June 30, 2017

As most readers will know I’ve been reviewing for the Leicester Mercury for the last couple of years, and putting some of the more interesting reviews on here. Sadly the paper has decided to take the reviews “in house” – meaning they don’t have to pay an experienced freelancer like me but a staffer can do it as part of their job. Freelance people of any stripe will be aware of this phenomenon.

So no more Mercury reviews here I’m afraid – but I will try and keep the blog going with whatever news and reviews I can manage under my own steam. Here’s the last review done for the Mercury, based on an enjoyable couple of visits to a new Italian restaurant in Stoneygate.




21 Allandale Road
0116 270 3222


‘It’s not that “nouveau cuisine” is it?” asked the middle-aged man, warily. The waiter had just started to explain to him that Marabel is a cicchetti restaurant, featuring small plates for sharing and he seemed to feel he might be left hungry. Maintaining his equilibrium with admirable poise, the waiter suggested how he might like to order and assured him that the food would be nice and filling.

marabel1I suspect his little cameo may have been played several times over the last month since Marabel opened in the premises that previously housed the bar Mason and Brooke. Even in a place as apparently sophisticated as Stoneygate the concept of cicchetti doesn’t seem to have trickled down into the zeitgeist in the same way as tapas. But it is essentially the same concept, starting in the bars of Venice as simple sandwiches or snacks served with a drink, and later becoming pretty much synonymous with small versions of the national cuisine in a restaurant setting.

Marabel’s menu is a wide ranging collection of enticing Italian dishes at around £4 to £6 each plus the odd Spanish influence (patatas bravas should make the tapas penny drop). Appetisers such as San Daniele prosciutto with parmesan and aged balsamic set the tone for dishes that major on good ingredients treated simply and with a strong sense for flavour combinations. And on our first lunchtime visit that’s exactly what we got.

WP_20170601_007Crab piadinas (above) were delightful – flat breads stuffed with a well-balanced combination of crabmeat, lemon and mascapone. Pea and basil arancini were similarly excellent – deep-fried rice balls in a thin, crisp crumb with a garlicky mayonnaise, while a spinach and rocket salad was simple and fresh with plenty of thick shavings of parmesan. More substantial was a pasta dish of penne with 12-hour cooked beef ragu, a dish you’ve no doubt cooked at home but here was a genuine depth of flavour that made it restaurant-worthy. The same criteria I suppose applied to a lamb skewer (below – slatophobes fear not,  you do get provided with plates too) which had had been marinated in an oil, paprika chilli and mint to very good effect – the meat had been threaded with onions and peppers and barbecued in a clay oven.


All these dishes were very well seasoned and dressed with herbs, crumbs, parmesan or oil – they felt cared for and designed to please.

The restaurant also describes itself as a wine bar and indeed the wine list is excellent, bearing the clear imprint of Simon March of Evington’s on Evington Rd. A shame then only two of each colour seem to be available by the glass. We certainly enjoyed the inevitable pinot grigio and a light, easy-going Bardolino that was full of cherries, but with Evington’s being my local shop I’m familiar with the wines on that list and with food as full-flavoured as this it would have been good to try something with more oomph such as the Marius Reserva from Southern Spain or the Salice Salentino Sampietrana from Puglia.

Anyway, I was keen to go back for an evening meal and this time picked some of the heftier dishes. Belly of pork was terrific, with soft, unctuous meat with sweet apple sauce and crispy sage leaves. The chicken cacciatora (literally hunter’s chicken) certainly had plenty of flavour but to my taste the tomato sauce was over-reduced and the dish was left a little dry, especially as only breast meat appeared to have been used. My mamma’s version (ok, granted, she’s from Battersea not Bologna) used moist leg and thigh meat and had plenty of sauce. A final dish of wild mushrooms in a creamy, garlicky sauce was exactly as it should be, ludicrously indulgent and terrifically tasty.

There’s little here that breaks boundaries or which will change your opinion of Italian cuisine but the food appears to be lovingly prepared by people who care about flavour and know how to treat ingredients. The environment and the service are very pleasant too. I think the format works a little better for a light lunch rather than a slap-up dinner but this is good food that will keep local peers such as neighbours Timo and Queens Rd tapas bar Barceloneta on their toes.


Well the rain came on the big day, but indominatable British spirit won the day and it appeared to be a big success. I’m talking of course about the Stoneygate Food Festival. So much rain, in fact, that the camera stayed in the bag. No pictures then, but the event is definitely worth a quick write up.

Allandale Rd/Francis St has hosted the odd itinerant French or Italian market but this was something different.  An attempt to get local producers and restaurants to highlight their produce. Fishmongers Nigel and Zoe Brady took the lead in setting it up, keen to reinforce the foodie credentials of these streets and worked hard to bring as a wide range of producers as possible. There were maybe a few holes in the offering but as a first stab this was a really good event that deserved better than pouring rain but as I suggested, it didn’t ruin it.

You could have enjoyed really good street food from local restaurants Marchee Wok (the only Chinese takeaway I ever recommend), and city restaurants such as the Goan Anjuna and Maiyango, who had beautiful breads and patisserie. Head chef Phillip Sharp was also there cooking to order and I had a fantastic dish of scallops with samphire, pickled fennel and micro greens – a glorious combination and sweet, salty and sharp.  The Brady’s sold out quickly of a huge paella dish and appeared to be doing a roaring trade in champagne too.

It wasn’t a day for hanging round too long but there were queues  at a number of stalls, I could see several stalls selling out  and there was a general good feeling of everyone being up for good food. I would have liked to have seen more bread (I know you tried Nigel), maybe some cheeses,  and a few new discoveries would have been good but I definitely had the feeling this was the first draft of a really good idea. Hope it happens again and I hope more businesses support it.


May 10, 2012

News has reached me of another of Lucy Cufflin’s local food pop-ups. After a successful couple of nights at the White Room in Stoneygate, she’s taking over Kibworth Cricket Club on 24 May.  This is a larger venue and there’s (no BYO this time – a local shop is supplying a selection of wines at £12).  The menu sounds very appealing – chicken liver parfait from the wonderful Fosse Meadows chickens, fresh pasta with pesto and British asparagus, pork belly with bourbon glaze, saute potatoes and apples, and crispy fennel with lemon and chilli, plus a trio of local berry deserts – raspberry posset, summer pudding and chambord liquer tart.  Tickets are £30 from Lucy’s Foods in Stoenygatre  or the Deli at Kibworth.

In case you were wondering about the calcotada I was getting excited about last month, it was cancelled at the last minute. Very disappointing.

Not a pop-up but of interest to those with a love of gutsy French regional food is a special cassoulet night at La Table d’Yves in Thorpe Satchville. Yves Ogrodski and his wife Elizabeth came from Provence to the UK and for six years have run this fun, authentic French restaurant in an otherwise unremarkable pub in the heart of East Leicestershire. I’ve not been for a couple of years,  but given it’s looking like we’re not having a summer I’m tempted by the hearty delights of the bean, duck, sausage combo offer on 18 May.

Finally a reminder about some local food events – the Artisan Cheese Fair  takes place at Melton’s Cattle Market this weekend, Leicester’s Summer Food festival will be at Leicester Market on 27 May,  and Stoneygate local food and drink fair is on 4 June (stalls for local producers still available, contact Zoe Brady of Brady’s Fish and Seafood Market)

Pop ups for Spring.

February 29, 2012



Good to report that finally there’s some stirrings in Leicester of a pop-up restaurant scene.  Lucy Cufflin of Lucy’s Foods in Stoneygate has teamed up with Powder Blue, an interior décor shop opposite her own store, to stage two nights (sorry, it’s tonight and tomorrow and they are both full), with a locally themed four course menu including “pannacotta of Rutland trout” (not sure about the sound of that), terrine of duck with vine fruit and Muscat jelly, Bouverie Farm venison pudding with Tiger ale, plus apple tart with walnut pastry and Brucciani’s ice-cream. Both nights sold out within a week but if you like the sound of it, go to White Room Dining’s Facebook  page to look for future events.

I have to say I’m not really a Stoneygate kinda guy. But I am definitely attracted by news of a calcotada being held at the lovely Crumblin’ Cookie on High Street.  Calcotadas are Catalan feasts that feature in particular calçots – giant spring onions with romesco sauce.  I heard about them years ago from a friend who went to one with their ex-pat pal near Taragona, but never thought I’d see one in Leicester. Calçotadas are being popularised here by Rachel McCormack (one of the panellists at the recent Kitchen Cabinet recording at Melton), who is behind the website  Catalan Cooking 


The traditional menu includes nibbles, calcots, barbecued meats, crema catalana, fruit and a glass or two of cava, and the idea is very much to have a lot fun. Sounds great.  Have a look at Catalan Cooking  for details, though as of today I don’t think it mentions the Leicester event yet.  Cost is £32 – book with the Crumblin’ Cookie at 68 High Street.

Had a nice chat this morning with Nigel and Zoe Brady, owners of a new fishmongers on Stoneygate’s Allandale Road.  Zoe is a local, Nigel a Dubliner with a background that varies from butchery to cancer research but the couple have been planning a fish and seafood shop for a couple of years.

We’ve got a fish market in the city centre, and of course big supermarkets tend to have fish counters, but I think there has to be a place for a neighbourhood fish shop. Especially one like this that seems to do it the right way.  They get deliveries from South and East coast ports every morning at 7am, all from day boats, so the emphasis is very much on freshness, seasonality and sustainability. Nigel reckons 95 per cent of his fish is from British waters, and while they do stock North Atlantic cod and haddock they are very keen to wean people off these traditional species and inspire and educate people about alternatives.  So the relatively small and beautifully displayed stock includes dabs, at just £1 each, red gurnard fillets, gilthead bream as well as Scottish langoustines and Norfolk crab and lobster. Scallops have been flying out this week thanks it seems to a colour supplement recipe at the weekend, and also on the slab today were brill, turbot, monkfish, squid, razor clams and oysters.

They cater for a lunchtime market with hot dishes to take away – today’s dish was mussels in tomato and chilli – and home made dishes including fish pies, smoked salmon pate, taramasalata and pasta salads. Recipe cards to inspire creative use of their fish are planned and the shop is licensed so they can recommend and sell you a nice chilled bottle of Sancerre or Champagne if you’re in the market for it.

The shop is open until 6pm early in the week and until 7pm on Thursday and Fridays, making it highly convenient for picking up something for the weekend. I just picked up a few extras today such  as nam pla, smoked Cornish seasalt and a few chillies, but I’ll be back soon to try the fish.

Edit January 2013: Nigel and Zoe have relocated their business to Northamptonshire -specifically to the wonderful Beckworth Emporium near Mears Ashby.It’s worth a drive out to this huge garden centee and mega-farmshop – if you do make it and see Nigel, tell him I sent you.

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