I paid a visit last week to  a corner shop in Wigston that is taking a brave new approach to retailing.

Many Leicester food lovers will know Pratik Master for the indefatigable enthusiasm he brings to the running of his top-end Indian restaurant Lilu. Now he’s turning his attentions to the family shop on Carlton Drive in the heart of suburban Wigston. On Saturday 2 March Master’s General Store will relaunch as the News and Deli – which will continue with newspapers and other basics for the local community but will also be a platform for the region’s finest artisan food producers.

MastersOut go the bottles of Echo Falls and in comes both excellent Leicestershire wine from Rothley and fine bottles from the list at Lilu. The standard sliced bread will be replaced by loaves from Hambleton Bakery and Bisbroke Artisans, with fine dairy products from the highly regarded Vine House Farm. Leicester producers and retailers such as Gelato Village, Cocoa Amore, Choux’tique and Christopher James deli will also be represented and no-waste retailers Nada will be supplying a wide variety of dry goods.  The kitchens at Lilu will also be producing items such as their popular pineapple relish for sale at the deli to complement fine cheeses and locally-cured charcuterie.

“What was clear was the shop as it had been was not really working,” said Pratik. “My Dad’s heart was no longer really in it and he was ready to retire. The family felt we needed to do something more, and since running the restaurant I’ve got to know many fine local producers .  I phoned around and asked them if they felt they’d like a stage where they could showcase their produce and I think I got to number 15 before I got  a no. ”

So during February Pratik, wife Bee and family and friends have been clearing out the old stock, making arrangements with new suppliers and converting the shop from a run of the mill newsagent to an atmospheric deli. The opening day event on 2 March (10am to 2pm) will see a wide range of producers present on the day to introduce their wares to locals, and others will be there over the following Saturdays. If you want to follow on social media look out for #notjustacornershop. Sadly I’ll be eating fish in a port-side restaurant in the Algarve at the time but looking forward to revisiting in March to see how it’s going.

  • News and Deli, 29 Carlton Drive, Wigston, Leicestershire LE18 1DF

 

 

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.

Gelato in the Square

October 16, 2017

Details out today of the Gelato in the Square festival put together by Gelato Village.  Daniele and Antonio have been regularly going back to Italy and building a name for themselves in the gelato fraternity – with such effect that the flow is being reversed and some of Italy’s top makers are coming over to Leicester to celebrate all things gelato and  the Slow Food approach in general.

Over the weekend of 27-29 October there will be a huge range of talks, demonstrations and events in the St Martin’s Square café. Every hour or so from 11am on Friday there will be presentations from both local partners such as Belvoir Ridge Creamery who supply their milk and from also Italian artisans such Paolo Brunelli, a man celebrated as the “visionary poet” of gelato.

Others will talk about wine, biscuit and cone making, while local bars and restaurants will also be represented with Charlotte Wood from Manhattan 34 leading a session on cocktails and gelato and Antoni Scarpatti of Anstey’s marvellous  Sapori will address food matching.

There will also of course be chances to sample and purchase exciting flavours of gelato made in Leicester by the visiting makers. It all looks an lot of fun. All events are take place in the shop and are free on a first come first served basis. The full programme is attached below, and should be readable once you click on the images.

Gelato Village wins big

August 2, 2017

 

gelatovillage_1Many congratulations to Gelato Village  in St Martin’s for gaining two star awards for three of its flavours in the Great Taste Awards.  This is one of the most highly-respected of such schemes and only about 15 per cent of the awards are at two star level. The winning flavours were pistachio, hazelnut and almond and orange. Great to have such fine produce available our city centre.

I spent an interesting hour last night  in St Martin’s Square at one of Gelato Village’s Gelato Bites events, which are giving food enthusiasts a chance to hear from some of the brilliant food producers and retailers in our county.

The event saw a presentation from Alan Hewson, whose herd of Red Poll cows at Eastwell , north of Melton, not only supply the milk and cream for Gelato Village but also for their Jamie Oliver-endorsed Colwick Cheese, traditional local  brie-a-like Slipcote cheese and the summertime hard cheese Ironstone.

The Hewsons, like the Gelato Village lads, support Slow Food principles and reject the high yield at all costs approach, farming with rare breed cattle that produce maybe only a third of the intensively pushed dairy breeds. These smaller, hardier breeds can spend almost all of the year outdoors and over the coldest months can get by on hay, silage and a salt-lick. The Hewson’s don’t homogenise or standardise the milk, producing milk which not only has a cleaner, lighter taste but which is a genuinely seasonal product  – one that changes as the composition of the meadow  grasses change over the year.

The quality of the milk  – which won best in show at last year’s prestigious Nantwich Cheese Show – contributes directly to the quality of the gelato. That much was perfectly clear on the night from our tastings of the milk and GV’s Fior de Latte (“Blossom of the Milk”), the simple basic gelato which is the touchstone of quality for any producer. The read-across in flavour was clear.

 

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Fior  de latte

 

 

Gelato Village is the only producer in the UK that makes all is product with the milk of a single herd. And an exceptional herd from the same county too. We should treasure both of them.

Future Gelato Bites events will be on Tuesday 14 and 21  March  and will look at matching gelato with pudding wines, and in what’s said to  be a world first, a beer and gelato matching event. Cost is £10, more details and booking information here, or avoid a booking fee and enquire in-store.

 

It’s good to see that Cocoa Amore has successfully relocated to the St Martin’s area, further fuelling the sense that there’s a high quality independent food and drink cluster emerging there.

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The company has relocated from Silver Arcade to larger, two-story premises on Silver Street. I was fortunate to get a Wonkaesque Golden Ticket for their launch last week and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening checking out not only their great chocolates – single estate nibs through to really superior truffles – but some savoury dishes too. Canapes included smoked duck breast and mackerel on chocolate bread – which all worked surprisingly well.

The new shop is licensed and while not promoting itself as a bar, matching chocolate with wines and spirits is going to be of the attractions.

Upstairs is the production area and space for workshops where couples and small groups can learn about chocolate production around the world and make their own chocolates.

Self-taught chocolatier Pete Gardener (right) with Alan Pomfrett at the Cocoa Amore relaunch

Owner and self-taught chocolatier Pete Gardener (right) with Alan Pomfrett at the Cocoa Amore relaunch

The business was only formed three years ago and has won numerous awards, including being one of  only ten businesses to be invited to take part in the Chancellor’s Downing Street Christmas Market. I won’t hold that against them though and look forward to see them thrive in their location, just a few yards from great businesses such as St Martin’s Tea and Coffee and Crafty, Gelato Village, the Case and its Champagne Bar and the soon-to-be-opened Burleigh’s Gin Parlour.

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