Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Leicester's hidden gem

Back at the beginning of 2016, I wrote a review about James' Cafe Bistro for the Leicester Mercury. I used the review as an excuse to visit a place that I'd heard a lot about but hadn't quite got round to visiting and I was so glad I did!

mac n cheese, pasta, cheese, delicious

They've made it in to my regular rotation. Secluded behind the Highcross centre on East Bond Street, James' is quiet, peaceful and feels like arriving home. A warm welcome always awaits along with a droolworthy specials board.  In fact, follow them on Instagram and you will not only get snaps of delicious food, but occasionally an update on the specials which will make a visit unavoidable!

I've been on a number of occasions for a quick lunch, or when hunger really strikes for their cooked breakfast which is an absolute mountain of delicious food, including the crispiest sauteed potatoes in town. The bacon and black pudding they use is also something very special. I was inspired to write about them again because I went with some friends on my birthday recently and I couldn't believe that 50% of my guests had never even heard of them before!

full english, breakfast, bacon, mushrooms, tasty, Leicester

They are committed to fresh ingredients, well sourced and beautifully handled, and while the standard menu has an excellent (and unusual mixture) of cafe favourites and Italian dishes, it really is the creativity of the specials menu that makes it worth returning time and time again. From what I can tell, they take classic combinations and do something a little bit special. Recently we've seen garlic and smoked paprika chicken, for example, or a decadent avocado on toast, pimped with poached eggs, salmon, pumpkin seeds and spinach.

They also have regular events on a Saturday evening, from psychic dinners (I have no idea what that means) to reggae nights and everything in between.

brownie, dessert, Leicester, crepe, cheesecake, ice cream
Birthday cake!

Just like in my Mercury review, I again have occasion to recommend the dessert tasting platter. This is a regular feature on the menu giving you the opportunity to taste a good number of their regularly rotating desserts. However, this time they very kindly brought one out for my table because it was my birthday (told you it's like being at home - nobody had said anything!). I adored the chocolate brownie, while the strawberry, basil and black pepper sorbet hit the spot with my friends, and the peanut and caramel cheesecake was a universal hit.

So again, I urge you to visit this hidden gem of the city and enjoy their laid back, but delectable food for yourself!

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Gray's at the Cookie and The Attic, Leicester

I've been a big fan of Gray's at the LCB Depot for a long while now. When I dropped in to see them late last year, incognito, in order to write a review for the Leicester Mercury, the service and standard of food was as high as ever. So imagine my delight when I found out they were opening a new outpost on the High Street, in The Cookie.

merguez sausage, fried egg, English muffin, Leicester
Muffin with Merguez sausage, rocket and a fried egg, with a pepper coulis.

I was particularly pleased because High Street is significantly closer to my office than the Depot, so it's a much more realistic possibility for my half an hour lunch break. I have to wait until I have a meeting over that side of town to treat myself to a Gray's lunch normally. I've stopped in a couple of times for their £4 muffins and found the service courteous and efficient and the quality of the ingredients meeting the high standard that I've come to expect.

This week I popped over because they were launching their new menu at a celebratory events with their housemates The Attic. You can't ignore an event like that!

brokers gin, gin and tonic, orange, cinnamon, leicester

We were treated to some delicious cocktails from the Attic team. They have already firmly cemented their reputation for some superb cocktails and they were showcasing them with gin and tonic made with Broker's Gin to your own specification from the menu. I went for the Copperhead, which had orange zest, cinnamon, bitters and a sprinkle of pink peppercorns. I loved the way the delicate spices worked with the aromatics in the gin, it was a really summery and interesting drink, even though sadly the weather was not on form so I was drinking it on the secret balcony in a fine drizzle!

The Attic, Leicester, cocktail, Old Fashioned

They also had a carefully constructed Old Fashioned, one of my favourite drinks, which had been lovingly developed over several hours using all kinds of fancy processes which I have now forgotten (probably because I had a G&T followed by an Old Fashioned) but it definitely involved golden syrup! It was a much more entry level Old Fashioned than I am used to, the flavour of the hot, strong alcohol (hot in terms of mouth feel, they didn't warm it up or anything silly) being nicely tempered with the slight syrupy sweetness of the syrup and a delightful splash of cherry juice to garnish.

bruschetta, bites, lunch, fresh, Leicester

While we sipped our drinks, the friendly team brought round platters of samples from the menu for everyone to try and happily explained what was in them and what made them special. One of the key features of the Gray's at the Cookie menu is that it is assuredly inclusive. Each menu section contains clearly labelled options - meat, fish, vegetarian and vegan. We enjoyed crisp sweet potato fries with a spiced mayo and crunchy semolina crust. There were sweet and sticky onion bhaji kofta blends which were full of spicy crunch as well as a huge amount of gently cooked sweet onion. 

cauliflower, tempura, Leicester, vegetarian

I was surprised at how much I liked the simple toasty - the chicken, cheese and sunblushed tomato making a sweet combo in a perfectly toasted bread that was so simple but utterly delightful. The tempura cauliflower was also a real treat. As you can see, they take their menu inspiration from all around the world and this experimental feel makes the overall menu feel quirky and fun. It is all very well executed, with clear attention being paid to finding a balance of flavours within each dish.

Leicester, urban, old fashioned, cocktail

It is also great to discover that the ground floor of the Cookie is accessible to people with mobility issues, or those with pushchairs, but I also found out that evening that if you would like to attend a gig (music, comedy and much more available!) in the basement and you use a wheelchair, they can arrange access for you by prior appointment. Just give them a call.

They are also the first place I am aware of in the city to have a gender neutral toilet, as well as providing a rare city centre Safe Space. These are not baby steps, these are giant strides towards equality in our city and I really hope that other independent venues in town sit up and take note.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Street art is coming to Leicester

Bring the Paint, Leicester's newest street art and music festival is coming to the Cultural Quarter on 27th May. There's an amazing amount of activity taking place including live art, BMX display, live music and plenty more.

We attended the press launch for the festival last night at The Exchange and got a taster of what was to come with a beautiful live graffiti art demonstration taking place in the basement while we chatted to the event organisers and found out all the gossip of what is to come. The finished piece was absolutely beautiful, and it was incredible to watch it form over just a couple of hours.

You can expect lonely corners, unloved walls and grey spaces to become full of life and colour when the festival takes place. Look out for everything from subtle interventions to some real statuesque creations on an amazing scale. I cannot wait to see what transpires in these outdoor spaces, I think it's a real credit to the city that this international festival is being staged here and it will brighten up all of our lives.

Bring the Paint is a free event and you can find graffiti walls, outdoor cinema, street food and gigs dotted all around the Cultural Quarter. Personally, I'm looking forward to the outdoor cinema and also the next installment of Canteen at LCB Depot, some excellent beats from Well Gosh at the newly refurbished Shed, and most of all, the brightening up of some really, REALLY dull looking walls.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Geese & Fountain

We headed out to Croxton Kerrial last week to see the Geese & Fountain receive their Pub of the Year award from the Vale of Belvoir branch of CAMRA, and while we were there we thought it would be rude not to sample the menu.

pub, CAMRA, award, real ale

This rural pub is very much a part of the community, set in the heart of the Leicestershire countryside, but it is really a cut above your average boozer. 

pub, leicestershire, Geese and Fountain

With a seemingly endless beer garden, and robust, simple decor it's a welcoming and simple premises, but it holds many exciting secrets!

Leicestershire, beer garden, sunset

While we were there it was jam packed with CAMRA members, so predictably they were running through real ales on the bar like it was going out of fashion. Equally predictably, given their award-winning status, their beers were well kept and showed some interesting variety - including both local and lesser-known more far flung breweries.

beer, real ale, CAMRA

The real gem is the menu, which features a huge commitment to high quality, locally sourced ingredients. Look out in particular for the David Cox Lincolnshire sausages, and ice cream made from produce from Belvoir Ridge Creamery, as well as regularly changing specials board.

burger, Leicestershire, foodie

We couldn't resist the Dexter beef burger, locally sourced, that Nick the landlord described so temptingly. In fact all four people on our table ordered it and it was well worth having. Extra chunky duck fat (not goose fat sadly) chips were deliciously light and fluffy with a perfect crisp on the outside, and a carefully dressed salad were perfect, simple accompaniments to an unfussy dish which really allowed the local meat to shine in all of its glory.

burger, duck fat chips, salad, Dexter beef

The two small patties were cooked to a perfect medium, allowing them to be juicy and flavourful. They did end up much smaller than the soft bun, but this was my only slight criticism of the whole meal, so I'll take that.

lemon, dessert, pudding, edible flowers

Our party also enjoyed the desserts, again simply but beautifully presented, like the lemon posset pictured above. Overall it is an unfussy menu, that looks like standard pub grub at first glance but is actually surprisingly thoughtful and beautifully sourced and executed in reality. Even the bread basket was freshly baked and served with high quality condiments.

bread, butter, baking, fresh

It's well worth a trip out to the Geese & Fountain, although if like me you don't drive, you may wish to consider booking out one of their rooms for the evening since it's literally a marathon's worth of a cycle away from Leicester! You'll find the geese are just as welcoming as the staff team, and don't forget to keep an eye on their Instagram to follow the adventures of the pub cats!

geese, goose, funny, Leicestershire, birds

Disclaimer - I wrote this review because I enjoyed my visit! We paid for our meals in full.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Leicester, do you know what you are missing?

Our food and drink scene soars from high to brand new high on a seemingly weekly basis at the moment. Here's what you might be missing out on if you haven't got your ear to the ground this week! The only thing I can't help you with is being in two places at once where events clash...

Tuesday 25th April
Weekly Quiz
West End Brewery, Braunstone Gate
Not always widely advertised, but always lots of fun, Russ will be hosting the weekly pub quiz so you can pit your wits against me and my noble band of pub-quiz wooden spooners (sorry guys, but me and The Boy are going to drag you down) whilst enjoying a refreshing drink from the selection of brews made on the premises in Leicester's first brewpub.

real ale, brewpub, microbrewery

Wednesday 26th April
The Grand Launch
The King's Head, King Street/New Walk
From 7pm
After extensive refurbishment, the King's Head are throwing open their doors to welcome us all back. With 12 real ales and ciders on the bar, a splash of gin behind the door and of course, the absolutely adorable Chairman Meow presiding, it will surely be an evening to remember.

cat, pub cat, Leicester

Wednesday 26th April
An Evening with the Leicester Riders
The Black Horse, Aylestone
Raising money for the Riders Foundation, there is a silent auction, Q&A with members of the almighty, all-conquering Leicester Riders basketball team and even a free pint of Everard's Tiger thrown in with your ticket. Places are limited though, so if you want a ticket call them right away!

Wednesday 26th April
A Taste of Brewklopedia
Brewklopedia, Welford Road
Taste 5 delicious beers at the first Bottle Club held in the new Welford Road store. There are some old favourites, like Cloudwater Brewery, on offer, as well as some more unfamiliar names. The only one I've tried before is Siren Brewery's Yulu which I was very favourable towards on Untapped!

EDIT: Wednesday 26th April
CAMRA Pub of the Month Presentation
The Blue Boar, Millstone Lane

Thursday 27th April
Extended Opening
Charnwood Brewery, Loughborough
In case you missed it, Charnwood Brewery have now extended their opening hours, so you can head down and sample some of their delicious brews on Thursday afternoons now, as well as Fridays and Saturdays.

Friday 28th April
LCB Depot, Rutland Street
Now in the third month, the (according to me) best street food experience in the East Midlands is back at LCB Depot this Friday and due to massive demand there will be more seating, more tables and more importantly, more delicious street food on offer. As well as the awesome Leave it to Esmie (who I featured on the blog last summer) there will be a pop-up cocktail bar featuring some of the most influential bartenders in the country guest-starring each month. Halloumi fries from Street Chef and steamed bao by Wallace and Sons also sound like delicious highlights to me!

street food, Leicester

Sunday 30th April
Sunday Session
Geese & Fountain, Croxton Kerrial
Becka Hutton will be back to sing classics as well as more contemporary hits for you, while you munch on high tea. Table bookings are being taken, so get in there while you can! Space is limited!

pub, Leicestershire

Sunday 30th April
Lazy Sundays
The Spotted Duck, Mountsorrel
With two courses available for £24.50 or three at £27.50 you can enjoy a beautiful menu at Leicester's latest fine dining hotspot. But book ahead or prepare to be disappointed. For all I know, it could be booked up already...

Forthcoming dates for your diary
4th May - Gin evening at 33 Cank Street
13th May - Tour and Tasting at Rothley Wine Estate

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Cakes of Convenience

If you've ever been to the village of Anstey, to the north west of Leicester city centre, then chances are you will have come across Peppercorns, a neat deli cafe that has been in The Nook for around 6 years now.

This cafe is actually part of a small family of Leicestershire cafes, all backed up by a local catering business. Their latest venture is Peppercorns by Post and I was very fortunate to be invited to trial their service! Well, what can you do but say yes when someone offers to send you cake in the post!

They have a very well laid out and simple to negotiate website. Ingredient lists with allergens highlighted are available for each of the 10 different cakes on offer. My delivery came right on schedule and was very attractively packaged. There is little to match the excitement of the postman bringing you cake.

You can opt for a box of 6 or 12 traybakes and you can mix and match the combination of cakes that you get. We received a bumper array, including a gluten free chocolate option and a dairy free strawberry and honey slice.

My favourite was definitely the Rocky Road. It had a great texture - chewy and crunchy and the chocolate tasted of a great quality. This lovely cocoa flavour was even stronger in the peanut butter slice which was just heavy enough to feel really satisfying and was very brownie-like in consistency.

I have to confess the dairy free slice wasn't really to my taste - I found it to be a little dry and the texture was a little powdery, but I don't have a lot of experience with vegan cakes so this might actually be the creme de la creme of the offerings for all I know! The flapjack was very nice though - a more solid, crisp flapjack rather than the softer chewier varieties, but still full of oaty, golden syrupy goodness.

So, as you might expect, these are some lovely homemade tray baked and delivered to your door they make a great thoughtful gift for someone special. The price, at £19.95 for 6 cakes, reflects the high price of postage at the moment. Buying 12 at a time makes it work out a little cheaper per cake, so that's something to bear in mind. Cost effective and you get more cake!!

Which flavours do you think you would choose?

Sunday, 16 April 2017

English vineyard tours and tastings

Yesterday saw the first public tour and tasting being held at Rothley Wine Estate. The weather came good for us and it was a glorious day for our two groups to make their way around the vineyard and winery, to meet the vineyard chickens and most importantly, to taste some of their locally produced wines.

Thanks to the completion of their new tasting room, Rothley Wine Estate will now be holding these events monthly throughout the summer. The next one will be on Saturday 13th May and tickets can be purchased from DesignMyNight. Tickets are already selling well and group sizes are limited so make sure you get that booked quickly!

I think there is something very special about tasting wines where the grapes are grown, pressed and carefully made into wine. It really helps you to understand the terroir - all the factors that go into making the wine taste the way it does - not just the grape varietals, but also the climate, the soil, the actions of the winemaker and the way the vines are treated. And with the gentle noise of the Great Central Railway in the background, the running water trickling through Kingfisher's Pool and the timid inquisitiveness of the resident chickens, Rothley Wine Estate is a wonderful place to while away an afternoon.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Who puts Dr Pepper on a taco?

I haven't written about Bodega since they launched their Taco Tuesday special last year, but I've been back with The Boy on a number of occasions - it's definitely one of our staple favourites in the city. Taco Tuesday offer is still in full swing, but we headed back this week to see the new menu items that they have broken out for the forthcoming summer.

As ever, the cocktail offering is strong and a blueberry and elderflower martini was a light, refreshing welcome drink which set the tone perfectly with its delicate aromatic flavours. The bright, entertaining decoration in Bodega never fails to bring a smile to my face. True enough it is a bit of a stylized rendering of South America from what I remember, but it makes a great restaurant design. And I will always, ALWAYS take a figure of the little Lucha Libre guys. Cos I love them.

Gimme tacos!

On to the menu, and we tried a number of the latest offerings, all washed down with a delicious jug of iced sangria, which was excellently balanced and really fruity - something I could sit outside and drink all day long in the summer (now there's an idea).

Taco! Taco! Taco!

You've got to start with nachos really, don't you? And they are still the best around - freshly fried tortilla, smothered in melted cheese with a freshly made salsa and guacamole and a shiny dollop of smooth sour cream, flecked with slices of jalapeno. If you like it spicy, you can pep it up even more with some of the house hot sauce they use from a local supplier to their Birmingham restaurant, the home of the original Bodega.

Confit tomato and roasted veg
Then before we knew it, we were on to the tacos. They've got shiny new taco holders, so they look even more devilishly tempting and come in a range of flavours. Sadly we didn't get to try the mahi-mahi (which always reminds me of being in Hawai'i!) but we were overwhelmed by the collage of flavours that we were presented with. The vegetarian option was packed full of roasted vegetables, the butternut squash in particular adding great texture and sweetness. This was garnished with confit tomatoes, a sprinkling of black beans and corn kernels - a real bouquet of fresh flavours all wrapped in a soft taco shell.

Mole marinated chicken

Taco Tuesday, if you didn't know, is when you get tacos with a tequila cocktail for a tenner. It may surprise you to learn that this happens on a Tuesday. It's an excellent offer, not least because the tacos are so darn tasty. The mole marinated chicken with toasted pine nuts was a real flavour bomb - proper slow burning, complex spice that built up in your mouth as you enjoyed each mouthful.

Dr Pepper slow cooked pork

Then there was the Dr Pepper pork, slow cooked for hours to give a beautifully soft meat in flavourful juice. I'm not normally a fan of big brand ingredients (it's like Oreo ice cream, why bother?) but I have to confess that this really works. The sticky sweet sauce has been well spiced and gives a real finger-licking experience, while the flavours are maximised and complemented by the accompanying spicy slaw. I am hard pressed to say which I prefer between the chicken and the pork. I think I'll just order them both.

We also had a go at the burritos - street food size, although you can order them as a main with sweet potato fries. To be fair, I'd pretty much pigged out on the tacos, so the smaller serve was eminently sensible at this point. I really liked the earthy flavours of the plantain and lentil, but also again was a big fan of the Dr Pepper pork! Hard to choose! My only recommendation would be to pimp your burrito with dirty rice as I felt there was perhaps a little too much plain rice in there which made the burrito feel a little under-seasoned overall to me - however, you also receive sour cream, salsa and guac on the side so there is plenty to mess around with to get the flavour just right for your tastes.

A real humdinger of a new addition to the summer menu is the plantain salad. This is definitely something I will be treating myself to of a lunch time when I just have to get some time away from the office. Warm, gently spiced plantain - perfectly crisp on the outside and smooth inside - sits atop a mountain of salad, with dressed leaves, avocado and pomegranate seeds. A great mixture of tastes and textures with the plantain doing everything you need to fill your belly and all the rest being as virtuous as it is delicious.

After all that goodness it would have been rude to refuse a cocktail - just to finish things off. My pick of the selection is the Negringo - a beautiful punchy and smoky drink made with mezcal, Noilly Prat and Aperol. Sounds a bizarre combination but it absolutely works. A great drink to round off a fabulous meal in any language. And happily it's on the happy hour menu which means it's 2 for £8 between 4pm and 7pm and from 10pm until close.

I loved Bodega before, and after trying their new menu I love them a smidge more. The food is even more beautifully presented, the flavours are complex and interesting and the whole thing is presented by a really friendly team who provide excellent and relaxed service. Thank you to them for the invitation!

Friday, 7 April 2017

New beginnings, Easter events and more

Spring is in full swing in Leicester and it's yet again another fab season for foodies in the city. We've got the long awaited overhaul of the King Richard III pub opening tonight, hot on the heels of the beautiful Wygston's House opening last week with a very inspired menu. In the same area, I've personally been very pleased to see a new branch of Gray's taking up the kitchen at The Cookie, which is a real boon for the High Street.

Wygston's House

As if that wasn't enough, it looks like spring will also be bringing us the much anticipated Knight & Garter opening in the former Molly O'Grady's building in May, alongside the development of Champion's Square on the marketplace. We've already got the Party in the Piazza scheduled there for 10th June, organised by the superb folks at Burleigh's Gin in celebration of World Gin Day.

Just around the corner, we can also look forward to hand-stretched pizza from Nottingham favourites, Oscar and Rosie's opening on Market Approach in the near future. Foodies are also excited about the newly announced Fullagers - a collaboration between the former Cured chaps and cocktail masters The Attic, which will be in the Registry Office building. They will be offering tall drinks and small plates and I for one cannot wait, knowing the creativity that both of those teams bring to their practice.

Further away from the heart of the city centre, we have Boo Burger opening up on London Road tomorrow (08/04/17) and also the Toast Inn up on Francis Street which has already been receiving rave reviews.

Image by The Toast Inn

Phew! And there are more. I'm sure there are more. 

But it's a dizzying array to add to the already great wealth of food and drink provided by our awesome independent community here in the city. So, as if you haven't got enough to do to make your way around all of these lovely new places, here are a few promising events coming up over the next month to give your Easter something extra and to put a Spring in your step this April.

Beer and Chocolate Pairing
Chocolate Alchemy
14th April, 7.00pm
A fantastic guided pairing with The Beer Hub's Mark Tetlow looking how chocolate from around the world pairs beautifully with a range of beer styles.
Tickets are £20.

English wine tours and tasting 
Rothley Wine Estate
15th April 12pm & 2pm
13th May 12pm & 2pm
Take a leisurely stroll around your local vineyard, see if you can spot the elusive birds at the Kingfisher's Pool, and then relax in the comfortable tasting room for a guided tasting of some delicious Leicestershire wines.
Tickets are £10 and available from DesignMyNight.

Meet the Brewer
22nd April, from 2pm
I knew there was somewhere I had forgotten! Meet the Brewer with special guests Twisted Barrel Ale is being held at the newly opened Welford Road bottle shop, Brewklopedia. A great opportunity to hear some cracking brewing stories.

St George's Day Beer Festival
The Exchange
21st-23rd April
What is St George's Day without the annual celebration in the Cultural Quarter? Well, unmarked mainly! And wrapped up in the celebrations this year we have a beer festival at The Exchange. There'll be 10 real ales, 4 ciders and even a mead on offer, with live music on the Friday night!

Gin Experience
33 Cank Street
4th May, 7pm
Try four awesome gins and a refreshing arrival drink, as well as finding out more about the history, distillation and culture of gin.
Tickets are £15 - advance booking is advisable

We also have to mention our parent company, Thirst Media's new food and drink professional network - Thirst Mixers. It's free for independent food and drink venues, producers and retailers of any size and the next networking meeting is on 19th April at The Black Horse, Aylestone. Come and join us! Contact Thirst Media on for more information or to join the mailing list.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Get in The Shed

Good news everyone!

The Shed's back! After a bit of a hiatus for a face-lift, one of Leicester's oldest independent venues has re-opened its doors. Now they have two stages, the Main Stage and the Vault. It's got some delightful features (more on those later) but in essence it's the same Shed you'll remember and it will still be home to the local, the up-and-coming, and the obscure - all the things I have certainly valued the Shed for in the past.

We were pleased to be invited along to their press launch evening to check it out for ourselves. Along with some refreshing beverages, we enjoyed a dash of live music and a good poke around the place to see what's changed and what has stayed the same. There was plenty of creative accent details - keep your eye on the light fittings and unusual furniture. There was of course some live music for us to check out the sound system as well as some banging choons later on in the evening.

It's a lovely little venue and the upcoming listings are looking pretty tasty too. There's Drinks & Jams every Monday, with Open Mic followed by a selection of acoustic acts. Keep your eye out for regular comedy acts performing too. Local alt rockers Super73 are playing on April 15th. I confess I haven't heard them myself, but I like the sound of them. And as we know this is the benefit of the Shed. Go and see something new, you might like it. There are plenty of free gigs as well as very pocket-pleasing ticketed events.

They have collaborated with local artist Grace Jenkinson who has provided not just a super-fun, mighty colourful mural in the basement, but has also started you off in the traditional decoration of the bathrooms - now its up to you lot to add the details.

And that's my real hope for The Shed. They are now open from midday every day, so you can head down, hang out, play a board game, do whatever you fancy. And what Leicester has always really needed is a little dive bar where things are relaxed and all comers are welcome. I'm hoping that a community builds behind this place and this is exactly what we see. So kick back, enjoy a glass of the 'Shed Shit' wine (no judgement here) and let's keep an eye on what happens next.

Oh, and then there's the taps. My favourite thing was the faucet. Don't get to say that often.

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