Monday, 21 August 2017

Podcast review: The Sporkful

I'm giving a bit of space over to the marvellous Ginny Copley, who wants to tell you all about some of her favourite podcasts. Look out for her reviews in the weeks to come!
So over to Ginny...

Podcasts – stop, look and listen
I love podcasts. They make me curious about things I never knew I was interested in, and fill my brain with knowledge and questions. They tell me stories that have made me laugh loudly in public and also cry (once while running on a treadmill at the gym). They have taken me to places in the world that I’ve never visited and I’ve gotten to know strangers that I’ll never meet. So yes, podcasts have enhanced my life, and because I hope that you want to have your life enhanced too, I’m collecting some of my favourites together here for your listening pleasure.

How to listen

A podcast is like a radio show that you can listen to anytime. There are different ways you can listen. The easiest is just to go to the podcast website (this is listed at the end of each of the reviews). Find the episode you want on the website and there will be a play function nearby - just press play.

However, that way of listening does mean you need to be right there with your computer and have internet access. If, instead, you want to listen any time on your phone (or other device), then you just need to download the episode. To do that, you need a podcast app. This is also easy and will take 5 minutes:

  • For iPhones and iPads, use the Podcasts app. You get it from the App Store (it actually comes installed on newer devices – it’s a little purple icon). In the Podcasts app, search for the podcast you’re interested in and download
  • For Android phones and tablets, try the Stitcher app. Get that from Google Play. Search for your podcast in Stitcher, click 'listen later' and it will download onto your phone.

Once you have the podcast downloaded onto your phone, iPad or other mobile device, you can listen anywhere, no internet access required. While walking, running, gardening, tidying up, working out at the gym, waiting in the dentists waiting room, just stick in your earphones and enter the world of your chosen podcast.

Lots of cars can connect to your phone so you can play podcasts though the car speakers - no more boring car journeys. It depends on the age of the car you are in, you may be able to do this by connecting through Bluetooth or by attaching your device using your charging cable. If you can’t do this in your car, then you could always buy a Bluetooth speaker and just play the podcast in the car.

The Sporkful
What is it? A podcast that tells stories about people through food.
‘We obsess about food to learn more about people’
Where to start? Try ‘Why Lefties Buy Less Soup’ which is all about the gastrophysics of food. It explores what factors, other than the actual taste of food, influence how we perceive and react to what we eat. Can the weight of your fork make you think the food is more tasty? Does classical music playing while you eat make you happier to pay more for your dinner? Would putting ice cream on a white plate make it taste sweeter? Fascinating insights into how our brains and surroundings contribute to our eating experiences. It’s not just down to our tongues and noses!
And if you like that one … Try the episode ‘What if Willy Wonka was your Dad’ where the unusual food of Roald Dahl’s books is discussed and his daughter Lucy recalls midnight feasts with her dad. Later in the episode, the chocolate cake from Matilda is recreated and eaten – including two rather unique ingredients - blood and sweat. Yum.
In a nutshell…. People, psychology, lives, food. And it’s very entertaining
Don’t listen if…. Memories and behaviour in relation to food is just not your cup of tea
Where to listen?, Stitcher, Apple Podcasts  

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Knight and Garter

We headed over to the newly opened Knight & Garter this week to celebrate the launch of their Gallery Venue space. It has been quite the transformation, from Molly O'Grady's to K&G and the pub is unrecognisable with its sleek lines, elegant dining area and beautifully chosen drinks and food menus.

I had no idea that there was a downstairs space, and the refurbishment of that area is of just a high a standard as the rest of the venue. It makes the perfect room for an intimate exhibition, and can also be hired out for private events. In particular, I was interested in the various menus that are available for catering for groups - everything from sandwiches to hot meals and also beautiful canapes for just £5.95 a head which struck me as very reasonable, particularly as we had the opportunity to sample some of them for ourselves and see the quality of the ingredients used.

The exhibition opening that night was work by local artist Kirsteen Thomson, who is originally from Scotland but trained at DMU. She has been heavily influenced by the discovery of Richard III in the city and much of her recent work examines different elements of his life, both contemporary and modern.

Her style is full of colour and texture and often uses intensely complex levels of detail and symbolism to portray complicated themes and stories. As well as the Richard III theme, LCFC's recent Premier League success and the wave of blue that washed over the city is also represented in her work. For my tastes, I preferred the simpler landscape pieces, in particularly the representation of Kirby Muxloe castle which does of course have strong links with the ebb and flow of the Wars of the Roses in the time of Richard III.

It was a busy old evening at the Knight & Garter and guests were also treated to a range of samples from the menu. The arancini were definitely one of the highlights for me, but you won't go hungry down there as they seem to offer absolutely everything - the restaurant and bar offers weekend brunch, an elegant cocktail menu, a variety of light lunch options, full dinner menu with, in particular, carefully sourced meats, and of course a lovely coffee and dessert offering to round it all off.

Thanks to the Knight & Garter for inviting us along. With their outdoor terrace and friendly team I don't think I am going to be able to resist going back. Regularly.

Friday, 18 August 2017

A Midsummer Night's Dream at Curve

I was invited to Curve to see A Midsummer Night's Dream this week - an unexpected pleasure! The production is only on until 20th August, so if you fancy experiencing it for yourself then get in quickly!

It is a Curve Young Company and community production and they have done an absolutely bang up job. Every element of the performance is captivating, leaving you absolutely spellbound the whole way through.

Image by P Raith

I adore A Midsummer Night's Dream anyway, it's such a fantastic, amusing tale and the cast of 70 actors, young and old, really do it justice here in Leicester. I particularly enjoyed the impromptu musical numbers which really delighted in some super choreography and passionate energy from the dancers.

Image by P Raith

Visually, the whole thing looks stunning too - from the intricate set (with real grass!) and a floating fairy bower to the beautifully designed costumes. I loved the mixture of digital effects and physical set dressing, particularly as scene changes were so swift and professional. I think we can all agree that we would like fairy horns and wings on our shoes.

Image by P Raith

There were quite a number of stand out performers. Bottom had us all gasping with laughter, and I enjoyed the performances and the dancing of Puck(s). But it was clear that the whole cast had put in an insane amount of work to making the production perfect and I for one appreciated that effort.

Thanks to Curve for inviting me along to review. A delightful summer's treat indeed!

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Pop your cork: 45 St Martin's

We popped along last week to the soft launch of Leicester's latest wine bar. 45 St Martin's, on St Martin's Square, is a sleek, airy space, beautifully refurbished in the unit formerly occupied by the lovely Futurecycles (who are still around, just on Market Street now).

They are a wine bottle shop and bar, dealing in fine wines and champagnes and offering a high level of customer service in refined surroundings. There is a little bit of outdoor seating available for you to enjoy when the weather is fine, and it is an altogether pleasant place to sit and while away an evening.

The staff, although a new team, have clearly been well picked and well trained as they are all universally polite and welcoming and extremely attentive. The menu is extensive, there are many wines for you to take away, but equally the wine list for drinking at the bar is carefully chosen with a range of palates catered for.

I opted for the Californian Zinfandel on the list, because I am a sucker for that grape and always looking for one that is as good as those that I tried in Cali. I can confirm that this is probably the best I have had in the UK - it was full and rounded in the mouth and full of that fabled jamminess that for some reason doesn't seem to be often present in the Zins that are exported to this country. There certainly was a little hint of that West Coast sunshine which I find to be so elusive in imported wines from my favourite American state. Two thumbs up from me.

If you fancy something a little different, there is of course a range of fine champagnes, but also a very exotic looking list of champagne cocktails, to add a dash of refinement to your evening. I haven't tried those, but I have seen some pictures on their social media and they certainly look very beautiful! As you would expect, there is also a modest selection of beers, soft drinks and more - we found that these were very reasonably priced, so for the quality of both the wines and the other drinks over all the value for money is very good as the wines on offer are definitely worth the £5+ you will pay for a glass and the beers and soft drinks are much less.

As it was the soft launch, we were also able to enjoy a range of nibbles, which matched well with my wine and added to the experience. I don't know how often they will be doing that on a regular week but I'm pretty sure if it becomes a regular thing then that will coax me in to becoming a regular!

Initial impressions are therefore very good! Let's just hope they don't start employing bizarre dress policies like the 'no trainers' rule which suddenly appeared at their sister bar, 45 West. After all, the unpretentious and honest enjoyment of a quality wine doesn't come with a dress code.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

3 of the Best Gelatieri in Italy

As well as visiting the Gelato Artigianale Festival in Agugliano this June, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to see some of the incredible Maestro Gelatieri we met in their natural environments - their own gelaterias. They are all notably 100% hands on, creating recipes, researching ingredients and of course, serving gelato to an adoring public. This is very different to the 'celebrity chef' culture in this country, where all too often it seems like chefs slap their name on a restaurant chain and then never do anything but turn up for periodic promotional photographs.

One of the great driving forces behind the Gelato Artigianale Festival is Paolo Brunelli, whose first gelateria is situated right in the heart of Agugliano. We also travelled to Senigallia by the coast to see his other venue and of course to enjoy some of his creations.

It was a real honour to get to spend so much time with Paolo, who is one of the real innovators of the truly artisan gelato movement. He has just released a new book 'Gelateria per tutte la stagioni' - the gelateria for all seasons - which boasts 365 days' worth of ideas drawn from his enviable experience of the world of gelato and proven experience as an experimental, flavour-driven artist and artisan.

Amongst the many wonderful flavours and textures that we experienced during our visit, including Paolo's work with gelato, sorbetto, flavoured jellies and sauces and more, the stand out dish for me was the creation pictured here. This shows the sort of development that he is showcasing in his new book - gelato based creations that are full, plated, fine dining desserts.

A post shared by Antonio De Vecchi (@arvedse) on

As you would expect, the dishes are kept simple and uncomplicated - allowing the flavours of the superb quality ingredients to shine through. This was a Fior di Latte gelato nestled on a bed of Zabaione sauce and topped with a sprinkle of freshly grated Pecorino cheese. I'm sure you can imagine the melding of flavours - sweet, creamy, salty, tangy and more - just a sublime combination. I look forward to seeing more gelatieri taking Paolo's lead and moving gelaterias more to the Fine Dining category. True artisan gelato certainly deserves to be recognised for its artisan quality and this feels to me like the next step.

The traditional way of serving gelato, not on display but in these silver lidded tubs.
Italians don't need to see it first to decide what they want!! They know what the flavours are on the 

Onwards to Matteo Carloni, a bright, bubbly and incredibly enthusiastic gelatiere who runs his two Gambrinus venues in Perugia, one right in the heart of the historic town and another much further out in the suburbs.

Matteo Carloni (centre) with Daniele Taverna and Antonio De Vecchi of Gelato Village, Leicester

Like all of the gelaterias we visited, Matteo does an exciting offshoot of gelato based products - here in Leicester, we refer to homemade gelato lollies as 'gelollies' - I'm not sure what the Italians call them! But there were also numerous gelato celebration cakes in evidence, all beautifully decorated to a standard that would be applauded by any patisserie chef. It was interesting to see so many shared ingredients that we see in Leicester too - San Biagio, Sur de Lago dark chocolate - it really inspires confidence that the gelato we see from the artisans at Gelato Village is authentic and the ingredient choices shared by those still in Italy.

Finally we stopped in the historic town of Fano, which is absolutely overrun by bicycles, because apparently there is no public transport to speak of. It is wonderful! Here we met Antonio and Paola Luzi of Gelateria Artigianale Maki, where I had a cup containing the most different flavours of gelato and sorbetto I have ever had at once in my life. Truly a cornucopia!!

They are both incredibly skilled gelato artisans and their flavours also show the creativity and flair that I am now becoming used to! 'Thai Golden Milk' was a particularly interesting and inspirational idea, particularly with the sort of flavour palettes we have available here in Leicester.

I also found it interesting to begin to be able to identify the differences between the gelatieri and their styles. While Paolo Brunelli seemed to be a fan of big, bold flavours, squeezing as much flavour as he can out of each ingredient, the Luzis struck me as having a much lighter touch, being concerned with often more complex combinations where they carefully struck a careful balance between the key notes of each ingredient. It is very much like being able to recognise the signature sound of your favourite bands and it is something I am loving finding more about!

So next time you visit Italy, do a little research in advance - make sure you know who is making real gelato and who is not. After all, you might as well give your Euros to these small independent craftspeople, rather than big chains who don't necessarily use the best, seasonal ingredients, right?

Friday, 21 July 2017

GBK - More burgers in the Burger Capital

Yes, Leicester is the Burger Capital of the country, and perhaps even the world. But the appetite must surely be there as industry giants GBK have decided to open a branch in the city, right at the heart of town outside the Clock Tower. It's a bold move - they rub shoulders there with several competing chains and of course we all know that there are fantastic burgers on offer from independent venues all over Leicester.

I have to say I went along to try out GBK having heard mixed reviews from others and not particularly expecting anything special, but I was rather taken by surprise. The newly kitted out restaurant is light and airy, with two floors of seating and the usual mixture of quirky, mismatched decor and exposed brickwork that we have now come to expect in our burger joints.

The team were welcoming and friendly, with excellent knowledge of the menu and efficient service on offer. GBK operates a counter ordering system, which makes things quick and simple - there is no waiting around for your server to take your order or present the bill. If you want to make ordering even quicker you can even download the GBK app which allows you to order online direct from your table - if you can't bear to walk the few metres to the counter. I suppose that is incredibly useful if there is a queue to avoid. The app also gives you rewards as you collect virtual stamps during visits, so look out for complimentary treats to reward your loyalty.

If you venture upstairs you can poke your head in the open kitchen to see the chefs at work. If you just cannot wait to fill your face there are also bins of complimentary monkey nuts available for grazing purposes, which I didn't actually notice until we left. Minus 1 food reviewer points.

Peanuts are not nuts.

So we settled in with a drink and waited for our food to arrive. The wine list represented a good selection at reasonable value and there is also an extensive selection of milkshakes on offer for those fancying something cool and thick. The Boy was a little disappointed to order a Yeastie Boys BigMouth which was a relatively tasty session IPA but turns out to have been made by Brewdog, who we are currently boycotting (because we don't like their business practices) and so he would not have ordered that if it said anywhere but in tiny print on the back of the can.

The starters arrived quickly. I went for halloumi bites, which were simply grilled halloumi pieces with a sweet kiwi and habanero sauce. This may sound like an odd combination, and it is really, but there are little hints of the company's New Zealand heritage dotted all over the menu. The halloumi did not really have a crust to it, but the quality was good and the portion size was immense so I was pretty happy with it. Nothing like stuffing one's face with hot cheese, right?

The Boy ordered the chicken bites which were spiked with fiery chilli spices and came with a chilli mayonnaise, which was absolutely delicious! The chicken was moist and the coating crispy, so this also did everything you wanted it to do. Nothing too complicated, but pretty tasty stuff so far.

A surprisingly delicious pesto

The main event is of course the burgers and there are a variety of options available to suit all tastes including four vegetarian offerings, one of which is vegan friendly. If you don't fancy a burger then you can order a salad and of course you can add toppings, avoid the bun or tinker around with pretty much anything really. I went for the Bacon Pesterella - a chicken burger topped with crisp bacon, a slab of mozzerella and a thick layer of pine nut-heavy pesto which I really enjoyed. It was so enormous that I gave up and started using a knife and fork after only 3 or 4 bites. The basil mayo, pesto and relish gave plenty of moisture and I enjoyed having the panko-fried chicken breast rather than taking it plain grilled as it added loads of crunch and the chicken itself was still moist.

On the side I went for the truffle cheese fries - standard but nicely cooked chips served with a truffle cheese sauce which is a neon homage to American cheese, with shavings of Grana Padano cheese. It is absolutely calorific fun which is totally unecessary and therefore I enjoyed massively. But I live in a household that cannot have a BBQ without having plastic cheese on hand for our burgers, so I'll let you make of that what you will. Despicable. Yum.

The Boy filled his face with The Stack. It's not just a clever name. The beef burger was topped with Red Leicester and chunks of fried chorizo, a giant onion ring, pickled onions and relish, all brought together with a smoked chilli mayo. It's a little spicy (especially with jalapenos added!) and a little bit tinged with paprika moodiness.

Removing the mahoosive onion ring makes the Stack much easier to eat!

The burger itself was cooked medium rare and came out tender and juicy and with great beef flavour. All of the meat they use is British from grass-reared cattle and this does come through in the taste. He teamed this monster with a small serve of corn on the cob which was soaked in butter and so juicy that I had to duck to avoid the squirt of juice across the table when he bit into it. Graphic, but true.

So overall, we were mightily impressed. This is a burger joint without airs and pretensions and it delivers precisely what you are expecting. I went in expecting to be unimpressed and left as a relative convert. The meat is perhaps not quite the same quality as you might expect from an independent, but the burgers are tasty and hugeeeee! Next time I might serve the starter. And the side. Or, more likely, I might just go and have the truffle cheese fries for lunch because they are just filth.

Thanks to GBK for inviting us to try their new restaurant. This review is my honest opinion of our experience, warts and all.*

* No warts were involved.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Transatlantic - a showstopping cocktail you can make at home

I was introduced to The Transatlantic this week, an incredible cocktail developed by Charlotte Wood of Manhattan 34, Leicester as her entry into the #SouthernShowdown17 - a cocktail competition where Hi-Spirits challenge bartenders all around the country to capture the spirit of New Orleans in their very own Southern Comfort cocktail creation.

Charlotte has already made it to the regional heats, so I headed over to the bar to catch up with her and find out what this cocktail is all about. Usually, we see bartenders concocting all kinds of infusions and emulsions and syrups and sprays to fancify their cocktails, so imagine my surprise when Charlotte challenged me to have a go at making The Transatlantic for myself, using readily available ingredients from the supermarket.

I thought making a cocktail this beautiful would be hard, but it turns out it is The Big Easy! 
You see what I did there?

I could tell you more, but we made a video, so why not watch for yourself?

Thanks to Manhattan 34 for putting up with my poor quality bar tending and for letting me drink the cocktail I made!

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Togfest: Sunshine and Facepaint

We had a fab time a few weeks ago heading down to meet friends in Milton Keynes and attending Togfest for the first time. This is a little two day festival that I had never heard of before, but is all centred around the classic stylings of the band Togmor - who gave a rousing set with lots of jigs and diddly-dee and were thoroughly enjoyable as the sun set over an absolutely beautiful day.

Sometimes only watery crap lager will do. Mainly when glass is banned so you can't bring wine in.

 We only went for the Saturday and took a satisfying stack of picnic food and booze with us. Yes, it's the only festival in the land where you can still take your own booze (no glass of course) and on that basis it wins for me (although I suppose Leicester's Riverside Festival is free and you can take booze also, but it's not quite the same).

We sat like royalty on our borrowed camping chairs and enjoyed getting nearly sunburned for the entire day whilst enjoying the bands on the main stage. There were also bands in the barn, but you would have had to move to see them. I have to say Jonny and the Mental Breakdowns were by far my favourite, and not just because they have an awesome name.

A craft ale bar was also available, along with other concessions including a children's art tent. It was true good, clean family fun and comes highly recommended.

Of course, the highlight was getting covered in as much brightly coloured glitter as we could and Sophia Tyler was on-hand to glam us all up. First up it was the girls. I asked for many colours and glitter, oh and a stick on thingumee and flowers and... well, it's safe to say I was quite over excited. Don't we look gorgeous - especially with a Snapchat filter to hand?

After we went up, it was the Boys' turn. Personally I think that bright colours and glitter would have suited them much better, but it seems that they gave off more of a tribal vibe as it turned out. And so the sun set over Togfest. Definitely something I would do again. 

What festivals have you been hitting up this year?

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