Kayal and the Hairy Bikers

December 13, 2011

I’ve been a big fan of Kayal since it first opened and have got to know Jaimon Thomas and his team well as they have expanded from their Leicester base to open in Nottingham and Leamington  Spa.  But sometimes you just don’t get round to going back to your old favourites. After a gap of around six months I’ve been twice in the last couple of weeks and am pleased to say it’s in great form.

I tried a few new dishes including a super fish soup that was as smooth and flavoursome as a classic lobster bisque, a fiery starter of adipoli kozhi – tender chicken pieces with chunks with onions, black pepper ginger chillies and shavings of coconut, and main courses  such as pala beef chaps which is beef with mushroom pepper sauce and spicy beans, spicy potatoes and crunchy matchsticks of bread.  Other favourites were consistently good.  Kottayam egg fry doesn’t exactly sound over appealing – “batter fried boiled egg with chutney” – but is a complete delight, with heavenly freshly-spiced sauce. Tilapia pollichattu – the fish being wrapped in banana leaf which seems to seal in in falvours and succulence – features another superb spice mix.  Ammmachi piddiyum kozhiyum was a great chicken dish served up with rice dumplings in coconut sauce – the dumplings were fairly anonymous and  too glutinous to my taste but again the spicing in the dish was top-notch.

The Hairy Bikers with Jaimon Thomas (right) and colleagues outside Kayal

The restaurant seems permanently packed and there’s a great buzz about the place. I’ve heard some complaints of service being slow – though I’d attribute this more to fresh food and busy-ness rather than a staff attitude problem. Prakash heads up front of house in Leicester and I’ve rarely met someone more committed to customer service.

Anyhow I’m pleased to give them a further plug especially as they feature on TV this coming Friday 16 December at 3.45pm in the Hairy Bikers Best of British programme on BBC2. Jaimon Thomas used to zoom around Kerala on a bike and his old Royal Enfield has pride of place in the restaurant.  The Hairy Bikers were there though to learn dosa making skills  – and it’s worth bearing mind by veggies disappointed when Kayal morphed from the vegetarian Halli that its masala dosas are great,  up there with best I’ve ever tasted.

The HB’s visit follows on from Jamie Oliver visiting Paddy’s Marten Inn and Hugh Fernely Whittingstall’s recent visit to Indigo which included a dosa-making stint at a lavish wedding at De Montfort Hall (still available I think somewhere on 4OD).  Great to see our restaurants recognised in this way.


The Big Eat

September 29, 2011

I’ve somehow seemed to miss out on the early publicity for this, but Leicester’s Big Eat looks like a worthwhile intiative. On 6 October 40-odd restaurants, cafe and bars  in the city centre will be doing two-for-ones or other special offers and events. This includes venues such as Chutney Ivy (which will have Indian and English singers in for the night) Kayal, The Case, The Boot Room, Rutland and Derby and Cedars Lebenese which be hosting belly dancing. The precise offer varies so make sure you have a browse of the offical information (Click here).

Given the depressing news this week about the failure to thrive of Market Corner, it would be good to have the city heaving with people enjoying their food.


Diary dates

August 23, 2010

In the absence of  restaurant stuff – I’ve not been able to get out much recently – let me remind readers of a couple of upcoming events. Belgrave  Hall Good Food Fair is a lovely little event taking place this year on 18 and 19 September from 11am to 4pm.  It’s a farmer’s market type gethering  in the beautiful gardens of this 18th century gem – a quiet little haven right next to the busy Loughboorugh Road in Leicester.  As well as retail opportunities there’s usually a couple of entertaining little displays put on and it’s well worth a couple of hours visit. Entrance £1/kids free. 

Much bigger in scale is the East Midlands Food Festival, 2-3 October at Brooksby Hall, near Melton Mowbray.   For those who’ve never been, this is the region’s biggest such event attracting  several thousand visitors and hundreds of exhibitors.  I generally come back with sackfulls of chutney because that’s my particular weakness, but those with a penchant for cheeses, rare breed and exotic meats, breads, beers,  kitchen equipment and whatever are well catered for. Must admit I give the kitchen demonstrations a miss but if you have a thing about  c-list TV chefs then that could be the clincher. Entrance this year  has been reduced to £5 when you pre-book.  

The two events bookend Leicestershire  Food Fortnight, which also sees a fair few local producers putting on tasting events or demostrations and tours, while some restaurants are putting on gourmet evenings. For a brochure of events visit   Go Leicestershire .

One final piece of news  – a third branch of Kayal is set to open today in Leamington Spa, bringing its enticing Keralan menu and high standards of service to a new audience in the West Midlands. Good luck to Jaimon Thomas and his team.

A good turnout for Sunday’s food festival and an all-round good vibe. It’s reassuring  when so many people want to come out in search of good food and hopefully many will have found something.  The only mildly irritating  factor is the narrow access between market stalls which quickly clogs up with buggys, mobility scooters and so on, but  better a bit of a crush than tumbleweed.  

There were plenty of good quality meats, cheeses, pies etc along with some great hot food from a range of city restaurants. Highlights for me were some wonderfully fragrant Italian sausages from the Squisito stall, a couple of halves of Malt and Two Veg – a brew from Langton’s made specially for  the market and Elizabeth’s, a stall full of mouthwatering pastries that emphasises that the city could really do with a top-notch patisserie. One thing I could do without is the current obsession with cupcakes – there seemed to be thousands of the brightly coloured but dull little cakes. Now we’ve had the last – surely – Sex and the City film maybe we can all move on.

I think there’ll be another winter festival – and I’m looking forward to the game stalls already. Let’s hope the good turnout encourages an even wider turnout of producers.

more bleeding cupcakes <sigh>kayal

Restaurant round-up

May 29, 2010

This post is mainly about expanding small chains. Keralan restaurant Kayal will shortly be opening its third branch in Leamington Spa and should attract people out from Western Leicestershire and Brum as well as the students and lecturers from University of Warwick  who inhabit this leafy town. I’m pleased they’ve closed this deal because I know they’ve been trying for a while to expand, having been close to opening in Newark before the credit crunch closed in.

Bistrot Pierre is starting to outgrow its East Midlands origins. It also has a Leamington branch and opened its first new build premises in Sheffield. It is now due to open its eighth site in Harrogate later this month with another in Ilkley not far behind.

And love him or loathe him, you can’t keep Jamie Oliver down and he’s now breaking into the East Midlands to open a branch of his Jamie’s Italian franchise on Low Pavement in Nottingham. I tend to think he’s a good thing, despite cringing at menu items labelled “My amazing chicken salad”.  I suspect the food will be better than most Italian chains and he’s very welcome to take over Prezzo in Leicester if he wants.

Entropy isn’t expanding – yet – but they are continuing to come up with some novel marketing ideas. It’s not a cheap bar – which is fair enough – but it is making an effort to do something for its core audience. There’s a post-work happy hour from 4.30 to 6.30, but more intriguingly they are trying to pull in punters on a Monday night by offfering the chance to toss a coin whether you pay or not. You’ll have to book and I’m not sure how long it ‘s going on for but it’s got be worth a go eh? Look out too for their occasional scavenger hunts, where the first people to come with a specific rare object – this week it was a half-penny coin – get rewarded with a free meal or drink.

Bank Holiday Fun

May 27, 2010


I’ve been meaning to publish a reminder about Leicester’s summer Food and Drink Festival, but it’s rather snuck up me. So apologies for the short notice but if you’re not too far from the English East Midlands and are looking for a Bank Holiday weekend activity, get down to Leicester Market on Sunday from 11am to 5pm for what should be a fun celebration of regional food and drink. 

There will be 250 stalls, cookery demonstrations from chefs including Phillip Sharp of Maiyango and Ajith Nair of Kayal , and there’s plenty of stuff laid on for kids too. For adults only there is a drinks area including Leicestershire cider, a mixology demonstration from a city cocktail bar, and the launch of  a new brew from Langton’s brewery in honour of Leicester Market.  

To get a pdf of the festival guide – click here

Granby Street hot spot

March 6, 2010

The success of Kayal on Granby Street in Leicester (and in Nottingham too)  has brought a competitor into the market in the shape of Dakshin. Owners had previously run a simple vegetarian takeaway on Belgrave Road, now they’ve taken on Kayal with a pan-South Indian  restaurant located right opposite, above the Polish grocery Wisla. A quick look at the menu shows they are undercutting Kayal and broadening the menu to include Keralan, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh dishes. Rather sadly they couldn’t resist adding a section  they call “Indian” to include curry house standards. I’d be surprised if they match the standards provided over the road, but  it will be interesting to see. Reports welcome.


January 3, 2010

I must declare an interest with Kayal. It’s a business I’ve admired and supported since first reviewing it for Metro when it opened on Granby Street in Leicester as Halli, a vegetarian restaurant featuring distinctive Karnatakan cuisine. Since then, and following its reincarnation in Nottingham and Leicester as the Keralan restaurant Kayal, I’ve become good friends with boss Jaimon Thomas.  But everyone gets a warm greeting at Kayal – one reason why the restaurant was packed out on 2 January,  not generally the industry’s favourite night of the year.

The menu here features traditional, hearty  Keralan dishes. There’s nothing fancy or faddish, no fusion-led world tapas but time-honoured recipes gathered from family members and finessed through a thorough grounding in the hotel and restaurant  industry of South India.  So yes it is spicy Indian food  but is  is refreshingly different to the staple fare of the British tandoori.  We were a group of 15 celebrating a birthday – and started by sharing a couple of large seafood platters involving crisp squid rings in a spicy batter, juicy prawns given a smilar treatment, fish cutlets and crab legs in a sauce so incredibly moreish it was almost frightening.  

Kerala is a state with not just a long coastline  but a huge network of backwaters which explain the wonderful seafood dishes. Kayal’s range of fish curries are well worth exploring, but this time my main was  cheera erachi, a festive lamb dish derived from the region’s sizeable Christian community, which slow cooks the lamb with spinach, turmeric, onions red chillies and a host of other spices.  As with all Kayal dishes, it had a rewarding complexity from extensive use of fresh spices. I had it with bathura, a  delightfully light and fluffy bread.

We finished by picking at an extremely rich and sweet birthday South Indian cake, presented with  a serenade of Happy Birthday from staff, and a little bowl of payasam, a light ,fragrant milk pudding with nuts, raisins and tiny vermicelli noodles. 

Relaxed, informal and welcoming, Kayal combines palate-pleasing food with a service ethos that warms the heart. It’s heartily recommended.

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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