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.
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