Posts Tagged ‘Leicester’

A short ramble round Leicester

March 30, 2017

Coming to a brief spell of teaching at De Montfort I thought it might be of use to the casual cultured  visitor to point out some of the less well-known elements of the town that are worthy of consideration.

I’ve largely eschewed chewing in Leicester (at least on a sit down and make yourself at home basis) and so there’s only one ‘restaurant’ review from my time there. This post will have a bit of food though, plus buildings, books, art, pubs and landscape since it’s those things that to my mind are the more obvious signs of an absence or presence of civilisation in a community.

Let’s start with …

Churches

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St Martin’s (Leicester Cathedral)

Leicester is blessed with good church, although the Cathedral doesn’t really make it into the top three. Sadly most good churches are closed to casual visits so I’ve only seen the best ones from the outside. The Cathedral (which is generally open) I didn’t go into because an officious verger told me curtly that at the time I turned up there was a service on and ‘there’s no visiting.’ She didn’t seem to want to venture what time the service would end so I thought, well I can manage without it given that there’s gurt-stonking church to be had elsewhere. Such as …

St Nicholas

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No, it wasn’t misty. I’d dropped my phone in beer thus turning the camera into an analogue of my own ale-soaken mind if I happened to get into the right company after a day’s teaching.

Through the mists emerges St Nicholas, a real piece of Midlands bricolage being bits of Anglo-Saxon built on through the mediaeval period and topped off with a twentieth century tower. All juxtaposed with fragments of Roman Leicester. And on the ‘wrong side’ of the ring road. If it was in London it would be a major landmark. Here it languishes feeling rather unloved. As does …

All Saints, Highcross Street

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Get road-side if you want to see the Norman zig-zaggy door.

Also hard on the ring road but not if you approach it from the John Lewis end as shown in this photograph. The tower has elements of Anglo-Saxon and the rest to my untrained eye is a bizarre conglomeration of mediaeval and Victorian. It is crazy in its haphazardness but this somehow just lends it charm. It also has good tombstones.

As does …

St Mary-de-Castro

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Part of the castle complex and thus difficult to get a 360 degree look from close up, Pevsner goes nuts about the interior. Alas it’s shut quite a lot, or at least on Tuesdays when I’m in town. Below the castle hill there is a lovely garden with such a beautifully textured assemblage of hedgery with all kinds of bird life teeming in it. Shame they had to stick a crappy Holiday Inn above it. This is a good place to eat a sandwich. I know, I’ve been there.

Books

Like all good second hand bookshops Maynard & Bradley has an idiosyncratic style of service (read that how you will). It also has green Penguins by the yard and a good section on local history, which is what I was there for. I’ve been twice and both times bought more than necessary. A good thing.

Art

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New Walk Museum. Entrance is currently from the rear.

The New Walk museum has a tidy and eclectic collection of stuffed creatures. Sadly, my own taste being for the bizarreries to be found collections of this nature …

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A tragic visage from Güzelyürt Municipal Museum

… but of more interest is its tidy and eclectic collection of art. One room (while they’re renovating) is a broad survey of about 500 years of Western European art with the emphasis on the solid Victorian Frithish stuff. But there are a few gems of which the best is a de la Tour of a choirboy. De la Tour was not prolific (around 40 canvases apparently) so it was a very pleasant surprise to find his Choirboy hidden away in a corner of the stage area of the main gallery. Even poorly exhibited one can see that his handling of light is extraordinary. And the choirboy don’t look like no choirboy if you know what I mean. V sinister. Also there’s a good Orpen of an Old Bag on a Couch. Look at the Sisley too in that room and a good, solid 19thC depiction of the Thames.

Pass by Hogarth secure in the knowledge that he did far better things and go to the other room which houses twentieth century British stuff. Apparently this is just a small sample of their collection which means that it’s ideal. About twenty pieces, all high class. Some by artists you’ll know (eg Stanley Spencer) but also others who you won’t like Robert Beven (sp?) and his View of St John’s Wood. The gallery is worth a lunchtime of anyone’s time.

They also have occasional concerts – I was absolutely GUTTED to have missed Mahan Esfahani doing Goldberg.

Pubs

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The Globe. Zach pulls a mean pint.

As I pointed out in my review the Parcel Yard is better than your average station pub, on the ale side at least. But superior options are to be found (‘Don’t go to the Spoons!’ wailed my students when I asked for a recommendation). The Globe has a good range of booze and what’s more has a DMU graduate called Zach on the pumps. He’s a nice feller and so is his boozer if you’re looking for a pubby pub. Also a good find was the Brewdog pub – good music, excellent chips and tasty beer. They also do carry outs for when you’re the only person leaving Leicester when Seville are in town and you need to drown your sorrows at missing the match while you’re on your way back to London.

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Brewdog: Knowledgable bar staff, cracking ale and good, quick food.

Buildings

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De Montfort itself has a fine collection. Though the place seems to be in a permanent state of construction there’s peace to be found down by the river. Just by the university is Newarke House Museum. The museum is a typical local museum that tells the history of the city succinctly and very well with good bits of oral history about the industries that made the city what it is. They also had a good exhibition on the First World War when I was there and it seems that they turn round exhibitions quite frequently, which encourages repeat visits.

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Unmissable if you go to Leicester is the Guildhall. It’s one of a smattering of picturesque half-timbered survivals but the real glory lies within.

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That is a proper fireplace. The room it’s in ain’t bad either with 17th Century wall paintings, injunctions to clean living (the hall acted as a seat of justice back in the day) and a couple of yeomanly portraits of local dignitaries from the past.

Food

But what if you’re hungry? You could do any one of a number of chain sandwich places but I prefer to find somewhere a bit more independent.

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Samosa central

For food on the hoof Currant Affairs does the best samosas I’ve ever had outside of a restaurant. It’s all vegan/veggie friendly and their boast that’s it’s freshly made in the day is not an idle one. You can taste the freshness.

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For coffee and a sit down you can’t beat St. Martin’s coffee bar. They have excellent coffee and if you’re hungry you can get hot food made to order. A favourite of mine was an Indonesian pork stir fry with bacony slabs of pork on tangy spicy noodles and plenty of vegetables. And good value too.

Leicester is a good place and I’m looking forward to going back for a bit of cricket/football/rugby soonest.

Resto 13 The Parcel Yard, Leicester

February 21, 2017

Chatting to a friend at the weekend he told me that I appeared to have had far too much good food this year. On the face of the reviews thus far he’s right but what he didn’t know was that I had a rotten experience up my sleeve just waiting for publication.

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The Parcel Yard, from the drinking point of view, is an old friend. For a station pub the beer is good and reasonably cheap, with decent loos and cheerful staff. So I didn’t think there could be anything wrong with getting a quick bite before getting back to London last week.

Oh well, things don’t always work out how you want. I got there at seven and my train was at eight. Ample time I thought for a burger to be delivered and demolished even for a clock-fretter like me. I ordered and went to find a table. Argh, all that was left was high stools! Well, that’s not their fault and mebbe it’s just a quirk of mine that I hate high altitude seating so I put up with it and waited for the burger.

Waited.

Waited.

Looked around the room … was there a charabanc party in the far room? It appeared not. Had they run out of cow? If so nobody thought to let me know. I told myself that if it got to 7.30 I’d go and ask for my money back. As if the chef could read my mind the burger arrived at 7.29. I asked why the delay … busy in the kitchen. I raised a sardonic eyebrow but my rumbling stomach told me not to pursue the matter any further.

But what’s this?! Looking down I see a collection of nonsense straight outta Shoreditch. One child sized burger and an aluminium buckette of chips with some (admittedly v good) coleslaw on the side. But the size of the food wasn’t the chief source of my consternation.

The eats were assembled on the kind of wooden crate in which job lots of satsumas are retailed by the Turkish grocers of Green Lanes. Rough board base (with a greaseproof paper on top), four substantial sides and four lumps of further wood sticking up at each corner. I believe there are whole websites dedicated to the ludicrous means (planks, slates, dog-bowls) various knobheads have chosen to deliver their product to the poor consumer. This is my own contribution.

If I were the Labour candidate for Stoke I would make it my no. 1 campaign pledge that all food should be delivered ON A PLATE. I would win by a landslide.

The burger was dry.

3/10 (for the beer and coleslaw)

p.s. I did make the train but at the price of indigestion.

#Food #Leicester

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

 

 

Restaurants of 2016 – the round up

January 1, 2017

New Year’s Day doesn’t seem the most psychologically astute to consider how much time and money one has spent on consuming food and drink over the preceding year. The grip of hang lends a jaundiced eye to even the sunniest experiences while the stinkers on reconsideration become full blown catastrophes.

However, on a day such as this it is wisest to remember how fortunate are those who have the leisure and lucre to dine out. I don’t take my good fortune for granted.

Ratings

The average rating over the year was just over 7 out of 10, suggesting that the standard is pretty steady across the industry. Or I could be a generous reviewer. No restos received a 4, 2 or 1 out of 10 rating with three getting the dreaded zero for utterly crap service that led to a walk out.  Below I’ll recap the worst experiences of 2016 though not at too great length.

To my surprise there are fourteen 9 out of 10 ratings, which means I’ll have to whittle down for a top 10! I’ll give weight to those restaurants which over-deliver on value for money.

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Location

It’s not surprising that the centre of London tops the charts for eating but it’s also been a very French year, which looks likely to last into 2017 with the eldest going to university in Paris (exam results allowing).

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Cuisine

I often feel I could do with a curry so I was not surprised to see that they come out on top of visits, confirming the trend that Indian cuisine is the nation’s favourite. No Chinese (except for the Uighurs) is a bit of a shocker though!

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Okay, so that’s the stats, time to dish out the gongs and the rotten toms.

The stinkers

Let’s get these out of the way eh? I should emphasise that all of the opinions are based on what happened at the time and things may have improved since then.

The Botany Bay

Worst dining experience of the year from a culinary point of view was undoubtedly The Botany Bay, an evening that was only saved from being truly hideous by the patience and good humour of my wife.

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Botany Bay. Go for the view rather than the food.

2. Gustavo’sNow sadly defunct Gustavo’s turned the pizzeria experience into a marathon from which I thought I was never going to escape.

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Gustavo’s. Their mysteriously non-functioning pizza oven is still in the building though no-one’s set up shop.

3. Cafe de l’OpéraI asked the waiter for a Coca Light, he brought me an espresso. What a prick. Tourist Paris at its very worst. Doesn’t merit a picture.

Special mentions go to BFI Riverside and Vapiano for having such charmless staff that I didn’t even order anything.

The Good Stuff

In no particular order ten of the best of 2016.

Autograf

Save it for winter because they tee you up with rye bread and pig fat before giving you some serious amounts of wholesome Polish food.

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Autograf on Green Lanes. If you like pig this is the place for you.

2. Standard TandooriThe go to Indian for the last twenty years. I couldn’t leave them out of a top 10, Tariq would kill me.

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The décor occasionally changes but everything else remains reassuringly the same at the Standard.

3. Bistro AixAs authentic a French bistro as you’re likely to find in Crouch End or any other London ‘burb. Good cooking, great value and friendly service. A real find.

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Bistro Aix – the set meal is a bargain.

4. De BelhamelCanalside eating in Amsterdam and a good laid-back feel in the room. I liked it.

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De Belhamel – the best of a good weekend in Amsterdam.

5. KaramayIt felt like dining in someone’s front room but in a good way. Uighur cuisine at its best, or so my Uighur savvy fellow diner informed me.

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Karamay – recommended for a post-rugby feast.

6. Rule’sSometimes you want to leave a restaurant light of wallet and heavy of stomach. Rule’s will do that for you in style.

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Rule’s banquette. Sat on by some mighty ass.

7. VagenendeOn the recommendation of Ian Nairn we found Vagenende largely unchanged since his visit in 1968. A good thing.

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Vagenende – keeping up standards on the hell that can be Boulevard St. Germain

8. Pizza Express British MuseumLike the Standard an old reliable that hasn’t lost its charm over the years.

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The near original and in my opinion the best.

9. Salt YardIn a year packed with Spanish food Salt Yard came out the champion. Top class.

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Salt Yard – pick of the festive season.

10. Le VoltaireSaving the best till last. It’s not cheap but where else could you dine a historic building, eat perfectly good food and have dignified waiters indulge you with bouts of table shenanigans?

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Le Voltaire. I’d happily di(n)e there.

All of these got 9 out of 10 but so too did Rowley’s, Le Fumoir and Les Babines. Join me in 2017 for more eateries.

#Food #London #Paris #Amsterdam

To see which other restaurants I visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

Review #35, Karamay, Leicester

April 12, 2016

We were in Leicester for three things: rugby, ale and curry. Two out of three was fine considering our curry substitute was a wonderfully serendipitous find. The rugby was outstanding. The mediocre Leicester that I saw a few weeks ago rolling over to Wasps had been replaced by a flair-packed, ravening rugby beast that left the poor Stadois as the sporting equivalent to a bullied schoolchild with its trousers round its ankles and its head stuck in a flushing toilet. My Leicester-supporting companions were in the mood for celebration.

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Welford Road, scene of a severe thrashing.

But what’s this? It’s four in the afternoon of a Sunday and all the curry houses on London Road are shut until five. We faced pacing the streets of Leicester in search of spice or taking a chance on the unknown (or so I thought) cuisine of Western China’s Uighur community. What luck that we did. On entry we realised that we probably interrupted the patron’s family meal break but this didn’t seem to be a problem and we took a table in the window. We were soon joined by several other Leicester fans, whether regulars of Karamay or lured by fellow Tigers it’s hard to say.

The food offers Chinese regulars but is much more interesting for its Uighur specialities. These veer to the Turkish/Iranian and consist of thick spicy stews and pilafs. It turned out that one of our number had actually been to Western China back in the 90s and could confirm the authenticity of both the food and the decor; although after a heavily contested debate we were still undecided as to whether the smooth lounge jazz coming out of the speakers was also an Uighur vibe.

Through a hatch at the back of the room we could see the chef working on his materials and what delicious wonders he produced. A selection of starters was downed in about 10 seconds with the hot and sour soup (laced with fresh noodles) a standout. Service was friendly and the waitress asked us to give her a shout when we were ready for mains. We were. Mine was a bonylambyveggie pot of yum, heavily spiced and hearty fare for a hungry sports fan. I left dignity aside and sucked the tender meat from the bones before pouring in my rice and finishing the whole lot. Satisfaction reigned supreme around the table.

They have no licence so it’s soft drinks only but a rest from the beer was no bad thing We left congratulating ourselves on having made a real find, all for under fifteen quid a head. I can’t wait to come back next season.

9/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap


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