The Spotted Duck

April 18, 2017

My latest review for the Leicester Mercury – a fine dining opening for hard-core foodies. Will be interested to see what Leicestershire makes of it:

The Spotted Duck
61 Leicester Road
Mountsorrel
Leicester LE12 7AJ
0116 237 6571

It’s been a while since we’ve had a really ambitious, fine dining restaurant to review. The last was probably John’s House in Mountsorrel which of course has gone on to win Leicestershire’s first Michelin star. And it’s hard not to think that the runaway success of John Duffin (just try getting a weekend booking) has influenced the opening of The Spotted Duck just a few yards up the Leicester Road.

This handsome new restaurant is a vehicle for the talents of Johnny Prince, a Leicestershire-raised chef who has worked stages – short work placements in kitchens – at some of the nation’s top restaurants including Hambleton Hall and the three-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsey. Still in his early 20s, he has been making a name for himself locally as a private chef and teacher.

The Spotted Duck now offers him further career progression. He is undoubtedly aiming high – it takes some chutzpah to create a very slick, glossy website with your own name and declare your “boundless ambition” and an aim of becoming the world’s youngest chef to hold two Michelin stars.

If that makes you think the restaurant might be horridly flash, fret not. This is a not just a beautiful, calm and elegant restaurant but the food is unpretentious and driven by quality ingredients and seasonality. For example, three of our dishes last week featured local wild garlic at its absolute stunning best before the plants flower.

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But let’s get this straight from the beginning. If you’re looking for good hearty food and measure value by the number of roasties or the size of your naan, you may not be satisfied here. Maybe pick one of the many other splendid options we write about here every week. However if you’ve got the money ( three courses a la carte will be around £40 a head plus drinks) and are interested in seeing what a talented young chef does with fine ingredients then you will want to get along.

You’ll find a restaurant done out in smart greys, furniture with a rustic feel, nicely-chosen art work and a Bang and Olufsen sound bar giving out a smooth soundtrack. There are smartly dressed staff who float around being quietly effective. Chef Johnny seems to have effectively moved his pass out into the room and he is a very focused presence at the end of the bar area finishing plating and briefing staff.

We start with some very fine bread – lovely spongy white and rye sourdough with heavenly truffle and balsamic butter. This great start continued with an amuse of raw mackerel pieces with aerated pork skin and a charred cauliflower emulsion – a good combination of flavours and textures.

The dishes that followed all focussed on top quality ingredients given a chance to sing. My pigeon breast, cooked sous-vide I think, was extraordinarily rich and gamey and came with lightly charred onions, wild mushrooms, a punchy mushroom puree and some of those wonderfully fierce wild garlic leaves – a real forest medley. Then there was a single hand-dived scallop from the East Coast of Scotland, impeccably cooked, accompanied by a Granny Smith and celeriac purée and little crumbed cubes of “pig’s head” meat. These sweet and succulent little beauties were one of the highlights of the night.

My main course was poussin and lobster – the crustacean simply poached, the chicken simply roasted. The breast was wonderful, the leg possibly a bit overdone. There was a superb layered potato cake giving crunch and flavour, there was a fine, sweet carrot purée and a huge – too huge for the dish – barbecued onion that threatened to overhwhelm the other ingredients. Individually items were fine but for me they didn’t really all come together – I couldn’t really work out where it was all going.

More coherent was the loin of lamb with wild garlic. Firstly the loin itself was completely sublime – tender, pink and subtly infused with rosemary. The look it brought to my partner’s face was a joy to behold. Then it was matched with some crisp and fatty breast meat, a herby salad of pearl barley and quenelle of tapenade-style olives.

My desert was a white chocolate and cardamon mousse. This was sizeable, rich and delicious though picking holes I’d have been happy with a tad more spice and the mousse was very slightly grainy. The fresh mango and mango sorbet with it gave acidity which cut the richness of the mousse. My partner’s beef suet sticky toffee pudding had the richness of flavour you’d expect but a lightness you might not. The caramel sauce was superb.

The wine list is still relatively short at the moment but I suspect will build. We had a glass each of a house Pays d’Oc and Argentine Malbec – both were good enough to think it wasn’t really necessary to spend more.

The Spotted Duck was full enough on a Wednesday evening to suggest wording is spreading fast about the place. It’s not surprising – here’s a good-looking young chef with all the skills plus a rock’n’roll name and a flair for promotion. It’s going to be interesting to see how this develops.

John’s House

July 21, 2015

Here’s my Leicester Mercury review of John’s House in Mountsorrel – a lovely night out with beautiful food. It’s a real boost for the county that someone’s doing food like this  – and I know that the tourism folk are delighted.

John’s House

139 – 141 Loughborough Road
Mountsorrel
Loughborough, LE12 7AA

01509 415569

Cost: three courses £47

Open: Tues-Sat 12-2pm, 7-9pm.

9 out of 10

f9edd036e1a24014e715b14b62117bab_f140We should probably get something clear straight away. John’s House won’t be for everyone. Not just because of the considerable cost, but because chef John Duffin and his team are trying something unusual for Leicestershire in offering precise, contemporary, sophisticated fine dining.

Duffin has returned home to Mountsorrel after learning his craft with some of the nation’s most respected and innovative chefs, including Claude Bosi and most recently Simon Rogan at Roganic in London. Given the alarming closure rate of London restaurants as rents go through the roof, coming back to Leicestershire to launch out on his own is understandable. But just as important is that “home” is Stonehurst Farm, known to many in the county for its family farm park, and an immediate source of some fine ingredients. In addition there was a largely unused part of the family home ripe for conversion as a restaurant. It all just added up.

Indeed it is the domestic feel of John’s House that strikes you straight away. From the moment you sit down in the lounge, the sense is of a dinner party at a friend’s house. Only your friend has worked in kitchens with two Michelin stars.

The fun starts almost straight away with some phenomenally good canapes served as you read the menu. A little tomato macaron defied expectations by being intensely savoury, dusted with powerful tomato powder and filled with a vibrant green basil cream. These were followed by a toasted barley cracker, which looked like a hideous dieter’s crispbread but was a deeply flavoursome bite, loaded with goat’s cheese and decorated with radish, flowers and more herby gels. Finally there was a little cornet of an unbelievably rich and silky duck liver parfait with a shot of cumberland sauce and topped with crispy chicken skin. It was a mere morsel but my goodness was it good. Presented with real panache and showing wit, skill and creativity these really set the tone for the evening.

Farm and kitchen garden produce is the key to this restaurant’s approach. This is ingredient-led cooking where the quality of the produce dictates the dish and what might seem humble items are raised to superstar status. A starter of heritage tomatoes heaped shame on the produce of Dutch greenhouses. A variety of shapes and sizes, they sang out lustily with flavour, garnished with some crunch from buckwheat and flavour from frozen parmesan (bit of a molecular cuisine favourite, this). It might have seemed simple but there was an awful lot happening.

In our other starter it was peas that took the lead role. Tiny, fresh little blighters from the garden, they were beautifully sweet. They came with onion dumplings, which scored highly with flavour but I wasn’t converted by the somewhat mushy texture. The dish was completed with terrific roast shallots and a light, creamy sauce with background flavours of mint and lime. This was top rate seasonal cooking, with dishes being tweaked by the week almost according to what’s coming through in the kitchen garden.

The same approach was seen in the mains – hogget (year old lamb) from the farm was served up earlier in the year with wood blewit mushrooms, but now came with baby courgettes, more of those remarkable tomatoes, and a little salty feta cheese. The belly and shoulder of hogget was delightful, though my favourite element was a little crumbed nugget of sweetbread. In the other main some earthy, full-flavoured pollack came with a summery collation of peas, potatoes leaves and flowers, with some smoky flavour from shavings of lardo (cured pork fat). All of this went together swimmingly but there was a quenelle of a sort of lemon confit that was a big blunderbus of flavour that for us didn’t sit comfortably.

A quick word on the wine list – if you tend to read these from the bottom up, be prepared for an intake of breath as you find the legendary Penfold Grange and Chateau Mouton Rothschild at £750. If your budget is more Leicester Mercury than Freddie Mercury, the top of the list is £18.

Deserts were perfect little seasonal masterpieces. Macerated strawberries came with a superb strawberry sorbet, strawberry snow, hay-flavoured custard and an inspired syrup made from the delicately aniseed-tinged leaves of sweet cicely. It was a tremendous culinary expression of an English summer day. The same could be said of our other desert – a combination of white chocolate with elderflower sorbet, raspberries and pistachio that brought almost embarrassingly loud and persistent sighs of pleasure from my dining partner.

We finished up with peppermint tea – by which I mean huge sprigs of peppermint infused with hot water – and some great petit fours such as lollipops of white chocolate with violet cream and a hibiscus macaron.

John’s House has been open since late last year, so the guidebooks may be just about ready to catch up with the place. Whatever they ultimately make of it, we should be pleased that John has come home to push the boundaries of Leicestershire’s dining scene that bit further.

John’s House

July 13, 2015

Just a quick preview of my forthcoming review of John’s House in Mountsorrel.  I’ve been wanting to go ever since it opened but it takes some time to marshall resources and I wanted to make sure it had fully found it’s feet.

It’s a hugely interesting place providing a comfortable, intimate dining experience with food of a very high standard and dishes that stem from applying real creativity to simple but excellent produce. It’s based on super-fresh, bang-on seasonal produce much of which is grown or husbanded on the family farm out back.

These are just snaps and don’t do justice to the beautiful dishes  but they give an idea. I hope whoever took some pictures for the Mercury did a better job  – I’m sure they did.

If you are interested, get the paper next Saturday.

Duck liver parfait

Canapes of duck liver parfait with Cumberland gel and chicken skin

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Toasted barley cracker with goat’s cheese

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Onion dumplings, roasted shallots, peas.

Fine dining in Mountsorrel

January 12, 2015

Well here’s an interesting thing.  A new fine dining restaurant, opened by an alumni of Roganic no less, with ambitious pricing of £47 for a three course dinner – and it’s opened here in Leicestershire.

Chef John Duffin has returned to the family farm to open John’s House at Stonehurst Farm in Mountsorrel.  Can’t say I know a lot about him but it appears he has an impressive CV and that he’s using as much home-grown and farm-produced ingredients as possible. If I was going tomorrow  – I’m not – I’d be starting with parsnip dumplings, braised oxtail, madeira and ox tongue before moving on Stonehurst hogget, wood blewits, onions and thyme, and finishing with caramelised apple, meringue, vanilla ice-cream and honey wine.

There’s a serious looking eight-course  taster menu at £70 – which puts it not far behind Hambleton Hall.

Have to say I’m intrigued. Feedback welcome from any one who goes.

 

(picture from John's house website)

(picture from John’s house website)

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