Lilu

March 23, 2018

I mentioned recently my involvement with the Channel 5 programme Restaurant Rescue which put Leicester restaurant Lilu under the microscope. I didn’t write a review of that visit late year given the somewhat artificial nature of the visit and the fact that maybe it would change once Alex Polizzi and Olver Peyton had given their verdict.

Now though I thought time was right to go back under my own steam and see what has changed. The short answer, is very little. Polizzi and Peyton advised owner Pratik Master to drop his prices and the set price and introduce an a la carte menu. But he and his chef JP are not interested in competing with traditional curry houses. The vision is a traditional fine dining approach but which highlights Indian food. So there’s no long list of curries  but a limited menu – five or six choices of starter and mains – of meticulously plated dishes using fine ingredients.

The pricing does set it apart from more mainstream restaurants – two courses for £35 is a big ask for people who might look at £20 as a more typical spend in an “Indian restaurant”. Oliver Peyton’s argument was that in a set price menu everyone would pick the big ticket items – rack of lamb, soft shell crabs – and he would never make money. Pratik feels that is what set them apart and feels the set price approach gives clarity.

So, what do you get for your money? Complimentary poppadoms may not be that unusual but here there are six distinctive and vibrant housemade chutnies and sauces – the pineapple was especially tangy. And then while we waiting for starters there were two more amuse bouches. A little pani puri – beautifully presented – was a nice little little flavour bomb of herbs and spices and a spiced tomato soup had something of the feel of a hot Bloody Mary. Absolutely delicious.

My starter was a salmon fillet, rather too politely spiced I felt, but that allowed plenty of salmon flavour through. It came on an aloo tikki-style disc (a spiced potato cutlet) with a couple of other cheffy touches of edible flowers and tamarind-infused sauce. It was very good – I don’t want to labour the point but this was not usual curry house fare. Gill’s starter was Mumbai chaat – a street food dish of crispy pastry shells with filling of spiced and herbed potatoes along with crunchy sev – little pieces of chickpea noodles – along with tangy tamarind sauce and pomegranate-spiked yoghurt. There’s a solid tradition of this snack food being elevated to grander surroundings and here your invited to create your own combination at table. It felt fun and it tasted lovely.

We avoided the lamb and the crab – we’d tried them on the Channel 5 visit and had very positive memories. This time I went for the “game of the day” choice which was duck. This was a simply presented but perfectly cooked breast, rubbed with with well-judged spice mix and coming with dabs of fruity yoghurt and bramble gel and a pot of thick, rich chocolate-infused sauce. There was a tower of spicy potatoes and tomatoes t and while each element was fine it maybe needed a more fluid sauce to bring it all together.

Gill’s dumpukht biriyani-based thali was acknowledged as a dish in development but it was a complete stunner. The pastry-encased rice centrepiece, vented with an artfully-folded poppadom was fragrant with rosewater and tender pieces of lamb. Around it sat half a dozen bowls – a great lamb chop curry, a beautifully balanced dhal, okra, yoghurt, tandoori-spiced paneer and crunchy kachumber salad. Oh yes and a little mango lassi too. This was a great showcase for the kitchen’s skill and indeed Indian cuisine in general.

A shared desert was another treat – delicatelyfloral rose kulfi was paired with a quenelle of smooth, dark chocolate ganache on a crunchy chocolate base. A delicate combination well worth keeping space for.

With the little amuses, the blingy wine list, and the refined presentation, all the grammar of contemporary fine dining is here. But this is not a stuffy environment, service is skilled and helpful but the ethos is very clearly focused on customer satisfaction. Pratik himself is a down-to-Earth presence with an infectious enthusiasm for his food.

Lilu does a very capable job of offering a sophisticated version of a cuisine this country sometimes thinks of as just comfort food. It’s not going to be for everyone, not least because of the price, but it’s run with love and is a welcome option for those looking to explore beyond curry house standards.

* Follow their website or Instagram feed  for some excellent frontline reports of how they are developing dishes – more inspiring than my somewhat pitiful efforts above.

 

 

 

 

 

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