A first look at Middletons

October 19, 2016

People often tell me Leicester lacks a good steak house. There are a couple of candidates- from 1583 on the edge of Highcross to a couple of Halal places catering mainly, obviously, for Muslim communities. They seem to do good business but don’t really  appear to  have established a name for great steaks.

Now however we have an interesting new arrival in the shape of Middletons Steakhouse and Grill.  This is small chain with big ambitions, that started as a gastro pub in the eponymous Norfolk village. But, says MD Steven Hutton, ” changes in the market place saw the fortunes of pubs decline and it became clear family restaurants were the way forward.” They rebranded as a steakhouse and now have branches in Norwich, Kings Lynn, Colchester,Watford and Milton Keynes.

Their Leicester project is a big one  – they’ve taken the Grade II listed former Nat West and TSB building in St Martin’s, empty for some 16 years, and invested £1.5 m into converting it into a 200 cover restaurant.  It’s a stunning space. A tremendous set piece chandelier dominates the room which is done out with warm red banquettes, and there’s a large mezzanine area that gives you a chance to survey those below you.

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I got invited along to try the food on one of three preview nights.  The place was buzzing and there was a slightly manic atmosphere, not least around the pass where wait staff queued up as the kitchen struggled somewhat to keep up. With service routines obviously not quite up to speed I won’t comment too much other than to say our young Slovak waiter was a complete pleasure to deal with, though unfortunately one other waitress did manage to throw a side order of mushrooms all over our table. I’ll put that down to third night nerves. In fact despite some frazzled faces on the staff, we didn’t have excessive waits or other issues.

The food though. The menu is pretty mainstream reflecting that desire to be  a successful family restaurant and take on some of the well-known chains. We started with mussels (£5.25) done in white wine, cream garlic and lemon which were completely fine.  Rather better than fine was “Middleton’s terrine (£5.25) combing pork, liver, cider and  herbs and wrapped in Serrano.  I enjoyed this immensely – good flavours, good coarse textures, lovely salty ham.  It was curious then that the “pickled relish” it came with was a strong traditional chutney of the Branston variety – not unpleasant in itself but far better suited to a cheddar sandwich than this lovely terrine.

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The steaks we are not told much about other than they are “carefully prepared at our butchery in Middleton”.  I had an 8oz rib-eye (£15.95) and was quietly impressed. Cooked accurately to medium rare it was tender and  had a nice char – it wasn’t going to keep the likes of Hawksmoor  or Goodman’s in London awake at night but then it didn’t cost £35.  It passed muster fine. My choice of Diane sauce (£2) was a good one – well-made and tasty. Fries were good, though the garnish of “roast tomato” was misnamed  – it had barely cooked at all.

Steaks go right up to an 18 oz chateaubriand or a 36 oz rib eye on the bone  for sharing, and there are other choices such as jerk or piri-piri chicken, ribs, lamb steak, pork chop, surf and turf and a range of burgers. There’s not much to intrigue any vegetarians who get dragged along here – breaded brie with chilli jam, vegetable  and halloumi skewers, falafel burger  and that’s about it.

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Several dishes are offered “half and half” for the hard of decision-making, and  we had a 6oz sirloin with half rack of sticky ribs (£15.50). Again the steak was good, but the ribs were very ordinary – a rather sharp, vinegary sauce and ribs that were redolent of supermarket vacuum packs.

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Deserts “made in house by our pastry chefs in each of our restaurants” are the usual suspects  – sticky toffee pudding,  Eton mess, chocolate brownie, tiramisu and so on.  My chocolate pot (£5.15) was thick and overly sweet, with a layer of even sweeter caramel, while a crème brulee (£5.15) was ok but unremarkable.

Wines range from £16 to £50 for a Barolo riserva, and rather curiously they don’t list the country of origin. It may be obvious in many cases but it’s a pretty crucial piece of information. We had a Dona Paula Malbec (£21.95), which I assumed correctly to be Argentine, but wasn’t overly impressed – lacked much in the way of tannins or varietal character.

The opening of Middleton’s is a great vote of confidence in Leicester and it’s terrific to see one of our most impressive buildings come back into use. It’s located right in the heart of a thriving area of independents and the hope must be that it brings more diners to the area and lifts all boats. It may not have the interest for foodie types of the more or less adjacent Delilah’s, Crafty, Cured, Gelato Village and others but it does ok on its own terms and is a welcome alternative to Highcross.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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