Taps etc

February 16, 2016

Below the picture is  a recent review for the Leicester Mercury of  city centre bar/restaurant Taps. I liked it, and while it may not be the best food in the city, it’s definitely a well-run place in a lovely building and is an adornment for the city.

The owners of Taps are becoming significant players in the city centre. They are in the process of converting one of Leicester’s very few medieval buildings  – Wygston’s House on Applegate – into a “high end”restaurant which will focus on local produce. And at the other end of the scale they own, and are now closing, the Lamplighter’s which, no way of getting round this, is probably  the city centre’s dodgiest pub.

It’s a bit of a conundrum this. At one level this daytime karaoke, Dodge City lager pub is a liability to folks trying to run more sedate  businesses in the area. On the other hand, I hear the Police (and no doubt some other licensees)  quite like the fact it corrals trouble into one place and it gives them a likely  venue to find people of interest. Apparently it’s nice and profitable too.  But where are people who don’t fit in elsewhere going to go  – and how exactly do we control the more chaotic elements anyway?

Whatever, the owners have, to the acclaim of other local businesses, decided to give up trying to tame the place and are converting it into a 1950’s rock’n’roll American diner.



Sometimes you realise you’ve misjudged a place. Taps, for me, is one such.

I knew the building of course – one of central Leicester’s gems. It’s a photogenic, 17th century building close by the Cathedral and Guildhall and has a beautiful atmospheric interior full of nooks and crannies. That includes a basement area that has you working out just how far you were from that car park and that king.

In the early noughties it was for a while a fondly-remembered fine dining venue known as the Opera House. In 2008 it became Taps, a bar with the distinctly unusual feature of being able to pour their house lager from a tap at your own table. It seemed it a bit of a novelty, but eventually the realisation dawned that this was a bar that was serious about beer. It has a good collection of classic Belgian and international beers, and indeed a fine selection of gins, bourbons and other spirits. The food though? Again it took a while for the penny to drop that this had developed into a bar/restaurant and that over time the menu has become really quite interesting –

There’s burgers and sandwiches, yes, but there’s also quite ambitious menu available lunchtimes and evenings with the likes of chicken ballotine stuffed with shitake mushrooms and tarragon or crab salad with beetroot cream and charred chicory.

I went along early on a Friday night not expecting to find many diners but again I’d been a bit slow off the mark in assessing the development of the place and the dining tables were fully booked. The staff, who I will say right now were fantastic over the course of two visits, were able to find me a little corner of the bar area if I was ready to order there and then.

I started with a creamy seafood chowder with saffron. This was a hearty, warming affair packed with mussels, fish and most of all whelks, which were somewhat rubbery but then they are, aren’t they? A decent start though and there was some good basic bread served with it and butter with flakes of sea salt. My initial reaction then was that if wasn’t the finest food available in the city, then it at least it was being prepared by people with a bit of nous and an interest in pleasing the diner.

I decided to do a bit of beer matching and found the fruity, robust Belgian blond ale La Chouffe went very nicely with the soup. Main course was a big, well-seasoned hunk of loin of venison, cooked medium rare. It was very good, and had a decent jus along with a charred clementine that you could use to gently squeeze out some citrus flavour. Kale was a good choice of greenery but the rosti didn’t quite work. The key for me with rosti is the balance of crispy pan-fried outside to a thin barely-cooked layer within – but this was too thick and while it had interesting seasoning there was too much raw potato.

The beer match, worked out in discussion with the very well-informed waitress, was the gorgeous Icelandic toasted porter Einstok, full of coffee and chocolate flavours that complemented the venison beautifully.

At a subsequent lunch time visit I had spinach and feta tortellini, which were big bruisers rather than fine and delicate. If the pasta was a bit heavy-handed, the filling was well done and a sage cream sauce was excellent. A desert of lemon tart was billed as a “baked lemon custard” but was nothing of the sort. The classic lemon tart is a test for the kitchen but this was simply a lemon-curdy cream that been piped into a pastry case – nicely sweet and sharp but not a lemon tart. There was a good fruit coulis and berries with it though, and it was all presented with a bit of panache.

This time round I also tried the Chilean craft IPA Rothhammer – a light but flavoursome version which doesn’t overwhelm the tastebuds. Apparently this is the only outlet in Leicester and one of the first in the UK.

Taps is offering an interesting line food and in the main the quality appears good. With its excellent drinks offering and staff doing a fine job of making you welcome and feel looked after, other sceptics should give it a visit.







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