Marabel

June 30, 2017

As most readers will know I’ve been reviewing for the Leicester Mercury for the last couple of years, and putting some of the more interesting reviews on here. Sadly the paper has decided to take the reviews “in house” – meaning they don’t have to pay an experienced freelancer like me but a staffer can do it as part of their job. Freelance people of any stripe will be aware of this phenomenon.

So no more Mercury reviews here I’m afraid – but I will try and keep the blog going with whatever news and reviews I can manage under my own steam. Here’s the last review done for the Mercury, based on an enjoyable couple of visits to a new Italian restaurant in Stoneygate.

 

 

Marabel

21 Allandale Road
Leicester
LE2 2DA
0116 270 3222

 

‘It’s not that “nouveau cuisine” is it?” asked the middle-aged man, warily. The waiter had just started to explain to him that Marabel is a cicchetti restaurant, featuring small plates for sharing and he seemed to feel he might be left hungry. Maintaining his equilibrium with admirable poise, the waiter suggested how he might like to order and assured him that the food would be nice and filling.

marabel1I suspect his little cameo may have been played several times over the last month since Marabel opened in the premises that previously housed the bar Mason and Brooke. Even in a place as apparently sophisticated as Stoneygate the concept of cicchetti doesn’t seem to have trickled down into the zeitgeist in the same way as tapas. But it is essentially the same concept, starting in the bars of Venice as simple sandwiches or snacks served with a drink, and later becoming pretty much synonymous with small versions of the national cuisine in a restaurant setting.

Marabel’s menu is a wide ranging collection of enticing Italian dishes at around £4 to £6 each plus the odd Spanish influence (patatas bravas should make the tapas penny drop). Appetisers such as San Daniele prosciutto with parmesan and aged balsamic set the tone for dishes that major on good ingredients treated simply and with a strong sense for flavour combinations. And on our first lunchtime visit that’s exactly what we got.

WP_20170601_007Crab piadinas (above) were delightful – flat breads stuffed with a well-balanced combination of crabmeat, lemon and mascapone. Pea and basil arancini were similarly excellent – deep-fried rice balls in a thin, crisp crumb with a garlicky mayonnaise, while a spinach and rocket salad was simple and fresh with plenty of thick shavings of parmesan. More substantial was a pasta dish of penne with 12-hour cooked beef ragu, a dish you’ve no doubt cooked at home but here was a genuine depth of flavour that made it restaurant-worthy. The same criteria I suppose applied to a lamb skewer (below – slatophobes fear not,  you do get provided with plates too) which had had been marinated in an oil, paprika chilli and mint to very good effect – the meat had been threaded with onions and peppers and barbecued in a clay oven.

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All these dishes were very well seasoned and dressed with herbs, crumbs, parmesan or oil – they felt cared for and designed to please.

The restaurant also describes itself as a wine bar and indeed the wine list is excellent, bearing the clear imprint of Simon March of Evington’s on Evington Rd. A shame then only two of each colour seem to be available by the glass. We certainly enjoyed the inevitable pinot grigio and a light, easy-going Bardolino that was full of cherries, but with Evington’s being my local shop I’m familiar with the wines on that list and with food as full-flavoured as this it would have been good to try something with more oomph such as the Marius Reserva from Southern Spain or the Salice Salentino Sampietrana from Puglia.

Anyway, I was keen to go back for an evening meal and this time picked some of the heftier dishes. Belly of pork was terrific, with soft, unctuous meat with sweet apple sauce and crispy sage leaves. The chicken cacciatora (literally hunter’s chicken) certainly had plenty of flavour but to my taste the tomato sauce was over-reduced and the dish was left a little dry, especially as only breast meat appeared to have been used. My mamma’s version (ok, granted, she’s from Battersea not Bologna) used moist leg and thigh meat and had plenty of sauce. A final dish of wild mushrooms in a creamy, garlicky sauce was exactly as it should be, ludicrously indulgent and terrifically tasty.

There’s little here that breaks boundaries or which will change your opinion of Italian cuisine but the food appears to be lovingly prepared by people who care about flavour and know how to treat ingredients. The environment and the service are very pleasant too. I think the format works a little better for a light lunch rather than a slap-up dinner but this is good food that will keep local peers such as neighbours Timo and Queens Rd tapas bar Barceloneta on their toes.

 

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San Carlo, Leicester

September 24, 2015

Here’s my recent Leicester Mercury review of San Carlo.

San Carlo
38 Granby Street
Leicester
LE1 1DE

0116 251 9332
Open – Mon to Sun 12pm-11pm

I’ll say straight away that I think every city should have a restaurant like San Carlo. A place where the napery is blinding white, the glasses, mirrors and cutlery shine, the waiters are smart and there is a cheerful buzz coming from both the clientele and the open kitchen. It’s the kind of place that lawyers in American films will go for important lunches, the kind of place you take someone to impress.

Some will probably dislike it for those very reasons, swearing by their unpretentious neighbourhood place. But it’s horses for courses and to be frank, we’re not overwhelmed with this variety of sophistication in Leicester. So I had a good feeling walking through the doors on a busy Friday night, to be greeted with a cheery “Buona sera” by a cordon of avuncular Italian men in suits.

The last time I was there it was to meet Aldo Zili, the celebrity chef who has sold off his restaurants and acts now as consigliere to the still privately-owned San Carlo groupa trusted adviser dispensing disinterested guidance, with occasional visits to rally the troops in the kitchen with a bit of stardust and enthusiasm. That visit featured some stellar food, demonstrating what can be great about Italian food done simply and with great ingredients.

Would these qualities still be on show on a regular Friday night? They certainly were evident in our complementary crostini, spread with a creamy anchovy paste delivering a hefty punch of salty fishiness. Even more so in an outstanding starter of marinata di verdure – aubergine, green pepper and courgette thinly sliced, briefly grilled and marinated in fresh mint, extra virgin oil, garlic and chilli. It brought out the flavours of the vegetables beautifully and with some first-rate buffalo mozzarella and well-dressed leaves it was a delight. Another starter of Faggotini San Carlo featured lovely little money-bag parcels of pasta with a light ham filling and a creamy wild mushroom sauce. Not cutting-edge innovation, but none the worse for that.

I’ve heard comments from people who find the service at San Carlo to be somehow arrogant and unhelpful. And yes there is air of “we know best”, but then they probably do and I find it quite a pleasant change to be served by experienced older people who have spent their lives in restaurants rather than keen but gauche students.

More good cooking was on show with a main course of tagliolini aragosta, a suitably bling dish for the surroundings of a half lobster adorning a mound of thin pasta mixed with a lobster claw meat, fresh peas, cherry tomatoes, finished with brandy and cream. Grilled hake was simpler but perfectly done, with a few fresh herbs, some crunchy, thinly sliced sautéed potatoes and a light, buttery sauce. The dish need some extra vegetables, which does start to push the bill up, but the wonderfully crunchy French beans doused in butter were so good I would not have wanted to miss them. The wine list is, obviously Italian, and our bottle of Soave was crisp, dry and elegant – perfect for our fish.

A cheese board was ridiculously huge – including large chunks of good but not exceptional gorgonzola, tallegio and pecorino that no-one could comfortably finish. Smaller hits of something more interesting would have been preferable. Torta sette velli (the Sicilian “seven veils cake”) was rich and decadent, alternating layers of chocolate mousse, sponge and hazelnut cream to great effect

The only real downside of our night was the being seated next to a table of three young women who stared at the phones all night, barely speaking, hardly touching their food and generally doing their best to suck the atmosphere out of the place. But that’s my problem and hardly San Carlo’s fault – the restaurant delivered some fine food in an otherwise lively, smart and enjoyable setting.

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?

Boboli

March 29, 2010

The Boboli Gardens are a celebrated sculpture park in Florence and, it seems, a favoured place for Sarah  and Lino Poli, chef patrons of Kibworth’s Firenze, regularly lauded as one of the UK’s best Italian restuarants. So Boboli was chosen as the name for their second, more informal  restaurant, in the same village (more or less) on the other side of the A6.

I’ve always  admired the slick (in a good way) fashion in which they promote and market their restaurants and how they make themselves a part of the community through events such as fundraising dinners for a community centre and engagement with local primary schools.  The food ain’t bad either.

Boboli is a light and airy place with stylish artworks all around, including wonderful photographs of Venice by Mike Burton ( www.anothervenice.co.uk). It bills itself as a pizzeria  but there is a more extensive  menu which  the three of us arriving for a lazy Friday lunch were keen to  explore. Each of us started with a variety of cold meats. PJ had an English take on carpaccio – ultra-thinly sliced rare roast beef with salad of rocket and thick shavings of a tangy paremsan; I had porchetta,  rolled and sliced fatty pork with some tremendous pickles and a slightly too cold potato salad; Sarah had the plate of mixed cured meats – mortadella, salamis and parma ham with more great pickled veg. These were all tasty,  stylcured meatsish dishes.

For mains, two of us had braised shoulder of lamb with a pine nut crust. This was lamb of the slowcooked rustic variety rather than pink and sweet, but  what it lacked in delicacy it made up for in flavour and it was well-matched with a lightly mashed winter root veg and a full flavoured sauce (below).

 braised lamb shoulder

Sarah had the roast belly of pork, well-cooked and offering  a pleasing combination of textures, served with paremsan-topped fennel (below). Service was a little distracted but I’ll cut them some slack as we arrived just after a big party of young school kids who needed a lot of attention, but great to see them enjoying some quality restaurant  food (and fortunately not seated near us).

With Firenze picking up awards as a fine dining destination and Boboli now open all day with a more casual approach, you’d have to say the Polis have a done a great job at assessing their relatively affluent South Leicestershire market and giving them what they want.

belly of pork, fennel

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