has another bright jewel in its crown.

Many Leicestershire people will be aware of Delilah’s in Nottingham, which under the dynamic leadership of owner Sangita Tryner has gone from a cult success as a small corner deli to a large two-story venue packed with hard -to-find deli produce from the East Midlands and around the world. It was the UK’s deli of the year in 2012 – described as the kind of place where “you want to spend a whole day.”

The dynamism of Leicester’s retail core attracted Tryner to branch out with a second branch. Fortunately there was a lovely empty building right in the heart of St Martin’s that was perfect for redevelopment. Consequently the Victorian, Grade II-listed Allied Irish Bank has been revived from years of slumber – with help from public funds – and turned into a light, roomy and remarkable space.

The venue resembles the Nottingham branch with a large retail floor, a horseshoe shaped bar with stools for diners and drinkers and a mezzanine dining area that takes diners close to the beautifully-restored glazed ceiling and masonry.

The deli offering is huge, diverse and beautifully displayed, and much of it is used to furnish the cafe menu. During its first week I called in for morning coffee, a lazy weekend brunch and a midweek working lunch – and all three were first-rate.

In terms of coffee there’s a house blend named Samson but also some 30 coffees which are listed with helpful information on the bean and the roast. I tried Rwandan Koakaka, which was tremendous. With St Martin’s Tea and Coffee round the corner and the newly-opened Coffee Counter cafe roasting their own small batches on Bowling Green Street, Leicester city centre is thankfully no longer left to the big coffee chains.

The breakfast menu at Delilah, which runs until 11.30am during the week and 12pm on Sunday, is hugely appealing. Dishes are not cheap but this is very high quality produce. I was tempted by Inverawe smoked salmon and scrambled eggs but settled for the Delilah rarebit, which had the same relationship to cheese on toast as Ngolo Kante to …well, pick your own hapless City midfielder from the past. Pokey Black Bomber cheddar had been whisked with Magpie ale leeks and mustard and grilled on a doorstep of artisan bread, then topped with generous amount of splendid Alderton ham, a succulent Nottinghamshire ham with a marmalade glaze and one of the best of its kind I’ve ever encountered. Then there were two perfectly poached egg, the yolks of which oozed delightfully over the whole ensemble.

My friend picked avocado, fried eggs and crispy pancetta on toast. Again, every thing was exceptionally good. Ripe fruit, great bread, and intense salty ham.

Lunch items have a similar vibe to these dishes. Don’t go looking for fancy restaurant cooking but if the idea of fine charcuterie, cheeses and salads appeals, you will love Delilah’s. At our working lunch I had a frittata with spicy chorizo and piquillo peppers and a super-fresh green salad, my friend having the salt-beef and morcilla hash, again topped with a poached egg . The only criticism he could think to make that it was almost too good – not quite having the down-and-dirty comfort food quality some will want in a hash. But the powerful flavours of the salt beef and the rich Spanish black pudding made it very tasty.

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We also managed to squeeze in a sideplate of charcuterie – a peppery salami and shavings of speck and serrano, and washed it down with a fine craft beer.

The deli section at Delilah’s is going to fill-up a lot of Leicestershire pantries and fridges, and their cafe offering will provide the perfect venue for some top-notch breakfast and lunches. A real boost for the city centre.

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A significant event  for Leicester’s food culture today  with the opening of Delilah’s  at 4 St Martin’s.

Delis have tended to struggle in Leicester.  The Deli on the Square in St Martin’s and Deli Flavour in Silver Arcade  do a decent job, particularly with superior sarnies,  but Delilah’s is a big step forward. It’s opened a month or so later than planned, not that surprising when you look at the complex but beautiful job done at converting the former Allied Irish Bank. There’s a shopfloor, café/bar area and mezzanine dining under a stunning glazed atrium and the whole place has an almost “temple of food” feel about it.

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Those who know the Nottingham branch will know the feeling. Turns out I was the first customer ever to sit at the bar this morning. I enjoyed a cappuccino from their house blend  (called Sampson, lol) as I looked around at staff frantically putting out price tickets and being brought up to speed on service. There’s a tremendous selection of wines from independent vineyards  – quite possibly the best in the the city centre – and then sections for baked goods, chocolates, condiments, seasonal goods, coffees, cooking ingredients and a superb deli counter, with service but where you can wander around and get close to the literally hundreds of cheeses and meats.

The food  menu upstairs looks instantly appealing – from breakfasts such as rarebit made with black bomber, Magpie ale, poached eggs and Alderton ham to extravagant platters of Bellota grade iberico ham (free range, acorn fed), wild boar and venison salami, bresaola, duck rillettes, black truffle gouda, oak roasted tomatoes and more.

WP_20160623_002Sure it’s quite pricey, and no doubt some are going to respond to the whole enterprise with hilarious jokes about middle-class foodies and their “keenwah”, but for me this is a great addition to the city centre.  There is a commitment to quality and to celebrating the best of  international and local products, and there are going to be a lot of things you’ve not previously been able to get in a Leicester shop.

Go and have a look and see what you think.

 

 

 

 

 

The Rutland and Derby

February 10, 2011

Had an interesting morning recently talking to Sam Hagger, the publican who has taken over Leicester’s Rutland and Derby pub on Millstone Lane and turned it back into a more mainstream pub but also added a deli. 

Where once were low sofas is now a cabinet full of fancy cheese, glistening olives and a range of antipasti and charcuterie. It’s an interesting move based on Hagger’s own interest in food and his observation of the local clientele.  He first discovered the venue while his other pub, the Forge in Glenfield was being done up. When it became available he had thought about opening a restaurant but decided it was too close to Stephen Fitzpatrick’s Boot Room and Bistrot Pierre. But seeing the brass plaque offices surrounding him in the Catherdral Quarter  (is it called that? It is now)  he felt those professional types would jump at the chance of  a cheeky piece of  gorgonzola or 36-month aged  parmesan for lunch or with an after work pint.  

Sam Hagger - "I can tell you a story about every cheese here"

Most of what’s on offer comes through  a specialist supplier who seems to have good links with the Slow Food network of  suppliers in Italy and Sam takes pleasure in sharing tales about artisan makers who bury their cheeses in caves and all that. 

Food at the deli – and there is some really interesting stuff there you would struggle to find elsewhere locally – can be bought to take away, but also forms the main eat-in offer of classy deli sandwiches and deli boards.  The Rutland Board, for example, offers semi-roasted Puglian tomatoes, Nocellara del Belice olives, black olive tapenade, char-grilled artichoke hearts, prosciutto, aged Parmagiano Reggiano and oregano crackers.  You can get a local pork pie or samosa too, and Sam promises that as they settle in  they will source more and more local produce:  “For us it’s an evolution – a voyage of discovery”. If you are a local producer with the right credentials, maybe you should get in touch. 

The drinks menu has been pared down from the extravagance of the ancien regime, but still includes some premium lagers, three beers from partners Everards and other ales including Old Hooky and Adnam’s Broadside.  There’s a rather handsome whisky cabinet too. The space is still pretty much the same but the feel is rather more homely (see below) and Sam has both kept and extended the pub’s pleasant  outdoor space, adding an astroturfed roof garden that should be blissful on a hot summer’s evening should we get one.   All in all, definitely worth a visit. Watch out for the full story, and rather better pictures in next month’s Great Food Leicestershire and Rutland

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