This review for the Leicester Mercury focuses on a relocated, reconceived former favourite of this blog. I was worried that in the tweeting the concept, the quality of the food would suffer. To find out, read on…

 

Fenways
17-18 Baxter Gate
Loughborough
LE11 1TG
01509 210100

 

8 out of 10

The Smokehouse on Braunstone Gate was one of the city’s stand out restaurant successes of recent years. At the time of its closure there were some rumours of a possible reappearance in Loughborough.

Well it’s taken a while, but it turns out there was substance to the gossip and so a big welcome to Fenway’s. It’s part of the Orange Tree group, which already has the Orange Tree and the Kelso in the town, and while there are some obvious differences to The Smokehouse, the good news is that the head chef Liam Watson is back in charge and that the menu features some of the dishes that made the Smokehouse special. Crucially, it takes no shortcuts to those big smokey, barbecue flavours that characterise the food of the American South.

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Chef Watson plates up (photos from Fenway’s website)

Located in a large pub building, they’ve given it an extensive refurbishment that thankfully doesn’t go overboard on the American diner theme. Nonetheless Fenway’s is a different proposition to the rather intimate, bistro style of its predecessor. It’s big, informal, a bit noisy with a bar area at the back. Open all day from 12, it’s family-friendly, student- friendly, the staff are young and funky and there are craft beer and cocktails – it’s good fun.

We started off with excellent cocktails – one of their originals featuring locally-made Burleigh’s gin with cointreau, passionfuit and ginger beer, and a sophisticated adult milkshake with Jamaican rums, vanilla and chocolate ice-cream, ginger cake and milk.

Food starters included an absolutely stonking dish of smoked ox cheek. Smoked meats here are marinated overnight and smoked for at least 8 hours and the time given to it really shows. I went at the nuggets of beef with a knife and fork but the knife wasn’t necessary – it fell apart with a fork and had great depth and complexity of flavour. It was nuthin’fancy – served up in a pork-fat yorkshire pudding with gravy and nicely sharp house pickles – but it was proper cared-for food. Bourbon and orange cured salmon was a fruity delight too, allowing the flavour of the fish to come through, and with sourdough toast and plenty of green leaves it was still a substantial dish. Jalapeno and smoked onion hush puppies – fritters made with cornmeal batter – were light, crisp, tasty and the significant but sensible chilli heat was spoked with thyme and garlic sour cream.

My guests had admitted they probably wouldn’t have come in from the look of the place, but were by now really pleased they had come along. If the starters were substantial, the mains fully merited the “come hungry, we don’t mess about” warning on the menu. The core of the selection is burgers (28 day aged beef) and a variety of smoked meats – brisket, pulled pork, St Louis cut ribs and so on.

Fenways1

From the burger menu we had the buttermilk fried chicken breast – moist, tasty and well-served by its dressing of avocado, pickles and sweetcorn and pepper relish. The sweet potato fries failed to impress – I tend to avoid them as the moisture content makes them hard to crisp but my friend who generally is a fan found these a bit flabby. I picked the house sausage bun, which came with lashings of the juicy, 14-hour smoked pulled pork. The sausage was a very long way from your traditional banger – more like the traditional Louisiana boudin, it was coarse-textured with a strong tang of offal. This maybe won’t be to everyone’s taste but well done to the chefs for not taking the easy way.

Both these came in a manchet bun, a traditional English bread that the menu claims to be better than brioche – and in this context I’d concur. Firmer and not so sweet, it’s an excellent burger bun.

One more main was 12 hour smoked brisket – copious amounts of beef dripping with a spiced gravy, piles of smooth mash and nicely spiked red cabbage.

We may have been stuffed but in the interests of reviewing we had to try deserts. Salted caramel sticky toffee pudding had been a highlight of The Smokehouse menu and reappears still in very good form – sprinkled with pecans and a touch of popping candy. My guests immediately made plans to bring their 10 year old daughter, a connoisseur of the desert. Key lime pie – sometimes a virulent green cliché – brought a big smile of delight. It was lightly bruléed and gave a great balance of sharp and sweet with a fine dark pastry case.

I was relieved to find that expanding the Smokehouse concept to a bigger and brasher format has been been done without sacrificing too much flair and quality. You’ll need to buy into the concept – it’s not for faint hearts or those who want pretty pictures on a plate – but if you do there’s much to enjoy.

I know I don’t update this blog frequently enough for it to be an important source of news, but every now and again I feel the need for a round-up of stuff and today is one of those times.

First off, we’re getting very close now to the welcome opening of the King Richard III pub on Highcross Street, Leicester.  The website is up, bookings are being taken from 11 April (though the first couple of nights are already full for food bookings it seems).  I’m confident that head chef Chris Elliman, who has done such a good job with Crafty and St Martin’s café, will make this a great addition to the city scene. The menu looks a good combination of classic British roasts done on their Robata grill – a 1 kg dry-aged forerib of beef on the bone for two (£45) sounds a particular treat – and dishes with a little contemporary flair such as agro-dolce onion, sorrel and goat’s curd on sourdough toast (£5.50) and below, crispy spiced lamb roll, pickled red cabbage, yoghurt, green chilli and mint.

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Also coming soon is the opening of what I think of as Plaza Claudio Ranieri – and it seems may actually  be called Champions Square. This is the area that used to be the indoor market and will shortly be a public space. This development is giving a chance for the further expansion of developments around St Martin’s Square. Already happening is the conversion of what was Molly O’Grady’s into the Knight and Garter – a joint development between Beautiful Pubs, Sam Hagger’s company that run the nearby Rutland and Derby  and the Forge Inn in Glenfield, and brewers Everards. This is a lovely , grade II listed building and is set to open in Mid-May with an 82-cover restaurant and an impressive drinks selection with a terrace overlooking the new square. I imagine the food will be of the crowd-pleasing variety but likely to be done well.  It may be  tough to overcome City people’s preconceptions about this site but I reckon Beautiful Pubs are up to the task.

Also brought in by the new square is Oscar and Rosie’s, a highly-rated independent pizza company founded by a Nottingham lawyer.  I’ve never tried their Nottingham outlet but they seem  to have a commitment to high quality ingredients. I’ve not got an opening date yet but it all sounds rather promising.

Opening on 13 April in Loughborough is Fenway’s, the reincarnation of the much-missed Smokehouse from Braunstone Gate.  Fenway’s on Baxtergate is the latest opening form the Orange Tree group and will also have Liam Watson from the Smokehouse heading up the Kitchen. The Leicester restaurant had a great indy feel about it – and indeed came about as a result of the Orange Tree bosses giving a creative young chef the chance to do his own thing. Fenway’s appears to have a more corporately-themed feel about it and a more generic smokehouse menu,  so I hope there’s still the opportunities for the chefs to play and experiment. Good news is that it looks like some of the splendid dishes Liam came up with are still present in some way on the menu  – including 12-hour smoked brisket, smoked ox cheek with house pickles and the legendary sticky toffee pudding with salted caramel sauce.

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Part of Fenway’s menu

 

And finally, another ex Smokehouse chef is Martin Powdrill who also went on to do great work at Cured at Brewdog. He and co-chef Ollie have confirmed they have now have a new venue for their restaurant. More news is promised soon but the restaurant will have a new name to reflect the new location.

 

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