Gelato in the Square

October 16, 2017

Details out today of the Gelato in the Square festival put together by Gelato Village.  Daniele and Antonio have been regularly going back to Italy and building a name for themselves in the gelato fraternity – with such effect that the flow is being reversed and some of Italy’s top makers are coming over to Leicester to celebrate all things gelato and  the Slow Food approach in general.

Over the weekend of 27-29 October there will be a huge range of talks, demonstrations and events in the St Martin’s Square café. Every hour or so from 11am on Friday there will be presentations from both local partners such as Belvoir Ridge Creamery who supply their milk and from also Italian artisans such Paolo Brunelli, a man celebrated as the “visionary poet” of gelato.

Others will talk about wine, biscuit and cone making, while local bars and restaurants will also be represented with Charlotte Wood from Manhattan 34 leading a session on cocktails and gelato and Antoni Scarpatti of Anstey’s marvellous  Sapori will address food matching.

There will also of course be chances to sample and purchase exciting flavours of gelato made in Leicester by the visiting makers. It all looks an lot of fun. All events are take place in the shop and are free on a first come first served basis. The full programme is attached below, and should be readable once you click on the images.

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Pho, Leicester.

October 12, 2017

I don’t usually bother reviewing chain restaurants, but Pho – open now in Highcross – was definitely one I wanted to try.  My girlfriend used to visit her sister in Vietnam and she regularly regales me with tales of the sublime food – and on the few occasions I’ve tried it I’ve enjoyed the sharp, lively flavours I’ve encountered.

There are now 25 Phos, and this one seems to share the characteristics of chains at this stage of life. It’s not unpleasant, but the music is too loud, ethnic artwork fails to prevent a rather anonymous atmosphere and young staff seem overworked and while they may have learned the “please ask if you’ve any questions” mantra, their behaviour suggests they are being too closely monitored by a time and motion manager to actually talk about the food.

 

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Summer roll

In fact, the food was actually rather nice. Summer rolls are light, zesty and packed with crunchy vegetables and chicken, and come with a nutty dipping sauce (their crispness set off a reverie of contrast with the fat-dripping Chinese “Spring rolls” that were once the preferred way of seeing off post-pub munchies.)  Pork and lemongrass meatballs were nice enough but felt a little mass-produced (the Pho website does state that food is “made fresh at each branch every day”). The nuoc cham dipping sauce was right up my street   – chilli, garlic, rice vinegar, sugar, lime juice and more combining to give that pleasing complexity that characterises South East Asian food.  (As I thought then, the meatballs didn’t really measure up to those I’d had over the road at Cured – and by the way, I had great meal there this week at their four course, gin-themed evening run with the Attic cocktail bar. Watch out for forthcoming bourbon and rum evenings- great food, great drinks, great value).

 

 

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Pho Tom

“Pho” of course refers to the noodle soup that is a staple of Vietnamese food, and our Pho Tom, with king prawns, was delightful. The basis of a pho is a stock made from slow-cooked beef or chicken bones (veggie version available). Pho say they simmer theirs for 12 hours and I’d say it shows – this was a very complex broth with many layers of flavours. Vietnamese food is full of herbs and spices and pho is traditionally served with range of extra ingredients and condiments so you can spice up your dish just as it suits you. The big fat prawns were cooked just right too – they can be nasty and rubbery when overdone. We also had a rice bowl  topped with wok-fried leaves plus cucumber, radish and a wide variety of fragant green herbs plus spiced beef wrapped in betel-leafs. With appropriate use of the range of condiments available this was another very nice dish.

 

I’ll definitely be giving Pho some more custom – it seems considerably more interesting than, say, Wagamama, and as a gateway to Vietnamese food it does a very decent job. It might also be worth triangulating with a takeaway from Thai Esarn , which offers vibrant spicy, herby food from northern Thailand.

 

 

 

Cured at the Cookie

September 19, 2017

I was pleased to be an early enthusiast for the work of Cured. Young chefs with a passion for flavours and produce who want to forge their own way – that’s the lifeblood of any city’s food scene. And to be based at a bar such as Brewdog – heaven.

So it’s great news that Martin and Oliver are finally back in town with a full-time base within lively independent cafe, cocktail bar and venue The Cookie. They keep the menu format of beautifully stacked platters for sharing – or for one if you’re as greedy as me – plus innovative side dishes and their own take on comfort food. This includes a burger yes, but also a “gobi cheese toastie” featuring spiced cauliflower in a turmeric cheese sauce on sourdough or soft duck tacos with jerked duck and pineapple salsa.

The model has also been moved on. The cures for their key elements are now spirits rather than beer. On your platter you’ll find a little jar of divine orange-scented duck cured and confited with Legendario rum that beats many a rillette in a French bistro. Then there’s bourbon and maple cured bacon like a sweet, fine ham, and purple-tinged salmon cured in Brooklyn gin and blueberries.  As before, the platters are packed with carefully chosen and well-executed extras that more than earn their place – sesame bread, crispy duck fat toasts, herb butter, crunchy house pickles, inspired zingy apple and ginger slaw, dill and pink peppercorn potato salad, apple piccalli, home-made chutneys and more (gluten free available).

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Small platter

The tapas-sized sides now include the like of Vietnamese meatballs with a belting, coriander-rich green chilli jam which knocks spots of most version of this increasingly common condiment. If the newly-opened Pho across the road can do Vietnamese snacks this good I’d be surprised and delighted. Then there’s jackfruit bhaji which combine sweetness and spice in a way that suggests a sophisticated, grown-up version of the guilty pleasure that is a banana fritter.

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Jackfruit bhaji with pineapple salsa

 

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Gin, blueberries, pink peppercorns and dill

This hugely enjoyable food can be enjoyed in the laid-back cafe surroundings of the Cookies ground floor, or the more tucked away environment of the upstairs Attic bar where the chefs’ pal Xander Driver is creating top-notch contemporary cocktails.

The Cookie looks a good cultural match for the business and the food deserves to be both sought out by serious food lovers and those simply out on the town and looking for sustenance (watch out for the late night street food offering from the front of the cafe on Saturday nights). Two people can have a platter and two sides for around £20 – the price of two burgers (but no fries) from Byron.

Taking influences from traditional techniques and from the multicultural cuisines that abound in our city, here is exciting food and a proper bargain. If this was in Shoreditch, the place would be over-run with hipster food writers – as it is, fill your boots Leicester.

 

Cured
68 High Street
Leicester
http://www.facebook.com/CuredLeicester/

A Tale of Two Burgers

September 14, 2017

It’s hardly an original observation to suggest that Leicester city centre must be at or approaching Peak Burger. GBK is the most recent to arrive, filling the former Laura Ashley store at the Clocktower entrance to Highcross.

Can’t say I’ve been particularly tempted to try it – I expect it’s ok, but really Crafty has pretty much closed the book on burgers in Leicester.  But now there are signs that what the industry refers to as “better burgers” are now overflowing into the suburbs. In the last week I’ve visited a couple of venues to the South of the city. with similar names but quite differing approaches.

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Boo on London Rd is a sharply-branded independent at the quality fast-food end of the market. It’s halal and would appear to be attracted to the area by the hugely popular Turkish mangal Konak next door and Heavenly deserts one door further. It’s bright, open and friendly, offering a short, focussed menu featuring 28-day aged Aberdeen angus patties in 4oz, 6oz or 8oz combinations with the likes of cheese, pickles, onion rings, home-made sauces and their own surrogate bacon in the form of smoked beef strips. A halloumi version is available for the veggies.

boo2Our  4oz Haystack (£6.00) was great  – very decent meat, crispy battered onions and pleasingly gooey sauce on a good brioche. A 4oz “Chickaboo” chicken breast (£5.50) was moist and tender, though I was wasn’t much taken with the crispy coating. It certainly wasn’t comparable to buttermilk fried chicken I’ve had at both Cured and Crafty. Fries (£2) were good – sort of fat chips but scoop-shaped which made them perfect for dipping.

We also tried chicken wings (£3.50) which come in two “house” sauces –  buffalo hot sauce or a sweet and sticky version. These were great, nice and messy.  Hand-spun milkshakes  (£3.50) – one chocolate, one strawberry – were both excellent, sweet and creamy.

Boo looks like an ambitious business run by young guys looking to do things the right way and with a good approach to garnering customer feedback and acting on it. They’ve already been top in a Leicester Mercury poll of burger outlets.  They are social media savvy and understand their market well. I can imagine going back.

Across the park and up Queen’s Road is Moow. A sit-down restaurant with table service, this lies in what was Cultura and is run by the people behind 1573 steakhouse in the city centre and the newly-opened Halcyon Kitchen also on Queen’s Rd. It’s an attractive space and the jolly welcome from staff  on a very quiet midweek lunchtime made my lone diner experience very pleasant.

The menu is slightly wider – a dozen or so options including lamb, fish and chicken burgers and three vegetarian choices.  I had a bacon burger (£7.95)- and while everything was nicely presented, I wasn’t all that impressed. The 6oz burger made from “our own blend of Longhorn chuck, shin and rump steak” mince lacked succulence. I think that mix needs a bit more fat and maybe there was an issue with resting too, but whatever it was, the burger was rather dense and dry. The bacon strips were very crispy which didn’t help and I couldn’t detect any of the promised chilli jam. So while the brioche bun  and the onion ring were fine, and the fries (£2.50) excellent – the overall impact was rather disappointing.

The restaurant is licensed with beers and wines on offer, but I was tempted by one of the “hard shakes” – in my case a caramel shake laced with Jack Daniels (£6.50) which was delicious, a highlight of my day. Alcohol-free and – somehow – dairy-free shakes are also available.

Both restaurants have kids’ menus and are clearly keen to attract the family market. Horses for courses, and these two venues may only be half a mile a part but live in different worlds and are each adapted accordingly.

 

I’m not going to say too much just now but if you are vegetarian and you love Leicester’s Kayal – and who doesn’t? –  then I have some very exciting news for you.

A new venue from Kayal is set to open on Granby Street in the Autumn that will feature Keralan and other South Indian vegetarian food in a smart, full-service environment.  Kayal itself started off life as the vegetarian Halli and some of the staff team have been keen for some years to start another pure veggie venue with a focus on healthy food. Crucially, Kayal is unaffected.

With a con-fusion food barn opening this week in the form of Rickshaw Ricks (from the people who brought you Red Hot World Buffet), and another apparently buffet planned nearby, it’s great to hear there’s still space for food with quality, roots and integrity.

 

Some of you may have heard that after 12 years on St Nicholas Place, Leicester’s Maiyango is to close later this month. Well, yes, but it’s not necessarily the bad news you may have feared. The restaurant will reopen under the same team but with a new name and a new concept in August.

I reviewed Maiyango for Metro when it first opened (and at least four times since) and have enjoyed watching it thrive and mature into one of the city’s most consistent, innovative and enjoyable smart restaurants.  It started with a global fusion style that was slightly hit and miss, but developed a self-confident signature style that successfully blended influences from all around the world.

Last week I sat down with founder and  boss Aatin Anadkat  who explained why, despite the pride in what they’ve achieved with Maiyango, he felt the time was right to tweak the format.

 

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Maiyango’s distinctive style

 

“We never really intended to be high end or a place that people think of just for special occasions – the idea has always been to be quirky, original and fun,” said Aatin. “I’m not sure so many people want to spend all evening in a restaurant any more – the time seems right to appeal to a wider spectrum of diners.  But we’ll definitely be keeping our brand values – we worked hard to get our AA rosette and will maintain our quality.”

The restaurant will shut after 22nd July for a complete overhaul, but Aatin is not revealing too much at the moment about the new style  – he understandably doesn’t want people to have preconceived ideas or to immediately compare to Maiyango. He will confirm, thankfully, it’s  not a burger restaurant.

For those who have loved the place, or who might want to know what they missed out on, Maiyango is holding two weeks of special events that mark their distinctive style. For full details and to book, go to their website ,  but briefly here’s what’s going on:

7 July  – Four course gin-tasting dinner, with matching gin cocktails

9 July – Deserts and cocktails evening

12 July – Six course wine-matching dinner

13 July – Four course dinner and cocktail tasting evening

14,15,21,22 July  – Six course “Best of Maiyango” tasting menu. There will be two sittings each night at 6pm and 9pm, with a menu featuring popular dishes from the last 12 years including  the likes of the “picnic loaf” with spiced ham, quail egg, cheddar mousse, apple sausage and bacon jam,   and seared king scallop with  sambal, samphire, coconut and lime leaf. A vegetarian menu is available at all events.

I had a first look at the Knight and Garter last night  – and Sam Hagger’s Beautiful Pubs have done a terrific job at transforming this marvellous and strategically important building into a terrific asset for Leicester city centre.

The former Oirish pub Molly O’Grady’s is now a elegant pub and restaurant doing good quality pub food in a way that should attract families,  business people and casual drinkers alike. The fit out is reminiscent maybe of a sophisticated New York bar, or maybe a smart London steakhouse – not opulent or flashy, but with a smart contemporary style.

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For those that know the building, the bar that opened on to Hotel Street is now a sizeable restaurant area, with that entrance now sealed off. The bar area is accessed through the Market Street South entrance, and there’s a bookable downstairs function room too.

It’s unrecognisable from its former incarnation and boasts a brand new £350,000 kitchen which Hagger reckons makes it one of the most technologically-advanced pubs in the UK. The food offering includes some tremendous steaks from Owen Taylor butchers, with whom Hagger has built a long-term relationship for his other pubs The Forge in Glenfield and the nearby Rutland and Derby.  He explained last night they’ve initially even had their own beasts identified from field to abattoir – certainly the texture and flavour of last night’s trial tasting of picana and bone-in sirloin was spectacularly fine.

2017-06-01 19.27.09The drinks offering includes the Everards range but at least three other hand-pulled ales and, much to their excitement, unfiltered, unpasteurised Budvar Krausenden lager, delivered straight from the brewery and with a nice extra tang. Naturally there’s a good selection of gins and wines too.

After spending nearly two years full time on this project Sam Hagger retains his boyish looks and enthusiasm, but clearly has a determined, business head on him to pull this off.  The pub’s not quite finished yet – the outdoor terrace onto Champions Square is still to be done but should be a splendid place to look out from once the Square and Market building are completed. Also in a couple of years the upstairs room are likely to be done out as a boutique hotel.

All in all, this looks a splendid contribution to the ongoing redevelopment of the Market and St Martin’s area.

 

I’ve been meaning to  get round to reviewing Spicy Temptations ever since it was recommended to me as a good venue for authentic, fiery Szechuan food.  I wasn’t disappointed.  As you’ll pick up from this review which appeared in the Leicester Mercury at the weekend,  it’s pretty basic, but there was some great food there.

 

Spicy Temptations
72 Highcross Street
Leicester LE1 4NN
Tel: 0116 262 5324

Open: Mon-Sun 11.30am-10pm

Cost: Lunchtime snacks around £6 a head, plenty for dinner around £15 a head.

One of the joys of this job is that I’m incentivised to check out places that I may not otherwise have visited. Sometimes the result is to prove my scepticism correct. Sometimes, however, you come away totally won over and eager to tell other people to give this place try. Spicy Temptations falls very much into the second category.

This is one of those simple, basic Chinese cafes that has sprung up to serve the booming numbers of Chinese students seeking a taste of home. Its location is ideal – just outside the Highcross restaurant quarter and its high rents, but surrounded by big players such as Cosy Club and lively independents such as Lilu, Maiyango, Meatcure and, from next month, the revived Richard III pub.

It’s easy to miss and doesn’t exactly look inviting. You look through the window into what appears to be a pokey, rather bleak living room. Enter though, and out the back you’ll find a rather more welcoming space with a little bar and a TV showing Chinese pop music. It’s still very humble and no frills, the handwritten note at each table with the wi-fi password perhaps furthering the sense that the core clientele are young students far from home.

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The very extensive menu is available in English, even if some of the young, helpful staff are not all that fluent. And that menu is a real treasure trove of authentic Chinese, and in the main Szechuan, cuisine. The Chinese, famously, seem up for eating anything that moves, and pretty much every part of it too. This is the first restaurant that I’ve been in that has a whole section of duck tongue dishes, along with the likes of spicy Szechuan frog and fried pork intestine with pig blood.

On an initial lunchtime scoping visit we tried a few of charcoal barbecue skewer dishes – big, plump, shell-on prawns were marvellous, grilled with a pungent house rub of chilli, cumin and more. Chicken gizzards though were a disappointment. The gizzard is a hard-working muscle in a bird’s stomach and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them lightly cooked in a salad Perigourdine in France where they called gesiers. These though were dried out and rubbery. Lamb skewers were better, a little crunchy on the outside, still moist and flavoursome within and perked up by more of that spicy rub.

We also shared a terrific appetiser dish of shredded pigs tripe, thinly sliced with a green vegetable – it could have been cucumber. Served cold as is tradition, this was very tasty – the tripe itself is not strongly flavoured but with brightly-spiced soy dressing and hits from chilli and peanuts it was a great dish.

I’d seen enough to know I wanted to come back for more. On a Saturday nigh we got stuck into some of the more substantial dishes. Twice-cooked pork is another Szechuan classic and this was a fine version. Pork belly had been boiled, finely sliced and then stirfried with green and red peppers and onions, with a spice mix including chilli, ginger, doubanjiang (broad-bean paste) and some pungent, salty black beans. Refined it was not, and all the better for it, and along with some tender bite-size pieces there were delicious little crispy bits of pork scattered throughout the dish invitingly.

Chicken in XO sauce was probably a more conventional dish to western palates, with tender pieces of chicken stir-fried with celery and carrots. Nice but maybe lacking the fire power of our other dishes. Noodles with braised brisket were fabulous – cooked in fiery, bright red chilli broth the noodles had taken on plenty of the flavour, while chunks of tender brisket with that slightly gelatinous feel from long slow cooking lurked within.

Star dish of the night though, and early contender for dish of the year, was the spicy aubergine with sweet and spicy garlic sauce. Beautifully prepared and cooked, the aubergine was perfect – soft but retaining texture, glazed with a sweet sauce that included finely minced pork and which had the tastebuds tingling. One thing that stood out here and indeed all the dishes was careful prepping of ingredients – there are some serious knife skills being used in that kitchen.

If you’ve ever felt there must be life beyond the takeaway or you just want to recapture the authentic tastes of China – then Spicy Temptations should be on your list to visit. It may look unprepossessing but go in the spirit of adventure and you should find the food uncompromising, punchy and very enjoyable.

 

Cured continues to impress

February 17, 2017

As promised earlier this week, a quick mention of the new regular menu at Cured at Brewdog. I make no apologies for again enthusing about the food offering – it really is a treat. There is a renewed focus on the platters  – gorgeous collections of cured meats, pickles, chutneys, salad, bread and more along with matched tasting of Brewdog beers.

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The Punk IPA-cured maple bacon and the burnt barley brisket remain and are joined by salmon cured with beetroot and German rauschbier and thinly-sliced duck breast cured in soy, honey and porter. Today I had a platter with the latter two and they were divine  – the salmon taking on a light smoke from the beer, the duck having tremendously complex flavours, like a super-sophisticated version of a Christmas gammon.

The platters come with a plethora of lovely items from samphire and fennel slaw to moreish parsnip crisps, an outstanding sweet and mild apple piccalilli and beautifully sweet and savoury thyme and honey butter.  At £9.50 including beer tastings this is a fantastic light lunch for two people, or £19.50 for all four cures plus two sides  (such as buttermilk fried chicken, sweet potato fries or duck lollipops with black forest glaze) you can feed a small crowd.

Elsewhere on the menu there’s something new for vegans including Southern Fried Seitan (wheat gluten that here does a passable job of mimicking chicken) and for veggies there’s the likes of parsnip and tarragon wontons with chilli jam or a caramelised onion, feta and aubergine bun.

Do get along  – and note that from 26 Feb they will be serving Sunday lunch from 12-6pm. Expect roasts,  but done their own way.

 

 

So here’s some nice things happening in Leicester.

First off, I went to the launch of Cured at the end of last week. This is the business of chef Martin Powdrill, who previously has worked at the much-missed  Smokehouse on Braunstone Gate and is basically offering the bar food within Leicester’s Brewdog. The USp is food that uses Brewdog’s distinctive beers to cure meat and fish. Judging by the tastes we had, this will be a terrific addition to food options in the city centre.

Martin is a young,  enthusiastic chef on a mission to transform expectations of curing from the short-cut injected processes used in supermarket produce to exploring the long, slow alchemy of traditional curing. His audition piece with the Brewdog people involved a few simple pickled vegetables – demonstrating the variability of the process and the fact that the simplest items on his menu would be given the same attention as the headline dishes.

At the launch event we tried the likes of: sweet maple cure bacon cured in Punk IPA with picallili: terrifically tasty salmon ‘pastrami’ brined in smoked porter; brisket cured for some two weeks and roasted with burnt barley and treacle; an amazingly accurate vegetarian recreation of the pulled pork experience using jackfruit and a fennel slaw; an oriental take on beef jerky using soy, coriander and sesame; and, oh yes, the best pork scratchings ever.

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All these dishes have been researched, developed, tested and show real character. ‘m looking forward to going back shortly to try more and urge others to try it too. Watch for the beer matching recommendations too.

Food will be available 12-8pm with a special “hangover club” on Sundays, but Martin hopes to use the large upstairs space at Brewdog  for special restaurant nights in the future.

More good news for beer lovers with the imminent opening of the Blue Boar on Millstone Lane, a micropub using a historic name with an interior  designed for good conversation and good cask beer and real cider.

On the same road The Rutland and Derby is starting monthly pop-up nights starting tomorrow (Tuesday 6th September) with a  pop-up chippy. We’re told to  “think red and white check tablecloths, waiters in white aprons and sustainably sourced fish”.

A little further down the line a big presence will arrive in the middle of all this activity with Middleton’s Steak House having its Soft Launch starting around 10 October. This of course is set in the massive wedding cake in St Martins that is the grand old Nat West Banking Hall. I was besotted with that building when I used to bank there – I hope they’ve not ruined it.

 

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