News today that the O Bar and the Smokehouse on Braunstone Gate will finally close on Sunday 4th October.

Good news however that the bar’s current general manager will be reopening a new bar to be known as The Twisted Spoon from Friday 9th October. More news is promised in due course, but I understand the Orange Tree group is looking at possibilities for re-establishing their craft beer and American barbecue offering in another location in the county.

I know that in the short term, Smokehouse chef Liam Watson is looking at going travelling, not least to extend his chef’s education with other international cuisines.  I look forward to hearing more from all concerned on what happens next.

I think it is now in the public domain that the O Bar on Braunstone Gate, which hosts the  the Smokehouse restaurant, is to be sold off.  Sad news because it was a real bit of quality in an area of town that needed it. Chef Liam Watson has done a fine job in building a properly original venue there and as I understand it the restaurant is trading profitably, but the rebranded O Bar has failed to bring in the punters for its upmarket craft beer offering.

The cuisine and the beer are a natural match and the Orange Tree group know they have something worth preserving with.  I’m told we will see the Smokehouse reappear somewhere with a larger kitchen and more covers, but in a more promising location. Sadly that is not necessarily Leicester. I hope it is still within reach because I’d love to see how they can further develop the concept.

In the meantime, best wishes to the team and do try and get and down there while you can.

A crafty move by the O Bar

October 17, 2014

WP_20141016_18_05_48_ProI was at the relaunch of The O Bar on Braunstone Gate last night – now re-engineered as a specialist craft beer bar. It’s an intriguing move in the context of Braunstone Gate, which spent the 90s as the hip end of town, but in the last decade has lost some of its distinctiveness.

The O Bar, the late-night bar of the Orange Tree group, started to reassert itself last year by using its upstairs as a pop-up American barbecue restaurant The Smokehouse. It turned out such a success it was made a permanent fixture, but that left the downstairs bar “not quite right” according to director Gareth Smith (some might know him as Pugsy). With people travelling from beyond the West End for the food, an improved drinks offer made sense too. Gareth credits his dynamic general manager Phil for the brave decision to go the whole hog and chuck out not only the Carling, but the Becks and the other big brands and go fully on craft beers – for sale in thirds and two-thirds – and real ales.

Along with this chef Liam from the Smokehouse upstairs is now providing a limited bar menu downstairs  – pulled pork buns, kielbasa hotdogs loaded with chilli, onions and mustard, hot wings, ribs and nachos. So far it’s mainly been supplying the overflow from the restaurant but there’s scope to attract non-diners who nonetheless fancy a bite as they sip those fancy beers.

O bar craft beers

Craft beer tasting at The O bar

It’s a brave move because no doubt some will alienated by the unfamiliar beers and, you can’t avoid it, the considerably higher prices. What can’t be denied is there are some really fantastic beers on sale. The sublime Jaipur many people will know all about, but there’s many more – The Capt Ruhstaler Black IPA, clocking in at a hefty 7.6 per cent, looks like a stout but explodes with bright citrussy flavours on the palate. Founder’s All Day IPA is a more quaffable 4.7 per cent but still packs a heavyweight hop punch. Look out too for the burnt-toffee dark lager from Freedom and the Helles and pale ale from the award-winning Sara Barton of Brewster’s in Grantham.

I certainly wish them all the best  – this distinctive independent offering is an important antidote to the safe familiarity on offer in most of the City Centre. And as Gareth said to me in relation to the bar scene:  “Leicester has tended be the poor relation of Nottingham – it’s up to the likes of us to try and address that.”

Smokehouse, Coffee houses

February 4, 2014

Liam Watson with his grill

Smokehouse chef Liam Watson

Good news that The Smokehouse  is popping up again from the end of February at Braunstone Gate’s O Bar. Its previous sojoun last November provided hearty American barbecue food with the flair, innovation and quality you are never going to find in, well, Frankie and Benny’s.  I reckon they will get a fair amount of repeat business – including me – and there’ll be plenty of new people wanting to give it a try. It reopens on 27 February.

While I’m reflecting on good news – I reckon there’s a bit of a coffee renaissance going on in Leicester right now. St Martin’s Tea and Coffee is of course now a fully fledged coffee specialist, roasting their own and providing a good range of beans and serving options. We’ve also now got Bread and Honey – a basic but appealing coffee and sandwich stop on King Street serving excellent Monmouth Coffee – and newly opened in Silver Arcade is Deli Flavour. This classy deli (one of the 50 best in the country according to the Independent)  has been well established in Stoneygate for a good few years but now also has a lovely unit on the second floor serving excellent coffee in comfy surroundings with great sandwiches and extensive deli selection including Hambleton bread. Add these to established places such as Café Roma and we’re starting to get a real choice of quality coffee beyond the chains.

Anyone like to give  further recommendations?

The Smokehouse

November 11, 2013

Having already given quite a decent big-up to The Smokehouse pop-up at Leicester’s O Bar, I suppose I was a little nervous about it being a bit of a let down.

Fortunately, turns out I needn’t have worried. Aside from the pretty basic and uncomfortable seating, five of us had a gorgeous lunch there on Sunday. I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow review – the venue is already getting plenty of  positive coverage  – but the long and the short of it is that here was very good, down-to-earth flavour-led food at fair prices. We enjoyed pulled pork, 12-hour brisket with house rub and barbecued chicken with smoked bacon rub – all of them really showing the benefit of the long and slow treatment.

I really loved the sides too  – smoked fennel and aubergine salad with sweet raisin puree was a complete revelation, fennel and jalapeno slaw was lip-tinglingly good while delicious barbecue baked beans seemed to have had a hearty slug of maple syrup to give a sweet edge. Opinions were a little divided over the salt baked potatoes, baked in a pastry crust, but I certainly felt they gained something from the treatment.

Pick of the deserts was an absolutely stonking sticky toffee pudding with a salted caramel bourbon sauce. Definitely recommend finding space for that if it’s on when you go.

The craft beers were great, you’re even offered tasting if you’re unfamiliar to what contemporary brewers are doing. I  had  the Camden pale ale, and it was a good match for the food on offer.

Staff are lovely too and generally you want to thank everyone involved for giving it a go.  I’m sorry there’s no pictures, but anyway this isn’t pretty food to be admired on the plate –  it’s food to get stuck into and enjoy.  You should try it while it’s here. I’m certainly going back.

 

It’s great news that Leicester’s West End is about to get a specialist  barbecue restaurant – even if it’s only going to last a month. The Pop-Up Smokehouse will be operate from 7 November to 8 December and will bring flavours of the American mid-west and south to the O Bar on Braunstone Gate. It’s an initiative of the Orange Tree group who want to try and bring back a bit of innovation to this part of Leicester’s West End which has suffered a spate of closures. It’s also lost a fair bit of its special character since De Montfort University used its muscle to get the Bowstring Bridge removed. The owners sat down with chef Liam Watson, who spent three years with the group at the Lansdowne on London Road, and thought about how to bring a bit  buzz back.

Liam Watson with his grill

Liam Watson with his grill

I caught up with Liam on Saturday when he was giving away a few free samples at Orange Tree on High Street.  “Most of recent  investment has gone to the Cultural Quarter in the East of the city,’ he explains “That’s great, but it’s no secret that the West End needs a bit of a push. We had a think about what we could do and tried to come up with something outside the box – something enjoyable that would make a big impact on customers but didn’t involve too much cost.” The answer was a new Green Mountain grill and a pop-up restaurant in a bar that has not previously served food.  The inspiration came from a trip to Pitt Cue, the hugely popular Soho smokehouse.  “It blew me away,” enthuses Liam.  ” And fortunately they’ve now brought out a book with recipes…”.

So what can we expect? Classic, dry-rubbed, slow-cooked, St Louis cut of pork ribs given 12 hours with a hickory, maple and oak smoke. Chicken,  of course. But the hugely enthusiastic Liam also wants to be more adventurous, so look out for braised oxtail with smoked oysters in chocolate porter (all the meals are going to be matched with craft ales), beef ribs, pork cheeks and scorched mackerel. For this dish the fish just gets a sousing and then subtle smoke from a blowtorch to crisp up the skin. There’ll be  vegetarian options too – “we found butternut squash takes the smoke really well,” says Liam.

After December they’ll have a think about how it all went. Maybe they’ll have to put it down to experience. Maybe they’ll be tempted to try it again and keep popping up at festivals and events. Or just maybe they’ll be encouraged to think about something more permanent. Whatever, judging by the beautifully tender and tasty samples I tried, and the impressive way they seem to have thought this through, the Smokehouse would appear to be well worth a trip (you can book on 0116 255 8223).

Last week the Nottingham Evening Post was boasting about how their city had totally trumped Leicester and Derby in  Observer Food Awards.  Initiatives like this – as well as smarter openings such the White Peacock –  are exactly what we need to maintain and improve the city’s food culture.

%d bloggers like this: