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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Ok this is no sort of advance notice, but nobody watches TV at the time of broadcast anymore do they?

If you do though, you might like to watch Peyton and Polizzi’s Restaurant Rescue tonight at 9pm on Channel 5. Assuming  we made the final cut you can see me, my girlfriend Gill and fellow Leicester foodblogger Emily join Oliver Peyton at Indian fine dining venue Lilu on Highcross St.

Oliver P

Oliver Peyton. Not me.

The concept of the programme is to help struggling independent restaurants get back on track. The initial stage sees Oliver (restaurateur and judge from the Great British Menu) turn up with a couple of local food people to do an initial assessment and we went last November. Theoretically we were secret diners, but we were not exactly incognito and indeed we were rumbled the moment we entered. Nonetheless we had a range of clandestine filming and recording devices to capture our impressions. I myself sported some Joe 90 spex complete with tiny camera. Oliver’s job was then to work with Alex Polizzi to diagnose how the restaurant needed to change.

I went to Lilu a couple of years back and, while admiring its ambition, had been a little underwhelmed. More recently though I’ve been a fan of the lovely stuff that is portrayed on their Instagram account (@lilu_fine_dining) – but that of course is pictures, what about the actual food?

Without giving too much away, the verdict of the table was while some of the food was excellent there were issues with menu structure, pricing, and service.  I wasn’t able to go to a “post-diagnosis” meal to see what might have changed, so will be watching with interest tonight.

 

 

 

King Richard III

May 5, 2017

 

Just back from a great trip to Paris including a couple of delightful restaurant meals. Nonetheless, I still have happy memories from the week before of my first meal at the King Richard III, a lovely addition to the city centre. Here’s my review done for the Leicester Mercury.

King Richard III

70 Highcross St

Leicester

LE1 4NN

0116 262 6833

 

Various deranged heads of state seemed to be moving us towards nuclear war. Then it was announced we face a six week election campaign. And then City were knocked out of the Champions League. I needed cheering up.

Fortunately I had a table booked at Leicester’s newest dining pub, the beautifully renovated King Richard III. It’s another edge-of-Highcross location, right next to the Chinese cafe Spicy Temptations which I enthusiastically reviewed here a few weeks ago. The old pub was one of those euphemistically labelled “traditional”, though “rough” was a more commonly heard term. It’s passing has been mourned by a few regulars and a greater number of enemies of progress who would probably never have set foot in the place.

The new pub is a joint venture between Everards and the team behind the successful St Martins Tea and Coffee/Crafty Burger business in St Martin’s. So that’s the heft of Leicestershire’s biggest brewing concern combined with one of our leading nimble and creative independents.

It looks fantastic. Bright, airy, stylish but approachable. The front bar retains a pubby vibe and there are real ales from Leicester microbreweries as well the Everards range. The back room is more of a restaurant space, again looking lovely in green with artworks featuring local scenes by well-known Leicester printmaker Sarah Kirby.

Service is cheerful, friendly and competent, striking a good balance between informality and informed helpfulness throughout. We went only a few days after opening but service routines seemed well established and staff knew the menu well.

That menu is instantly appealing, especially across the starters which are have a light, modern feel based on classic fresh ingredients. Our little party tried a fair few of them. Smoked haddock, clam and leek chowder was beautifully balanced, given a little texture with a sourdough crumb floating on top. Like all the dishes here. it benefitted from being some presented in some really lovely plates and bowls. Chicken kara-age (Japanese fried chicken) was crisp, savoury and well-served by a mouth-tinglingly fresh dipping sauce with spring onion and honey and some strips of pickled kohl-rabi. Then there was sensationally soft and creamy burrata (mozzarella with cream) that was a sheer delight on the mouth and given texture from fresh walnuts and sharpness from pickled beetroot. A real delight.

Then there was an eye-catching crispy spiced lamb roll with lovely moist meat fried in a thin crumb served on pickled red cabbage with yoghurt, chilli and mint – the sort of dish that would earn an ambitious contemporary Indian restaurant great plaudits. Possibly winning the line-up of starters were little queenie scallops in a mini seafood stew with crisp smoked bacon and super-fresh peas (above right).

 Great flavours allowed to simply sing.

The kitchen is very proud of its robata grill, a Japanese-inspired indoor barbecue grill that cooks at very high temperature. It was shown to good purpose on a sirloin steak with a lovely dark, smoky seared outside but nice and rare inside. With a simple bearnaise and a little bowl of a super earthy but sweet mushroom ketchup it again highlighted this venue’s signature approach of high quality produce done simply but with flair. Lamb chops may not have been the sweetest I’ve ever had but again were brilliantly cooked on the grill, coming with a sparkling chimichurri sauce – all the sauces, dips, ketchups and extras here were notably fresh and zingy. We had them with some of the crunchy skin-on fries that fans of Crafty have come to know and love.

From the specials board came perfect roast cod with elegant barbecued cauliflower and romesco, a Spanish sauce made with red peppers and almonds. No need for a bowl of random veg here, these are well thought-out dishes.

There’s just three deserts on the current menu, including a cheese board, and we had a fine, springy, cinnamon dusted doughnut ball with a crème anglaise – or vanilla custard as this resolutely unponcey place lists it – and seasonal Yorkshire rhubarb.

As you can tell, we thoroughly enjoyed the King Richard. Co-owner and chef Chris Elliman, who has headed up fine dining kitchens as well as top-notch burger joints, seems to have nailed his vision of an unprententious dining pub focussed on great contemporary British food with a minimum of fuss. Great roasts, high quality seafood and fresh seasonal ingredients presented with flair but nothing that gets in the way of simple enjoyment.

Meatcure

July 23, 2015

A welcome for “burger shed” Meatcure, which launched its Leicester branch last night and adds another lively, motivated independent outside (just, but definitely outside) of Highcross.

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I reviewed their Harborough operation and was impressed with the burger, the bun, the beer and their general approach.  The grass-fed, dry-aged meat is from Joseph Morris in Kilworth, the brioche bun is the result of a prolonged process of refining with Harborough bakers Emerson and West and the care and attention shows. Having had a few tasters at last night’s launch, the spicy chicken wings and ribs seem pretty good too. The brunch menu served from 9.30 looks appealing too. It’s a simple, stripped down sort of place but should have a quite wide appeal.

Every city needs people with a local commitment doing quality food and, along with Crafty Burger, these guys are showing it can be done for the burger.

Find them at 19 Highcross Street, an area which is now gathering a fair number of interesting places to eat and drink.

 

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