A few yards up the road from Bindu Patel’s new venture Sanctua lies Tipu Sultan. It’s hard to imagine two more different restaurants. The latter is a huge, vibrant, blingy affair with sizzling platters of meat flying out of the kitchen. Sanctua on the other-hand offers completely plant-based cuisine in what is probably the most stripped down, relaxing eating environment in the region.

Patel is a Leicestershire lass but has worked at some stellar locations in London – including Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Gymkhana and Trishna and has staged at La Gavroche. She has recently returned to veganism and it is this , combined with a distaste for the waste she saw at many restaurants, that has set the tone for her highly distinctive first venture of her own.

You step into a small lobby to be welcomed with quiet politeness and then shown into the main room where you are welcomed by gentle birdsong, artworks featuring wildlife, plants chosen for their air-purifying qualities and bare, unlaid tables (dishes are brought to the table with relevant cutlery). There is a menu, but really just for information – you just have the set menu of the week, three courses and amuse bouche at £30 (allergies can be catered for if discussed at booking.).

This of course is a dream for the kitchen – makes it far easier to plan and buy and, crucially for their vision, virtually eliminates waste. If there are any leftovers I understand they are taken back for the chef’s rabbit.

20190615_183020 1The menu currently changes weekly and is themed around a particular cuisine – Patel’s parents have roots in Malaysia and Africa and both cultures have featured in the early weeks,  but on our visit the emphasis was central American. First up was an amuse of a corn cracker with refried beans, salsa and coriander chutney. It immediately raised our expectations – bright spicing, lively salsa, delicate micro-herbs, this was a fine canape.

Next up were two vegetable and soya mince empanandas with chimichurri. Quite why soya mince was chosen I don’t know – not a pleasant texture and no particular taste. Everything else about the dish was excellent though – Patel clearly knows how to pack flavour in to vegetables and both the pastry and the intense green chimmichurri sauce were fine.

20190615_183800Another aspect of the restaurant’s approach to sustainability is to shop at our local market and use produce that is in good condition but may not be aesthetically appealing – to use a term I find irritatingly twee, “wonky veg”. It certainly works here with the main course also impressing. Several terms here I had to google I admit but at its core was pozole rojo – a fiery red broth made with dried chiles and hominy, kernals of maize that have treated with an alkali to soften them up. This was fabulous – complex notes added from “our own secret Yucatan spice blend”.

20190615_184635The usual pork in the dish was replaced with chickpeas and puled jackfruit, a common vegan fall-back which I know divides opinion but I really like for its texture and distinctive mild flavour. There was crunch and carbs from a terrfic fried tortilla, delicious little slices of lime-cured radish, coriander rice, vegan sour cream and even a nod to chef’s Gujarati heritage with sambharo (spiced cabbage). The dish also came with excellent sides of a terrific guacamole garnished with pomegrante and a nutty, garlicky, spicy salsa macha.

Desert was “food of the gods” chilli chocolate pots. I suppose I was expecting a routine mousse with a little bit of chilli, but this was quite sensational. It appeared to be simply melted chocolate with a couple of flakes of dried but this was dreamy stuff, packed with punchy fruit and spice notes. The slightly doughy cinnamon-dusted churros were a disappointment but the memory of that chocolate will live long with me.

20190615_190847“A lot of our customers are meat-eaters [hello!] who are looking to try something something different” said Patel to leading industry publication in June. “I’m not trying to preach a different way of life to them or convert them to veganism. Sanctua is a celebration of vegetables and our customers understand that.”

There will obviously be those who are put off by Sanctua but there are plenty of places catering for those with the love of a steak or fried chicken. For those looking to cut down or cut out meat, it’s great that there is a fine dining alternative for them that takes vegetables seriously.

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Tipu Sultan

May 31, 2017

Another recent review from my Leicester Mercury column, this time of a remarkable new Indian restaurant – huge in scale, done up like a palace,  but serving village style food. Some of it I loved, some of it needed more love and attention. Interesting whatever…

Tipu Sultan
12-16 The Parade
Oadby
LE2 5BF

No doubt some people want their restaurant reviews to be all about the food. It’s a fair point, but such people will have to bear with me a little this week because there’s so much to say about the this jaw-dropping new restaurant before we even begin to consider its take on food from the North West of the subcontinent.

First off, the sheer scale of the place. It’s been converted and extended from the Old Library pub on The Parade in Oadby. With its upstairs function rooms it can feed some 350 people – I can’t think of another table-service restaurant in the county that comes close. It is attempting to repeat the success of its namesake in Birmingham with which it shares both size and a design aesthetic that takes in huge chandeliers (including in the Gents), gilt ceilings, huge gilded mirrors, deep pile banquette seating in rich purples and more classical Indian artworks than you can shake a dandiya stick at.

You are probably going to either love it or hate it, but you can’t ignore it. I couldn’t count the number of staff present on our midweek visit, but including in the glass-sided kitchen which is open for all to view, it had to be more than 50. The first person you encounter is at the welcome desk, then there’s a designated lady to show to your table – a necessity considering the vast scale of the place – and then a phalanx of busy, likeable, young waiters in smart suits who take orders and set and clear your table, while there’s another class of waiter who bring your food from the pass.

The place was very busy but everything seemed to operate like clockwork – truly impressive. The restaurant is halal and does not serve alcohol, and this appears to be a big draw with the more traditional Asian families. There were lots of big family groups dining – from bearded patriachs to young guys with sharp Riyad Mahrez-inspired haircuts and young kids. Unfortunately the six munchkins near us were rather hyped up and were running noisily around until they got fed – family-friendly is great, but it can have a downside.

Tipu Sultan was the late-18th century ruler of Mysore and a hero of the struggle against colonialism, and this whole show of magnificence is designed to make you feel like an emperor – “Majestic Dining” as their strapline would have it. The food is more representative of Tipu’s Mughal ancestors than of Mysore which is in the Southern state of Karnataka. This means most of it will be familiar to a British audience – seekh kebabs, tikkas and familiar curries plus a few desi-style specialities such as paya (lamb trotters), which you’ll often see in halal butchers but rarely in mainstream restaurants. So the décor may be regal but the food here is by and large home-style, rustic even.

My starter was sultani chops – four large mutton chops marinaded in herbs and spices and flame grilled served with a little salad including a delicious little apple chutney. They were superb. You had to quickly give up any idea of a knife and fork and just pick them and get stuck in (I did wonder why we were presented with a cleansing hot towel before the meal started) . Not as tender as lamb chops (which are also available), this scored very highly for flavour and spicing and were truly enjoyable. We also had sultani pakora – pieces of potato, aubergine, paneer and onion in a spicy batter. Again these were big and tasty rather than refined fine dining – maybe it’s inevitable in such a busy kitchen but the coating was a bit thick and thin in places, maybe it was all a bit rushed.

A main course course of peshwari chicken divided opinion somewhat. A lovely sauce, full of fresh ginger and slow-cooked green peppers had chicken on the bone, which made it tender and tasty but the chicken had really just been hacked up, so they were odd bits of drumstick bone and thigh bone around. I’m happy to try alternatives to breast meat but I felt this needed a bit of delicacy. Bhindhi Gosht was fine – plenty of tasty lamb in a thick sauce and while okra can certainly put some people off, this was cooked very nicely indeed.

Rice was fine and the breads impressed. Kashmiri naan (more commonly known as peshwari) may have lacked a lightness of touch but delivered on nutty sweetness with its almond, pistachio and coconut filling and the roomali roti – a lovely thin bread folded like a handkerchief – was perfect for wrapping tasting morsels and wiping up precious sauce.

So a remarkable, spectacular venue but with food which is more homely and prices which don’t require a sultan’s income – a combination that is likely to attract many.

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