Tipu Sultan

May 31, 2017

Another recent review from my Leicester Mercury column, this time of a remarkable new Indian restaurant – huge in scale, done up like a palace,  but serving village style food. Some of it I loved, some of it needed more love and attention. Interesting whatever…

Tipu Sultan
12-16 The Parade
Oadby
LE2 5BF

No doubt some people want their restaurant reviews to be all about the food. It’s a fair point, but such people will have to bear with me a little this week because there’s so much to say about the this jaw-dropping new restaurant before we even begin to consider its take on food from the North West of the subcontinent.

First off, the sheer scale of the place. It’s been converted and extended from the Old Library pub on The Parade in Oadby. With its upstairs function rooms it can feed some 350 people – I can’t think of another table-service restaurant in the county that comes close. It is attempting to repeat the success of its namesake in Birmingham with which it shares both size and a design aesthetic that takes in huge chandeliers (including in the Gents), gilt ceilings, huge gilded mirrors, deep pile banquette seating in rich purples and more classical Indian artworks than you can shake a dandiya stick at.

You are probably going to either love it or hate it, but you can’t ignore it. I couldn’t count the number of staff present on our midweek visit, but including in the glass-sided kitchen which is open for all to view, it had to be more than 50. The first person you encounter is at the welcome desk, then there’s a designated lady to show to your table – a necessity considering the vast scale of the place – and then a phalanx of busy, likeable, young waiters in smart suits who take orders and set and clear your table, while there’s another class of waiter who bring your food from the pass.

The place was very busy but everything seemed to operate like clockwork – truly impressive. The restaurant is halal and does not serve alcohol, and this appears to be a big draw with the more traditional Asian families. There were lots of big family groups dining – from bearded patriachs to young guys with sharp Riyad Mahrez-inspired haircuts and young kids. Unfortunately the six munchkins near us were rather hyped up and were running noisily around until they got fed – family-friendly is great, but it can have a downside.

Tipu Sultan was the late-18th century ruler of Mysore and a hero of the struggle against colonialism, and this whole show of magnificence is designed to make you feel like an emperor – “Majestic Dining” as their strapline would have it. The food is more representative of Tipu’s Mughal ancestors than of Mysore which is in the Southern state of Karnataka. This means most of it will be familiar to a British audience – seekh kebabs, tikkas and familiar curries plus a few desi-style specialities such as paya (lamb trotters), which you’ll often see in halal butchers but rarely in mainstream restaurants. So the décor may be regal but the food here is by and large home-style, rustic even.

My starter was sultani chops – four large mutton chops marinaded in herbs and spices and flame grilled served with a little salad including a delicious little apple chutney. They were superb. You had to quickly give up any idea of a knife and fork and just pick them and get stuck in (I did wonder why we were presented with a cleansing hot towel before the meal started) . Not as tender as lamb chops (which are also available), this scored very highly for flavour and spicing and were truly enjoyable. We also had sultani pakora – pieces of potato, aubergine, paneer and onion in a spicy batter. Again these were big and tasty rather than refined fine dining – maybe it’s inevitable in such a busy kitchen but the coating was a bit thick and thin in places, maybe it was all a bit rushed.

A main course course of peshwari chicken divided opinion somewhat. A lovely sauce, full of fresh ginger and slow-cooked green peppers had chicken on the bone, which made it tender and tasty but the chicken had really just been hacked up, so they were odd bits of drumstick bone and thigh bone around. I’m happy to try alternatives to breast meat but I felt this needed a bit of delicacy. Bhindhi Gosht was fine – plenty of tasty lamb in a thick sauce and while okra can certainly put some people off, this was cooked very nicely indeed.

Rice was fine and the breads impressed. Kashmiri naan (more commonly known as peshwari) may have lacked a lightness of touch but delivered on nutty sweetness with its almond, pistachio and coconut filling and the roomali roti – a lovely thin bread folded like a handkerchief – was perfect for wrapping tasting morsels and wiping up precious sauce.

So a remarkable, spectacular venue but with food which is more homely and prices which don’t require a sultan’s income – a combination that is likely to attract many.

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Paddy’s Marten Inn

July 28, 2015

Long-term readers of this blog will know I’ve always really enjoyed my trips to Paddy’s Marten Inn. I’ve been again recently for a  review in the Leicester Mercury and had another enjoyable evening with great food. It’s not a smart place, but neither is it one of those “rough diamond” places that no-one would ever guess does good food. It’s just a down-to-earth, simple venue that has great food and a huge following. Here’s the review:

Paddy’s Marten Inn
98 Martin Street
Leicester
LE4 6EU

0116 266 5123

Open: weekdays 5.30pm -10.30pm, weekends 5.30pm-11.pm

Cost – two courses, around £13

8 out of 10

The first time I went to Paddy’s I was to told to watch out for the Audis and Beamers parked along the street. It may be located in an unprepossessing backstreet pub but, said my pal, successful Asian business types now domiciled in Stoneygate still flock back there for great value, desi-style food.

I could understand why. It was a welcoming, unpretentious place offering a great range of food in a buzzing environment. I wasn’t surprised when a few years later in 2011 Jamie Oliver found his way there and featured the place in his Jamie’s Great Britain series, enjoying a trip round Leicester Market with chef Amita Mashru before cooking a dish at the restaurant.

But such fabulous publicity doesn’t always do a place favours. It was already a successful restaurant, would it now get ideas above it self? Move away from the generous, down-to-earth style that made it so popular?

I forced myself back there to check out. As we drove down Martin Street – a dark, sparsely-populated side-street off Catherine Street – I was reassured to have to park up some way from the restaurant, and immediately behind a rather large BMW. Inside the door, again I was pleased again to see nothing had changed. It’s still a resolutely unimproved venue – it’s décor is standard inter-war estate pub, but instead of horsebrasses the walls are adorned with black and white pictures of Bollywood stars.

It’s lack of any contemporary styling though is one of its most appealing aspects. No body is dressed up, no body is trying to impress, everybody is just there to share good food with friends. There are families, couples, big groups and small groups all busily chatting away while cheerful waiters glide around bringing large platters to their tables. It’s one of the most unobtrusively efficient restaurants I’ve ever witnessed.

The choice is wide but you don’t the impression this is a case of there being just one mother sauce in the kitchen with a few additions thrown in here and there to fill out a menu. This is a busy restaurant, with lots of staff, producing lots of fresh food – they can handle a wide menu.

Our starters are wonderful. Crispy chilli aubergine is a dish in the popular Indo-Chinese style – a huge pile of sweet, juicy aubergine bites, given a crisp from a hint of batter which has been stirred through rather covering each piece. With sweet red peppers, spices and a lick of sauce it was fabulous food, though better as a part of shared approach to starters than as a dish to be consumed all on its own. Sheek kebab – four fat sizzling spiced and minced lamb kebabs in a starter portion – were surprisingly delicate and the rangeeli tawa fish were magnificent. A tad oily for some perhaps but lovely firm fillets of fish in vibrant spices from India’s North West. A really exuberant dish.

Despite being rammed on a Tuesday night our waiter was calm, friendly and thoughtful, taking plenty of time to advise on our ordering and explain the dishes. With food this appealing, presented in such quantity (mains all come with rice and naan bread) it’s easy to over order but repackaging of left overs for you to take home is offered as a matter of course. Not that there was any danger of that with my lamb chop curry. Not the tenderest lamb I’ve encountered but these cutlets bore the hallmarks of a long marination and quick grilling. They came in a big bowl of lively sauce and simply cried out to be picked up and gnawed until the last gobbet had gone. Not a first date dish we agreed.

More fish loveliness was had with kathiawadi masala fish – a dryer dish with a fresh, herby masala deriving this time from Gujarat. A third main course was simply billed as “traditional chicken curry”, and with a place such as Paddy’s you feel confident with whatever they deem traditional. Not much more to say other than it was lovely – and you can order it as mild or hot as you fancy.

It’s not easy reviewing Indian restaurants in the UK. Everyone tends to have their favourite and many don’t want to venture much further. But anyone who misses Paddy’s is missing a treat. There is cuisine from all over India, and dishes ranging from homely vegetarian choices such as rajasthani egg curry or gungo peas with fenugreek, to the East African-influenced chicken machoosi and those wonderful spice-laden fish fillets. But it does not play heavily on notions of authenticity – it’s just a place that says “this is our food, come and try it”. And you should.

Q’minn

November 15, 2012

I’ve no idea what went on with Endimaj. Due to open around a year ago, the Indian-Italian-Arabic fusion theme set off all sorts of alarm bells, but the restaurant seemed to be well-backed and its location in the late, generallly lamented, site of Watson’s restaurant by the Phoenix Arts Building on Upper Brown St made it an intriguing prospect. But it never actually opened.

Now it seems there are signs of life.  The name is now Q’minn – though the website remains www.endimaj.co.uk and the triple themed menu is there too. It is currently just open for light lunchs and hence you can get yourself samosa or chicken tikka, bruschetta or baked pasta, and baba ghanouj  or pomegranate chicken wings. Or you can try fusion with panninis such as chicken tikka and hummous or paneer and pesto.

Apparantly they will be open for breakfast and evening meals soon.

Just what we needed?

May 10, 2011

Yesterday I wrote about a big gap being filled with the arrival of a specialist tea and coffee merchant.  Now comes news of the other yawning chasm in Leicester’s culinary scene. Until now we’ve never had a decent Indian/Arabic/Italian fusion restaurant, but Endimaj is about to put that right.

I can’t tell you much more  – the website is still under construction and it’s not actually open just yet – but it is based in the premises of the late, lamented Watson’s in Upper Brown Street, opposite the late, even-more lamented by some, Phoenix Arts.  There’s a little internal square within the old building and that I understand will become a shisha area.  It’s great someone’s using that space again  – unfortunate that it sounds like a gimmick.  But let’s approach it with an open mind  eh?

Chutney Ivy

October 30, 2010

 

[Update 19/2/11 – Groupon people looking for reviews  – why not come back here once  you’ve been and give your views in a comment?] 

Chutney Ivy, the Indian restaurant located in what was once The Quarter near Leicester’s Curve theatre, has made a  low-key start this week, offering a lunchtime buffet at an introductory price of £4.95. Following the recommendation of a reader – thanks  Ben – I gave it a go and was rather pleased I did.

First off, the restaurant has kept the same layout  – a single large, airy room, bar area at one end and an open kitchen. The decor has been given a slight overhaul – sort of  purple and creams  – but it maintains the smart, contemporary feel of its predecessor. The downstairs bar has also been given a makeover and will still be available for those wanting a drink in a smart  hideaway.

The buffet lunch seems a smart move – they offer just a few dishes, cooked in small batches that can be replenished quickly by the chefs behind the coutner.  Starters were a moist, peppery  chicken pakora, thinly sliced potato bhaji  in a very light batter and well-cooked  aubergine bhaji. Poppadums and relishes were there too.  Mains included a creamy korma and what our  friendly waiter discribed simply as chicken curry and kofta curry. All three were good  – distinctive, well-flavoured and nicely spiced. The lamb kofta in particular was excellent. There were also three vegetarian dishes  though I only had some of chickpeas, which needed a bit more bite left in them to my taste.  Rice and frehly prepared naan breads were good.

So, nothing groundbreaking on this evidence but I tasted enough to want to go back to sample the a la carte offering  that will be available in the evening. No menu available as yet though they did promise to email one through soon. Staff were pleasant and seemed eager to please. They obviously haven’t quite got all their routines worked out yet – I had to ask for my change to be returned – but that’s why they sensibly seem to have gone for the soft launch.  Nice restaurant, think it could  do well.

Memsaab

August 30, 2010

I know of several restaurateurs who had a look at moving into the Highcross restaurant quarter but were put off by the rents. The only independent to bite the bullet and take it on from the earliest days was Memsaab, which had  been open – on  and off  – round the corner on Vaughan Way for a few years. They decided to tackle the challenge by keeping more or less the the same menu but taking the place upmarket, and it’s good to report they’re  making  a very able job of it.

You enter into a champange and cocktail lounge , where you are also likely to be serendaded by a live pianist and vocalist.  Ok the red and black colourscheme is a bit hackneyed, but visiting on a  Saturday after a dispiriting home defeat to Reading, the lively buzz about the place immediately started to cheer me up. There were several big birthday parties in but the layout of the place enables the larger groups and  couples and smaller groups to be separated out. Our table for four was in the glass walled section that has a pleasing  view over the urban bustle of  Highcross.    

So full marks for the atmosphere, but fortunately the food is well up to the mark too. It’s a fairly traditional offering  – and doesn’t really reach the culinary heights of its Nottingham namesake – but is nonetheless consistently impressive.  Poppadoms came with a superior set of chuntneys. A starter of chicken shashlick was excellent – three huge chunks of succulent, marinated chicken breast that showed a generous and adventurous hand with the spices.  Chicken and fish pakora, coming  with a lively coriander relish, were very made and well cooked too  – the fish was so good it really should be offered as a choice on its own.  Chilli tiger prawns showed plenty of bite and again the cooking of the prawns was excellent. Considering the sizeable groups that were being served, the kitchen was doing a fine job at getting out the orders on time and in good shape.

Our mains courses dishes all convinced – quality ingredients, lively spicing and accurate cooking.  Lamb dehi wala  was mild and yoghurty, vegetable dhaaalcha was far more interesting than lentils and chickpeas  might suggest while parathas were flakey  and flavoursome.

Service was  good – welcoming and thoughtful. A minor accident in serving the pakora was dealt with speedily and correctly.

There’s a special place in all hearts for our favourite neighbourhood Indian restauarant, a fact that can make us wary of places that offer a bit  more glamour. But Memsaab pulls it off very well.

Go on, go on, Goan

November 4, 2009

Another new restaurant is close to opening on the edge of Highcross. Anjuna bills itself rather curiously as “Indian and Goan”. Much as I like the idea of a Goan restaurant in Leicester,  that soubriquet does ring a few alarm bells  – as if they want to trade on  the cachet of something a little different, while still reassuring punters that, yeah you can till get an onion bhajee and lamb bhuna.  One of the reasons that Granby Street’s Kayal is such a fine restaurant is that they focus on  authentic Keralan food. Now authenticity by itself does not guarantee food being good or bad, but what it does suggest is that a restauarant is confident of its offering,  that it is serving up a cuisine that is tried and tested over generations rather than something trimmed, altered and messed around with in the pursuit of  custom.

I look forward to trying Anjuna in due course nonetheless.  It’s located on Highcross Street, next to the casino in a site that previously housed relatively shortlived Italian and Thai restaurants.

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