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?

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Silver Arcade

October 17, 2013

Popped in to look at the newly refurbished Silver Arcade which had its official opening today.  Brought back happy memories of my early days in Leicester, hanging around in the café, second hand bookshops and Poly fashion students’  Enterprise Allowance start-ups.

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It’s a lot smarter now although there’s enough of the old features left to make it recognisable – not least the narrow, vertigo-inducing top floor landing.  Not much open in there yet – a couple of posh frock shops and more to our point here, the chocolatier Cocoa Amore which is trading but I think just in soft launch mode right now. Coming soon will be The Atrium restaurant which will apparently be “international tapas and fine dining” and hopefully there will be more food-related stuff.

If you do you go down and have a look, watch out for my friend Charlotte’s shop Eskimo Blue, full of lovely ceramics currently also showcased in her Clarendon Park shop.

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Walkers’ are back

September 30, 2013

LCFC legend Steve Walsh  - with a pie.

LCFC legend Steve Walsh – with a pie.

“Tim – would you like to come and have some pork pie and meet Steve Walsh?”

Oh, ok then.

I’m as vulnerable to the well-pitched PR invitation as the next completely independent food blogger, and this one had my name on it. The occasion was the relaunch of Walker’s pork pie shop in Cheapside, Leicester. The shop was originally opened by the company in 1824  – a fact spelt in large letters on the rather smart new frontage.  But they withdrew from retail some years back and the shop was run predominantly as a pork butcher’s by Fyfes.

When that company went under, Walker’s felt it was time to rescue the building.  Many generations of Leicester folk will remember queuing up there for pork pies at Christmas time – a tradition re-established last year when Walkers ran a pop-up shop from the premises.  It was so successful Walkers were encouraged to go for a full refurb and it is now a rather handsome food shop focusing on Walkers’ onw pies, sausages, breads and cooked meats, plus deli goods and hot food to take away.

It’s all rather pleasing.  With the market hall rebuild now progressing apace and Silver Arcade due to reopen next month with a restaurant (The Atrium – no further details as yet), chocolatier (Cocoa Amore) and deli among the early tenants, the area around the Western side of the Market could be developing a head of steam as a food area.

Walkers' baker Ian Heircock with a 52lb pork pie

Walkers’ baker Ian Heircock with a 52lb pork pie

Crowds gather  on Cheapside

Crowds gather on Cheapside

Breads

Breads

Bristol fashion

May 17, 2010

Over the last year or so we’ve had tantalising hints that the city council was trying to establish some kind of independent-led specialist food area.  Both a redeveloped market and a relaunched Silver Arcade were touted as possible venues. 

Where things stand right now I’m not really clear. What I do know is that this could be a fantastic asset to the city centre.  I’ve just got back from a couple of days in Bristol and was really impressed with the  St Nicholas market area of the city there.  It’s a historic, slightly ramshackle area but one which seems to revel in it’s difference to the glitz of the nearby Cabot Circus development  – which in Leicester terms translates to the Highcross with all the usual retail suspects except with John Lewis replaced by an even more upmarket store (“Never mind Harvey Nicks, come to St Nick’s” read a T-shirt on sale).   

The food section of St Nicholas has a key anchor tenant The Source, a high quality food hall with excellent, helpful butchers, fantastic charcuterie (I got some tasty-looking finochiana – fennel-flavoured pancetta), wet fish and local fruit and veg.  There is also an informal restraurant attached serving modern British food, but what seemed to be bringing crowds into the area was the row of tiny independent cafes operating out of what were nothing more than lock-up sheds at the side of the market. Festival-goers may well know the Pieminister stalls, and this is the  home of the business, selling seriously tasty originals such as free-range chicken and taragon or wild mushroom, asparagus and white wine. Then there was Bab Mansour, a North African outlet  where I had tender and tasty  Morrocan lamb with fruity cous cous, accompanied by mint tea,  in a magnificently atmospheric little seating area done out with low cushions, exotic wallhangings, beaten copper tables and so on. Next door was a Carribean diner and a juice bar, just further along a sausage shop with a dozen or so varieties, an olive bar, a Portugese cafe with feijoda and piri-piri chicken and an awesomely stinky cheese bar – with, I’m pleased to say, a large wheel of Sparkenhoe Red Leicester very much to the fore.

The great thing about the area was that it did not seem exclusive or playing up to some aspirational foodie image, but it did feel, modern, quality and exciting. Apparantly there are weekly farmer’s markets and monthly Slow Food Markets, but on the day of my visit there just seemed to be a focus on simple, fast, tasty food done by small-scale entrepreneurs with a love of their produce. By 12 o’clock there were queues at every outlet as the office workers came out for lunch. 

Leicester’s city centre manager could do worse than pop on a train down to the South West to see how they’ve done it.  The more go ahead retailers in Leicester Market, and new generations of potential cooks and producers, deserve the right setting.

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