I’ve reviewed the Olive Branch before on here and I suspect many readers will have been there themselves, but I went again for the Leicester Mercury recently and it never hurts to publicise good places again. Here then is the Mercury review which appeared last weekend:

The Olive Branch

Main Street
Clipsham
Rutland LE15 7SH

01780 410355

Cost – Three courses à la carte, around £28

Food served: Mon-Friday 12-2pm, 6.30-9.30pm
Sat 12-2pm, 7-30pm
Sun 12-3pm, 7-9pm

8 out of 10

The Olive Branch (pictured last Autumn!)

The Olive Branch (pictured last Autumn!)

Many people in Leicestershire and Rutland who take their food seriously are likely to have made it out to Clipsham and The Olive Branch. It’s a fair old schlep over from the city to this far corner of Rutland but for a pub so heavily garlanded with the industry’s top accolades, an hour’s drive through glorious English countryside doesn’t feel too much of a hardship.

Over the last 16 years the pub has gone from a boarded-up shell to last year being named pub of the year in the Good Pub Guide. It was recently the Michelin Pub of the Year and for 12 years even held a Michelin Star. It was a break from tradition from the tyre people to give a star a pub with such a relaxed informal style – heaven forbid, they don’t even have tableclothes. It didn’t please everybody, but it was a recognition that good cooking existed outside the temples of gastronomy.

We went over on a Monday night, which in some places of course is chef’s night off. But sometimes that’s the night you need to go, and indeed one of our party was a himself a chef on his night off – and he deserves to eat out when he can. You would hope though that a place of this quality was not about to let it’s standards drop just because it’s a quiet night after the weekend.

The first thing to note is what a beautiful building the pub is now. A terrace, a pergola, a dovecote, lovely stonework and slates – it ticks every country pub box there is. Inside there’s a warm welcome and an atmosphere that is calm, civilised but still distinctly pubby. I loved the little touches like the little chalkboard on your table with your name (assuming you have booked).

Pumpkin seed bread to start with was lovely. Our starters included pea and broad bean risotto, which our chef – naturally perhaps the most critical among us – enjoyed though he thought maybe it was 30 seconds underdone and lacked much in the way of promised toasted pine nuts. Hot-smoked salmon was a lovely piece of fish, and well matched with carpaccio of red and golden beetroot with a horseradish cream. It seemed to typify the Olive Branch approach, fine food done with style but without the need to over-elaborate or strive for novelty. Ham hock croquettes were tasty, well made and imaginatively paired with sweet peppers and scorched baby gem lettuce.

The mains again reflected that notion of the food, not the techniques or fashion, taking the lead. You could have had a Leicestershire ploughman’s with pork pie and Sparkenhoe’s fine red Leciester, or a prosaic-sounding chicken, leek and mushroom suet pudding. I suspect both would have surpassed expectations, though we all went for more overtly restauranty options. A taste of pork featured succulent pork belly, herby sausage and peppery black pudding, all brought together with super-intense gravy. The dish also featured a marvellous fondant potato that been simmered with cider giving it sweetish edge and a contrasting sauerkraut with apple and pine nuts. A pleasing and well-compiled plateful. Roast salt marsh lamb went down very well with our demanding chef, paired classically with some ratatouille and, more adventurously, very tasty chorizo hash browns. Our third main was a fine piece of cod, though there was some concern over whether a madeira sauce would be too rich for fish. In fact the dish was well-balanced with gnocchi and parsely puree and the sauce did not overpower.

Deserts included a fine mango parfait – though the advertised honeycomb and “white chocolate aero” seemed to have been replaced with some spun sugar and bruléed marshmallow. This was possibly the only example of Monday night syndrome. The dish was fine but the changes should have been explained. A bread and butter pudding made with danish pastry was inspired – rich and sweet. I couldn’t understand my friend’s decision to ask for marmalade ice-cream to be replaced with pistachio but some people are odd like that. The exotic vanilla flavouring of tonka bean crème brulée probably isn’t to everyone’s taste but paired here with rosewater shortbread it created a headily fragrant desert.

Friendly, calm service made for a very relaxed evening eating distinctly superior food. If you live to the East of our region, lucky you. If not, you should definitely consider The Olive Branch when you fancy a drive out to the country for a fine meal in a fine pub.

The Red Lion

November 6, 2014

Wailing and gnashing of teeth from the people of the Belvoir village of Stathern today with the news that the Red Lion has been put on the market. It’s a hugely successful pub, laden with accolades for its food and atmosphere, and recently done up too, but owners Sean Hope and Ben Jones have decided they want to focus on their other venue, the even more award-winning Olive Branch in Clipsham.

It’s got to be a great opportunity for some other ambitious business to pick up the reins, and Hope and Jones  say they are willing to work with the right people to keep it a high-performing food-focussed pub.

 

 

If I had a job, Friday probably would have been payday. Seemed like a good excuse, then, to go somewhere nice for lunch. Leicester’s leading criminologist was also looking for a trip out somewhere nice and so the two of us drove out to Rutland to take advantage of Lunch for Even Less, the annual post-Christmas promotion from a group of top-end places.

The Olive Branch

The Olive Branch

We’d settled on The Olive Branch, Clipsham, a long-term favourite but somewhere neither of us had been for a couple of years.  It’s such a lovely building and the pub inside is run perfectly. It hums with contented diners, a log fire crackles and staff move around efficiently, constantly checking all is well. There are nice little touches  – your name is on a little chalkboard when you arrive at your table, which is then hung behind the bar and becomes your tab. And when a dish was served while one of us was having a comfort break, they immediately offered to return it to the kitchen to keep warm. The kind of service that brings you back.

And the food? Well we sent back six of the cleanest plates you’re ever likely to see. The Olive Branch may recently have lost it’s long-held Michelin star but I don’t think diners could care less. The menu remains inviting, unpretentious British food cooked with finesse and with concern for flavour.

OB1

Devilled whitebait

Stuffed lamb breast with lentils

Stuffed lamb breast with lentils

I started with a cracking little dish of lamb breast with a pine nut stuffing and a lentil stew with sundried tomatoes. The lamb was a classic case of a humble cut delivering big hits of flavour – a real feel-good starter. Neil’s devilled whitebait were perfect – fresh, crunchy, fishy with mayonnaise and braised baby gem.

Mains were classics. I had a coq au vin of such intensity it was all I could do not to pick up the dish and slurp the remaining sauce. Tarragon mash and roast carrots were perfectly done too. Neil stuck with fish and a beautiful fillet of gilthead bream that shimmered on the plate as it sat on a mountain of fregola with a few tempura whitebait.

For desert we both picked trifle and simply sighed with pleasure as we tucked in. Poached Yorkshire rhubarb – still retaining a bit of bite – sat at the bottom and a hefty jamjar with sponge cake soaked in a sherry of real quality (Pedro Ximinez), with jelly and sensibly-judged layers of custard and cream, accompanied a by wonderfully light and fluffy rhubarb sorbet. Blissful.

ob5

Does what it says on the jar

Three courses of food this enjoyable for £19.50 counts as a good deal. There were plenty of countryset types in green gilets so, yes, it’s a little posh (as we left we saw a young barman come out and jump in a sports car – never seen that happen at the Ale Wagon), but it’s not stuffy – it’s friendly and welcoming. And as you leave, you start planning when you can go again.

Lunch for Even less

January 5, 2013

I’d prepared this story for the January issue of Great Food (thanks Carolyn at Hambleton Hall), but as that’s not happening, you might as well get a version of it here:

 

Seven of the region’s top restaurants have once again joined together in a scheme to promote custom in the quiet days of January and February.

The Lunch for Even Less initiaitve is an ideal opportunity for a good lunch, and maybe in particular to try out a top restaurant you’ve not been to before. The precise details vary between venues but you can find two courses lunch deals for as little as £12.50. You will generally need to book in advance, mentioning the offer.

The seven restaurants include Hambleton Hall, Langar Hall, Berkeley Arms, Marquess of Exeter, The Olive Branch, The Red Lion (Stathern), and the Wicked Witch, Ryhall.

Look out for the flyer or you can see full details of the specific offers here

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.

Offering an Olive Branch

December 7, 2010

At the weekend a friend was asking if I knew of any cookery demonstration that she could send her Dad on for an Xmas present. Serendipitously the very next day I was invited to just such an event today at the Olive Branch in Clipsham, Rutland. The half-day demo is presented by Sean Hope, the chef that oversees the kitchen here, for which he has one of those Michelin thingies, and at the Red Lion in Stathern. 

Sean is a confident, competent host and the kitchen’s extensive preparation means the cooking is pacey, but Sean is left with time to answer questions and expand on his themes.  He showed us a three course, Christmassy menu and struck a good balance between giving an insight into how a professional kitchen would do it, and how the dinner party giver can do it at home. Best of all, we got to eat the menu  –  beetroot-curred salmon gradlax with horesradish  creme fraiche, roast goose breast with goose leg stuffing, chestnut and bacon sprouts, goosefat roasties and a chocolate roulade with cherry compote.

There’s five more events planned at each of the two pubs in 2011 and they do make an excellent gift or, obviously, just a treat for yourself. Sean also revealed he is planning a more hands-on cookery school for next year too so watch out for further details. Thanks to Great Food Leicestershire and Rutland for the opportunity to attend.

Market stars again

November 30, 2010

Leicester Market and Leicester chefs have another starring role on TV tonight with  episode 6 of Channel 5’s Street Market Chefs programme.  Tune in at to see 7.30pm to see Rahul Gupta of Colourworks battle it out with Phillip Sharp of Maiyango. I’ll be watching carefully as the pair have to use one of my very favourite ingredients – plantain. I particularly like the sound of Philip’s honey and ginger roasted plantain with pan-fried seabass and crispy fried cassava. Judges include chef Sean Hope from the Olive Branch and Leicester legend Herdle White, radio presenter and carnival creator.

If you miss it, you should be able to catch after transmission on catch it on www.five.tv

Phil Sharp, presenter Amanda Lamb and Rahul Gupta

Winter Festival

November 16, 2010

A quick reminder that the Winter Food Festival takes place this coming Sunday, 21 November from 11 -5.00pm at Leicester Market.  Cannily timed to cash-in on the crowds that come in for the Xmas lights switch-on, the event attracted 15,000 last year and all 200 stalls are taken this year. Events include a demonstration of Stilton-making from the people at Long Clawson dairy (12.30pm) but from what I remember of last year I’ll  be looking forward to finding some quality game.  

In other news,  more plaudits for the Olive Branch in Clipsham, rated the nation’s sixth best gastro pub in a list of the top 50 by trade mag the Morning Advertiser.  I reckon I’ve been been to ten of them and if the Olive Branch really merits beating the Sportsman, near Whitstable, by six places then it must be on very good form indeed.

Michelin Update

January 15, 2010

Further to the post earlier this week, sources close to this blog have revealed there is no change to the Michelin star status of Sat Bains, Hambleton Hall or The Olive Branch. There are no new stars in the region. Fans of the rarefied end of fine dining may be interested to know that Alain Ducasse has gained a star to become the nation’s fourth three star restuarant.

Update at 17.33 – no new Bib Gourmands for the East Midlands either, though the Red Lion at Strathern keeps its one.

Michelin time again

January 13, 2010

The smart restaurant world industry is getting into its annual flurry of excitement over the imminent arrival of this year’s Michelin Guide. Details are closely guarded this year after previous leaks and will be released, apparantly, next Tuesday at 8am. Not that we’re likely to have anything to get worked up about in Leicestershire. In recent years the Red Lion at Stathern has won a Bib Gourmand, the guide’s designation for good food at moderate prices (up to £28 for a meal before drinks),  and I believe Tom Cockerill had a listing when Entropy had its city centre restaurant, but beyond that I can’t think of  much.

Rutland has two one-starred establishments. Hambleton Hall is unikely to change status I suspect  – more than good enough to keep its star, not fashionable enough to gain a second. The Olive Branch in Clipsham – as an informal pub environment – probably has to work harder than most to retain its star. Fingers  crossed for them because it’s a lovely place.   There’s a considerable industry buzz that Sat Bains in  Nottingham will gain a second star (of which there are currently only 15 in the UK), but then there was last year and he didn’t.

For those of us who enjoy restaurants this is all a bit of fun, even for the majority for whom michelin-starred dining is at best a very rare treat.  And you can argue it’s all irrelevent anyway.  But just imagine if Leicester did have a successful destination-dining venue. Just as gaining a John Lewis made a difference to the economic profile of the city, and stellar cultural projects have raised the game in that field, so a really top restaurant would help redefine our status as a backwater with a few good curry houses.  

Can’t say I can see it happening soon, for many obvious reasons, but one can dream.

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