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.

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The Leicester Food Hop

October 2, 2018

If you are looking for a easy to way to get a glimpse into some of Leicester’s more interesting independent food venues – the Leicester Food Hop should be right up your proverbial.

The idea is that on one day  – specifically Saturday 13th October – you can buy a ticket and run your own self-guided, self -timed daytime tour around five venues, each of which will serve you up a drink and a tapas-sized dish that will highlight their food.

salt nd pepper squid

Salt and pepper squid from The Fish and The Chip

The venues involved are The Fish and The Chip, King Richard III, The Knight and Garter, The Parcel Yard, and The Olive  – the Greek street food café on Belvoir Street. It runs between 12pm and 5pm, so you’ve got up to an hour in each venue if you want. Organisers Cool as Leicester will email you a starting venue and suggested route. Tickets are £30 for five dishes and five drinks (small glass wine or half pint of beer) – for details visit Cool as Leicester

It seems to be getting harder and harder to run a proper, sit-down-and-have-a-serious-meal restaurant. The Indian restaurant subset is battling the headwinds – Paddy’s Marten Inn, Kayal and Herb have given me lovely meals in busy environments this summer – but the trend towards informal grazing seems to be gathering pace.

Last year in Leicester we saw the fine dining Maiyango morph into the bright and breezy The Fish and The Chip, a fun and high quality take on the traditional British seaside chippy. Now this month the King Richard III suspends its marvellous menu of steaks and  grills and modern European classics for a three month takeover by Crafty Chicks, which could be interpreted as a gastropub take on the ubiquitous chicken shop (note traditional Sunday lunches are still being served.)

Crafty, of course, is the King Dick’s owners Chris and Andrea Elliman’s brand which offers the city’s best burgers over at St Martin’s Tea and Coffee. The core poultry offering here is Crafty Fried Chicken marinated in a spices and buttermilk, or barbecue chicken grilled on the robata grill with their own barbecue spice rub (two pieces £5, whole jointed chicken £18). The sides are pure Crafty – skin-on fries,  poutine, chipotle coleslaw, watermelon with lime, mint, peanut and chilli etc.  It looks brilliant for casual sharing.

katsu
kimchiI popped in at lunchtime and had a very quick sandwich of katsu chicken (£5, above) – panko-coated fried breast with tonkatsu sauce, kewpie mayonnaise and slaw. It was full of Japanese umami loveliness but the flavours were a bit unfocussed maybe – lacking something central and distinctive. A side of cucumber kimchi was an inspired touch – deceptively spicy. I hope to get back soon for some barbecue chicken.

No doubt some of the issues facing  restaurants are down to seasonal issues  – the World Cup played its part and the extraordinary extended hot summer is not doing restaurants any favours. But there are also longer term trends both cultural and economic that make the £25 plus per head meal out an ever harder sell.

Fair play to the Ellimans for keeping nimble and trying to keep on top of the market. That said, I hope in the winter months we get a chance to try more of their wonderful steaks, warming soups and elegant deserts.

 

 

 

I was at the King Richard III today to do some filming with Leicester chef Kwoklyn Wan and fellow food writer Laura Morrighani for the BBC East Midlands’ Inside Out slot. We had a chat about what people are looking for in restaurants nowadays in the context of the struggles facing several well-known chain restaurants.

Fortunately we also got fed  – which gives me a chance to mention that the KRIII has now introduced a fine grazing menu to complement it’s regular restaurant offering. For those that hadn’t realised,  the pub has a new head chef in the form of Martin Powdrill –  who should be well known to regular readers as the man behind Cured at Brewdog and The Cookie. The grazing menu includes  his signature platters – which the three of us were able to enjoy today – and which  combine terrific breads with innovative cured meats, terrines, cheeses, slaws, purees, pestos,  pickles and other sorts of loveliness.  Shared between three its just over £7 a head and is a lovely way to complement a few beers or glass of wine. Its freshness, originality and creativity also points to just why some of the more formulaic and , let’s face it, mediocre chains have been struggling.

platter

Also available are the likes of ox cheek or Korean pork buns or snacks  (3 for £12.95) such as sesame Japanese wins, pork and black pudding sausage roll with smoked beer ketchup, poutine, beef jerky and jersey royal and cauliflower pakoras.

Food is served from 5.30 pm and at lunchtimes from Friday to Sunday. The grazing menu looks great in itself  but should also serve as good way for newbies to check out this really fine food pub.

As for the filming – transmission won’t be until September but rest assured I’ll remind you nearer the time.

 

 

Beating the January blues

January 18, 2018

A belated happy new year to  all. January can seem to be a bit of a after-the-show non-event in food terms. But it’s good to report there’s some worthy things happening in Leicester.

Last night I had a fabulous dinner at the King Richard III – starting with a heavenly French Onion soup. Nicely caramelised onions in a lovely brown stock hid under a coverlet of croutons and a thick layer of gooey melted cheese. Served in a mini-marmite and twith top-notch sourdough toast and salted butter it was a really well-done French classic. Also impressing was a generous serving of salt and pepper calamari with impeccably crisp batter and zingy mayonnaise.

french onion kriii

 

Main courses highlighted the kitchen’s robata grill and the awesome smokey char it imparts. From the grill menu, the onglet steak was simply gorgeous with an almost gamey flavour, while the chips, onion ring and portobello  mushroom accompaniments were spot on.  Lamb chop and leg steak were equally as good, with a dauphinoise of spectacular richness and a pot of mushroom ketchup that was ideal for chip-dipping.

onglet kriii

Food this good  (I’m not sure I’ve had better steak in the city) is a pleasure enough, but for the whole of January there’s 20 per cent of food prices making it an extraordinary bargain – that onglet with the discount just about struggled to make it over a tenner.

Also brightening up the winter is news that San Carlo on Granby Street is introducing the cicchetti menu (think Venetian tapas) that has proved successful in their restaurants in London and Manchester. And from 26th January to 12 February (only until 5pm on Saturdays) there will be 50 per cent off dishes such as truffled burrata with parma ham, spaghettini with prawns and mussels, lobster risotto and Tuscan fish stew.

The Leicester restaurant has just been named UK Restaurant of the Year by Les Routiers, so this big discount is a great opportunity to try out their new approach.

Also intriguing me are two pop-ups launching in January. Building on the runaway success of both Canteen at the Depot and of the St Martin’s area, is the Cank Street Dining Club. I’ve not got to the bottom of who’s behind it, but their claim is “We take the elements we like best from different Street Food Cultures around the world and combine them to create our own dishes”. Apparently this means the likes of Korean galbi beef tacos, yakitori chicken and jerk pork loaded fries. It’s located on Cank Street, opposite Paper Tiger, and is open from 11.45 am to 8.30pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until 10 February. Vegan alternatives, natch.

KAIele6Also in St Martin’s is Kai, a stylish café which hasn’t quite pulled me in yet for its daytime menu of brunches, Buddha bowls and curries. I definitely intend to give it a try soon, including its pop-up incarnation on weekend evenings as the Yellow Elephant (as in Black Horse, Red Lion etc) doing  – loosely – Indian fusion version of pub classics. Hence crab and prawn scotch with lemon and chilli pickle, chicken tikka burger in a naan wrap and thali curries.

So, plenty of new year options for jaded palates.

 

 

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.

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