Review of Smoke and Spice – Leicester

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A week last Wednesday was one year since my partner and I met. I can clearly remember waiting somewhat nervously at Leicester train station for him to arrive for our first date, in fact our first ever meeting thanks for the world of online dating.

The online dating journey had been a strange one full of unsuitable and disappointing men who never lived up to their profiles in the flesh before J appeared that day. There was the military intelligence officer who spoke five languages fluently and (like me) loved The West Wing, yet drove his car into my neighbour’s house and purred at me like a cat. The narcissist drug addict who was lost in a world of his own lies and delusions oh and not to forget the surprise racist. Yep finding a partner online was pretty tricky stuff but it turns out it was nothing compared to choosing a place to go and eat out for our first anniversary.

The search began a month ahead of time, yes really. I wanted to find the perfect mix of casual dining, good cocktails and excellent food so began the quest in earnest back in February. I was absolutely gutted to discover that 2 of my favourite places to go had closed down last year – farewell Grillstock and Boneyard, your sticky, smoked meats and potent cocktails will be sadly missed.

Whilst searching for a new smokehouse in Leicester, a Google search turned up a new place called Smoke and Spice on Granby Street, not far from the train station. Serving up “Indian street food, Indian BBQ, pan Indian curries, sides and hand crafted desserts” my interest was piqued.

The online dinner menu looked like there was something to suit both of us, 4 à la carte courses and a Thali buffet selection for the main course and all for just £9.99, PLUS some kickass sounding cocktails, there must be some kind of catch right?

I checked out their Twitter account: 2 followers, Facebook: 65. Tripadvisor was mixed: 3 reviews, 2 good, one bad, hmmm worth a punt? Yeah why not. I loved the sound of their menu and their cocktails sounded great and the last thing I wanted was for us to go somewhere pricey and leave disappointed which happens way more often than not unfortunately. It was decided, Smoke and Spice was a go.

Their lunchtime menu swaps to their larger evening offering from 5pm so we idled away a couple of hours drinking some lovely Tiny Rebel beers at The Parcel Yard, where a year ago we’d spent hours chatting away on our first meeting. Come 5:30pm off we headed down Granby street, past plenty of busy chicken restaurants, takeaways  and noodle bars until we found Smoke and Spice. Empty. Hmm, not the best advertisement.

We were greeted warmly by a lovely lady who showed us to a booth. She explained that we order our first 2 courses off the à la carte menu (poppadums and chutneys would be on their way as a first course) and then head up to the buffet for a Thali style selection for our main, then if we had room there was the dessert menu to explore. There were 3 beers on the menu and J was looking forward to trying the Brooklyn Scorcher (£4.99) but sadly only the pilsner (£3.99) was on today so J opted for that and I went for a Darjeeling Iced Tea (£6.99).

The chef brought out our poppadums and chutneys whilst our drinks were made. I was intrigued by the sound of mine, “Gin, Vodka, Rum, Tequila, Indian Chai Syrup, Lemonade, Midori. Party time in the foothills”, I could hear the cocktail shaker being used and my mouth was watering in anticipation of an über boozy delight. 

Pappadums, pickles and chutneys

Pappadums, pickles and chutneys

The poppadoms were nice and crisp with just the right amount of tart pickle and mint and coriander chutney garnish to make them interesting without being overpowering. The drinks arrived, mine garnished with dried flower petals looked pretty, sadly it just tasted like lime cordial and lemonade. I mean it was nice, it just wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I couldn’t taste the gin, tequila, rum, chai syrup or Midori but it was pretty pleasant so I happily drank it as it was complimenting the food. Should I have said something? Probably, but I wasn’t annoyed about it, I’m a pretty easy going diner and I was having a fab time.

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Our second courses arrived as we were polishing off the poppadums. J had the Palak pyaz pakoras – tender spinach, onion and potatoes coated in spiced chickpea flour batter and fried into fritters with herbal yogurt, mint coriander, tamarind and date chutney, J was more than pleased with it. He was raving about them so I tried half of one of his, he was right, they really were pretty good. I plumped for the Bombay bhel papdi as I’d never tried it before. I wasn’t to be disappointed either, this dish was a bit of a highlight for me – puffed, toasted  rice with crisps ,mint chutney, date and tamarind chutney. It was fab –  salty and crispy with a nice kick from the chutneys and pickles, a winner.

BOMBAY BHEL PAPDI v Assorted papdi, rice flakes, sev, mint chutney, date and tamarind chutney

BOMBAY BHEL PAPDI

Next up were the BBQ firebowls. I’m a bit of a wing addict so it came as no surprise to J that I opted for the Himalayan salt and pepper wings, damn they were good too. Smoky and crispy on the outside having been marinated in ginger, garlic ,soy and black pepper, the crisp skin giving way to juicy and succulent meat, I licked the bones clean. J had the Dhabi chicken tikka, I think he was a little disappointed over the small portion size but enjoyed the tender pieces of spiced chicken and the accompanying chutneys and pickles (they feature a lot).

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It was at this point that we ordered our naan breads to accompany the Thali buffet. They arrived within a few minutes, light and crispy, fresh from the tandoor, mine generously slathered in garlic butter, J’s plain. Up we went to explore the many dishes on offer at the buffet. By this point 2 other diners had arrived, they’d just doubled the dining figures.

Traditional Thali trays were provided instead of plates, it’s a shame that these weren’t warmed as it did mean the food went cold pretty quickly. There were 20 dishes to choose from, everything I tried was pretty mild and unremarkable unfortunately, nothing heavily spiced or flavoured. J and I both agreed that we couldn’t have gotten through a regular serving of any one of them by itself, but small amounts of dishes were OK, probably the best dish was the lamb rogan josh or chicken biriyani. It was a bit of a shame that the buffet lacked the punchy flavours of the previous courses, nothing was particularly bad, just rather dull and lacklustre in comparison.

thali buffet

So. Much. Food

I definitely got overexcited about serving myself and wanted to try as many dishes as possible – eyes bigger than my belly, and that’s saying something! Our very helpful waitress came up to check on us a couple of times, she was lovely, really knowledgeable. She was surprised we weren’t going up for more but I couldn’t finish what I already had and she was already telling us that the desserts are pretty special. She makes the desserts you see and was determined we try them, in a nice way nothing pushy at all.

So we had a look at the desserts menu, I spotted tiramisu, my favourite and J was sold on the pistachio and rose cheesecake. The tiramisu was heavily spiked with green cardamon with was a lovely surprise, although the pods were still in the mascarpone which was a rather unpleasant one, still despite this it was rich without being heavy and was a good end to the meal. J loved his cheesecake which was incredibly light and left him feeling refreshed and in fact ready for more!

All in all we had a really good time, the a la carte food was great, shame about the buffet being a bit disappointing but for £9.99 it’s an absolute bargain, would we go again? Absolutely. It’s pocket friendly, cheerful, relaxed and the a la carte options really are very good. Will they still be around in a year’s time? Well I hope so, although they’re going to need a few more customers.

Food: 6/10

Service: 8/10

Value for money: 9/10

Smoke and Spice: 32 Granby Street, Leicester, Leicestershire, LE1 1DE Tel: 0116 262 5620

My sous vide cooking experiment: Week 1

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

If you follow me on Twitter you will have seen me getting all excited about a new bit of kit that has arrived in my kitchen courtesy of Sous Vide Tools. Now if you know me in real life you will also know that it’s pretty much the only gadget apart from an electric whisk that’s now in my old cottage.

The chairman of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association had a dodgy meat experience in Bangkok 15 years ago which was enough to turn him vegetarian, similarly 5 years ago I had a dodgy sous vide experience at a swanky hotel in Belfast that saw me declare sous vide as the death of cooking and never looked back.

So when I was asked if I fancied trialling some sous vide kit I knew they had quite a battle on their hands to change my mind. That hotel kitchen had ruined a perfectly good, carefully sourced bit of beef and turned it to textureless mush five years ago and it had put me right off. Sous vide was the Devil, right?

Well, it turns out that it’s pretty damn hard to screw up a steak using sous vide, you really have to go out of your way to do it to the point that I now believe it was some kind of deliberate, calculated meat hating vegan that prepared that steak. What that chef had done to that poor bit of cow I don’t know but I hope to their god he or she isn’t still doing it.

So last Saturday I headed off to Cambridge to meet up with Alex from Sous Vide Tools at the Steamer Trading Cookshop where he was running demos of the Thermo Circulator that I was going to be receiving. I told Alex about my “Steak from Hell” experience and he perked up: “Wait until you try this bit of bavette that’s been cooking for 29 hours” he said. Oh god, I thought, here we go again. Then, I tasted it. Oh, actually that’s beautifully tender with great texture and still pink, not tasteless mush AT ALL, and bavette, also known as flank steak is a really tough cut. Hmmm OK hit me with your next bit of wizardry Alex.

Alex showing me the amazing smoking gun whist simultaneously trying not to set off the smoke alarms

Alex showing me the amazing smoking gun whist simultaneously trying not to set off the smoke alarms

Next up was a chicken breast, perfectly moist and intensely chicken-y and cooked in under 1 hour. So not everything takes DAYS? Ok, so it looked like everything I thought I knew about sous vide was actually totally and utterly wrong.

I was then off to eat lunch at Alimentum which holds 1 Michelin star under the care of Chef Patron Mark Poynton. What happened next was by far the most incredible dining experience I’d had since Comerc24 in Barcelona five years ago. His food made total sense, it was exciting, surprising and perfect in every way possible. One week later and I still think about a dish of pork, langoustine and caviar at least three times a day.

some of the courses I had at Alimentum, extraordinarily good food.

Some of the courses I had at Alimentum, extraordinarily good food.

I had arrived in Cambridge highly dubious about sous vide cooking and what benefit it could have for me in my own kitchen, I left in complete awe of Mark’s cooking and excitedly impatient for my kit to arrive on Monday.

Like having a fish tank in the kitchen that's full of dinner rather than goldfish

Like having a fish tank in the kitchen that’s full of dinner rather than goldfish

Monday arrived as did the kit, a Thermo Circulator, vac pac machine, bags and a big plastic container. You don’t actually need the container, you can attach the Thermo Circulator to a big stock pot or even a bucket. I unpacked everything and got straight to work, I filled it with warm water and got rid of my temperamental toaster to make room for it on the counter. But what to cook first? Something simple I figured, I had some bargain no frills Tesco carrots in the fridge, perfect. I peeled them, vac packed them and whacked them in at 85C for 30 minutes.

A simple test of the sous vide's abilities

A simple test of the sous vide’s abilities

I took the carrots out and popped them in the fridge for later. Reduced the sous vide temp down to 64C and decided to try my own chicken breast experiment:

Less than 1 minute to prepare then just forget about it for an hour.

Less than 1 minute to prepare then just forget about it for an hour.

Sherry and porcini chicken breast:

  • 1 chicken breast
  • 4 dried porcini mushrooms
  • a few slivers dried garlic
  • 2 sage leaves
  • 1 fennel frond
  • salt and pepper
  • about 60ml Amontillado sherry

Vac packed and in the sous vide at 64C for 60 minutes. During the last 20 minutes I returned the vac packed bag of carrots to warm up then just put everything into a bowl. Easy, ace, nutritious, packed full of flavour and boozy, whats not to love? I’d really like this on a bed of noodles or rice if I fancy a bit more carbs.

Some more recipes from those few days…

48 hour beef ribs in quince gravy:

About 6 mins of actual "work" to make this incredible ribs

About 6 mins of actual “work” to make this incredible ribs

  • 1 beef rib sawn into 4 pieces by my butcher
  • about 60ml port
  • few slivers dried garlic
  • 2 bayleaves
  • 1 teaspoon Dorsetshire Sauce
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons homemade quince jam (you could use membrillo)

Put everything except the quince jam into a bag and vac pac. Sous vide at 64C (so I could also cook chicken at same time) for 48 hours. Open bag, remove ribs from liquid, pan fry in very hot pan to sear then remove and set aside under foil. Pour liquid from bag into pan, add quince jam, stir and and reduce until thick and sticky (about 5 minutes). Strain liquid over the ribs.

Whipped bone marrow butter with smoked salt:

This is something I’m REALLY proud of. It’s pretty awesome even if I do say so myself and I’m having it on everything, it’s magic butter, everything tastes better when smothered in it.

bone marrow butter

  • 4 Pieces of marrow bone about 4cm diameter x 7 cm tall (mine were straight out of my freezer)
  • 2 x 250g packs unsalted butter
  • few pinches halen Môn smoked salt (I like it salty).
  • (apple smoking chips and a smoking gun if you want to smoke them after)

Put the bone pieces into a bag and vacuum seal. Sous vide at 64C for about 2 hours. Pour into a bowl and chill in fridge to set. Meanwhile whip the butter until smooth and light. Remove any stringy bits from the marrow, break up with a fork and whisk into the whipped butter until thoroughly combined and fluffy, season with some smoked Halen Môn salt.

If you want to keep some and freeze some then portion off and roll into cylinders using cling film. Chill in fridge to set. Sous Vide Tools also sent me a smoking gun to play with, IT’S AWESOME, so I unwrapped a couple of the set butter cylinders and placed them in a big bowl along with some whisky (yeah smoked whisky rocks), covered with cling and smoked with some apple wood chips before re-clinging and returning to the fridge.

The bone marrow, the smoking and the bone marrow pasta

The bone marrow, the smoking and the bone marrow pasta

That bone marrow pasta dish is such a thing of wonder that I’m going to do a separate recipe post for it, it’s a heavenly, silky, meaty, carby delight.

So theres a few recipes from the last few days, I have a pork belly that was brined for 12 hours and bathed for 36 that is currently being pressed in the fridge and 6 hefty ox cheeks currently languishing at 60C for 48 hours ready for my birthday dinner party tomorrow. Oh and yeah there is also some gin being infused with apple and cardamom floating about in there. It’s brilliant. I love it.

Sous Vide Tools are offering a really incredible deal for readers of this blog, I NEVER do things like this but I’ve been so impressed with the kit that I am really happy to do this offer. Basically they are very generously knocking a whopping £100 off their usual price of £449.99 (incl VAT)for their Polyscience Creative Promotion. This is a saving of £100 on the normal package price and a saving of £121.77 on the items if bought individually so a brilliant deal! I’m totally thrilled about this! All you need to do is either call Sous Vide Tools on 0800 678 5001or email them at enquiries@sousvidetools.com and quote the name “HAZEL” for your discount. This offer ends December 31st 2013 so it’s the perfect Christmas present to yourself or someone you really like!

A WHOPPING £100 off the RRP!

A WHOPPING £100 off the RRP!

I’ll keep posting my sous vide recipes that I’m working on, I’m still to do fish and desserts yet.They do wonderful things to eggs just look at this duck egg…

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

Lick The Spoon – Easter eggs that are really rather special…

lick the spoon easter eggsOh my, these really are rather wonderful indeed. I’ve been meaning to go and visit Lick The Spoon chocolatiers for about a year now as they are based about 2 minutes walk from my sister’s house down in Corsham, Wiltshire. I live about 3 hours away (sadly) and finally managed a visit last time I was down, Lick The Spoon chocolate is now yet another reason to move back home to Bath.

Like many artisan producers Diana started the business from her kitchen table. Having spent many years cheffing her way around Europe and working her way up to Head Chef, she met her husband Matthew, started her family and Lick The Spoon was born.

Diana’s passion for high quality ingredients is evident the moment she starts chatting, she sources the best cocoa from producers such as the truly wonderful Grenada Chocolate Company who are completely organic and even run their machines using solar energy (I love them and their chocolate) and Willies Cacao in Venezuela (my other absolute favourite). Diana then blends her couvertures to compliment the ingredients she is adding to each particular product:

“I adjust the blend depending on which items I’m making…for example, the wonderful fruitiness of the Madagascar blend is a dream with orange or raspberry but doesn’t work with mint and the subtle dried fruit richness of the Grenadan is perfect in rum & raisin…I always develop my recipes to make the best of the couvertures. It’s an ongoing process of course, because cocoa is a natural crop and there are fluctuations in flavour, so I taste test from time to time (hard job!) to make sure the blends are as I expect.”

lick the spoon salted caramel eggs

 

It’s a dream job basically! Diana gave me a pack of her salted caramel mini eggs to try which were rather special. The thin layer of milk chocolate snapped perfectly as I bit in to reveal a soft, luxuriant caramel filling. I think they could be a bit braver with the salt though but otherwise it really was absolutely divine.

lick the spoon milk honeycomb egg

 

Next up was a rather magnificent looking honeycomb Easter egg.  Extra thick chocolate embeddded with big pieces of honeycomb make this an egg for serious chocolate eaters. The chocolate had a perfect snap and melted silkily in my mouth to leave big chunks of homemade honeycomb that still had that lovely sizzle as it hits the tongue. Bloody splendid stuff.

lick the spoon

Just look at that thick chocolate and honeycomb…*drool*

Lick The Spoon have a shop in Cirencester but you can find their chocolates in luxury London shops such as Harrods, Liberty, Selfridges, John Lewis, Harvey Nicks and various farm shops and delis across the country. I highly recommend popping into Dick Willows Cider farm, just outside Bath where I first discovered them, and stocking up on some scrumpy and chocolate 🙂 or you can buy direct from Lick The Spoon’s online shop.

Each of their chocolates is decorated by hand by one of the chocolate makers, who really are chocolate artists. Check out these incredible edibles:

lick the spoon

 

Great handmade chocolate made using the best quality ingredients doesn’t come cheap, and it shouldn’t come cheaply either, but if you want to spoil someone (or yourself) then I absolutely recommend shelling out (geddit? I’m HILARIOUS *ahem*) for a top quality Easter egg from Diana and Matthew.

 

 

 

Wine to drink with dark chocolate

cafe cabernetEaster is on the horizon which for many people means time to gorge on as many chocolate Easter eggs as possible. It’s always at Easter time that I really miss Woolworths, well Easter and the beginning of September, three things Woolies were ace at: back to school stationary, pick n’ mix and Easter eggs, their Easter egg aisles seemed to go on forever…

Wine and chocolate matching divides many people, there is so much snobbery about wine but like any 2 ingredients that vary so much in flavour there are good pairings and bad. When I received an email asking me if I’d like to try out a wine created with the intention of being matched with chocolate my interest was definitely peaked. Linton Park Wines are the team behind the South African Café Cabernet, they set about creating a wine specifically to match well with very dark, bitter high cocoa (70% and above) chocolate and you know what, it’s a good pairing. The wine arrived in a gorgeous box with a bar of 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate that had been blended in Belgium. The matt black bottle was pretty striking and even elicited a “nice bottle” from my wine hating boyfriend Glen, which definitely took me by surprise.

cafe cabernet

I love my reds to be so dark and concentrated that you can’t see light through the glass – the big hitters that reek of tobacco and stain your lips like you’ve been blackberry picking after just one sip.  I also like a really gentle hint of sweetness in there but the general rule of thumb is not to drink a wine thats sweeter than your chocolate, so this dark, brooding cabernet needed to be dry as a bone to compliment the bitter dark chocolate that I was nibbling on, and dry it was.

This is definitely a food pairing wine for me. When food and drink pairs well their sum is so much greater than its parts. Alone the wine, although having plenty of blackcurrant fruit and mocha spice that I love was just too dry for me to drink alone but paired with the bitter dark chocolate it became a much happier, smoother, well rounded creature all together, think really well made Italian espresso. In the name of science I decided to test the wine with a different chocolate and the dark chocolate with a different red…

cafe cabernet

Science in action….

Paired with a sweeter, creamier chocolate it’s a terrible clash, this baby needs the high cocoa bitterness to really shine, the touch of sweetness the bitter chocolate brings completes the pairing. Likewise the bitter chocolate when eaten with a sweeter, jammy Malbec was just plain wrong, the chocolate needs the dry cabernet, it really was quite striking how different the 2 wines were with the same chocolate. The sweeter chocolate and Malbec were equally brilliant together also which goes to show all those people who exclaim that you can’t pair wine and chocolate just haven’t paired the right ones.

Dark, bitter, high cocoa solids chocolate is said to be good for you as is a glass of good red wine (unless of course you read the Daily Mail which basically insists EVERYTHING gives you cancer, seriously stop reading that paper, you will feel all the better for it). When you find a happy couple that compliment each other then surely your entitled to call it medicinal to enjoy a few nibbles and sups….. *doctor face*

Cafe Cabernet also turned out to be a bloody brilliant match with our dinner that night, I’d made a spicy, tomato based creole chicken curry, not an easy wine match but Café Cabernet stepped up and nailed it, more plus points.

When it comes wine I very rarely buy one that needs to be drank alongside anything more than a cigarette but you know what, I’d definitely make an exception for this one as it gives me the perfect excuse to indulge in some really good chocolate too 🙂

You can pick up a bottle for £8.98 from The Drink Shop.

Cream Tea at Stapleford Park

I can’t believe its taken me nearly 3 years to finally get round to visiting Stapleford Park! It’s only about a five minute drive away from my cottage and since we visited on Tuesday I’ve been kicking myself for not going sooner.

My sister and her two children came to stay with me for a couple of days and asked what there was to do around Melton Mowbray. Aha! My sister loves big country houses so we piled into my car and headed out into the beautiful Leicestershire countryside in search of a cream tea.

On arrival we instantly knew it was somewhere really rather special. Beautiful landscaped gardens lead up to the most stunning hotel which just screams indulgence and pampering. My favourite room was the taxidermy room though, I’m a huge fan of dead animals hanging off walls!

The heady scent of lavender and freshly cut grass instantly had us ready to sit down, relax and soak up our surroundings (there are loads of really rather handsome chaps about  which was also rather nice!).

My niece Nyla took an instant shine to the giant chess set and was happily amused in her own little world whilst we got on with checking out the menu, confident that she will one day become a chess master as a result. Sarah and I both opted for the cream tea whilst my nephew Daniel opted for the rare roast beef sandwich which must have been good as it disappeared too quickly for me to try a taste!

The scones were lighter than light, the homemade strawberry compote was heavenly and the Cornish clotted cream was absolutely heavenly although I was a little disappointed to find it wasn’t local cream, Lubcloud dairy make the most wonderful thick cream that would have been just perfect. I could have also done with an extra scone too, 2 of those little beauties just wasn’t enough to scoop up all that lovely compote and cream! I went for a pot of lapsang souchong tea which was served in a beautiful heavy silver plated pot and the friendly (and immaculately dressed) staff happily provided lots of milk for my niece. At £9.50 per person the cream tea is not cheap but everything was beautifully made, the setting was perfect and to be able to wander the stunning grounds in the sunshine made it absolutely worth it.

We had the most wonderful afternoon at Stapleford Park, in fact once we got back to my cottage we vowed that next time we will stay the night (despite me only living 5 minutes away!) and take advantage of their amazing spa and swimming pool. I’m definitely bringing my Dad for a round of golf on their course next time he visits me, mostly because I want to drive around in their golf buggies but it’s been ages since I played golf and what a place to get back into the swing of things (sorry!).

So if you find yourself in the Melton Mowbray area and want to treat yourself then definitely get yourself over to Stapleford Park, in fact just treat yourself and stay there wherever you may be and take me with you!

My beautiful family:

Lets look at that divine cream tea again….