Tuesday, 28 April 2015

#BeerGardenLeicester: The Salmon

The local pub, for local people, the Salmon was recommended by one of my facebook friends for #beergardenleicester. Brave the stare of the locals and all this can be yours.

Size and exclusivity
Pretty exclusive. The Salmon used to be open for about a three hour window a day. Things have improved slightly now, but people still don't really know it's there, or that the beer garden exists. It does get crowded on a sunny evening though. Bit too small, even for one of the smallest pubs in Leicester. More seats would benefit.

Early Doors
Pretty good shout for after work sun here, one of the best we've seen in fact. Can't argue with that.

Not phenomenal. You're sharing the yard with a tonne of kegs and probably the landlord's car. You'll be kept company by an incessant fan noise. It's a bit scrappy, but that's the Salmon (they often have decent beer if you're wondering about its redeeming features.)

Oh no no no no no... Nil points.

There are brollies, but I've never seen them up, so take your chances.

The tables and chairs are nice in principle, but a tad rickety in practice.Not the worst, but not the best by any means.

Although the Salmon falls pretty strongly into the 'miscellaneous' category when it comes to pubs, there is nothing in particular to comment about its beer garden.

Pub Dogs
Once again, sadly not. When will I find some top notch pub dogs. I need to go to the Western.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Line Up with Lindsay Huntsman

One of the great things about having your own blog is that you can feature the stuff and the people that you love. One of my favourite people in the whole world, the effervescent Lindsay Huntsman of Glen Ellen Star, has just released her first show about managing restaurants, in conversation with Saul Gropman of Cafe La Haye. Since you all love food, wine and eating out, I thought I'd share it with you. Isn't she fabulous?

Saturday, 25 April 2015

#BeerGardenLeicester: The King's Head

The exploration of Leicester's beer gardens continues at the King's Head on New Walk/Kings Street. Thanks to @coolasleicester and The King's Head themselves for the nomination! The King's Head has been on the up and up in recent years, with an excellent craft beer selection, lovely staff and exciting status as (I think) the only city centre pub where you can take in your own food. We took a Wagamama takeout there once. It tasted better with better drinks.

Size and exclusivity
This beer garden is pretty much bigger than the pub itself, with terraces both downstairs and upstairs. There are plenty of picnic tables and space for a good group of mates to gather. It is getting more popular and therefore busier, but generally this is still a pretty exclusive spot, you shouldn't have too much trouble getting a table.
Early Doors
Not a bad spot for after work sun this. The sun does disappear behind the neighboroughing buildings around 6pm but it is a nice open spot with good access to blue skies, should they choose to make an appearance.

Basic and functional really. There is no great glamour here, it's a pub pub and the exterior decoration reflects that. It's who your with though, right?

Not really, I couldn't get it to work outside. Has no-one heard of a signal booster box?

If you stay downstairs there is shelter from the rain. No heaters or cosy blankets though. so bring a coat if you're going down later on.
Again, basic and functional picnic tables. Clean, generally in a good state of repair - all basic needs catered for with no bells or whistles.

The view has improved slightly since New Walk Centre was demolished earlier this year. And you can bring your own takeout, as I've already mentioned. Fish and chips and a pint of craft beer? Well it'd be rude not to.

Pub Dog 
Not this time!
Well, that's it for now. Only 6 weeks left to nominate your favourite pub garden using the hashtag #beergardenleicester on Twitter. Where should we go next?

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Food and wine pairing at Chateau Feely, Saussignac

We had an absolutely phenomenal day at Chateau Feely, in Saussignac, so I have to share it with you all.

Great wines, great company, great vineyard.
Check out the chicken tractor! We want one.
We were greeted by Dora, the farm dog, who was completely adorable and totally excited to have new people visiting her and her humans on this biodynamic, organic winery snug on the French hills overlooked by Saussignac castle. We were then met by South African-born Caro Feely, lady of the Chateau and all round awesome dude. It was a real treat to meet someone so passionate about her land, her vines and the concept of terroir.

At the start of the day we toured the vineyard, learning about the Feely family's journey into wine (you can read more about it in Caro's books - my copies are winging their way to me as we speak and one is currently on offer for 99p on Amazon). The area was lush and buzzing with life. Delicate wild orchids were beginning to push up their frail heads - they have only been present for the last five or so years as the effects of the organic and biodynamic methods have led to a balanced enough environment for them to thrive.

Look at my big French wine and cheese belly!
Caro talked all about their farming methods and the comparison between the lush beauty of their land compared to the neighbouring conventional farmer's was stark. I know where I'd prefer to live! The best bit for us was seeing Sean Feely, Caro's husband, weeding the farm by tractor, using a special hoe attachment which raked up the weeds and turned the soil, but very cleverly lifted up to avoid the vines. It took mere seconds to weed a full row, where hours of manual labour were previously necessary. Most ingenious.

After the tour it was time to get down and dangerous and taste a selection of Chateau Feely's wines, discuss their flavours and generally shoot the shit about wine making, tasting and enjoyment.

Sensualité: dry very pale rosé wine from cabernet sauvignon
A really light, almost salty nose - characteristic of the limestone soils on which it is grown - with a very delicate fruit scent - peach, perhaps something more exotic like guava. It is pressed quickly which gives it its distinctive super light colour and gives a zesty then crisp flavour which is light and fresh. With high acidity and medium alcohol it gives a burst of flavour which has a hint of residual sugar, just enough to turn the acidity into very faint notes of crisp green apples and frozen grapes. This is a red wine drinker's rose, should such a thing exist. We both loved it. A winner with a fresh, crisp goat's cheese.
Luminosité: sauvignon blanc sémillon dry white wine blend 
Scents of rosehip from the hedgerow, a dash of apple compote and a very light spice arise from this wine, which has a more traditional pale yellow colour. It is a more rounded flavour than the Sensualité, less dry with lighter acidity but that is not to deny its pleasant astringency. It feels thicker in the mouth, has a more luxurious texture. There is more alcohol and a light barrel age which gives it more richness. As such, it can cope with more powerful flavours, being surprisingly excellent with creme fraiche and smoked trout.
The tasting room
Mille Fleurs 2013: pure sémillon dry white wine (orange coloured wine) no sulphites added
The real surprise of the day for us and the most interesting with a variety of food - but complementing especially deep subtle flavours like the nutty notes along with the creaminess of the echourgnac - our first introduction to 'nun cheese' from Périgord. This wine is the colour of honey or a light beer, with just a tinge of pink. It has floral smells - but citrusy, like orange blossom water. It is deeper than that sounds though, like marmalade. In the mouth it is lighter still, but refreshing along with the complexity of a slight spice hint, perhaps cinnamon. It develops really slowly in the mouth, it is a mellow feel, with cidery honey flavours. It has a very long finish and leaves a light salinity on the roof of the mouth, again reflecting the composition of the Feely vineyards. A fascinating wine that can cope with even the strong flavours of a curry, go tarka dal - matched at last.

Considering wine with the goddess - possibly Demeter?
Haut Garrigue merlot: Bergerac AOC
From an earlier incarnation of the winery, this wine has a slight brown to the colour from the age. I didn't really know too much about this before Caro explained it, but have since found this excellent colour chart, which I am quite tempted to buy the poster of because it's rather cool... Anyway, the merlot is earthy, truffly and savoury on the nose, but still hints at something slightly sweet and even autumnal - we likened it to the forest floor. The flavour is smooth, light with a touch of fennel-like vegetal flavours, maybe even liquorice. There is a light tannin hit and as you would imagine the predominate fruit flavours are soft black fruits. This is also good with cheese, from the tangy goat's cheese to a more full and creamy camembert.

 I have to admit that my notes were terrible and for some reason I didn't properly note down the names or years of the wines. But the final hefty red was also amazing - a punchy smell, that was oaky and every so slightly acetony. It was full of body in the mouth, evoking barrel, cocoa and big, savoury tannins.
Fabulous, local food
We also tasted the dessert wine, by which point I decided I had more than enough to write about. And I was right. After the initial tasting and discussion, while we enjoyed a glass of the rose and browsed through the Feely's excellent wine library, Caro prepared lunch for us and gave us the opportunity to taste all the wines again with the foods - testing the matches she had suggested, seeing what suited our palette and seeing if there were any combinations we thought were good that she had not suggested. It was a fascinating experience, but if I wrote in depth about it, we would be here forever. There were endless good and bad combinations - some things we got right on, some flavour profiles just didn't match at all, but once one person had said 'don't have the smoked duck with that wine!' then the other just had to try it, just to see. 

It is always fascinating to see what combines well, and how different foods change the character of the wine you are drinking. It's well worth trying it out for yourself, especially with the expert guidance of someone like Caro Feely. I think it is completely possible that with the right food you would end up loving a wine that you would never drink on its own. 

The final wine, the dessert wine, was in many ways a real revelation for us, as I have never really dared to pair a very sweet wine with blue cheese before, yet it was absolutely excellent and took it really well. Then the dark chocolate gave a while different experience. Amusingly, since we got home, I saw a random old documentary of Heston Blumenthal where he made a dessert with blue cheese melted in to dark chocolate which was served with a sweet wine, so there must be something in it! After that we were treated to a homemade passionfruit sorbet and creme brulee ice cream which were completely to die for. I was totally blown away by the food and the sensory experience. And a little bit tiddly by that point as well.

Once we had finished, Caro took us down to another winery, Chauteau Jaubertie, where we took some more tastings and continued our discussions about flavours, textures and aromas. I had definitely got bored of writing notes by this point and just let myself enjoy the experience, sorry about that. But even wine bloggers have to let themselves go and just live in the moment sometimes, y'know?

So many, many thanks to Terroir Feely. I cannot recommend their wines, their tours and their food and wine pairing lunch enough. It is a truly awesome experience to meet somebody so knowledgeable and so passionate and you cannot help to be infected by that enthusiasm yourself. One of those days that makes you fall in love with wine all over again.


Monday, 20 April 2015

Leicester Cultural Quarter App launch!

Camels in the Cultural Quarter - that happened
Following on from the #ThisWeekInTheCQ campaign I covered a few weeks ago, there is more excitement in Leicester's Cultural Quarter as the Cultural Quarter Business Association looks to help the area reach its fullest potential for local residents and businesses. They will be rebranding as the Cultural Quarter Association and launching a new app which will explore the hidden gems of the area.

To celebrate, they will be holding a free CQ App party at LCB Depot this weekend and everyone's invited! Local businesses can head down between 3pm and 6pm on Friday to find out what the CQ App is all about. A family friendly event will be held on Saturday between 12pm and 4pm so everyone can pop along and find out what is happening in our Cultural Quarter. The event coincides with the St George's Day festivities in Orton Square and beyond (which includes a particularly exciting-sounding Dinosaur Hunt) so you can bring the kids along and make a day of it!

Having seen some sneaky peeks of the app, I am really excited about it. I really hope that everyone takes the chance to check out the great stuff happening up this end of town and it continues to grow as an inclusive, playful and vibrant area of the city.

#BeerGardenLeicester : Cosy Club

I've been off on my adventures tasting wine in France, but now I'm back and so we can continue with our exploration of Leicester's best beer gardens. Don't forget to drop me your suggestions and nominations with the hashtag #beergardenleicester at @Morrighani on Twitter. Thanks to @interiorhistory for this suggestion.

Size and exclusivity
This terrace is an excellent size. The Cosy Club is massive, but this is roomy enough to accommodate a large number of people. But having said that, it's still relatively under used as not only have some people not yet visited the Cosy Club (why not? check out my review) but even peple who just visit the bar end may not have even realised it existed. Walk to the far end of the the restaurant and... ta da!
Early Doors
Not bad - if you can get here early, early doors, you'll get some sun. Definitely a pleasant place to while away a weekend afternoon. However after about 6pm the sun sadly tips behind the grey gloom of the back of the hotel or casino or whatever the horrible thing is out front.
Apart from the concrete gloom view that I just mentioned, it looks really good. The chairs and tables are all new and kept nice and clean. They put in bamboo when the Cosy Club opened which I presumed is intended to grow into a slightly more pleasant coverage than the present view in future times. It's a clean, well maintained and welcoming balcony.

Plus I would like to award spurious bonus points for the rainbow on a sunny day which we were treated to when we arrived. I know they can't have arranged it for us, but there you go. My review, my rules.

Not really. They have their own wifi which you can easily log in to indoors, but it doesn't really reach to the terrace. I occasionally got some notifications while I was out there so it was definitely in and out, but I couldn't actually check my tweets or anything as the signal was weak and intermittent.

Excellent proofing against the British summer here. Large umbrella with heaters built in and even a basket of fleecy blankets by the back door to put over your knees if you're feeling chilly!

All clean and new and in fab and funky Continental cafe style. Comfy enough and all well maintained.
Got to be points for rainbows and blankets as I have already mentioned. Cosy by name, Cosy by nature.

Pub Dogs
Sadly not - unless a pigeon flies over, this garden is devoid of wildlife and domesticated animals.

Edit: 04/07/15 - I've decided to add physical accessibility notes to each of the #beergardenleicester reviews. Unfortunately the Cosy Club has one step down to its terrace. While this will still be possible to navigate for people with limited mobility issues, it may be difficult for people who use wheelchairs to access the terrace, particularly if they visit alone.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Bienvenue a Beautiful Bergerac

This morning we stepped off the plane after a wonderful week in Aquitaine. We stayed at La Grande Maison, Bergerac which gave us a great opportunity to explore this compact French town in depth and on foot.

Naturally one of the key draws to Bergerac is a visit to wine country. Much more compact than its showier neighbour, Bordeaux, Bergerac has 13 appellations and just as much variety for the spirited wine guzzler. More posts on the wines we tasted to come over the coming weeks!

bergerac, bridge, river, dordogne, blue
The Dordogne river

However, it's not all about the boozin', Bergerac also has a real quaint charm as a town. Nestled in a valley up against the might Dordogne, its old bridge provides a central focal point and hints back to the economic power of the town derived from its aquatic accessibility. Take a ride on a traditional 'garbarres', or barge to get a flavour of the heritage of the port and to take a look at the diverse wildfowl that live on and around the river.

medieval, wood, beams, tiles, bergerac
Tools set against medieval wall
Once you've done that you'll want to know how the gabarres are made, and for that you head to the admittedly quite poorly curated Musee de Ville. It's cute but doesn't have any English interpretation so make sure you take your dictionary. The local museums have a passport, which is 5 Euro so you can visit the 3 instead of paying 4 Euro admission at each, so it's definitely worth doing that. Unfortunately the Conti museum was closed while we were there, it is only open over the summer, but the Tobacco Museum was open, another nod to Bergerac's economic pillars.

The Musee du Tabac has a vast and varied collection from around the world which looks at the social, cultural, artistic and craft history of tobacco. An interesting topic which is covered from a range of perspectives, but again sadly lacking in decent interpretation - there are select and short labels for some objects but not a huge amount of debate about the most interesting aspects of the cultural and medical debates surrounding tobacco. There are also a lot of pipes. Like a lot. It's mainly the pipe museum, with a couple of interesting paintings and occasional alternative miscellania. But definitely still worth a look if you're in the area. Both of these museums were definitely worth visiting for the beautiful medieval buildings which house them, and certainly architecture is one of Bergerac's strongest suits.

A work in progress since the first castle was built in the 11th century, later sadly destroyed by a flood, the town has built up into a patchwork of medieval buildings, set cheek by jowl in the narrow cobbled streets. It is lovely to wander around the old town, but the quaint Continental architecture of the surrounding commercial and residential areas is much later but also has a certain charm, as the continuing themes of decorative rafters and shutters, for example, radiate much further out than just the old town area itself.

dragon, pipe, tobacco, museum
Carved dragon pipe
The crowning architectural glory (in a literal sense) is the great tower of the Notre Dame cathedral, which literally looms large over not only Bergerac, but is also visible for many miles around. We found that this was an excellent point around which to navigate your way about town because it is so visible in most places.

Along with all of these delights, make sure you make time in your schedule to pop along to the miniature harbour, look out for the markets that run throughout the week as well as the covered market for all the comestible delights that the town has to offer. Keep an eye out for the numerous privately run art galleries around the town also. We saw a couple of absolutely first class exhibitions while we were there, with an interesting mix of sculpture and craft on display. However, there are also galleries at absolutely the other end of the spectrum with some of the worst art I have ever seen. So that's good for a giggle too.

Add in to all that a great foodie culture, with duck and foie gras prevelant (you will of course need to say 17 hail mary's to the gods of animal welfare afterwards) and a rich local tradition of cakes, pastries and macarons and you've got yourself a great destination for a short break. We spent a week there and, along with a few day trips, we found plenty to keep us occupied.

And what trip to Bergerac would be complete without passing by one of the statues to the famous Cyrano. Who apparently doesn't have any connection to Bergerac at all, but they still have Le Cyrano cafe, mugs, tea towels and other assorted tat...

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

#BeerGardenLeicester: 33 Cank Street

One of the most fun places we have stopped on our #beergardenleicester adventure so far has been 33 Cank Street. This is a relatively new cocktail bar slap bang in the heart of the city centre. Thanks to @interiorhistory for the nomination.

Size and exclusivity

It's perfectly petite and exclusive. Still not really on many people's radar it seems, the few tables are enough to cater for the clientele at the moment. Small, but perfectly formed.
Early Doors

The sun quotient is admittendly not great here as it is placed under a small roof! We asked the bar staff and they told us there was a short window on a sunny day where the sun hits the terrace, but it doesn't last for long. Still, it is pretty, so perhaps that makes up for it.

This place has all the smarts, from the elegant railings to the cute and comfortable continental style cafe tables. There is even a sweet bureau holding a menu by the door and enough potted plants and trees to make it a very pleasant place to while away an hour.



Pretty good wifi coverage here. They have their own wifi so check at the bar for the password. It's small enough to get a signal throughout.

Pretty easy to escape the summer rain here! We were actually here through a massive downpour one day and managed to stay totally dry despite the torrential conditions. Definitely one for the hesitant traveller.

Again, small but perfectly formed, the tables are nice and new and in beautiful condition. Elegant and clean lined, this is an excellently furnished terrace. Bonus points for the bureau too - I want it for my house.

Points for table service, points for professional, friendly and welcoming staff who deliver the table service and don't take themselves too seriously! Points for cute embossed menu holders, points for good lighting and points for excellent cucumber steeped water being provided immediately to the table. All the points really, it's these little extras that add a touch of luxury to your pub visit.

Pub Dogs 
Again, sadly no dogs. I did see a pigeon though, does that count?
Can I award points for staff photobombs?
Edit: 04/07/15 - I've decided to add physical accessibility notes to each of the #beergardenleicester reviews. The terrace here is small, but flexible and has direct, step free access from the pavement so should be no problem for people with mobility issues.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Sunday lunch at the Crown Inn, Anstey

22/05/16 - Edit - The Crown has changed hands since we visited. Maybe time for another review?

We popped by The Crown Inn last week to check out their beer garden for #beergardenleicester, and while we were there we decided to pick up a spot of Sunday lunch. We've been going to the Crown for a long time and it has changed hands and style several times. Now it is looking pretty sharp, with some nice comfy sofas and bold patterned wallpaper. The staff are as welcoming as ever, but we were interested to see how the menu held up.

The Sunday menu is £11 for one course, and £14 for two. We both went for the same options and couldn't resist sound of the special starter - a bacon and black pudding starter. It was pretty good. The dressing was well balanced and the black pudding was really dense and meaty. It was a bit odd really, because it didn't have that spicy black pudding kick, but was more like a sausage in flavour and texture, but it was still very nice. It would have been a bit more refined with the skin removed from the black pudding and the bacon crisped up a bit more, but it was still very tasty.

For our main we had the roast chicken. The portion was phenomenal, with a delicious slice of homemade, very meaty stuffing, roasties and a large, funky looking yorkshire pudding. There were carrots and swede, parsnips and leeks on the plate and also a cauli/broccoli cheese on the side and the biggest bowl of green beans, peas and broad beans in the known universe.

Everything was nice, it's all just decent home cooking and covered with plenty of gravy, so I was happy with that. Points on for the kitchen staff having Def Leppard playing in the kitchen while we were eating. Points off for talking about how cheap all the veg was from Aldi (and I suspect the chicken too, given the small breast - freedom food it is not).

I felt that overall the meal was fractionally over-priced, as was the wine which was of a moderate quality but probably priced a pound more than it should have been. The whole meal cost us £35 with our drinks, and I think that somewhere under £30 would have been more reasonable for the quality. However, it was very nice and kept us full up for the rest of the day. Worth stopping in if you're passing, probably not worth making a specific journey, if you know what I mean. But not bad, not bad at all.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Leicester Continental Market

Leicester Continental Market is back! But hurry there's only one day left1(2/04/15). Happily the Continental Market is now a relatively regular sight around the clock tower, so I'm sure it won't be long until its back.

I headed down to grab myself a spot of lunch the other day. There is a great variety of stalls this time round, including, somewhat confusingly, a Native American jewellery and art stand. I suppose nobody specified what Continent the market was representing. There is also a Polish pub, which I'll confess I have never visited, despite always meaning too, a particular delicious selection of finest quality cheese purveyors, some excellent cold meat sellers, a beautiful smelling paella stall, the ubiquitous bratwurst stand and also, in the same slightly baffling vein as the Native American stuff, a place for getting some Jamaican food. You can't beat a bit of Caribbean though so I'm not complaining.

I settled on a stall which I believe was called 'The Alternative Option' which did a range of exotic meat burgers, both to eat there and to take away to cook at home. They had kangaroo, wild boar - all kinds of stuff. I was originally intending to get a venison burger, but was talked into the buffalo and chilli by the very friendly stall holder and I'm glad I was. I've never had buffalo before and it was a stonking eat - the burger was a great size, and the meat was succulent, dense and seemed relatively low in fat and free of any gristle or nasties. The chilli taste was subtle, but present through every bite giving a pleasing flavour and slight kick. The slow griddled onions served with the burger were also juicy and sweet. A really good way to spend £3.50.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

#BeerGardenLeicester: The Rutland and Derby

The beer garden testing continues, for your viewing pleasure. Next we went to the Rutland and Derby, as nominated by @coolasleicester and friends on Facebook. We used to go to the free quiz at the R&D every Monday. It is a fine pub, with nice quality wines and very tasty cocktails. I like it muchly, so I was pleased to pop along in the sunshine and see how everything squared up.

Size and exclusivity 
This is another beer garden which is surprisingly well sized. Not only do they have a decent area with picnic tables and a couple of comfy benches, there is also the upstairs terrace, which nearly doubles the size. It gets busy and full on sunny days, but it's usually big enough that you don't have to wait to get a table outside. You may have to fight for the ones in the sun though, and you just have to strike it lucky to get one on the upstairs terrace on the nicest days in the after-work witching hour.
Early Doors
This place gets it bang on. Correct orientation, first floor seating to get you away from the sun setting behind the city centre buildings, if you get a seat upstairs you will pretty much enjoy the sun from the time you leave work to the time you are done at the pub. The tables downstairs enjoy a decent amount of sun too, so you should be able to find at least a dash of soleil come 5pm.

A beautifully presented beer garden. By far the most robust and solidly built picnic tables, all in pristine condition. Excellent rattan furniture, also kept neat. The whole place is always clean,well swept and neatly presented with nice chalkboards. A bit of a slight waver from me at the plastic plants on the table. Admittedly they stay looking neat with minimal upkeep, but I much prefer the real plants in the raised bed.
    Oh, and like the Soar Point, you'll have to live with the astroturf upstairs. I don't know why it's here - maybe the terrace is metal and would be clangy with everyone walking on it. It's not my favourite though. They do have a spiral staircase though, so I think that might cancel it out.
Wifi at the R&D is universally not good. They have a BT hub with the original password and there are tables inside where it doesn't work so don't hold your breath for wifi in the garden. I've very occasionally picked it up on the table nearest the door, but that's it. Has no-one heard of a signal booster in this berg?

Not too bad - they have decent brolly protection, but nothing else.
As already mentioned, the picnic tables are lovely and solid, probably my favourite in the city. Everything is pretty much like new as the garden is obviously well cared for, even through the winter. Very impressive. 
The first beer garden we've visited where there are speakers in the garden which are on, which was lovely. However, I have to take a point off because while we were there, they played a Beautiful South song. That is all kinds of wrong.

Pub Dog
Sadly no. No critters. 

Edit 20/05/15 - They have changed the furniture upstairs to just picnic tables and so they can fit a lot more people in to the suntrap, which is awesome, so more points on the size and exclusivity but it is nowhere near as pretty as it was. Inexplicably, they have painted the wall a bright blue, which we are hoping is the blank canvas for some amazing artwork from a local artist - maybe they want to check out our awesome mosaic work...

The astroturf also remains so, while the garden now seats more people, which is great, it is nowhere near as pretty as it once was upstairs. A tonne of lovely planters on the wall would help, as would more fun touches - we were talking about 'hidden' gnomes in the space and so forth, but as it is, it looks barren and unfinished up there. Now the astroturf is a positive bane as opposed to the reasonable feature it was before. And so the mighty have fallen - in my humble opinion (but only upstairs, downstairs is still beautiful).

Second Edit: 07/07/15 - I've decided to add physical accessibility notes to each of the #beergardenleicester reviews. The Rutland and Derby's staff have confirmed that the downstairs terrace is wheelchair accessible.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

#BeerGardenLeicester: The Orange Tree

Well, you nominated it and we went. Thanks to +Gingey Bites +St Martin's Tea & Coffee Merchants own Crafty Burgers and @interiorhistory on Twitter and a couple of friends on Facebook for nominating The Orange Tree as our next option for the best beer garden in Leicester.

The Orange Tree has always been a favoured after-work haunt for my friends and I so I was not at all surprised to hear this nomination coming up again and again.

Size and exclusivity
It's a great size, and it does get very full! Be prepared for standing room only on a really sunny day, or on a hot summer's Friday or Saturday night. Everyone knows it's here, everyone knows it's comfortable and everyone is on it. A good size for the pub, but not in the least bit exclusive as one of the main city centre oases.

Early Doors
The sunshine ratio is not bad. Throughout the day the sun in the garden is amazing, really warming and beautiful. However it does start to dip about the time when offices start to kick out their workers, so you'll have to be quick to get one of the tables that stays in the sun for longest. By about 5pm or so though, it's pretty much all over and you are in the shade.

Cosy, slightly unkempt garden chic which could not be more centrally placed on Leicester's High Street. There are plants, a grape vine that is getting better established each year, the odd choice of blue and yellow paint on the back wall of the pub bringing colour and interest. Plus it's long and thin enough to sort of have a little air of mystery about. Are your mates out there? Did they get a table in the sun?

No wifi. The wifi does not work outside. Ever. The perennial complaint against the Orange Tree.
   Good news for BT customers though, when I checked it looked like there was a hotspot nearby so you might be able to jump on that. I am not a BT customer, so no wifi for me as ever.
Edit: 04/07/15 - I have been informed by the pub that they do now have wifi in the garden, finally! Too late to improve their score, but at least you all know for when you visit!

This is one area where the Orange Tree really excels. You have your permanent covered area, with wall heaters which keep you both dry and toasty. Large outdoor heaters are also available for chillier nights and the biggest pub umbrella ever can also be put up to provide shelter from those April showers for more punters when necessary.
   It is just about possible to overwinter in the Orange Tree's garden...

You will get the odd splinter or flaky paint on you, but to be fair, the furniture is much more regularly maintained, varnished and cleaned than it used to be so it does look in a little better nick than previous years. Whether you've brought down a bunch of mates to fill one of the extra long picnic tables, or just want to cosy up with your nearest and dearest on one of the small cafe-style tables, there's something here for you.

Thankfully because the garden is so busy, the super-loud, rickety extractor from the kitchen (and the noise from the kitchen generally) tends to get drowned out by the hubbub of conversation. It can be a little annoying when you just pop by in a rare moment of afternoon quiet though.
Pub Dogs
No dogs. You might see the odd pigeon though. And come September, the wasps are all over this place.

Edit: 04/07/15 - I've decided to add physical accessibility notes to each of the #beergardenleicester reviews. The Orange Tree's garden can be accessed via the back gate, which backs on to Freeschool Lane, however there is no disabled toilet and there are both stairs at the back of the pub and a step up from the street to enter via the front door so this pub may present difficulties to people with mobility issues or who use a wheelchair.

#BeerGardenLeicester: Cafe Bruxelles

The search for Leicester's best beer garden continues with Cafe Bruxelles. Currently, I'm afraid this is not a strong contender, however a new manager had started literally 5 hours before we visited, so watch this space - I'm expecting great things to come and some really exciting changes, not least in the beer garden department.

Cafe Bruxelles is an old favourite of mine, with its fantastic painted, domed ceiling and vast selection of beers, it is well worth visiting the interior if you have never been before. But if you follow the signs you can find the 'Secret Garden', through a dark corridor, up some industrial metal stairs and out into...

Size and exclusivity
The courtyard. It's a good size, with room for plenty of people, and very few people seem to know it exists, so you're pretty assured of having it to yourself. Secret garden indeed.

Mmm... Industrial.
Early Doors
There is a small early afternoon window where the sun shines brightly into the courtyard. It's long gone behind neighbouring buildings by the time the working day is over, however. Maybe stop by and make the most of 241 mains on a Tuesday for your lunchbreak on a sunny day.

It feels like a cross between a zombie apocalypse bunker and a Deep South prison exercise yard, on account of the chuffing huge brick walls. There are a few hanging baskets and a couple of trees which have been put out in an attempt to make it slightly homelier, but it needs so much more.
   And, bizarrely there are about a million chairs stacked up around the perimeter. This means there are far too many chairs for one beer garden. It's all a bit odd. If you like novelty, this may appeal to you. Or not.

Bruxelles have their own wifi, grab the password from the bar. I very occasionally got a connection that worked while we were sat eating outside. Not great to be honest.

There are umbrellas over the tables, but they're covered in lichen. Ick. So you can stay a bit dry, but I'd probably go in to be honest.

As I have mentioned, there are ALL the chairs. The actual chairs and tables for sitting are OK, they're in need of a bit of a clean and a little TLC but it's all pretty OK.

It might be a good place to ride out a zombie apocalypse, unless the zombies do that human mountain thing to cross high barriers like in World War Z. Otherwise, there are no exciting miscellaneous features to speak of.

Pub Dogs
No animal life of any description was available during our visit.

Having scored the main Bruxelles Secret Garden/Bunker, I am inclined to briefly score their seating out the front as well. I think it might score better. Admittedly this is now stretching the definition of beer garden to "anywhere outside a pub that you can have a drink" but you know, all beer gardens are created equal and all that.

Size and exclusivity
Little, just four tables, and facing on to the High Street, so not in the least bit exclusive, but a nice spot for people watching if that tickles your fancy - always an excellent pastime in Leicester.
Early Doors 
Absolute winner for afternoon sun. This is the perfect spot for afternoon drinks and squeezing every drop of evening sunshine out of your day.

It's nice enough - the furniture is clean and smart and the frontage of the building is very pretty. It's a front patio, roped off with a few wind breaks, but saying that it is tidy enough to be comfortable.

Pretty decent coverage outside the door here. Not too bad, much better than out the back.

No cover, no heat, no mercy.

All neat, clean and well maintained - nice and smart just like the interior of Bruxelles.

No hidden extras, it is what it is.

Pub Dogs

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

#BeergardenLeicester: The Old Hare and Hounds, Anstey

Well, it's been a beautiful Easter weekend and happily I still have one more day off before heading back to work, so there's still time to get your nominations in for which pub beer garden we should visit next.

I've had so many great nominations that I have decided I will also announce a People's Champion based on the number of nominations each pub gets by my June deadline - so comment on any beer garden post on this blog with your vote, or tweet me using @Morrighani and #beergardenleicester. The Orange Tree on High Street is winning so far, so if you disagree be sure to let me know your favourites!

You can also use the hashtag if you're looking for a recommendation, just let me know what type of garden you're after and I'll do my best to suggest somewhere local that fits the bill.

On to our latest contender, the Old Hare and Hounds in Anstey. This place has been a firm Sunday favourite for a long time, but they have been actively making improvements to the menu, and the garden in recent times so it's a strong submission. This pub also has some of the friendliest locals in the world, so you're sure of a warm welcome.

Size and exclusivity
This is a little yard at the rear of the old coaching house, so it's got a great rural feel despite the absence of greenery! The recent improvements mean that they have made much better use of the space and many more people can be accommodated out there now - really making the most of their assets. From what I can tell, this pub tends to be mainly frequented by Anstey regulars, so it does have a slight air of the exclusive, but not in a parochial way.

Early Doors
Not a bad score on after work sun here - we were there early afternoon and when the sun did peek through the clouds, we were in it. Using guesswork about the direction we were facing and tying to remember when we've visited in the past we're pretty confident that this place will get about as much of the evening sun as possible until later on when the sun will drop behind neighbouring buildings.

I've had a lot of people telling me that a beer garden has to have real grass to be any good. The Old Hare and Hounds has convinced me that this is simply not true. I love the mismatched architectural features of this historic coaching inn, it still gives a lovely country feel to the patio, but without it being crowded, overly urban or without warmth.
     It's full of character and the addition of the barrel tables is really lovely. See if you can spot the really cute decorative chimney pot with simple flower motif on it. I liked that the best. Your skyline also has a lovely church spire in it. What more could you ask? Unconventional, but scores highly for me.
   There are currently empty trellises on the walls, so I am hoping that they will add some planters in the future, just to take it to the next level. A few flowers would really finish it off nicely.

The pub is on an open access Marston wifi connection which seems to reach the garden just fine. The signal is weak outside, but I didn't have any particular issues with receiving tweets while I was out there.

You're golden here. There is a massive awning which can be put out in inclement weather. The large poles which attach it are a bit of an eyesore on a sunny day, but I'm sure you'd be glad of it in case of a sudden downpour!

Not a bad score here. The barrel tables seem pretty new and are in excellent conditions. The other stools and smaller chairs and tables are in good condition, but the wood is just a bit weathered - they could do with a coat of varnish or stain just to perk them up that little bit. Everything was fine and comfortable enough though.

There was what appeared to be a giant jenga set piled on the window sill by the backdoor. I think this tells us all we need to know.

We liked their brick ashtrays too, hadn't seen anything like that before, so extra points for novelty.

Pub Dogs
No dogs! I was surprised, as there usually is at least one. But I have to go on my random visit and so sadly null points as no other animal crossed my sightline either.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Best Burger in the World

It has been the first properly full-on-sunny, warm, beautiful day of the year today. It has been fabulous. I've cleaned my bike, been to the garden centre, done some pruning and of course, we've had a BBQ. Admittedly the third barbecue of the year, but still, this one was by far the best.

And why was it the best? Because we created the best burger in the world, that's why. I'm going to sort of post the recipe, but basically I'm going to just describe it to make you all jealous. It was transcendental bliss within bread. Today, we are winners at life.

This burger was minced beef mixed with a red chilli, and handful of homegrown chives, two cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of paprika and a pinch of salt, left to marinade in its own awesomeness while the BBQ heated up.

Then we stuck it on the BBQ and when one side was golden and perfect, we flipped it and added a couple of bits of bacon to the BBQ. Once the bacon was well on its way to shattering perfection, we added a jenga style heap of cheese to melt down on top.

Once the cheese had melted down a bit and the bacon was fully crunchy, I put it on the burger and added yet more cheese. Because I like to live on the edge.

While that did its thing for a bit longer, I sliced a crusty white loaf thickly, prepared with burger sauce and half a ripe avocado per person. Admittedly we didn't have any buns in, but actually the crusty bread had a good amount of structural integrity around the perimeter which meant it held up to the burger eating process much better than your standard bun. Not in the middle so much, and we did end up with a lot of burger smeared on our face, but that's another reason why this was such an awesome burger.

Then we put it all together and Jim's your niece, Geoff's your adopted stepmother, you have the best burger in the world. I repeat, I am mainly blogging this so you can all wonder in its glory. It was truly the best burger in the world. Today I have absolutely won at life, the internet and everything.

#BeerGardenLeicester: The Crown Inn, Anstey

The hunt for the best beer garden in Leicester continues with one for people looking to get out of the city. The Crown Inn in Anstey has changed hands a few times in recent years and the decor and standards have risen and fallen accordingly. It has always had a lovely beer garden though, and so we went and sat in it to check it out.

Size and exclusivity
This is a really good sized garden, with both grassed areas and a patio, and a two level effect with a little path running down the middle (a path, a path!). There is lots of furniture so plenty of room for everyone. It does get busy on a sunny day and is a very family friendly pub so there tends to be lots of kiddywinks running about making merry.

Early Doors
You get full sun at lunchtime and early afternoon, but it heads behind the trees by 'end of work' time, so you have to pick your table very carefully to be able to catch that elusive early evening sun.

It's got a nice, homely feel, but is starting to look a little tired. It needs a post-winter smarten up - the paint on the furniture is cracked and peeling, the grass needs cutting and there was quite a bit of litter around the place when we visited. All of the planters with the spring bulbs were lovely though and all the little extra decorations were very sweet. So it's nice, but could just be tweaked a little to make it really lovely.

The free wifi is The Cloud so it's really easy to access. The wifi signal just reaches in to the garden and just about reaches everywhere. So it's weak, but it's there.

It's pretty rainproof to be fair. There is a small permanent shelter on the side of the building, currently a small marquee/tent shelter on the grass and also umbrellas for the tables, so you are good against a sudden downpour. No heaters or blankets for those of you who feel the cold though.

All the wooden tables, chairs and benches are in relatively good nick, but starting to show their age a little bit. For some reason the chairs on the patio are the heaviest in the world, so be prepared to heave slightly to get yourself seated.

There are speakers for music to be played in the garden, but these weren't operational during our visit. They also have a serious looking gas BBQ out there which I presume means potential meat grillage on a nice day.

Pub Dogs
No dogs - sad times.
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