Ok, so I’ve not posted here for a long time. There’s plenty of reasons for this. For one thing, blogging of the type I’ve done here over the last 10 years seems to fit less easily with the bite size nature of more instant social media platforms – newsy bits seem better suited to twitter or instagram. Plus there’s now a great job being done across various channels by the likes of Cool as Leicester in keeping people up to date.

I’m sure there is a lingering interest from some in well-written (hopefully), longer-form reviews and reflections. I wish I could do more of these but it’s difficult now there’s no newspapers wanting independent reviews. Equally it’s a difficult time for Leicester’s restaurants – there’s activity at the lower and middle parts of the market but it’s not easy at the top end.

Anyhow just to get my own thoughts in order as much as anything, I thought I’d reflect a little on where we are now. I’ll just focus on the city for now.

It was hugely disappointing to see that the King Richard III didn’t make it – the food was fantastic and while they were regularly busy at weekends, the midweek trade wasn’t there for them – especially sad when there were some bang average places not far away doing ok. At least it means that Chris and Andrea can put energies back into Crafty at St Martin’s Tea and Coffee with its exuberant burger menu. It would be nice to think new operators will do something worthwhile at KRIII.

For smart food in the city I lean towards Lilu (watch our for owner Pratik Master relaunching his family convenience store in Wigston next month as a deli promoting lots of fine local produce) and the Knight and Garter’s brasserie-style offering. On the edge of the city is the Black Iron at Winstanley House in Braunstone Park, which really impressed me and from which I get consistently excellent reports.

 

Of the other contenders, I’ve not been to The White Peacock since chef Patron Phil Sharpe moved on, but one regular tells me it has been inconsistent. The place is now owned by the Koban group, which also runs Aspects in Enderby and has recently bought The Lansdowne on London Road and Fenway’s in Loughborough from the Orange Tree group and also the 1573 Steakhouse on the edge of Highcross. There’s the venerable Case, which you have to admire, but much as I love the venue the food has tended to leave me a little indifferent – not been for several years though. I hope to give the Queen Victoria Arts Club another go after a mixed result when I went soon after it opened.

At a more everyday level the Fish and The Chip seems to justify Aatin Anadkat’s decision to move away from fine dining with his bright and breezy, classy chip shop, and Crafty burger continues to attract large numbers. There’s also much interest in the Asian sector – Kayal and its vegetarian sister Herb continue to produce outstanding food and the more humble likes of Spicy Temptations and Wakaze are a delight. Paddy’s Martin Inn, Mithaas and Mumbai Inn are very different places which have all impressed me in recent months. Korean food is at last making an impact with Ongi and the wonderful Grounded Kitchen and I’m looking forward to trying Oppa – a new Korean barbecue place on High Street. I’m also quite fond of the Vietnamese chain Pho – though would love to see a quality independent doing south-east Asian food in the city.

Delilah’s is of course a big loss to the city and to St Martin’s in particular but let’s not forget there are still many terrific cafes and food and drink retailers in that area. Mrs Bridges is an under-appreciated gem, St Martins is quality as are Gelato Village, Cocoa Amore, Kai, The Bottle Garden, The Two Tailed Lion, 33 Cank St and others.

There’s now two competing streetfood nights competing for the pay day dollar on the last Friday of the month, and recently one of them, Canteen, has started having traders in New Market Square on Wednesdays during the day (12pm-8pm).

One word too for an unprespossessing little fast food outlet called Cha Cha’s Griddle at the bottom end of London Rd. It’s not going to change your world, but its Kolkata streetfood Kathi rolls – parathas lined with egg and wrapped around chicken or lamb kebabs or veg are fresh, hot, tasty, cheap, filling and just the thing when you want something quick and on the go. The likes of pau bhaji, bhel poori, and samosa chaat also available – run by nice people too.

So what is there to look forward too? In my neighbourhood I’m delighted to see that we’ve now got a Moroccan restaurant, with Al Ma’idah opening imminently on Queen’s Road. It will soon be joined by the reappearance of Friends Tandoori, a Belgrave institution which disappeared a decade ago. Clarendon Park has long needed a good Indian restaurant and hopefully this will be it. Also on the horizon on Queen’s Road is a new bar and restaurant in what was Cultura. Not many details yet but it’s an initiative of the people behind 33 Cank St and they’ve got a good chef on board so I’m hopeful.

In town the biggest news is probably Mowgli coming to St Martins – if it can maintain the liveliness and quality of its original branches then I can’t wait. But there’s the doleful example of Bill’s before us for places that can’t reproduce the magic ad infinitum.

OK that’s enough. Do let me know if there’s anything you want to add or feel I’ve got  wrong and I hope to be back soon, or at least when I’ve got something to say.

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I’ve been meaning to  get round to reviewing Spicy Temptations ever since it was recommended to me as a good venue for authentic, fiery Szechuan food.  I wasn’t disappointed.  As you’ll pick up from this review which appeared in the Leicester Mercury at the weekend,  it’s pretty basic, but there was some great food there.

 

Spicy Temptations
72 Highcross Street
Leicester LE1 4NN
Tel: 0116 262 5324

Open: Mon-Sun 11.30am-10pm

Cost: Lunchtime snacks around £6 a head, plenty for dinner around £15 a head.

One of the joys of this job is that I’m incentivised to check out places that I may not otherwise have visited. Sometimes the result is to prove my scepticism correct. Sometimes, however, you come away totally won over and eager to tell other people to give this place try. Spicy Temptations falls very much into the second category.

This is one of those simple, basic Chinese cafes that has sprung up to serve the booming numbers of Chinese students seeking a taste of home. Its location is ideal – just outside the Highcross restaurant quarter and its high rents, but surrounded by big players such as Cosy Club and lively independents such as Lilu, Maiyango, Meatcure and, from next month, the revived Richard III pub.

It’s easy to miss and doesn’t exactly look inviting. You look through the window into what appears to be a pokey, rather bleak living room. Enter though, and out the back you’ll find a rather more welcoming space with a little bar and a TV showing Chinese pop music. It’s still very humble and no frills, the handwritten note at each table with the wi-fi password perhaps furthering the sense that the core clientele are young students far from home.

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The very extensive menu is available in English, even if some of the young, helpful staff are not all that fluent. And that menu is a real treasure trove of authentic Chinese, and in the main Szechuan, cuisine. The Chinese, famously, seem up for eating anything that moves, and pretty much every part of it too. This is the first restaurant that I’ve been in that has a whole section of duck tongue dishes, along with the likes of spicy Szechuan frog and fried pork intestine with pig blood.

On an initial lunchtime scoping visit we tried a few of charcoal barbecue skewer dishes – big, plump, shell-on prawns were marvellous, grilled with a pungent house rub of chilli, cumin and more. Chicken gizzards though were a disappointment. The gizzard is a hard-working muscle in a bird’s stomach and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them lightly cooked in a salad Perigourdine in France where they called gesiers. These though were dried out and rubbery. Lamb skewers were better, a little crunchy on the outside, still moist and flavoursome within and perked up by more of that spicy rub.

We also shared a terrific appetiser dish of shredded pigs tripe, thinly sliced with a green vegetable – it could have been cucumber. Served cold as is tradition, this was very tasty – the tripe itself is not strongly flavoured but with brightly-spiced soy dressing and hits from chilli and peanuts it was a great dish.

I’d seen enough to know I wanted to come back for more. On a Saturday nigh we got stuck into some of the more substantial dishes. Twice-cooked pork is another Szechuan classic and this was a fine version. Pork belly had been boiled, finely sliced and then stirfried with green and red peppers and onions, with a spice mix including chilli, ginger, doubanjiang (broad-bean paste) and some pungent, salty black beans. Refined it was not, and all the better for it, and along with some tender bite-size pieces there were delicious little crispy bits of pork scattered throughout the dish invitingly.

Chicken in XO sauce was probably a more conventional dish to western palates, with tender pieces of chicken stir-fried with celery and carrots. Nice but maybe lacking the fire power of our other dishes. Noodles with braised brisket were fabulous – cooked in fiery, bright red chilli broth the noodles had taken on plenty of the flavour, while chunks of tender brisket with that slightly gelatinous feel from long slow cooking lurked within.

Star dish of the night though, and early contender for dish of the year, was the spicy aubergine with sweet and spicy garlic sauce. Beautifully prepared and cooked, the aubergine was perfect – soft but retaining texture, glazed with a sweet sauce that included finely minced pork and which had the tastebuds tingling. One thing that stood out here and indeed all the dishes was careful prepping of ingredients – there are some serious knife skills being used in that kitchen.

If you’ve ever felt there must be life beyond the takeaway or you just want to recapture the authentic tastes of China – then Spicy Temptations should be on your list to visit. It may look unprepossessing but go in the spirit of adventure and you should find the food uncompromising, punchy and very enjoyable.

 

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