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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.