Sunday, 15 April 2018

Leicester Folk: Tyler Bernadini

I pottered across to the newly christened Morningside Arena a couple of weeks ago to catch up with Leicester Rider's captain Tyler Bernadini. He was fresh from a victory over the Rider's key rivals, the Newcastle Eagles, that day in what has now turned out to be another winning season for the basketball team. This is the third year that the Riders have won the BBL League and hopes are still high that they might achieve the treble again.

Old season pic!

Tell me a little about your background?

I grew up in Southern California. I went to high school in San Diego and then went to business school at the University of Pennsylvania in Philedelphia. I played basketball there at Division 1 level, the top level in College Basketball in America. I had a nice career there, had a lot of fun and won a lot of games. It really helped developed my skill and my passion for what I wanted to do.

Then I went to play professionally in Italy. After that I took a little bit of time off, started some businesses in San Diego. I ran a property leasing business for a private school to help monetise their facilites outside of school hours, and I also ran a basketball academy where we did skill development, strengthening and conditioning, leadership skills and all of those kind of things that encompass what it means to be an athlete at the next level. Then I got the call to come back to professional sport - not only play here at the Riders, but also to get my Master's degree at Loughborough University in International Management.

Since finishing my Master's I have continued my playing career and also I work in the front office here and oversee the sales for the club. This is my fourth season here. I guess I have quite a comprehensive occupation here at the Riders now! It's different from everybody else, but it's a lot more fun. A lot more busy as well though, it definitely keeps me occupied.

When was your original interest in basketball sparked?

I really can't remember life without sports in general. From a young age I played American Football, basketball, I swam, played water polo - I did everything! As I got older, I grew and my athleticism fit with basketball being a sport that I thought I could really excel at. Swimming was probably the thing I was best at, but I got a bit bored of it and so basketball fit and I haven't looked back since.

I'm interested to hear that you got your Masters through the Riders, can you tell me more?

Some of the guys are full time pro, s they play full time. Some of the guys decide that they want to further their academic career and they have that opportunity because of the relationship between the Riders and Loughborough University. It's an incredible opportunity for us players and it's one of the key relationships for the club to offer for not only athletes but aspiring individuals generally the opportunity to further their education - it adds a lot of value.

Another oldie I took!
It was really important for me that I found the right place to come and because of the relationship between the Riders and Loughborough this was the right place for me. I think that other clubs are starting to see how successful it's been for us and now this kind of relationship is being replicated by some other UK clubs. Where basketball is in the UK the wage bill is not what it is for football or rugby. So to attract players who might be able to earn more at other places, this offer differentiates the compensation package. The opportunity to study for a Master's degree is a really attractive offer and has really suited the club well for our development.

The other thing too is that it helps us to get the players who are the right fit. When you have guys that study for a Masters, those guys aren't going to be knuckleheads. They aren't going to be doing things they shouldn't be doing on Friday and Saturday nights. When you get a guy that you know is serious about basketball, he's generally going to be serious about other things. If he's keen to put in the time on a Masters you know this is a guy that's going to work hard. You say to yourself there's a certain amount of work ethic here, this might be the right guy for us.

You are  involved with charitable work too?

I work with Hope Against Cancer and I work with Alex's Wish, which is a local charity fighting against Deuchennes Disease. I am really excited to be able to provide increased awareness for them and to shine a light on the incredible work that both of those charities are doing.

Alex and Emma [at Alex's Wish] are incredible. What they are able to do with that charity, the profile that they have given the small size - just the two people running it all - is amazing. As an athlete, you have a short period of time where there is a platform, where people care about what you have to say, they want to listen to you or they want to interact with you. When you have that it's important to use it I think for the right kinds of things. People aren't all on the same level, whether that's because of health, mental or physical, whatever difference it might be. And it's important when there are opportunities to improve other people's lives that you do what you can to help. And so if that's sending tweets out, if it's getting people down and raising money, whatever it is that I can do, I keenly try to do the little part that I get to play to help.

What prior knowledge did you have of BBL (the British Basketball League) before you came to Leicester?

Nothing! Before coming here I didn't know really much at all about it. One of my College Assistant Coaches played in the BBL in the early 90s, but other than that I didn't know about it. Since being here, the standard of basketball has proved higher than I would have expected as an external person looking in. 

British basketball has a reputation, maybe because of the international level, but when you come and play in this league the standard is high. We've gone and played teams in Sweden and Belgium which are leagues that have more global recognition and we've gone and beat some of the best teams in those leagues. So the standard that we're playing at here in Leicester is really high.

So about last night... You played the Newcastle Eagles and were trailing until you slayed it in the fourth quarter...

We did! I thought it was a great, great night of sport. We've shared the league titles with them now for seven years I think. It's two teams with rich histories, neither want to lose - and it was a battle of will. We're both down guys, they have guys away in the Commonwealth and people that are hurt and we have people away at the Commonwealth as well so neither of us were playing at full strength. It was really about who wants to win that game that night - and they were really good! There were loads of opportunities for them to have won that game, but fortunately it worked out for us but a lot of credit has to go to them and their effort and their skill level last night to make it such a good game.

The Riders continue to ride high* then?

Yeah, it's been one of those years where we've had different guys step up a lot throughout the game, we haven't had one consistent person leading scoring every time... We've had loads of guys injured and be down bodies and so we've had to find ways just to get it done and win. That's what this team's all about - finding a way to win and whatever it takes we've just gotta get it done. We've been able to do that night in and night out and I'm just so proud of this group. I'm proud to be a part of it and be team mates with these guys who are just really really good people and it's fun that we get to celebrate and share in the success.

Finally, I'm interested in your thoughts on Leicester!

I really really love Leicester. Since we moved here in 2014, my wife and I have really felt at home. We came here with our dog from America - it's an Old English Sheepdog crossed with a poodle so maybe it was a sign that we were always going to end up here!

We're always out in the woods. The Outwoods, Beacon Hill, Bradgate Park, Swithland Woods. We're all over the place doing the country parks and we love it. From that standpoint the pubs and the culture here in Leicester have been great for us. It's a family atmosphere. We go to the cinema, pubs and we have all of our friends in the different villages. Everywhere we go everyone's just so friendly and nice and we really enjoy our time here in Leicester.

cringe - yes I did say that to Tyler Bernadini

Sunday, 1 April 2018

A Leicestershire Treasure

We've been treated to something very special this weekend. Anstey Ale have moved their brewery to new premises on Albion Street in Anstey, and during the move they have also added a lovely taphouse space.

This weekend has seen the inaugural pop-up pub event at the Mash & Press and I don't mind telling you it's a little bit special. 

A true Leicestershire treasure, it's filled with delicious treats that are all made on site or within just a few miles of the brewery.

On the bar you can enjoy Anstey Ales own range of beers. When I visited yesterday, Darkroom Oatmeal Stout was on the pumps, along with Show Stopper (the special developed for this year's Leicester Beer Festival) and Daydreamer, their bitter. There was also a tantalising pump for Nook IPA which will be up next, but sadly not during my visit.

Rob of Charnwood Cider

Along with these tasty brews, you can enjoy a full selection of Charnwood Cider. Rob grows the apples in Ulverscroft and presses them in Cropston and you can sample pretty much the full range at the pop up. Dry to sweet, there's something to suit everyone's taste.

Liz of Rothley Wine

This is all complemented by a choice of wines from Rothley Wine Estate, again just up the road (although with the current flooding it takes a bit longer to get from one place to the other!) Their award winning range of still wines are on offer, all grown and made at the Kingfisher's Pool Vineyard on Westfield Lane.

It's comfortable, cosy, and has amazing furniture. And it's dog friendly. Say hello to the official Charnwood Cider CEO, Marley, or bring your own pooch along. 

It's all about Marley

Whatever you do, don't hang around. It's the last day of the pop-up today and they are open from 12pm-9pm. Will the pop-up make a triumphant return in the weeks to come? I hope so.

Happy Patrons

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Leicester Lunch Hotspot

The magical confluence of Braunstone Gate, Narborough Road and Hinckley Road is one of my favourite hotspots in Leicester. We all know that Narborough Road is packed full of restaurants with cuisine from all over the world (not all great, but many are), but in that area too we have loads of my favourites - my favourite Japanese place in Little Tokyo, my favourite city centre fine dining restaurant in North Bar and Kitchen, my favourite brewpub in town in the West End Brewery.

Now, right on that foodie corner, Antalya has finally re-opened. I'm not sure if the long closure period saw the restaurant change hands - I'd been previously and never had any complaints - but when I stopped in for lunch recently it had been taken to a whole new level.

The Antalya Turkish Kitchen's refurbishment has left it feeling cosy and on theme, but also clean and well maintained. It is smart and stylish, with a beautiful edge of Turkish decor. I was greeted by a friendly front of house team who attended with diligence and care to my every need during my visit. The service could not be faulted, and, as you will see, certainly went the extra mile!

I popped in during lunch service as I was passing through the area as I'd been tipped off that the unit was trading again and I wanted to see what the score was. The lunch time deal represents astonishing value, with a cold starter, small grill and a drink for £6, the same with a large grill for £8.50 on offer. That sounded like a lot of food, so I went small.

The manager came to take my order, making me feel right at home whilst dining alone. Being right in the middle of an incredibly busy day, I was not in a great place for making confident decisions, so I asked for his recommendation for a starter - should I go humus (always a great way to judge a Turkish restaurant) or the stuffed vine leaves (I know them as dolma or dolmades, but I think they were named something else on this recipe. I just love them). The manager suggested I have a little of each, since I couldn't decide. How very accommodating, thinks I!

So my starter arrives, and I see no indication that I have received either a half portion of humus, or of vine leaves. And of course, I receive a basket of fresh bread - light, fluffy and still warm, with a chilli sauce and yogurt dip accompaniment. And what's a starter without a plate of pickled vegetables and another plate of cous cous spiked with vegetables?

All of the food was great - the humus had just the right hint of garlic, with a decent olive oil drizzled over the top. I think I could basically have just had that and the bread and I would have been good for lunch. I loved the vine leaves and the balance of sweet and sour flavours in the cous cous. Clearly I didn't eat it all, as while I was halfway through, my main came out, leaving me to spend the rest of the meal diving from plate to plate at my own personal Turkish buffet.

I opted for the lamb kofta and loved the spicing - it had just the right amount of chilli kick which balanced beautifully with the slight char on the edges from the grill. The main came with the grilled veg from the skewer, a mound of white rice and four salads - cucumber and tomato, red cabbage and onion, green leaves and grated carrot with a little lemon. It was all fresh and light - the perfect way to cut through the rich meat. And a helluva lot more food.

As I slipped gently into a food coma while finishing my can of pop, in full knowledge that I had to be across the city centre within half an hour for my next meeting, my plates were cleared and the waitress asked me if I would like some Turkish Tea, which I politely declined. I had managed to exercise enough self restraint that I wasn't dying of food baby, but I was close to it.

However, a couple of minutes later, she came across with a small plate of bitesize pieces of baklava and turkish delight, as well as a steaming cup of Turkish tea. I was beginning to think that I'd accidentally ordered much more food than I intended during this visit and was starting to assume that my bill was going to be at least twice what I had originally expected.

The baklava, once I'd given it a minute to allow some space to settle in my stomach, was delicious - crisp pastry soaked in honey, with a light nutty pistachio edge running through. The turkish delight was light and aromatic, with a little texture from nuts within. The Turkish tea was strong and perked me up beautifully.

So an unexpectedly awesome meal. I will be back as I want to work my way through the myriad of other grill options on the lunch menu, and try their Lahmacun (a kind of Turkish pizza) which is also available on the lunch deal. I have no doubt this is also a spiffing place to while away an evening eating with friends. I have no idea what might be on the wine list, so I'm also very keen to check that out next time!

So big thumbs up from me! Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments below. If you're not a meat eater, the website suggests that you will be catered for, but I am not going to make any guesses as to what you'll be munching on...

Antalya did not know who I was, or that I would write this meal up (neither did I until I got into it) and I paid for my meal in full. Which was still the mind bending amount of SIX WHOLE POUNDS. Wtf.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Leicester Beer Festival 2018

There is only one thing that happens in March around here, and that is the beer festival.  Here's what I thought about last year

In January we all recover from Christmas and complain how cold and dark it is. In February, the comedy festival coaxes us out and gets us in fine spirits, so that by March we are ready to get our festival on. And Leicester CAMRA are always more than happy to oblige.

And once again, Leicester didn't disappoint. This was the first year that the festival was held in the newly refurbished Haymarket Theatre, so newly refurbished in fact that it was the first public event that has taken place there. It is fantastic to see the Haymarket back in action and looking so magnificent.

Strewn around the perimeter of what I understand to be the biggest stage in Europe were the 260 cask beers (not to mention the ciders and perries, keykeg bar and European bottled beer bar. We grabbed our festival glasses, with topical theatrical mask logo, and off we went on a voyage of discovery.

Sadly, the voyage of discovery led us almost immediately into the path of some Morris dancers, who stopped us, and everyone around us, from being able to adequately negotiate the stage to get to the delicious beer, but I'm sure someone in the room must have enjoyed them.

Having ducked around the sea of waving hankerchiefs and general bonhomie, we were able to get to the casks - as well as finding a couple of publicans who were unable to behave appropriately for a decent quality picture to be taken of them (above). Occupational hazard at a beer festival that is. I enjoyed a couple of halves from some of my favourite local brewers and good friends - in particular raising a glass of Storm from Old Sawley, whose namesake pub dog had sadly passed away that morning, as well as enjoying the festival brew Show Stopper by my nearest home brewery, Anstey Ales.

On top the beers that I didn't know, and this is where you go rogue and just wander round until you see a beer that you fancy. Of course you can have a taste to make sure you like it before committing your precious beer tokens. I took a punt of Boozey Muses from Elliswood Brewery - a tasty pale - and the Dark Ruby by the Sarah Hughes Brewery - a mild with a really interesting finish that I couldn't quite put my finger on.

The Keg stand called to me as well and after a disastrous taste of Cloudwater's Small Nelson Sauvin Rye Pale (hated it) I enjoyed a delicious third of the ever so satisfying Magic Rock Common Grounds coffee porter. After all that excitement it was time to pop across to see friends of the blog and main festival sponsors, Everards. They were presented their latest seasonal brew, Patriot, which I found to have a surprisingly robust flavour.

After all the excitement I decided to treat myself to an old favourite, so it was off to the Tiny Rebel casks where I rounded off the day with a Stay Puft. Yes, it's predictable, but it is delicious. So as you can tell I approached the whole thing with no plan and not even any rational order of styles in mind for my tasting. You can do this too, or you can plan the whole thing out with military precision, if you have a magnifying glass in order to be able to read the teeny tiny writing in the programme. The only real problem we experienced on the day was the coloured lighting in the theatre meaning you had absolutely no idea what your beer *actually* looked like, but I've heard a rumour that this was sorted out later in the week.

For those who wanted a break from the beer, there were of course the magnificent Travelling Juniper Berries, bringing their own selection of 50 gins each with its own bespoke garnish (and even teenier writing in the festival programme). You could also head to the CAMRA stand for a general chinwag, the opportunity to join CAMRA (which you can always do online too) and to pick up one of the bottled European beers on offer. There were also a range of charity fundraising opportunities, merch stand and the like to keep you entertained.

Always a warm welcome at the CAMRA stand

In honour of National Pie Week, we also indulged in a Gamble & Hollis pork pie, topped with black pudding. Which really are some of the best pies you can eat, here in the most pork pie based of all the counties. As is traditional, there were also a range of authentic curries on offer along with a selection of Indian snacks to help soak up all of the beer. This year there was also a stand in the main beer festival offering a range of snacks like olives and the like. For some reason they had a giant parasol, even though they were indoors, which literally ruined every panaromic photo I tried to take of the festival, and made everything look a bit like a marketplace. But there you go.

So, if you didn't make it you now have another year to wait. But never fear - we are a city not short on beer festivals. My big pick coming up is the pre-cursor to the Western Park Beer Festival, the Pop-up Pub, which is conveniently this Friday (16th March 2018). Six casks, six kegs, cider and whatnot all in the good name of charity. An excellent run-up if you haven't given a beer festival a go before. And pizza!

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Indian food on the go

Wrapchic is the Indian Burrito Company, which has 19 locations around the UK and continues to expand by the minute. There used to be an outlet on the DMU campus, but I expect that passed most of you by as it did me. However, a new one has opened up on Gallowtree Gate, right at one end near to the Visit Leicester Centre, and I was invited along to the launch day celebrations to find out more.

I was intrigued when I read about the concept, and it turned out the rest was too, as their initial promotion of the first 200 customers getting a burrito for £1 had sold out within the first hour! It was a bit quieter in the shop when I arrived, with a number of curious people popping their head through the doors into the light airy dining area to try and find out more for themselves and a few people being game enough to give this Indian food to go concept a whirl for themselves.

Basically it's Indian food in the easy-to-eat format of Mexican street food - wraps, burritos, quesadillas, bowls and the like with an array of fillings inspired by the cuisine of different regions of the Indian subcontinent. The food is created by top Indian chefs in a central location and then shipped out to the stores for final preparation for service. At first this puzzled me a little, as the chain makes a virtue of this practice, while I would much prefer to know the chef was in the kitchen preparing my food to order, but I suppose that doesn't make a fast food service model work. However, freshly prepared food in any format is definitely a step up from most of the fast food options we have available!

And Wrapchic are certainly setting themselves up against the myriad of takeaways, chicken shops and kebab houses that we already have in Leicester city centre. Their opening hours are 8am to 10pm Sunday to Thursday, and 8am until 4am on Friday and Saturday! So you can basically go there whenever you want. Not only is their model different from the standard grab and go, but they also have a no-fry policy, which I would suggest moves their food a little away from your standard Indian fare, particularly when it comes to breads like paratha. Although I suppose you don't know how much fat is in the food already even if it isn't cooked in it...

Paratha - to be fair, takeout food is always pretty hard to sexy up for a photograph

Speaking of paratha, to start the day there is a breakfast menu of mini wraps, quesadilla and filled paratha. I tried the lamb keema paratha and I have to say this was probably my favourite thing out of everything, right out of the traps. It seemed amazing that the paratha wasn't fried as it was still really quite rich and decadent, with a beautiful flaky finish. The filling had just the right level of kick for me and I can certainly see this as a great breakfast offer. I did get down to the bottom of mine and realised that I'd accidentally squeezed half the filling into the foil by accident, but that probably speaks more about my lack of capacity as a normal human being than anything else. Teamed with a steaming cup of fragrant and aromatic masala chai, I think this would make a royally good breakfast.

Grab a cup of chai on the go

The format of the mains is a similar one that most people are accustomed to from burrito houses - choose your format, choose your filling, choose your extras. There are a range of levels of spicy hotness available dependent on which filling you choose, and burritos, wraps and bowls are designed to suit a range of needs in terms of dietary requirements and how hungry you are!

I found some of the extras a little confusing - there were predominantly Mexican accompaniments on offer like sour cream and guacamole, which I love, but don't particularly make good bed fellows with fillings like paneer masala and chicken methi IMO. I also found that my burrito cooled far too quickly and was made far too wet to comfortably eat as an 'on the go' food with the addition of these elements, so perhaps that is one area for improvement. However, that said I tried a range of fillings and found that their spicing was on point, all distinct, interesting and spoke of the region their recipe reflected.

This commitment to authenticity in Indian cooking is reflected around the restaurant, in the photos and spices on the walls, as well as the Maharashtran art inspired logo of the iconic bull - of course relevant to Indian culture, but also reflective of Wrapchic's own humble origins in Birmingham, in the shadow of the Bullring.

You can team any of these elements up with a range of sides. I liked their 'Wrapchips' which are a no-fry chip served with a sprinkling of spice which makes them really quite more-ish. They still have a pleasant crunch and soft centre in the mouth despite not having been fried. The Boy also enjoyed the Indian spicing of the chicken wings.

If you haven't even got time for this fast food, Wrapchic have a chiller stocked to the gills with freshly made wraps, salads and even homemade ready meals. They offer a catering service which is centred around these elements, which would add something with a bit of additional interest to a buffet. I liked the freshness of the salads, with lots of great energy coming from grains like quinoa, and beautiful fresh vegetables being pepped up with the same style of saucing as the hot menu. As you would expect there are lots of vegan and vegetarian options available on both the hot and cold offerings.

The ready meals were one thing I found lacking a little in inspiration, I suppose because you are kind of restricted just to the fillings and rice to be sure that it would travel and microwave well, but you can't have everything.

I washed it all down with a mango lassi and an extremely large korma muffin - spiced with a similar range of spices as the chai, cardamom and the like - which left me very full after my journey of exploration. The price point is around £2.75 to £5.50, so it's not going to break the bank - it's a very reasonable selection particularly as a breakfast or office lunch option in my opinion. I think that they do offer something different to the takeaway and grab and go options in the area, and the store itself is unpretentious and welcoming, so it takes on all the big boys like Pret and such. I can see this place becoming popular with young people out shopping on a Saturday as it's affordable and comfortable to sit and chill in (although if I'm honest, the cushions on pallet wood could be fractionally more comfortable and the barrel tables could equally be fractionally more stable.)

This isn't a menu item, just me trying the paneer masala - one of my favourite elements

Thanks to Wrapchic for inviting me along, explaining the concept and insisting I either try or takeaway just about everything on the menu. The paratha and the paneer masala were definitely my favourites and the things that I will be coming back for.

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!

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