Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Burgers and Brews at The Paget, Loughborough

Delicious buttery Australian chardonnay - well worth a try!
As #Tryanuary draws to a close I've got one more special tip for you to try out. Pop into The Paget for a warm welcome, a great selection of local brews and some fantastic burgers. We first came across The Paget at the UK Burger Battle last year. I absolutely adored their burger, but as they are based in Loughborough, it's taken us a little time to get over there in person.

One of the great Steamin' Billy Brewing Company family of pubs, you know from the get go that good quality beer and locally sourced items are going to be the order of the day, and we weren't disappointed. We went on a Tuesday evening to enjoy their legendary open mic night and I was blown away by the fabulous saxophonist who performed there. It's a great atmosphere as the clientele are a nice mix of locals and students - neither focused on one nor the other it appears to be equally welcoming to all.

The decor fits the atmosphere, being fun and frivolous, with a Leicestershire fox sporting a pair of sunglasses being my personal favourite touch. Like many of the Steamin' Billy pubs, it's a very traditional pub building, with bar and lounge area so you're bound to find some seating that suits you. They also have a very fine beer garden and plans to take it up a level in the new year, although it being January I didn't spend that much time out there.

Big! Sunny! But not in January, at night.

But you want to know about the burgers don't you? Mmmm... burgers. Their menu is called Burgers & Brews. They only do burgers. And they do them well. 

We had headed out with Liz from Rothley Wines, who you can see below determinedly man-handling the tommy sauce. She declared that her lamb burger was one of the finest she has eaten. A woman with good taste, as you would expect The Paget is now selling her elderflower wine, to demonstrate what good taste they have.

The Boy had The Inferno, which despite the threats of 'homemade scotch bonnet relish', 'Sriracha hot chilli sauce' and the like was declared "Not Too Spicy" and consumed with all haste. As it was The Boy's birthday meal, he also added bacon for a pound. Indeed, the only grumble I heard out of him all evening was that there were not enough burgers on offer with bacon on them. He wants everything in the world to have bacon on and I have to say, when it comes to meat in bread I am inclined to agree.

I myself had the Mediterranean. This is a 6oz patty with lettuce, relish, mustard and a spicy tomato ketchup which had a delicious kick to it that I really enjoyed. It was served with melted Red Leicester (love the local) and according to the menu 'slices of grilled chorizo'. So I was expecting thick wodges of deliciously charred paprika goodness and was a little put out that I was actually served wafer-thin (in a Monty Python accent) slices of rather sad deli chorizo. I guess this is where we get back to the whole 'how would you like the meat served on your meat sandwich' issue. I don't know, is that a fair criticism or is that just me?

Anyway, this slight disappointment was not enough to mar my overall enjoyment of the experience. The brioche bun was rich and substantial enough to contain the goodness within, without being cloying. The burger itself, with meat freshly ground daily on site, was absolutely perfect - juicy and just the right side of medium and full of delicious beefy flavour. There was tonnes of gooey cheese and the combination of spicy sauce, relish and mustard meant it truly was a burger that you have to just get stuck into and damn the consequences. It was served with seasoned fries which were crisp and tasty. All the burgers clock in around eight quid with fries, which puts them at a very competitive edge to other places locally which serve food of this awesome quality, so I think I can declare myself a happy bunny.

And of course, in honour of #Tryanuary (as well as trying a new local bar of course) I had a sample of Charnwood Brewery's Salvation. We had been next to the Charnwood stall at the Loughborough Wine Festival but I hadn't had a chance to try a sample, so I was pleased to get this opportunity.

I found it a lovely pale gold colour, light on the nose with a slightly sweet start in the mouth fading to unpressured hops and a slight fruitiness. I felt there was a dash of lemon in the back, but no sourness or acidity, instead it was smooth and utterly drinkable. An easy 8 out of 10 for me and a definite one for those who likes their beer flavourful but not overpowering.

Thank you very much to the Paget for inviting us down, and giving us a stonking managers discount which took our bill down to just £13 each with dinner and a couple of drinks. Loverly.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

#Tryanuary: The Needle & Pin, Loughborough

Well we've just got a week left of Tryanuary now, where you're encouraged to get out there and try your local independent beers, bars and bottle shops. We've been through a couple already but this one was definitely on my list as I knew they stock my favourite local wine, from Kingfisher's Pool Vineyard. 

The Needle & Pin in Loughborough has only been open for 5 weeks, but already they've sold 50 barrels of ale to thirsty punters! This micropub is simply decorated, but cosy and comfortable. Set over two floors in a former electronics shop, it has an admirable range of drinks on offer if you're keen to try something new, not least the brews made by Wicked Hathern themselves, the company behind the Needle & Pin.

As well as regularly changing ales on draught, there is a wide range of bottles and cans available - from Californian pale ales to some of the Wild Beer Company's best efforts. All styles are catered for, with ciders, saisons, perrys, stouts and mild to name but a few.

Fancy a Wicked Hathern brew for #Tryanuary?

There is a strong focus on products of the region though, you can enjoy the fruits of the labour of the Bottle Kicking Cider company in Hallaton on draught, or have a little snack on some Notts Nut House nuts whilst you enjoy some easy conversation with Sean behind the bar. We went in with Liz from Kingfisher's Pool Vineyard and were surprised to find that they still have some of her King Richard still white wine available by the glass. This is totally sold out now, so it's a rare opportunity to enjoy this lovely, aromatic and mineral wine while you can.

My eye was taken by the chalkboard advertising prosecco cocktails for £5.50 and so I didn't even get around to asking for more information about the wine list! This is also made with local produce - namely the passionfruit vodka from Two Birds of Market Harborough. This flavour was named the German Filmstar. You'll have to ask about the name for yourself, or see if you can guess... Anyway, this was delicious, made with a great quality prosecco and having a delicious fruit kick.

The Boy opted for a Californian pale ale, the Boo Koo from the Mother Earth Brewing Company of Vista, CA which packed a punchy pine flavour from the dry hopping. There is also a range of small batch UK-made soft drinks available for the discerning tee-totaller. The Rhubarb soda seemed to go down a treat with Liz!

The Needle & Pin is named for the 1950s record player on the first floor and the wide variety of records available for you to enjoy while you sup. Someone had put Madness on when we arrived, which we were very happy with, but there are a lot of records to choose from so you'll definitely find something for you. I liked the record rules in particular - once it's on, it stays on - so everyone gets a fair crack of the whip.

They are just about to host their first live music event too, with Tori Sheard performing an acoustic set on 3rd February. Best get your RSVP in if you fancy it as there is only room for 20 or so people on the first floor so it will get packed out very quickly! Expect more music events, tasting sessions and so forth in the future.

All in all then, the Needle & Pin has a lot to recommend it. Friendly, welcoming staff with great product knowledge and a keen eye for a good drink recommendation. Ample choice of tunes which you can control for yourself. Cosy and intimate and a great focus on local products. I just wish it was closer!

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Burns Night at The Parcel Yard

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, 

Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!

We were invited down to the Parcel Yard this evening to sample their Burns Night special menu. Robert Burns died aged just 37 in 1796. Burns Night is actually January 25th, but the closest Saturday seems reasonable to celebrate. Scotland's national poet and revolutionary figure is worth celebrating with traditional Scottish fare and I'm ashamed to say it is something we've never taken the time to enjoy before, so having something to attend here in Leicester was unmissable.

Sadly there was no Address to a Haggis as we arrived, but the food was definitely on point as we made ourselves comfortable in the relaxed restaurant, next to the bustling fun of a hundred Leicester City fans celebrating yet another victory in the pub. Top of the League!! *ahem*

Anyway, it was the usual example of attentive, relaxed and friendly service that we have become accustomed to at the Parcel Yard. Unsurprisingly the evening was fully booked, but we had opted for an early table so it was nice and quiet when we enjoyed our meal. We made ourselves comfortable and had a good play with the special Glenfiddich collapsable dram cups that were waiting for us on the table upon our arrival. I will never be without a tiny cup again. If you see me around, ask me to show it to you, I will be keeping it on me for emergency tasting situations.

After a warming coffee, we got some drinks in. I enjoyed the house Australian Chardonnay, which was a perfect complement to my meal while The Boy opted for the Wild Beer Company's 'Madness IPA'. This is a great choice for those of you who have been following our #Tryanuary adventures, especially those that are fans of big hop flavour and great tropical fruit and pine aroma. It has a great balance, being really well hopped but not overly bitter.

The Burns Night menu was a myriad of tasty Scottish treats. I found the starters the hardest to choose between, with Cullen Skink and salmon being amongst the delicious sounding offerings that were available. In the end though, both mine and The Boy's innate love of black pudding and infrequent access to good scallops meant that we went for the pan-fried scallops with black pudding and creamed leeks. It was a great choice.

Beautifully presented with a fresh pea shoot garnish (they're all the rage at the moment aren't they?) this dish was absolutely my star of the night, with sweet scallops combining beautifully with the spiced pan fried black pudding, which added a lovely light crunchy texture. The creamed leeks tied the whole thing together, soft and decadent. 

On to the main course and of course I had to go for haggis, neeps and tatties. These were some of the most masterfully roasted potatoes I have had in a long time with significant crunch and beautifully soft, fluffy insides. The neeps were sweet and flavourful and all of this is the natural bedfellow of the chieftain o'the puddin'-race, the haggis. I'm not sure whether The Parcel Yard use wild, line-caught haggis or free range haggis from sustainable farms, but it was full of moist, oaty goodness - a fine meaty flavour and a delicate spicing, predominated by black pepper, which crept to fullness as you ate. And the portion was generous, perhaps even gargantuan. I'll admit I could not finish it and I am still intensely full, nearly four hours later!

The Boy decided to go for the rump steak, which was of a very high quality. With nicely cooked fat chips and an aromatic peppercorn sauce, this was everything you would look for from a steak dish, although he had to leave the onion rings as disappointingly although they looked homemade and wonderful, they were actually quite badly drained and so were still full of oil and basically inedible. That is pretty much the only criticism of all the food we had though, so 9 out of 10 ain't bad! The mushrooms were super garlicky too - much more to my taste than The Boy's - I don't think you can have too much garlic.

After this we were both feeling pretty darn full, but when the menu is three courses it would be rude not to have a pudding. Although I wanted to stick with the Scottish theme and was tempted by the Cranachan and whisky infused creme brulee, I felt that I'd had plenty of cream already on my previous dishes, so went for the dark chocolate tart. Admittedly this came with vanilla ice cream, so it was still kind of creamy, but rich in a different way to the other courses.

It was served with a wee dram o' Glenfiddich, which complemented the rich cocoa flavour of the tart absolutely amazingly. This was all in all the best balanced of the dishes, with the sharp fruit compote, decadent creamy ice cream and rich, dense chocolate tart. The pastry was a little thick, making it a noisy, fun filled affair to eat the pudding, with each of us shooting shards of pastry accidentally at the other, but it was totally worth it. No soggy bottom here, this pastry was crisp and delicious.

And so, thoroughly full and totally happy it was time to leave. Many, many thanks to The Parcel Yard for inviting us along - it was an intense pleasure to be your guests and you really delivered a culinary experience to remember, with beautifully paced, warm service. The Parcel Yard is one of our regular favourite haunts and this has only fanned the flames of our love for the place.

The Great and The Good of Leicester were out in force enjoying the Burns Night special

Friday, 22 January 2016

The Real Ale Classroom, Allandale Road

There's been a lot of beer on the blog this month. But then it is #Tryanuary, where we should all be out trying our local independent breweries, bottle shops and beers. So it would have been rude of me not to pop along to Allandale Road and learn a lesson at The Real Ale Classroom.

Steve and Ian have brought a dose of pint-sized pleasure to Clarendon Park by opening its first micropub, just at the beginning of December 2015. Aimed to serve good, local beer with no frills, as the name suggests they want to help educate us all about great brews. And with a regularly changing beer offering, as well as locally produced wines, spirits and ciders they are off to a flying start.

With robust wood decor and a generally uncomplicated feel, the pub is simple and comfortable. Beer is served straight from the cask and the Classroom theme runs throughout with desks and chairs you may remember from your own school days. I like the light hearted and rustic feel of it all.

It is satisfyingly dark and atmospheric so that you can engage in some mild collusion with your co-drinkers, and the wood fire in the back room gives a warm and cosy environment in which to kick back and enjoy a refreshing beverage away from the wintry weather we are experiencing at the moment. Out the back there is also a small yard with a sheltered terrace suitable for smokers and any others who experience occasional urges to stand in the freezing cold for no good reason.

The menu board is dynamic and regularly updated. I have no doubt that this photograph I took of the board not two weeks ago is now entirely out of date. Indeed, it was out of date by the time we left the pub as I noticed a finished cask was taken off and a new one added in. So you're unlikely to get bored by going here, even if you're a regular visitor.

They offer a selection of pub snacks in case the munchies strike, locally produced pork pies and cheese to match the regional booze on offer. I went down specifically to have a try of South Derbyshire vineyard Sealwood Cottage's wares, so it's nice to see some English wine on offer as well as a more conventional (but very nicely crafted) wine selection.

As you would expect, they are also putting on a range of events to help us all learn a bit more about the best quality artisan products we can get our local-produce loving mitts on. Indeed, you can come along on 22nd February for a very special English wine tasting event with yours truly! More information on that event coming soon... And if that doesn't take your fancy, how about popping along for the Public House of Verse variety performance on the afternoon of 31st January 2016?

Welcome to Leicester, Real Ale Classroom - I think we're all looking forward to seeing what we can experience and learn from such passionate advocates for Real Ale!

Thursday, 21 January 2016

#Tryanuary: Art Brew Orange IPA

Have you been following my #Tryanuary posts? Have you been trying out new independent brews for yourself? If not, why not - there's only so much pushing I can do you know, you have to do at least a little bit of the work for yourselves.

Anyway, for those of you that need a little bit more prompting, here is the second post of beers we got from The Offie that we have been keener to try than mustard in greyhound trap. Today's offering from't Offie is Art Brew's Orange IPA. Operating now from North Devon, Art Brew describe themselves as Beer Anarchists. Anyone with an anarchist flag on their website is going to be OK with The Boy, so I thought I should pick one up. My obsession with Lost Coast's Tangerine Wheat in the US meant that the orange flavour was bound to be a winner with us both.

And it was a most pleasant brew. I have no idea what element of it is anarchic, but they make a heady strong and hoppy brew. Ever so slightly cloudy (which is probably our fault for giving it such a long journey home and only leaving it to settle in the fridge for two days), the colour is a rich amber-orange and the beer has a hoppy, orange smell.

Which is what you get when you drink it. Excellent bitterness with an aromatic twist of orange - think very much the subtle flavour of the essential oils from orange peel rather than Tesco's own orange juice possibly from real oranges here. This orange flavour took the edge off the hoppiness for me and gave a nice smooth flavour with enough complexity to keep you interested. At around 6.5%, you'd expect it to hold the bold flavours and it really does. Our only complaint, as with Tres Bien, was that it was a little lacking in the carbonation department - but we're beginning to wonder if this is just our taste, having been so thoroughly trained by Californian and other West Coast micro-breweries. Perhaps English brewers just prefer flatter ales.

So come on then, don't keep us all in suspense. What have you been trying this #Tryanuary?

Monday, 18 January 2016

Winter Pruning

Sometimes I really love my volunteer work! At the moment we are in the thick of the winter pruning of the vines at Rothley Wines, the Kingfisher's Pool Vineyard. The summer growth is being tamed back, making sure the vines are all properly trained to the trellis system. It's quite hard going as the weather is chill and the vines have now gone dormant and woody making the stems harder to cut, but we're making steady progress through it.

Today, not only were we joined by our usual chicken chums to keep us company, but also the lovely Sammy from Zig Zag Photography of Clarendon Park who took some absolutely beautiful shots while we worked. Of course it would be churlish not to take some photos of the wine while we were at it! I have a very special use in mind for some of these shots, but I can't resist sharing a couple with you now, so you can see what we've been up to. Note the neat, pruned vines versus the wild mass of the vines that have not yet been tamed!

Thank you Sammy!

Possibly my new favourite photo ever. Ebony approaches as Ginger and Laura converse.

Look at the lovely neat vines we've done!

Chatting and chickens!

Beautiful shot!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Kitchen @ The Cookie

Remember I told you all about the new eateries and hostelries that are opening in Leicester in the next few months? Well, one of them, The Kitchen at the Cookie (website under renovation at the time of writing), is now open and they very kindly invited us to their launch this week. 

As you would expect with the Cookie, it was a boisterous and light-hearted affair. The Cookie has made its name through the many faces it has developed - cosy coffee shop by day, and comedy venue and cocktail bar extraordinaire by night. 

It was certainly in the mood to party when we arrived, with many revellers already enjoying the celebration and whetting their whistles. There were plenty of familiar faces there - lots of local bloggers and media types as well as some of the Cookie's many, many friends.

Bloggers on parade!
We settled in with a drink on the main floor whilst tasters of Nick Towarianskyj's new food menu were brought round. The menu feels like it has kept some of the American flair that was on the old menu but The Kitchen now has some British classics in addition. 

The Mac is under there somewhere, I promise!
First we tried their Mac and Cheese, an American classic that was lavishly served with red cabbage and lamb's lettuce. I really enjoyed the thick, unctious sauce which was packed with cheese flavour. For me it was a tad underseasoned, but that's easily resolved. Perhaps my palate is a little too attuned to the American style of mac n cheese as I seem to remember that's been my issue with this dish at other venues in the past.

Next, cute little pans of fish and chips were brought round. This was the highlight dish for me - I presume the chips were triple cooked - they were beautifully fluffy in the centre and crisp on the outside. The fish itself was moist and flaky with a really light and extremely crisp batter. The homemade tartare sauce it was served with was also just right - creamy with just the right amount of tart punchiness. All in all, I couldn't think how it could be improved (except for going back to enjoy a full sized portion of course).

Let's see that again!
We also had the chance to try some of the hot sandwiches which will be on offer - another real nod to American cuisine. The Reuben was not really to my taste, it's a sandwich that I would never usually order and I felt it was a little under-filled compared to what I would expect. In contrast, I found the Buffalo Chicken to be really on point. The hot sauce had that great Louisiana kick which balanced out nicely with the blue cheese sauce. Definitely something to pick you up on the cold winter days we are experiencing at the moment.

The Reuben - photo courtesy of The Cookie
The thing that really got me about the sandwiches was how surprisingly delicious the bread was. To be honest, I don't know specifically what bread they use, or where it is sourced, but it was full of flavour and absolutely toasted to perfection. With relatively simple menu items like this, it is the quality of the ingredients and the attention to detail in the preparation that really makes it and clearly the new chef has this down.

Finally, we finished with a gooey and delicious brownie - richly chocolate, the perfect texture of the brownie itself was heightened by an occasional nutty crunch and the fruitiness of the redcurrant garnish cut through all of that richness really well and made this a really satisfying dessert.

Along with the new Kitchen flexing its muscles, the rest of the Cookie was also showing what it has to offer, with The Attic upstairs giving tasters of its gin based cocktails which went down so well that we were ordering more - and I saw that the bloggers couldn't resist having another try as well!

So the Cookie retains its independent and fun character. The service continues to be only with a smile and the new menu has a lot of appeal. A couple of people who I spoke to before the launch asked me to post the menu - so here's a teaser of one side for your perusal to give you an idea of what's on offer and the pricing. It seems to be about the same sort of price as in other independent restaurants and coffee shops and I think the same level of quality, so when you've popped along let me know how it stands up to the competition. I see they have a selection of burgers - the most bitterly fought contest in the city right now. Perhaps I should do a best burger competition?

Don't forget to check out the comedy offerings at the Cookie for this year's Comedy Festival too! There is something to suit every pocket with lots of free comedy and Pay What You Want gigs, all the way up to £16 for Mark Watson. Who is awesome.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Leicester Tigers at Peter's Pizzeria

"Dough not judge, I had a good try!"
Well I only went and won myself a competition! Peter's pizzeria offered a caption competition over Christmas and my incisive wit and pizza/rugby based puns clinched the prize. I know, you're all pretty surprised by that. Me too!

Not only did we win a ball signed by some of the Leicester Tigers players, but we got to head in to the pizzeria and have a go at making our own pizza with them and then enjoy a delicious meal afterwards. What a treat!

So we duly headed over at the allotted time and first off we were treated to some delicious bruschetta with amazingly fresh tasting tomatoes. We were encouraged to dive in as soon our hands would be too covered in flour to eat it. 

A whole gaggle of rugby players were there to enjoy the experience and they certainly are a lot of fun...

We were each given our own mound of flour to inexpertly flap about with while Peter's owner, Giamba, took us through his wisdom and knowledge about pizza whilst also having a bit of an impromtu quiz about pizza and Italy. Sadly, all the other teams had Italians on their side, while we were a solely Gringlish team - English and Australians only - so we were at a distinct disadvantage. We came royally last, but hey, it's the taking part that counts right?

We diluted the yeast and kneaded our dough and this was our gift to take home (The Boy made me a delicious calzone the next day - great skills!). After this we had a mess about with some proved dough, learning the secrets of stretching and throwing the day to create the signature Neapolitan style crust - paper thin in the centre and thicker on the outside, to create a well to hold all of the delicious filling.

Flour clapping soon turned to dough throwing, and the rest is history.

After that, well it all descended into a full out dough throwing fight really as we were encouraged to throw our dough to our neighbour, whilst simultaneously attempting to catch that being thrown to us from the other side. I can genuinely say I haven't laughed so much in a long time. You can book your own pizza-making party with both the Leicester and Loughborough venues and I would heartily recommend it.

After all this excitement, it was time for dinner and first we were served up the most amazing plate of cold meats that I have ever seen in my life. This was literally heaven on a plate for me - I cannot imagine anything I would rather eat so I was totally happy.

Monthly special pizza - get down there as it won't be available forever!

Following this we all chose from Peter's menu of signature pizzas. Having spotted this month's special on their Facebook page earlier in the week, I knew exactly what I was going to order. No contest, the white pizza with avocado and parma ham was my choice and I was not disappointed. I have never had avocado on a pizza before and its delicate creaminess is just a perfect complement to the mozzarella and salty ham.

Although significantly full at this point, it would have been churlish not to take the opportunity to try the much-heralded Nutella pizza. Sweet, sticky and jaw-stickingly epic, it is probably worth going down just to have this on its own. I think that would be a definite alternative to coffee and cake with a mate. And so we were done. Much fun was had by all and we waddled home with full bellies.

Thanks to Peter's and to the Leicester Tigers for such a wonderful prize. More on the rugby ball later, I have big plans for it!

Tizi Pasquali tucks into his second pizza. Big appetites these boys!

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