I paid a visit last week to  a corner shop in Wigston that is taking a brave new approach to retailing.

Many Leicester food lovers will know Pratik Master for the indefatigable enthusiasm he brings to the running of his top-end Indian restaurant Lilu. Now he’s turning his attentions to the family shop on Carlton Drive in the heart of suburban Wigston. On Saturday 2 March Master’s General Store will relaunch as the News and Deli – which will continue with newspapers and other basics for the local community but will also be a platform for the region’s finest artisan food producers.

MastersOut go the bottles of Echo Falls and in comes both excellent Leicestershire wine from Rothley and fine bottles from the list at Lilu. The standard sliced bread will be replaced by loaves from Hambleton Bakery and Bisbroke Artisans, with fine dairy products from the highly regarded Vine House Farm. Leicester producers and retailers such as Gelato Village, Cocoa Amore, Choux’tique and Christopher James deli will also be represented and no-waste retailers Nada will be supplying a wide variety of dry goods.  The kitchens at Lilu will also be producing items such as their popular pineapple relish for sale at the deli to complement fine cheeses and locally-cured charcuterie.

“What was clear was the shop as it had been was not really working,” said Pratik. “My Dad’s heart was no longer really in it and he was ready to retire. The family felt we needed to do something more, and since running the restaurant I’ve got to know many fine local producers .  I phoned around and asked them if they felt they’d like a stage where they could showcase their produce and I think I got to number 15 before I got  a no. ”

So during February Pratik, wife Bee and family and friends have been clearing out the old stock, making arrangements with new suppliers and converting the shop from a run of the mill newsagent to an atmospheric deli. The opening day event on 2 March (10am to 2pm) will see a wide range of producers present on the day to introduce their wares to locals, and others will be there over the following Saturdays. If you want to follow on social media look out for #notjustacornershop. Sadly I’ll be eating fish in a port-side restaurant in the Algarve at the time but looking forward to revisiting in March to see how it’s going.

  • News and Deli, 29 Carlton Drive, Wigston, Leicestershire LE18 1DF

 

 

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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.

Lilu

March 23, 2018

I mentioned recently my involvement with the Channel 5 programme Restaurant Rescue which put Leicester restaurant Lilu under the microscope. I didn’t write a review of that visit late year given the somewhat artificial nature of the visit and the fact that maybe it would change once Alex Polizzi and Olver Peyton had given their verdict.

Now though I thought time was right to go back under my own steam and see what has changed. The short answer, is very little. Polizzi and Peyton advised owner Pratik Master to drop his prices and the set price and introduce an a la carte menu. But he and his chef JP are not interested in competing with traditional curry houses. The vision is a traditional fine dining approach but which highlights Indian food. So there’s no long list of curries  but a limited menu – five or six choices of starter and mains – of meticulously plated dishes using fine ingredients.

The pricing does set it apart from more mainstream restaurants – two courses for £35 is a big ask for people who might look at £20 as a more typical spend in an “Indian restaurant”. Oliver Peyton’s argument was that in a set price menu everyone would pick the big ticket items – rack of lamb, soft shell crabs – and he would never make money. Pratik feels that is what set them apart and feels the set price approach gives clarity.

So, what do you get for your money? Complimentary poppadoms may not be that unusual but here there are six distinctive and vibrant housemade chutnies and sauces – the pineapple was especially tangy. And then while we waiting for starters there were two more amuse bouches. A little pani puri – beautifully presented – was a nice little little flavour bomb of herbs and spices and a spiced tomato soup had something of the feel of a hot Bloody Mary. Absolutely delicious.

My starter was a salmon fillet, rather too politely spiced I felt, but that allowed plenty of salmon flavour through. It came on an aloo tikki-style disc (a spiced potato cutlet) with a couple of other cheffy touches of edible flowers and tamarind-infused sauce. It was very good – I don’t want to labour the point but this was not usual curry house fare. Gill’s starter was Mumbai chaat – a street food dish of crispy pastry shells with filling of spiced and herbed potatoes along with crunchy sev – little pieces of chickpea noodles – along with tangy tamarind sauce and pomegranate-spiked yoghurt. There’s a solid tradition of this snack food being elevated to grander surroundings and here your invited to create your own combination at table. It felt fun and it tasted lovely.

We avoided the lamb and the crab – we’d tried them on the Channel 5 visit and had very positive memories. This time I went for the “game of the day” choice which was duck. This was a simply presented but perfectly cooked breast, rubbed with with well-judged spice mix and coming with dabs of fruity yoghurt and bramble gel and a pot of thick, rich chocolate-infused sauce. There was a tower of spicy potatoes and tomatoes t and while each element was fine it maybe needed a more fluid sauce to bring it all together.

Gill’s dumpukht biriyani-based thali was acknowledged as a dish in development but it was a complete stunner. The pastry-encased rice centrepiece, vented with an artfully-folded poppadom was fragrant with rosewater and tender pieces of lamb. Around it sat half a dozen bowls – a great lamb chop curry, a beautifully balanced dhal, okra, yoghurt, tandoori-spiced paneer and crunchy kachumber salad. Oh yes and a little mango lassi too. This was a great showcase for the kitchen’s skill and indeed Indian cuisine in general.

A shared desert was another treat – delicatelyfloral rose kulfi was paired with a quenelle of smooth, dark chocolate ganache on a crunchy chocolate base. A delicate combination well worth keeping space for.

With the little amuses, the blingy wine list, and the refined presentation, all the grammar of contemporary fine dining is here. But this is not a stuffy environment, service is skilled and helpful but the ethos is very clearly focused on customer satisfaction. Pratik himself is a down-to-Earth presence with an infectious enthusiasm for his food.

Lilu does a very capable job of offering a sophisticated version of a cuisine this country sometimes thinks of as just comfort food. It’s not going to be for everyone, not least because of the price, but it’s run with love and is a welcome option for those looking to explore beyond curry house standards.

* Follow their website or Instagram feed  for some excellent frontline reports of how they are developing dishes – more inspiring than my somewhat pitiful efforts above.

 

 

 

 

 

Ok this is no sort of advance notice, but nobody watches TV at the time of broadcast anymore do they?

If you do though, you might like to watch Peyton and Polizzi’s Restaurant Rescue tonight at 9pm on Channel 5. Assuming  we made the final cut you can see me, my girlfriend Gill and fellow Leicester foodblogger Emily join Oliver Peyton at Indian fine dining venue Lilu on Highcross St.

Oliver P

Oliver Peyton. Not me.

The concept of the programme is to help struggling independent restaurants get back on track. The initial stage sees Oliver (restaurateur and judge from the Great British Menu) turn up with a couple of local food people to do an initial assessment and we went last November. Theoretically we were secret diners, but we were not exactly incognito and indeed we were rumbled the moment we entered. Nonetheless we had a range of clandestine filming and recording devices to capture our impressions. I myself sported some Joe 90 spex complete with tiny camera. Oliver’s job was then to work with Alex Polizzi to diagnose how the restaurant needed to change.

I went to Lilu a couple of years back and, while admiring its ambition, had been a little underwhelmed. More recently though I’ve been a fan of the lovely stuff that is portrayed on their Instagram account (@lilu_fine_dining) – but that of course is pictures, what about the actual food?

Without giving too much away, the verdict of the table was while some of the food was excellent there were issues with menu structure, pricing, and service.  I wasn’t able to go to a “post-diagnosis” meal to see what might have changed, so will be watching with interest tonight.

 

 

 

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