[Yawns, rubs eyes, looks around] Well, hello everyone. I think it might be time to go outside again.

Having been caught outside Leicester when the lockdown fell in March, and then again in July, I’ve spent the vast majority of the last four months away in North Yorkshire. Lovely as the moors and coastline are, it’s good to be back home and take a moment to see what’s happened.

It’s very clear that whatever occurs next, the restaurant and bar scene will be a very different landscape in the coming months to what had developed in recent years. Closing for good among the chains are Carluccio’s, Cafe Rouge, Coast to Coast, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Bistrot Pierre and, most probably, Frankie and Benny’s. Sad news for staff of course, even if the contribution to quality dining of this lot was, let’s say, mixed. What it also means is that, what, at least five hundred covers a night are potentially back on the market.

20200811_135651_resized[27007]For that to happen though, people have to feel safe to go out and of course, have the resources to spend. So I was pleased to take a tiny part in a Leicester BID initiative yesterday to encourage people to recognise that Leicester is open for business. They are making a short film that will be circulated widely next week showing people out and about making the most of the City. My arduous task was to sit in the stylish Indian restaurant Tandem in Highcross, eat their food and somehow look like I was enjoying it.

Given their somewhat disastrous launch period with its seemingly botched, acrimonious and short-lived partnership with Cyrus Todiwala, it’s great to report the food was terrific. 20200811_135659_resizedWe grazed on fat, juicy chicken tikkas – hara, achari and malai – each with a highly distinctive spicing, a creamy chicken korma, an outstanding dum pukht chicken biryani with onions somehow staying nice and crispy even as they steamed under the pastry lid, and a selection of dal and vegetable curries in a thali. In case you’re wondering, you sanitise on entry, have a temperature check and can order by app – all of it seems safe and surprisingly normal.

Good restaurants like this and other independents deserve to pick up custom released by that reduced capacity. Some restaurants and bars are taking their time to reopen, and I don’t blame them at all. Some businesses will feel it’s just not safe yet and others that have built up takeaway and delivery trade to get them through will want to be very sure the business is there before turning again to ontrade (quick shout out to Round Corner Brewing of Melton for getting me through June and July). But more appearing to be opening by the day. Walking home from Tandem in the afternoon I noticed the Lansdowne was now open, so stopped for a quick Leffe and a read of my novel on their terrace (sanitiser on the door, super-friendly table service, payment by card at table). Now, a view of the London Road is hardly the Bay of Naples but sitting having a cold beer outside a bar still felt like very bliss.

Walking around and trying to rebond with my city showed a mixed picture. The Eat Out scheme is clearly working well for some – long queues at Wagamama for example – but  questions remain as to how much it might impact on weekend trade and whether it will just lead to unrealistic price expectations once it has gone away. But it is getting people out again, and that just seems so important right now. I’ll try and do a few reports of new and old favourites in the coming weeks to remind myself and you lot how much enjoyment there is to be had.  For a full list of city venues taking part in Eat Out  see this handy guide prepared by Leicester BID. For others across the county you could try searching by postcode on the official government site. 

The White Peacock

March 19, 2019

peacockwbsThe White Peacock has stood proudly at the bottom of New Walk, Leicester for a good few years offering one of the city’s most smart, sophisticated but relaxed environment’s for good food.

The restaurant was set up by former chef patron Phil Sharpe, who earned his spurs in the city at Maiyango. Some 18 months ago Phil decided he’d had enough of the stress and sold up to the Koban Group, a locally based company which also runs Aspects in Enderby (and more recently has bought Leicester’s Lansdowne and 1573 bar and grill).

I’d not been in since Phil departed, but last week went down and tried the tasting menu. First thing to say is that not only have the excellent staff team been retained, but the classy interior and the fine dining approach have not been messed with – this is still a very pleasant environment to enjoy a cocktail and good food.


The nine course menu started with what is described as a plate of snacks. This felt a bit random and unfocused – there was a sausage roll that was really not very nice, a little rice crisp with a smart crab salad, a crisp little bird nest of fried potato and a superb tranche of hake in squid ink batter. The four things stood on the plate like strangers, reluctant to talk to each other. There was maybe some sort of allusion to the British seaside going on but I think it would work better to just keep the hake and maybe create another proper crab course to replace the rest.

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Ox cheek with yeasted cauliflower puree

Next up was a hefty slab of beautifully slow-cooked ox cheek, served with a yeasted cauliflower puree and a light, sweetish ponzu sauce. This was great – good hearty food given a smart twist. Then came cured salmon with cucumber, fennel and avocado mousse – a beautifully composed dish which looked great and had good clean flavours. The salmon in particular pleased, with a little light scorching on top but otherwise with a sashimi-like quality.

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Salmon with cucumber, fennel and avocado mousse

Then a little break with a palate cleansing yuzu sorbet livened up at table by being given a good hearty slug of prosecco.

Last of the mains was a really beautiful piece of tender, medium rare, fillet of beef with nice and crunchy pommes anna (basically thinly sliced layers of potatato cooked with butter), herby lovage puree and a Madeira sauce. Lovely as this was, I don’t think ox cheek and beef fillet should be on the same tasting menu – it made the meal feel a bit lop-sided. There was a faux-pas with the steak – some of the tape used to keep it in shape during cooking had been left on.

20190307_215641We transitioned to sweet with a quenelle of excellent goat’s cheese mousse served simply with fine lightly pickled red onion. One of the pleasures of this meal was that all the dishes were beautifully plated, both in choice and variety of plates and in the arrangements.

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Cherry baked Alaska

 

The first desert sounded right up my street but was a bit disappointing – cherry baked Alaska with almond meringues and almond brittle. Obviously this being a tasting menu you don’t want huge deserts but the baked Alaska was just too small to allow the different elements to interact properly. The cherry element had gone before I knew it, unable to deal with the sweet Italian meringue, which I felt need a bit more attention from a flame.

The slight frustration with the Alaska was made more pointed with final main element – a large, super-rich chocolate fondant tart with tonka bean milk gel, chocolate tuile and tonka bean crème anglaise. All elements were done very well but it felt a bit much at the end of such a meal – though of course I still just about managed to clear up a couple of first-rate petit fours with the coffee.

We had the wine matching and there were some lovely choices including a fulsome Australian shiraz with the steak and a stunning black muscat with the baked alsaka. But a rather light Chevanceau from Herault failed to stand up to the ox cheek.

Service throughout the evening was charming and helpful, and the pace was just right. Maybe not the best structured tasting menu I’ve ever had, but plenty to like in a restaurant that will give pleasure to many.

Anjuna

March 26, 2011

I’ve been meaning to try Anjuna on Highcross Street, Leicester,  since it opened over a year ago but have only just made it.  Think I was slightly put off by the Indian/Goan tag –  the long menu combined curry house standards with Goan specialities in a way that suggested it might be trying to just please everyone and end up being characterless.

I’m pleased to say that wasn’t our experience on a visit earlier this week.   In terms of decor, it goes for a light, modern, airy feel and brings it off, although the rear area where we were placed has a bit of corridor feel. What made it special it though were welcoming, helpful, cheerful staff who – espcially once we showed we wanted to try out their Goan dishes – were really keen to explain and enthuse about  the cuisine. Bob started with Goan potato chops – patties of mashed potato filled with ligthly spiced minced lamb – these had the comfort-food feel of shepherd’s pie  about them and were pleasant rather inspiring.  Goans are renowned for loving pork so I thought I’d be on safe ground with Goan spare ribs – and indeed these were lovely. Good meaty ribs with spot-on spices that left the lips nicely tingling.

It seems the restaurant attracts a fair number of people who’ve done the Goan beach holiday thing and are keen to to reacquaint themselves with local dishes. So while the menu does include the familiar coconut-milk fish curries, there are also more distinctive, Portugese-influenced dishes such as Sorpotel made with belly of pork and liver, and spicy Goan sausages made from pickled pork. We chose two mains that featured the keynote hot and sour flavour combinations.  My shark ambotik was delicious, a thin broth-like sauce had a tangy heat from tamarind pulp and a spice mix that had cloves to the fore. Bob’s pork vindaloo had  a thicker, richer sauce given a tang from vinegar and a smoky, fiery heat from roasted chillies.

Not spectacular food, then, but it did have the considerable virtues of being lively, distinctive, freshly prepared, honest food prepared by people who care. That puts it ahead of many restaurants and certainly worth checking out if you’re keen to try a rather different style.  I can’t say  how their rogan josh or tikka masala measures up against the competition but I’m certainly tempted to come back to try dishes such the masala stuffed mackerel.

* By the way, somebody last week became the 10,000th visitor to this blog. Whoever it was thank you, and thank you to everyone else who pops by.

Svenwatch

January 18, 2011

A quick word in praise of our leader. When Svennis was appointed boss of Leicester City you could be forgiven for thinking he’d spend as little time as possible here, swanning off in his helicopter to  more exotic climes – Monaco, Rome, Stockholm, Market Harborough. To give him his due, he is not only achieving success on the pitch  – I write before tonight’s cup replay in Manchester – but is doing his bit for the local restaurant trade.

Sven backs Leicester restaurants

For some time San Carlo on Granby St used an image of him and old flame Nancy stepping out at one of their branches.  Now he’s a proper local, he is popping up all over the place. The newly-opened Lanna Thai on Rutland Street had him in – I think the city’s Thai community are, understandably, trying to make the most of any clout with the club’s Thai owners – and he was in Bistrot Pierrre at the weekend. In both cases it  sounds like he was a most gracious guest, telling Lanna Thai that the Mercury should have given them five stars and writing excellent all over his feedback card for Bistrot Pierre. 

I’m not suggesting we follow him as food critic – let’s face it, the man is a skilful politician and he’s not going to be rude about them. But I give him every credit for going out and being seen to support local businesses.

Let’s see where else he turns up. If he comes into your restaurant or you spot him in a city or county venue, make a comment to this post. If we get  a few, I’ll make a new post rounding up in a couple of months. I’m particularly interested in hearing should you see him sharing a pizza with David Beckham/Thierry Henry/Lionel Messi.

Oh and while we are here – well done to Hambleton Hall and The Olive Branch for retaining their Michelin stars for 2011, and to the Red Lion at Stathern and Jim’s Yard in Stamford for keeping their Bib Gourmands. No new awards in our region this time, and – despite the increasing  clamour –  no second star for Sat Bains in Nottingham.

The Woodhouse

November 19, 2010

It’s six years since Paul Leary decided he’d had enough of teaching catering students and felt the need to get his name over the door and get back behind the stove full-time. I think I gave The Woodhouse one of its first reviews  in Metro and it’s good to report that this Woodhouse Eaves restaurant has continued to thrive and currently exudes confidence both front of house and on the plate.

Leary made his name at Louis Scott’s in Newton Linford and later gained a wider fan club running Fusions at the Walkers Stadium. He gave that up after the Mandaric regime was established and has since focused on consolidating his fine dining offer here in prosperous Charnwood Forest.  He has also consolidated his reputation as a teacher, with one of his young proteges recently awarded a Gordon Ramsey Scholarship.

The atmosphere and decor of the place pulls off a nice balance of being smart but not stuffy.   It feels a fairly special night out, but you’re also put at your ease.  There is a ten-course tasting menu, though  we ordered a la carte (£35 three courses) and started off with an amuse of a really super espresso cup of turnip and white onion soup with a little garlic foam – smooth and tasty it did its job of waking up the taste buds.     

Our starters were a salmon plate  including  smoked slamon, blinis and a  mi-cuit slice that had real depth – a long way  from some of disappointing bland stuff I’ve had in recent years.  My Woodhouse Salad was a fantastic assemblage of  a gamey pigeon breast, duck egg with nicely gooey yolk, strips of home cured duck  that were dried out a bit like biltong and which  released tremedous flavour once you started to chew and well-dressed leaves. There was a touch of sharpeness from pickled apple and pear, while  a few  tempura hazelnuts adding sweetness and crunch. 

For main I had my first venison of the season and it was excellent.  Great flavour and the plate looked wonderful, the dark red of the  meat matched with red cabbage, purple potato and several plump blackberries.  Tender slices of  rare loin contrasted in texure with a block of slow-cooked shoulder on an onion marmalade,  both with excellent bits of cooking.   The jus was intense and there was well-judged  smear of licqourice.   I only got a quick taste of my friend’s beef but it too was excellent, coming with ox cheek fondant, bone marrow, fondant potato andautumn greens and a watercress puree. 

There was a pre-desert of a smooth, rich and sloppy chocolate mousse with pistachio biscuit  and I tucked into a desert of an elegantly constructed chocolate cyclinder, encasing  a white chocolate and passionfruit mousse on a light sponge base.  The mousse  seemed  somewhat unbalanced – I think it would have been improved with a bit less chocolate to make it lighter and enable the fruit flavour to come through more strongly. Very pleasant nonetheless.

I thoroughly enjoyed the food here – there’s high-quality ingredients, rigour and skill in the kitchen and an approach which is contemporary but not flash or showy.  

One more thing , apologies but I didn’t have a camera I didn’t have a camera  and on the basis that every post is enhanced by a picture,   the one below is shamelessly ripped off the website  – if that ‘s problem, somebody please tell me.

The Woodhouse

Cafe Rouge

September 3, 2010

I took some criticism for a less than enthusiastic welcome to Cafe Rouge in Leicester’s Highcross.  I did stress at the time my views were based on prejudice born from the scorn of the big beast food critics and my own distaste for it’s over the top, theme park Frenchification. I’ve been urged to give it a try and I finally got along for a quick lunch this week.  And the verdict – well maybe not as bad I feared but nothing to get excited about.  

Working in its favour, and I’m not really giving credit to owners Tragus for this, was a beautiful late summer day and a chance to catch up with an old friend.  Sitting outside in the traffic free enviornment of Highcross was really very pleasant.    Foodwise my “terrine maison” was nice and smooth but a bit grey around the gills and was light on flavour,  though the caramelised roscoff onion chutney was very palatable to a sweet tooth like mine.  My main of salade de Toulouse  was nearly there.  The Toulouse sausages were great – coarse, garlicky and smoky, they were chopped up in a bowl of potatoes, more nicely caramelised onions and some good  perppery leaves. The main problem was the leaves were massively overdressed and were wilting in a puddle of oil at the bottom of the plate.  Judy had the confit leg of duck with a plum sauce, french beans and a gratin dauphinoise – which wasn’t too bad at all. The duck had been preserved and crisped up well, the plum sauce  had flavour  – and real plums – and the gratin was a decent effort, being rich with a nutmeggy crust but underneath the potatoes were somewhat underdone.   Our waiter was competent but the whole experience would have been enhanced with a smile and some warmth.

So it was ok but I’m not exactly won over by the place – I still find that corporate vibe offputting.  I’d be prepared to go again for a more extensive tasting, but it won’t be  top of my list.

Memsaab

August 30, 2010

I know of several restaurateurs who had a look at moving into the Highcross restaurant quarter but were put off by the rents. The only independent to bite the bullet and take it on from the earliest days was Memsaab, which had  been open – on  and off  – round the corner on Vaughan Way for a few years. They decided to tackle the challenge by keeping more or less the the same menu but taking the place upmarket, and it’s good to report they’re  making  a very able job of it.

You enter into a champange and cocktail lounge , where you are also likely to be serendaded by a live pianist and vocalist.  Ok the red and black colourscheme is a bit hackneyed, but visiting on a  Saturday after a dispiriting home defeat to Reading, the lively buzz about the place immediately started to cheer me up. There were several big birthday parties in but the layout of the place enables the larger groups and  couples and smaller groups to be separated out. Our table for four was in the glass walled section that has a pleasing  view over the urban bustle of  Highcross.    

So full marks for the atmosphere, but fortunately the food is well up to the mark too. It’s a fairly traditional offering  – and doesn’t really reach the culinary heights of its Nottingham namesake – but is nonetheless consistently impressive.  Poppadoms came with a superior set of chuntneys. A starter of chicken shashlick was excellent – three huge chunks of succulent, marinated chicken breast that showed a generous and adventurous hand with the spices.  Chicken and fish pakora, coming  with a lively coriander relish, were very made and well cooked too  – the fish was so good it really should be offered as a choice on its own.  Chilli tiger prawns showed plenty of bite and again the cooking of the prawns was excellent. Considering the sizeable groups that were being served, the kitchen was doing a fine job at getting out the orders on time and in good shape.

Our mains courses dishes all convinced – quality ingredients, lively spicing and accurate cooking.  Lamb dehi wala  was mild and yoghurty, vegetable dhaaalcha was far more interesting than lentils and chickpeas  might suggest while parathas were flakey  and flavoursome.

Service was  good – welcoming and thoughtful. A minor accident in serving the pakora was dealt with speedily and correctly.

There’s a special place in all hearts for our favourite neighbourhood Indian restauarant, a fact that can make us wary of places that offer a bit  more glamour. But Memsaab pulls it off very well.

Cow and Plough

July 16, 2010

For those that don’t know know it, the alternative name for this lovely pub is “that place that used to be the farm park”. For a good few years now this collection of farm buildings on the South East edge of built-up Leicester has been a  real ale drinkers place run by the Steaming Billy brewery and pub company. 

Over the years The Cow and Plough  been an ideal stopping off point for a beer at the end of rural bike rides. Thanks to the selfish git who nicked my bike last month  that pleasure has been denied me this summer, but I did decide to drive out and try the restaurant there, which I had enjoyed on my only visit some five years ago. 

The pub bit of the building is characterful and rough and ready in the way real ale pubs generally are. The restaurant section down the other end  is rather smarter as befits the quite ambitious menu. Turning up without a booking I was offered a place in the half-way house section away from most of the drinkers but without laid tables.   Starters include dishes such as  rillettes of pork with apricot chutney, and pan-fried scallops with chorizo and cauliflower puree  – so despite the surroundings you can see this veers more towards fine dining than pub grub (though fish and chips, sausage and mash are available). I picked seared local rabbit and woodpigeon  salad, a slightly curious name for what was basically two hunks of meat in a gloriously sticky redcurrant jus that drowned a few lambs lettuce leaves. The meat was cooked well and had beautiful flavours – if I’d been at home the plate would have been licked.

Main course was less successful. An overcooked duck breast was pretty  tough while another sticky glaze was over-reduced  and needed a quick whisk  – a few globules of jellified stock remained. It was billed as “gooseberry sauce”, a nice seasonal idea which seemed to involve the  addition of a few poached berries to a standard meat jus. I liked the berries,  but more could have been done with them.  The sauted new potatoes and green beans were excellent though.  From a desert board I chose “trifle” – no further explanation was offered. Turned out  not bad – cream, custard and sponge were all fine and a light jelly seemingly flavoured with a touch of elderflower was very pleasant.  A curious sprinkle which  appeared to be something such as Ovaltine  was a mistake  – why not just grate some chocolate?

Service was a bit hit and miss – cutlery arrived a good 45 seconds after my starter was given to me. You might put up with that having a burger in a pub but this just seemed a bit sloppy.   I’ll cut them a bit of slack as I sat down shortly before a party of 25 arrived. The inability to provide a  bill was another issue  – given there was no price on the desert board I’ve no idea how much the desert or my glass of house wine cost.  Or indeed whether the bill was added correctly.

Would I go again? Yes I think so, but a few things would need to improve if it was to become a regular dining haunt.  

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If you hang around in hard-core foodie websites and message boards, eventually the question crops up – “what chain restaurants do people have as theuir guilty pleasure?”. Almost invariably the one place people are happy to admit to liking is Nando’s.  

I read an interview yesterday with Nando’s chief exec David Niven ( no, really) who was very bullish about their propspects, having adopted internally the slogan “Recession? We’re not taking part”. Last year they raised the number of outlets to 243, have another 20 planned this year and hope eventually to reach 450 in the UK. Interestingly Niven in part attributes their success to the uniqueness of their offer – peri-peri chicken, no one else does that.  

Maybe it’s no surprise people are wanting to piggyback. So hello to Gringo Grill, a big new family/student type place on Belgrave Gate, Leicester.  There’s some fairly fundamental  cultural confusion going here – Gringo Grill, as you might expect, claims to offer “Tex Mex Food at it’s best” ,  yet the menu is albout, yes, peri peri chicken.  Peri peri is the Swahili for chilli and peri peri sauce evolved through Portugese colonies – Nando’s as a business has roots in Mozambique. To link it to Tex Mex is bizarre. Maybe it’s  a homage to Leicester’s multicultural mix. Maybe it’s just rather dishonest.

 I can’t see Gringo Grill become a guilty secret. But do tell us here if you go.

Cedars

March 31, 2010

cedars mezeI went to Cedars not long after it opened a couple of years back in the, well, lively, location of Churchgate in Leicester. It was a pleasure  to welcome a Lebenese restaurant to the city but I found it a bit hit and miss – some of it very pleasant, some of it just not to my taste, in particular a preponderance of sharp, vinegary flavours. Service and presentation also misfired at times suggesting it hadn’t really settled down yet.

But the restuarant has survived, and I was pleased to get a chance to revisit last weekend, though it’s perhaps unfair to judge a restaurant by how it performs when feeding a set menu to 30 hungry people celebrating a birthday early on a Sunday evening.  With that in mind, I’ll say straight up that while the food we had wasn’t  outstanding, it was certainly consistently good and in the main gave the impression of being cooked with care and presented with pride.

We were provided with a wide variety of hot and cold meze to start. Kibiss pickles are too sharp for me, but pretty much everything else went down well – neatly trimmed chicken wings were nicely grilled and served with some delicious aioli, hummus was fine, the lamb sambousek (little pastry parcels) were tasty though the pastry could have been lighter. The  stuffed vines leaves were  good,  the falafel very good, while the tabouleh was full of very fresh parsely and a zingy dressing.  

Vegetarian mains were basically variations of veg stews with rice  and opinions seemed to vary from ok to very good. Carnivores were able to get stuck in to a variety of marinated grilled lamb and chicken with fries.  The Lebenese  house red was very quaffable , while service was swift and helpful. All in all, they did a very job for us, and I am more inclined to revisit now on a calmer evening (which means probably not one of their regular belly dancing evenings) to see what they can do. Haut cuisine it ain’t, but possibly more importantly it does seem a likeable place offering honest, robust Eastern Mediterranean food.

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