Thursday, 22 February 2018

New menu at Bodega Leicester

It's five months since we took a peek around the brightly coloured doors of Bodega Cantina in St Martin's Square, Leicester. Last night I was invited back with a gaggle of beautiful bloggers, to take a look at their new menu.

The new menu is greatly streamlined from the rather unwieldy affair of the past. All your favourites are still there - a compact street food menu, a selection of more unusual South American mains, and a cocktail menu which features some imaginative drinks options.

We started our journey with a bit of a cocktail mash-up - the Pornstar Daiquiri. This was a fruity rum based mix, topped of with a splash of prosecco in a passionfruit shell. We teamed this up with a selection of nachos and dips - tangy salsa, creamy guacamole and delicious refried beans, served warm and topped with queso fresco. These are part of the new 'nibbles' section of the menu and I will be back for more of those tasty beans! Always my favourite.

After this it was an examination of the revamped taco offer. Now made with black corn tortillas, for a bit of added Instagrammability - but sadly no real addition of flavour. I've been a big fan of the Bodega tacos in the past, but I'll be honest both the chicken and vegetarian fillings and the tacos themselves struck me as a little bland.

They did not have the spice and kick that I have come to associate with food at Bodega, so hopefully this is one dish that they will return to in the near future. The mole mushroom version for veggies is a really nice idea, so perhaps with a few tweaks they will be back to their usual standards.

Whilst sipping on an enormous copa of Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic, we were treated to a selection of mains. The key message with the drinks at Bodega is that they have now moved away completely from plastic to paper straws. When I pointed out that even with paper you probably don't need two with a G&T I was told that it was actually one just cut in half, but that seemed a little besides the point... Anyway, the Brazilian Xim Xim has become something of a signature dish for Bodega, and while I have never been fortunate enough to visit Brazil and enjoy this for myself, I have no doubt in the authenticity of the delicate spicing and creamy sauce enfolding chicken and prawns, and served up with dirty rice.

For vegetarians (or not!) there is also now a Quinoa Chifa dish. This is a bit lighter than many other of the menu offerings but I liked the freshness and colour. We were also given a taste of the light bites menu in the shape of the sweet potato side, served with queso fresco and olives. This was very sweet, on account of the agave syrup on the already sweet potato, so for me the addition of black olives felt a bit strange. But I am not the world's biggest olive fan so this can probably be discounted as me just not knowing what I'm talking about.

After dinner, we were given a cocktail masterclass - learning how to make the classic caipirinha and a few variations on the theme. Then we all got stuck in and had a go at shaking one for ourselves. There were no major ice shaker disasters and a lot of giggles! I definitely enjoyed my passionfruit caipirinha to round off the evening, given that we can see with some confidence that there is (luckily) no such thing as too much cachaca....

So a bit of a mixed bag in the food department, but great drinks and fantastic service from the welcoming team in this fun-filled restaurant, which offers something a little different from other restaurants in Leicester. I encourage you to give it a go - perhaps dip your toe in with their lunch menu which is a pocket friendly £6 for a dish and a drink. Thanks to Bodega for inviting me along to this fun evening!

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Is this the finest interior in Leicester?

I popped my head, finally, into Brick & Beam on Queen Street this week. Leicester's newest bar still feels like a little bit of a best-kept secret, although I'd been expecting good things having heard a lot of compliments from several reliable local sources.

I was welcomed to the bar, just around the corner from the Curve theatre, by its striking contemporary urban look. Brick & Beam is a fantastic name, giving the evocation of the harnessing of the Cultural Quarter's manufacturing history a luxurious and well thought out finish. The space consists of a 150 capacity venue on the first floor, fully equipped with a bar and integrated audio system. The second floor has the public bar space, which transforms from light and airy in the early evening to subtly atmospheric and quite desperately cool at night. 

Every detail has been carefully thought out, and the combination of colour, texture and form really struck me. Along with this you have a friendly, professional bar staff who are working hard on creating innovative and interesting cocktails.

I tried a vodka based cocktail, which combined a shot of bubblegum, with lemon & lime - garnished with an actual bubblegum and the rim of the glass dusted in popping candy. Pretty much ticked all the boxes for this child of the 80s, but also was presented surprisingly elegantly - this is no comedy sweet shop drink, this is a serious, adult interpretation creating a well balanced and neat concept.

Alongside the first second floor bar is a terrace, which looks likely to be a suntrap in the summer evenings, and next to this there is a conservatory, fitted out to the same high standards as the main bar, which is part of the public bar, but can also be hired out for private events for smaller groups. I have heard tell of exciting future plans for these spaces - barbeque cook-outs and live music in the summer, a cigar club and more.

It's a place I want to be. It's very much cliche now to say that you are 'transported away' when you enter a venue, but Brick & Beam really does give that impression. It's not quite something I can put my finger on but it does take you away from the streets of Leicester and make you feel like you are experiencing something quite different to what we have seen before. Fans of retro ephemera will enjoy the subtle, but ubiquitous touches around the bar, which cleverly evoke both the heritage of the building as well as the photography obsession of the bar's founders.

I'm also excited to hear that an 'urban tapas' menu is on thecards, along with an afternoon tea with a difference, so I can imagine that as this venue grows we will see a lot more that takes us away from the everyday - a place to relax, a place to party, a place to be seen.

Thanks to Brick & Beam for offering me a complimentary cocktail during my visit. 
It was appreciated, but as ever has not impacted on the content or honest of my review.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

The Duffy's Session

I wrote a little while ago about Duffy's Bar and it's greatness as a live music venue, but strictly speaking I was talking about gigs in the back. What I didn't really tell you about was the Duffy's Session.

We've ended up there, mainly by accident admittedly, on a couple of occasions now, but I have to confess the session this week was an unbridled joy to attend.

The Duffy's Orchestra are a marvellous group of musicians, drinking Guinness and playing a wide range of Irish traditional songs. If like me, you weren't fortunate enough to be born Irish, you probably won't know them all, but there will be plenty that you can sing along to. And trust me, you will sing along. And probably dance a bit.

All players are welcome, although of course the house orchestra leads. But regardless of whether you are a maestro on the Irish harp, or completely tone deaf, I avidly encourage you to pop along to experience this spectacle for yourself. If you want to know the meaning of a community, this is truly it, one where all is welcome. There is a smile on every face and the craic is so very, very real. 

I'm probably spilling one of the best kept secrets in Leicester here, but I can't help myself, I have to share. Join them on the second Wednesday of the month, or the last Friday of the month. Kick off is at 9pm.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Spanish Tasting Menu with Tandem Wines

I was invited along to North Bar & Kitchen this week for their special Spanish tasting menu. A modern British restaurant, they run special themed evenings throughout the year where their Head Chef Joe creates a bespoke menu to pair with wines from a specific producer, so as you can imagine from all the Spanish wine I have blogged about in the past this was right up my street! As North rank as the #1 restaurant in Leicester on TripAdvisor, and have held the top spot for quite some time, it's fair to say that my expectations were high.

This time around, it was the North take on Spanish cuisine paired with wines from Bodega Tandem in Navarra. We were welcomed by the North team and introduced to Jose from the vineyard, who gave an explanation of his vineyard and the wines that they made in between each course - a real treat for foodies!

In the cosy, and neatly presented dining room we were seated and I was treated to a welcome drink of champagne - a Bernard Remy from their regular drinks menu. This was a lovely light dry champagne that followed an initial yeasty burst in the mouth with hints of lemon. A crisp way to start the evening!

We started the meal off with a sharing platter on each table with a selection of breads and cheeses, accompanied by tortilla and olive tapanade. The homemade breads were a real triumph, each with their own distinct and clear flavour. The strong manchego cheese along the concentrated olive flavour of the tapenade made a great match with our first Tandem wine, the Inmacula (yep, the immaculate, or pure). This is the only white wine that Tandem make - predominantly Viognier, cut with a touch of Viura (or Macabeo if you prefer) - and given that these are two of my current favourite white grapes I was always going to like it!!

The oak aged wine had a lovely rounded flavour but balanced with a fresh acidity from the mountainous microclimate the vines enjoy. The light oaking was the element that worked so well with the bold flavours on the platter and the delicate notes of floral pear and apricot went well against the saltiness of the cheeses. I'll admit that smoked halloumi is perhaps an odd choice for the Spanish platter, but quite frankly I'm always happy to have a bit of halloumi in my gob so I'll let it slide. The small piece of tortilla was also delicious, although the overall flavour was much more eggy than I'm used to in Spain - I would guess that this is more testament to the freshness of the local eggs than anything, which again cannot really be seen as cause for complaint.

Starter gobbled, Jose gave us more information about the vineyard - his liking for the sound of Latin being the inspiration for both the vineyard and the wine's names (with Tandem meaning finally, or 'at last', founded in 2002). I enjoyed hearing about the climatic conditions in the North of Navarra, and their concentration on using the minimum intervention possible in winemaking - letting gravity acting as a natural fining agent for the reds for example, and allowing the grapes longer on the vine to ripen more slowly than their near neighbours in the region because of the unique weather environment.

The second course was a dainty arrangement of fat fingers of seared tuna, served on a bed of patatas bravas and garnished with Roscoff onion petals. This was perhaps my favourite dish of the evening, with all of the flavours working in harmony and the Inmacula wine (as they only have one white) working in a more complementary way than opposing the dish. It was a flavourful, complex, but gently rounded experience full of unctuous textures and neat pairings of seasoning. The tuna was yielding and moist.

On to the red wines and the Ars in Vitro (Art in Glass) was a lively, fruity Tempranillo led wine with an enjoyable complexity of flavour that had developed in its two years in concrete tanks, which kept the fruit bright and vibrant. This was served with another fish dish, this time octopus with a crisp strip of serrano ham and served in a broth of mussels, clams and cockles. This really had the taste of Spain to it, although I think that the execution could have been improved slightly - the broth being a little on the acidic side which overshot the rich, mineral fruit of the wine by quite a considerable degree, and also the octopus being a little on the small side which meant that it was not quite as tender as I expected. Having decided to leave most of the broth, however, I felt that the dish was generally otherwise nicely balanced with the crisp pancetta adding a delicious texture and seasoning of its own without overpowering the more delicate seafood.

The main event was a chargrilled ribeye of local rare breed beef - an absolutely stunning cut of meat which deserved a wine every bit as robust and flavourful as itself. The Macula (as in stain, or with sin!) is an intense red, with great depth, a hint of spice and a bold minerality - once again very much up my street. A 50/50 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine had much more of a kick than I expected, and the elements of clove and black pepper were an excellent counterpoint to the earthy bean and chorizo stew that was served with the beef. Special mention must also be given to the beef blade in panko breadcrumb which was absolutely sublime. A great dish with a really impressive pedigree of ingredients and a delicious match with the wine.

The finale was something really special (well, if you're a bit of an amateur wine geek like myself) - the first UK showing of Tandem's PiaMater (Sweet Mother) naturally sweet Muscat. I do love a bit of a UK exclusive I'll be honest. This was a deliciously mouth-coating stonker of a dessert wine, grown in Tandem's Malaga vineyard, and naturally dried to produce the sweet, concentrated flavours. The beautiful sweetness of roasted quince, floral notes and very light honey elements were a fantastic drop on their own, but also went well with the rich Creme Catalan we were served - with luxurious, velvety textures of very different types melding together to produce an opulent mouthfeel. I also liked the little chocolate dipped churros served with the dish, providing some welcome texture (as well as the crisp sugar coating on top of the creme Catalan of course).

Overall then a reet decent meal! In its execution there were some elements that missed the mark slightly, but generally speaking this was one very enjoyable meal with some really dizzying highlights which far outweighed the small criticisms I had. At £69.50 per head, and considering the free flowing wine, the Tasting Menu was very reasonably priced and offered real flavour. Of course, one of the highlights was having access to Jose throughout the night, who spent the evening moving from table to table, sharing his evident passion and expertise with the guests - a real novel experience that you very rarely see in Leicester (unless you get the chance to dine with Liz from Rothley Wine of course!)

Word on the street is that the next special pairing menu will be Italian themed, and if it's anything like as enjoyable as the Spanish night I experienced then diners will be in for a real treat.

Thanks to North who invited me along as their guest to the evening for the purposes of writing this review, 
who were aware that I would be open and honest about my experience - good or bad!

Friday, 19 January 2018

Tryanuary: The Leicester Tweet Up

So Leicester hit the town last night in the previously mentioned Tryanuary tweet up. A good time was had by all and many local brews and hostelries were sampled, all in the name of supporting small local businesses in the city.

It was a good turnout, about 12 of us at our peak, so we put a bit of cash into the local economy and had a jolly good time. We started off with the King's Head and I indulged in a pint of the Titanic Cappuccino Porter - not a new brewery for me but I couldn't resist trying this unfamiliar brew. It was rich and thick and full of coffee flavour - a very satisfactory start.

Next up we headed just up the road to Broood who were nice and full because of the weekly quiz just starting as we left, hosted by an incredible glamorous and formidable quiz master. Here we were introduced to the Beermats Brewing Company, I enjoyed it's lightness and floral notes, although it still had a good hit of hoppy bitterness.

Next up was The Blue Boar, where I had an unspecified stout that I managed to blur the name out of in the photograph, because I'm an idiot. But it was very nice. Again, the pub was pleasingly busy for a Thursday night - the Leicester beer drinking community is not leaving their pubs high and dry this January. 

Finally, it was The Criterion, as we ran out of time for the West End Brewery (because evidently I drink too slowly) and enjoyed a phenomenal pint of the Tres Bien Cascade Special - a local beer for local people and a great way to round off the evening!

What new pubs, breweries and beers have you discovered this Tryanuary?

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Tryanuary 2018: Leicestershire Edition

Scroll down for events and offers

I've always been a big fan of Tryanuary here on the blog. This is the very sensible response to the knee jerk reaction of Dryanuary - instead of quitting booze for the month, encouraging you to get out there, explore, perhaps drink less but spend more on buying better to support your local breweries and hostelries.

Enjoying a Framework brew at
The Tap in the Square in late 2017

In January 2016 I was a busy little bee as we had so many new beer related things to celebrate, I shared my first visits to the Real Ale Classroom and the Needle & Pin - who have just finished their 1000 keg. I also enjoyed a fantastic Burn's Night dinner at The Parcel Yard and enjoyed burgers and brews at their sister pub, The Paget in Loughborough. Having picked up a couple of cold ones at The Offie, I also wrote about Art Brew Orange and local favourites Tres Bien's Cascade Special.

In January 2017 things were a bit busier, so I wasn't able to get out and about quite as much. However, I still popped along to the new Framework Brewery - whose first birthday we just celebrated at the Tap in the Square at St Martin's Square. I'm hopeful we'll see them back in the city centre soon! To mix it up a bit, I reviewed the newly released Burleigh's Leicester Edition gin, because that's trying something new and local, so why not?

Taking blogger's on a beer tasting adventure
at the West End Brewery in 2017

And now Tryanuary is here again, now with a shinier website and more coordinated events and activities on Twitter. And this year days of the month have been allocated to different areas so that they can show off what they have to offer. And Leicestershire's day, along with Rutland and Northamptonshire is on Thursday 18th January.

So let's make it big, let's make it bold and let's get out and support our local breweries and pubs in the cold, dark month of January.

Enjoying Charnwood Brewery's wares at The Parcel Yard's celebration
of female brewers in summer 2017

I'm making a list (and naturally I'm checking it twice) of what is happening, where you can go and what you can do on the 18th to celebrate our local beers. And I think we should arrange to head round a couple of pubs while we're at it. I'll keep this list regularly updated up until the 18th, so you all know what's on offer - anyone wanting to add to the list just bob me an email, or tweet me @Morrighani!

Thursday 18th January

  • Enjoy 10% off bottles at Brewklopedia on the 18th when you flash a screenshot of this blog post.
  • The Geese & Fountain in Croxton Kerrial are ALL OVER Tryanuary. There'll be getting in beers from breweries they have never had before for the whole of January (they re-open after their winter closure on 12th January) PLUS anyone flashing a screenshot of this blog post to them on 18th January will get 10% off all bottles, cans and draught beer! Woo hoo!
  • Bag yourself 15% off everything in the Everards shop using the code #tryanuary at the checkout. Bargainous!

  • 7.30pm - Local Tweet-Up - Sample Leicestershire Breweries
We'll meet at The King's Head, who are big Tryanuary supporters, and sample the local beers on offer. We'll tweet about it all using #Tryanuary. 
Where should we go after the King's?  I'm open to suggestions... but perhaps a city trail via Broood, The Blue Boar and The Criterion before heading to the West End Brewery would be a good plan? Join our Facebook event page.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Happy Birthday Leicester Clocktower!

That grand meeting place of Leicester city turns 150 this year, and I was invited to The Globe today to celebrate the Clocktower's birthday with our historic county brewery, Everards.

New camera - not used to it yet, and I was chatting...

They have released Clock Tower, a dark golden ale, to celebrate this historic year for the city. I'll be honest, I did not get the note of blackcurrant at all, but the four hops - intended to represent the four figures in the city's history - do give a strong bitterness that lingers long on the finish, a characteristic for me that is more representative of the Clocktower's enduring legacy and influence on the city and the cityscape. As you would expect from Everards and their scale of production, this is a crowd pleaser - none too complicated or challenging but certainly a pleasing pint nonetheless. I would be inclined to simply term it a bitter though, I did not really get the 'golden ale' characterization, but perhaps that says more about my own naivity when it comes to this category of ale.

Courtesy of Everards

It was a jolly old birthday party that was held, with a stand up buffet accompanying the samples of Clock Tower, with the crowning glory being a beautiful chocolate cake made by Leicester Mistress of Baking Extraordinaire, Bitsy's Emporium of Awesome - made in the form of the pump clip.

Yeah, wasn't paying enough attention when taking photos.
Still, you can see that the cake is awesome.

Leicester's Haymarket Memorial Clocktower was designed by renowned local architect, J Goddard after the idea of the founder of the Leicester(shire) Mercury to create a central sculpture in the city centre that would provide a new focal point and an early example of the regeneration of a dilapidated area. For generations now it has been an iconic meeting point. It took a team of 32 masons and an overseeing foreman until 1839 to actually complete the work (is the birthday the date of conception, or birth...?! Probably best not to raise that at this point.)

The structure is perhaps best known for the four 'Leicester greats' which flank the gothic style tower. A slightly strange choice of key figures if you ask me - but Big Names nonetheless and all Lords, mayors or other key political power holders in the town at various points in history. Simon de Montfort (the fifth one, since you asked) was a thirteenth century French noble  and Earl of Leicester. It is unlikely he ever actually came to the city as he was so tied up causing trouble in London. William Wygston was a medieval wool merchant whose family amassed such fabulous wealth that at one point they were liable for 25% of Leicester's total tax bill. 

In 1535, one year before the death of William Wygston, Sir Thomas White - our next key figure - founded a charity to give business start up loans to young men who wanted to start up a business. That charity still exists today but now also deigns to lend to aspiring businesswomen as well as men! The final statue is of Alderman Gabriel Newton, another member of the wool trade who is perhaps best known for leaving his fortune for the education of the poor via St Mary de Castro, which eventually turned into the Alderman Newton School, a building which is now home to the Richard III visitor centre.

So now you know! Well, now you know my understanding of the whole thing anyway.
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