King Richard III

May 5, 2017

 

Just back from a great trip to Paris including a couple of delightful restaurant meals. Nonetheless, I still have happy memories from the week before of my first meal at the King Richard III, a lovely addition to the city centre. Here’s my review done for the Leicester Mercury.

King Richard III

70 Highcross St

Leicester

LE1 4NN

0116 262 6833

 

Various deranged heads of state seemed to be moving us towards nuclear war. Then it was announced we face a six week election campaign. And then City were knocked out of the Champions League. I needed cheering up.

Fortunately I had a table booked at Leicester’s newest dining pub, the beautifully renovated King Richard III. It’s another edge-of-Highcross location, right next to the Chinese cafe Spicy Temptations which I enthusiastically reviewed here a few weeks ago. The old pub was one of those euphemistically labelled “traditional”, though “rough” was a more commonly heard term. It’s passing has been mourned by a few regulars and a greater number of enemies of progress who would probably never have set foot in the place.

The new pub is a joint venture between Everards and the team behind the successful St Martins Tea and Coffee/Crafty Burger business in St Martin’s. So that’s the heft of Leicestershire’s biggest brewing concern combined with one of our leading nimble and creative independents.

It looks fantastic. Bright, airy, stylish but approachable. The front bar retains a pubby vibe and there are real ales from Leicester microbreweries as well the Everards range. The back room is more of a restaurant space, again looking lovely in green with artworks featuring local scenes by well-known Leicester printmaker Sarah Kirby.

Service is cheerful, friendly and competent, striking a good balance between informality and informed helpfulness throughout. We went only a few days after opening but service routines seemed well established and staff knew the menu well.

That menu is instantly appealing, especially across the starters which are have a light, modern feel based on classic fresh ingredients. Our little party tried a fair few of them. Smoked haddock, clam and leek chowder was beautifully balanced, given a little texture with a sourdough crumb floating on top. Like all the dishes here. it benefitted from being some presented in some really lovely plates and bowls. Chicken kara-age (Japanese fried chicken) was crisp, savoury and well-served by a mouth-tinglingly fresh dipping sauce with spring onion and honey and some strips of pickled kohl-rabi. Then there was sensationally soft and creamy burrata (mozzarella with cream) that was a sheer delight on the mouth and given texture from fresh walnuts and sharpness from pickled beetroot. A real delight.

Then there was an eye-catching crispy spiced lamb roll with lovely moist meat fried in a thin crumb served on pickled red cabbage with yoghurt, chilli and mint – the sort of dish that would earn an ambitious contemporary Indian restaurant great plaudits. Possibly winning the line-up of starters were little queenie scallops in a mini seafood stew with crisp smoked bacon and super-fresh peas (above right).

 Great flavours allowed to simply sing.

The kitchen is very proud of its robata grill, a Japanese-inspired indoor barbecue grill that cooks at very high temperature. It was shown to good purpose on a sirloin steak with a lovely dark, smoky seared outside but nice and rare inside. With a simple bearnaise and a little bowl of a super earthy but sweet mushroom ketchup it again highlighted this venue’s signature approach of high quality produce done simply but with flair. Lamb chops may not have been the sweetest I’ve ever had but again were brilliantly cooked on the grill, coming with a sparkling chimichurri sauce – all the sauces, dips, ketchups and extras here were notably fresh and zingy. We had them with some of the crunchy skin-on fries that fans of Crafty have come to know and love.

From the specials board came perfect roast cod with elegant barbecued cauliflower and romesco, a Spanish sauce made with red peppers and almonds. No need for a bowl of random veg here, these are well thought-out dishes.

There’s just three deserts on the current menu, including a cheese board, and we had a fine, springy, cinnamon dusted doughnut ball with a crème anglaise – or vanilla custard as this resolutely unponcey place lists it – and seasonal Yorkshire rhubarb.

As you can tell, we thoroughly enjoyed the King Richard. Co-owner and chef Chris Elliman, who has headed up fine dining kitchens as well as top-notch burger joints, seems to have nailed his vision of an unprententious dining pub focussed on great contemporary British food with a minimum of fuss. Great roasts, high quality seafood and fresh seasonal ingredients presented with flair but nothing that gets in the way of simple enjoyment.

I’m loving the sound of the latest initiative from Crafty at St Martin’s .  For one night only on 2nd March  6-8.30pm they will become a burger free zone and turn into a taqueria.
They promise a  night of celebrating Mexico’s finest street food – a relaxed affair with latino music, paper plates and no bookings. Given the quality of everything else they do I’m confident this will be exciting stuff.
There will be (gluten-free)  corn tacos with a choice of fillings at 3 for £6, including:
Smoked chipotle ox cheek, pickled red cabbage, crema
Pork carnitas (crispy braised pork), lime, pico de gallo
Stewed chicken in achiote, roasted pineapple salsa
Pinto beans, chihuahua cheese, pico de gallo, crema

There will also be a range of sides such as nachos, guacamole, escabeche vegetables and of course Mexican beer and tequila. If it’s a success they promise they have more ideas up their sleeve.

Now I just need to work out how I get away early from an evening meeting I’ve got booked…

The Best of 2015

December 28, 2015

It’s been an exciting year for Leicestershire and Rutland restaurants, and I’ve been thinking back over some of the great food I’ve encountered this year. Here’s a sample of ten of my best culinary experiences of 2015 ,as done for the Leicester Mercury|:

1)St Martin’s Tea and Coffee, Leicester

This could have had three entries in the top ten. First off, the day-time cafe regularly features an epic sandwich – the Cuban has layers of marinated pork that chef Chris Elliman has slow-cooked overnight, along with more meat, cheese and pickles that combine in a remarkable way. Working alongside Elliman is Javan-born chef Bobby Ananta providing a South-East Asian slant on the menu, and his beef rendang was a complete revelation. Warmly-spiced slow-cooked meat that fell apart, plenty of toasted coconut and fresh salad spiked with lime juice. Finally, from Thursday to Saturday evening the venue hosts Crafty’s, serving up the best burgers in the county.

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2) Kayal, Leicester

It seems every week some celebrity chef turns up to learn from the Kayal crew, most recently it was Ainsley Harriot and, erm, Len Goodman filming there. It’s understandable as there is a long list of fine dishes on offer here along with some of the best service you’ll encounter. It’s hard to pick a favourite but I’m always knocked out by the Kottayam Egg Fry starter – an Easter special among Kerala’s Syriac Christian community and somewhat prosaically described here as a “batter-fried boiled egg with chutney”. It’s a beautifully tangy, vibrant curry that everyone should try.

3) The Berkeley Arms, Wymondham

I’d been wanting to get to this highly-rated country pub between Melton and Oakham for years and finally made it in the Spring. I wasn’t disappointed and stand-out dish was a braised leg of hare with poached pear and candied walnuts, a tremendous combination of flavours and texture.

4) The White Peacock, Leicester

Chef Phillip Sharpe has settled into his New Walk restaurant very comfortably and is producing elegant, fine food in sophisticated surroundings. A duck terrine from the tasting menu last Spring still lingers in the memory as combining great flavours with refined presentation. Wrapped in cabbage and made into a perfect cylinder, it was matched with charred brioche toast, a fruity mango salsa and little discs of crunchy radish.

5) 34 Windsor St, Burbage

A lively, swanky, welcoming fine dining restaurant that appears to be thriving with new head chef Arran Shaw. A long spell in Italy inspired Arran with the principles of the Slow Food movement and a respect for quality ingredients. That all came together in a marvellous starter of vibrant home-cured salmon with beer mustard and red and gold beetroot, plus a slice of remarkably complex Russian black bread – the result of several years recipe development.

7) John’s House, Mountsorrel

After a review last summer I speculated that the big national food guides might soon catch on to the remarkable food on offer here. A few months later it was granted Leicestershire’s first Michelin Star. I loved the domestic feel of John’s House and while all the dishes impressed with their focus on fabulous ingredients, it was the canapes served as we sat on the sofa pondering the menu that landed a memorable knock-out blow – a dreamy duck liver parfait served in a little cornet with a dash of sweet cumberland sauce and topped with a savoury crunch of chicken skin.

Duck liver parfait

8) Bewicke Arms, Hallaton

New owners and new chefs have at last turned this well-known country pub into a real destination for diners. Chefs Tom Cockerill and Glenn Cowl do things the right way – as evidenced by a superb starter of grilled Dexter ox heart, lightly grilled and served with locally-made salami. A dish like that is a real statement of intent from the kitchen.

9) Maiyango, Leicester

Owner Atin Anadkat has skilfully steered this business over the last decade, expanding to include a stylish boutique hotel. This year it gained a new head chef in the form of Sav Tassari. He can do big and gutsy – I remember an epic fillet steak – but he also builds on the restaurant’s reputation for delicacy and for catering for vegans and vegetarians. Fitting then, that my top memory is of simple but stunning starter of fragrant winter vegetables – fine specimens including squash, artichoke and beetroots in a gentle sweet and sour dressing which let the essential earthiness through.

10) The Salmon, Leicester

If I was asked to show a foreign visitor an example of British food at its very best I could happily take them to any of the fine establishments written about here. However I might just settle for The Salmon. On a Friday evening, with the serious business of the week largely done, I can think of few finer moments than when halfway down the second pint of some or other real ale in this award winning pub, one of your friends disappears to the bar shortly to be followed back by a barmaid with a large Stilton-topped pork pie, cut neatly into manageable slices, and a jar of mustard. The pub was set to change ownership in December – I hope the pies stay in place.

It’s good to see that Cocoa Amore has successfully relocated to the St Martin’s area, further fuelling the sense that there’s a high quality independent food and drink cluster emerging there.

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The company has relocated from Silver Arcade to larger, two-story premises on Silver Street. I was fortunate to get a Wonkaesque Golden Ticket for their launch last week and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening checking out not only their great chocolates – single estate nibs through to really superior truffles – but some savoury dishes too. Canapes included smoked duck breast and mackerel on chocolate bread – which all worked surprisingly well.

The new shop is licensed and while not promoting itself as a bar, matching chocolate with wines and spirits is going to be of the attractions.

Upstairs is the production area and space for workshops where couples and small groups can learn about chocolate production around the world and make their own chocolates.

Self-taught chocolatier Pete Gardener (right) with Alan Pomfrett at the Cocoa Amore relaunch

Owner and self-taught chocolatier Pete Gardener (right) with Alan Pomfrett at the Cocoa Amore relaunch

The business was only formed three years ago and has won numerous awards, including being one of  only ten businesses to be invited to take part in the Chancellor’s Downing Street Christmas Market. I won’t hold that against them though and look forward to see them thrive in their location, just a few yards from great businesses such as St Martin’s Tea and Coffee and Crafty, Gelato Village, the Case and its Champagne Bar and the soon-to-be-opened Burleigh’s Gin Parlour.

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WP_20150725_13_08_25_Pro I enjoyed a splendid lunch a St Martin’s Tea and Coffee today – a beautiful rich and warming rendang curry made with ox-cheek along with zingy salad with lime and coriander dressing. The beef (liberally covered in toasted coconut) had clearly been cooked for many hours, overnight quite possibly, and was tender as you like. Having also had a great satay a couple of weeks back  and then yesterday reading Leicester Veggie’s enthusiastic review of her vegan Jakarta Gado Gado, I wondered what was prompting this South East Asian fest.

The answer is a new chef has joined Chris Elliman and his team and it’s Bobby Ananta from Java.  You might have seen Bobby preparing a fantastic seabass dish in one episode of Nigel Slater’s recent series Eating Together.  It seems he had been managing a coffee bar in Leicester, and it’s great that he’s now getting a chance to cook. And more good news in that while he’s starting off with one or two of the more well-known dishes, in due course he’ll be  pushing the boat a bit more. In particular watch for a ticketed mid-week event being planned that will involve a full Indonesian menu.

Crafty Burger

June 12, 2015

I thought I’d put up my recent review of Crafty burger at St Martin’s in Leicester. It’s been up on the Leicester Mercury site  but to save you wrasslin’ with the pop ups on that site here it is plain wordpress format – as you’ll see, I think it’s a fine addition to Leicester’s scene.

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Crafty Burger

St Martin’s Tea & Coffee
2-6 St Martin’s Walk
St Martin’s Square
Leicester LE1 5DG

0116 251 2879

Open: Thu, Fri and Sat – 6pm-9pm

Cost – Burger, fries and pint of craft beer £14.

8 out of 10

St Martin’s Tea and Coffee has been one of the most lively independent businesses in Leicester city centre since starting life as a cookware shop. Since then it opened a coffee roastery, then combined the two businesses and opened a cafe, and eventually the cafe swallowed up the cookware business. Then in late 2014 it hosted Crafty Burger, a three night a week pop-up restaurant taking advantage of their fairly rudimentary kitchen.

It’s an indication of how businesses need to adapt to prevailing retail trends but also to follow their passion. Founder Andy Hall found himself more and more wanting to develop the coffee importing and roasting business which was starting to supply many of the emerging independent coffee business in the city. Those people needed barrista training and shiny Italian espresso machines too. Running a cafe alongside this wasn’t always easy.

All of which is the explanation for why Crafty Burger is now a permanent feature on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays. It’s an initiative of Chris Elliman, a man with good credentials as former head chef at one of Yorkshire’s top gastropubs, who with partner Andrea picked Leicester as a likely looking place to start anew.

After the success of the pop-up, the couple approached Andy Hall to go into partnership. They could take over the cafe and relaunch Crafty, freeing him to focus on the coffee business. A refurbishment followed with the coffee business relocating upstairs and a new kitchen installed downstairs.

Elliman has revamped the daytime menu at St Martin’s to make it one of the most interesting lunch time offerings in the city – from slow-cooked Cuban-style mojo marinated pork sandwiches (currently off the menu until they can get the electrics sorted to run all night for slow cooking), to an an extensive vegetarian selection such as a beautiful smoky aubergine dish, spiked with harissa and cooled with feta cheese, almonds, pomegrante, yoghurt and mint. It’s a delicate charmer of a dish that shows the chef is not just about big old burgers.

But Crafty is the focus of this review and big old burgers is certainly the focus there. I’ll come straight to the point and say that these are mighty fine examples of the genre. Beef is 28-day dry aged and ground and hand-pressed every day on site and the care in selection and in cooking shows. The pleasure is every bit that of a good steak. There’s a half a dozen choices and over a couple of visits I’ve tried the Farmyard Jam, given a sweetish edge from onion and bacon jam with maple, and the Mexican-themed El Gordo with jalapeno and corn relish, chipotle ketchup and Red Leicester. There wasn’t actually a great deal of heat I this but I didn’t want the glorious flavour of the beef overwhelmed anyway. Also remarkably good was the “Krispy Klucker”, a chicken burger made with tasty thigh meat which was beautifully tender inside a terrifically crunchy coating made, it seems, from rice crispies.

The influence of a skilled chef is evident in the qualities of all the extras too. “Pigcorn Poppers” were a delight – succulent little cubes of pork belly in panko crumb with a great relish made from pineapple, honey and chilli. Try and visit with a decent hunger because it would be a shame to miss these. Chicken wings basted in gochujang, Korean chilli paste, are hot, tasty and bang on-trend. A crunchy root vegetable slaw with and sour cream dressing had evidently had thought and care applied to its composition and preparation.

On a first visit fries were disappointingly soggy but this stemmed from a fryer malfunction, and on a subsequent occasion they were actually a highlight. Crisp, skin-on regular fries come with the burger but you can pimp them in a number of styles, and I can certainly recommend the nacho version with avocado, sour cream and jalapenos and the Spanish fries, with pimenton-spiced pork meatballs and garlic mayo.

There’s also craft beers from Purity, including their floral Lawless lager and the hoppy IPA Longhorn. If you fancy a desert they offer a salted peanut and chocolate gelato made specially for them by neighbours in St Martin Square, Gelato Village. It’s totally gorgeous.

You don’t go to a burger place for delicacy, but that’s not to say it can’t be done with flair, skill and originality and you get all of that with Crafty. It’s a lovely setting in the evening and the front of house is run by Andrea with great warmth. They buy local and it’s a quality-led, gimmick-free offering – just the kind of lively independent that adds character and distinctiveness to a city.

Crafty Burger returns

May 6, 2015

Just a quick heads up about Crafty Burger. As I wrote here last month, chef Chris Ellison and his partner Andrea have joined the business to upgrade the cafe’s daytime offering and run Crafty Burger on a permanent basis from 6-9pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.

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I joined some other bloggers at the launch night and was mightily impressed by the burger. I’ve had quite a few  “better burgers” recently as readers of my Mercury column will know and I’d say for pure meaty taste this shaded it.  I was also impressed by some of the sides, including beautiful little breadcrumbed cubes of pork belly.

I’ll save writing more when I’ve been back for another review visit but it’s definitely good stuff. If you are partial to the patty watch out too for the June launch of Meat Cure on Highcross Street. This will be their second branch and I hope they recreate what was on offer at the first venue in Market Harborough. It’s not easy to prise the masses out of Highcross, but these two should give Byron a run for their money.

Welcome developments in St Martin’s Square, Leicester. This pleasant area has struggled somewhat as the Shires grew into Highcross but remains an important element in the city centre’s mix.

Firstly, St Martin’s Tea and Coffee is further upping both its coffee business and food offering.  Last year it hosted a successful  pop up restaurant run by Chris Elliman aka Crafty Burger, and now Chris and his partner Andrea have gone into partnership with Andy and Ellie Hall of St Martin’s to take the business further.

As a result the coffee roastery, which does a thriving retail and wholesale business,  moves upstairs where there will be dedicated space to run coffee courses and barista training. Space is freed up downstairs for a kitchen refurb which will enable Chris Elliman to revive Crafty Burgers on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings with its 28 dry aged beef burgers and craft beers from brewers Purity.

craftyBut also this will prompt a step change in the food available at St Martin’s regular daytime café, moving beyond their quality bought products. Chris will now be slow cooking big joints of meat for the likes of mojo marinated pork shoulder for Cuban sandwiches and homemade sausage rolls, salads and relishes such as cucumber ketchup. Chris says he will “champion the best of Leicestershire produce” and can’t wait to get stuck in. Ellie Hall said “We want to say to Leicester ‘Sure you can go to Highcross and have a standardised meal – or you could come to us, eat something a little bit different and have a great coffee. And guess what  – it’ll cost you less’.”

You have to admire a manifesto like that. The building  closes for refurb from 13-17 April with the new café menu running from 18th  April and Crafty Burger reappearing from 1 May.

The other intriguing news is the closure of Pizza Express, which will be replaced by the American barbecue restaurant Grillstock.  With two other branches nearby the pizza place won’t really be missed and Grillstock – which has two branches in the South West and one in London seems to be a quality offering.

The Bristol-based business made its name hosting barbecue and music festivals.  Whether their current expansion is “organic” or bankrolled by voracious business types I don’t know but it will be interesting to see whether the venue can match both the great flavours and the independent flair of Leicester’s excellent  Smokehouse. The core menu is along similar lines – pulled pork, braised brisket, ribs, chicken, slaw and pickles etc – though no sign of the more adventurous and flexible menu that Liam Watson is able to implement at the Smokehouse.

No date yet for an opening on this – “coming soon” according to the website.

 

 

 

 

I was invited last week to provide a bit of feedback on the new menu at Maiyango. I enjoyed the work of chef Nick Wilson but it seems personal matters have drawn him away to Cambridge and now in charge behind the stove is Salvatore (Sav) Tassari.  Recruited with Nick Wilson’s involvement  as a possible successor, Sav has recently come to Leicester after four years cooking out in Tenerife but also has experience at a fine dining hotel in Chester and out in Italy.

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Andy Hall from St Martin’s Tea and Coffee with Aatin Anadkat of Maiyango

Before tasting though I was lucky enough to get a further insight into restaurant operations by sitting in on a session with Andy Hall from St Martin’s Coffee who has been charged with coming up with a new blend for Maiyango to grind. It’s great to see quality independent businesses co-operating like this. Andy had high hopes for a El Salvador Salmon Bourbon bean but while it was a complex bean the roast – done back in Central America – had not done it any favours, leaving it lacking body.  More promising was a blend from Brazil and Ethiopia.

On to lunch and I was able to sample some of Sav’s dishes – including a seemingly simple  but stunning starter of fragrant winter vegetables, including butternut squash, artichoke, beetroots. It’s billed as sweet and sour, but the slight spicing didn’t detract from the earthy essential flavour od the veg. Very impressive mains of a wonderful tender, rare beef fillet with asparagus, mushroom puree and truffle sauce showed really good balance of flavours, not easy with truffle. This impression was backed up by a taste of the steamed wild sea bass, spiced coconut laksa, bok choi, chilli and a refreshing mint relish which gave the whole lift.  A desert of a pineapple parfait with yoghurt foam and a foaming cucumber soup was a clever combination – the cucumber was a bit insubstantial on its own but with the pineapple it all made perfect sense.

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Winter vegetables

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Wild seabass

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Pineapple parfait

 

 

All in all it seems Sav has understood his brief here and is producing interesting food that continues the house style fine dining with international influences but strong local roots too. There’s plenty of invention and plenty for vegetarians and vegans too.

Coincidentally I reviewed one of Sav’s predecessor’s in my Mercury Column this week. Phil Sharpe opened the White Peacock in late 2013 and my impression is the place is really hitting its stride. We had a lovely tasting menu full of good flavours and confident cooking in a smart, upmarket but relaxed environment. It’s a lovely building too and provides an excellent dining experience in the heart of the city – you can see the review here 

One more bit of news, former general manager Mark Barbour has returned to the Red Lion, Stathern, after a gap of nine years. The pub holds a Michelin Bib Gourmand and is the Good Pub Guide’s Leicestershire Dining Pub of the Year for 2015, but owners  Sean Hope and Ben Jones recently announced that they are withdrawing from active management  to focus on their other venue, the wonderful Olive Branch in Clipsham.  Mark ran the pub fron 2002  to 2006 and since then has been training manager for the Bistro Pierre chain, opening its flagship Ilkley hotel,  and  general manager at the award-winning Fleece Inn at Addingham, West Yorkshire.

 

Ten tasty places

December 29, 2014

For the Twixtmas edition of my Leicester Mercury column I did them a piece on ten food and drink places readers might like to try. Regular followers of this blog may recognise a certain amount of adapted material here and it was a nice opportunity to highlight some places I admire but which may not be feasible to fit in for a restaurant review column. Here’s the link:  ten tasty places

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