A hectic weekend in Leicester
by Slug on March 24, 2013
As a keen Welsh rugby union fan I wasn't going to miss last weekend's Wales v England match to decide who won the 6 nations championship. As Wales whupped England 30-3, I was pleased my brother in law suggested we meet up at the Swan and Rushes Alehouse in time for the match to start. That they were hosting a curry and IPA beer weekend just added to the fun. The Swan and Rushes isn't in the best place, snuggled between two main roads on a traffic island. It's near the main hospital on the outer edge of the city centre. Most of the original buildings of this area have been pile-driven to the ground in favour of those modern disposable warehouses. Somehow the Victorian era Swan and Rushes seems to have survived the drive to medreodricy, even though in itself it is a fairly typical example of a Victorian alehouse. The main thing of note is its rather arts and crafts style sign to the front of the building.The Swan and Rushes is independently run which means while the place is clean and tidy, it is a little old fashioned and well used. There were 12 IPA beers available for the beer festival although once the beers had been drunk they were not replaced. The beers too were a good range of IPA, running from the weaker UK strength style of 4% to towards 6% for the heavier American weight beers. I sampled about 3 and they were all well kept. The main bar at the Swan and Rushes has a TV, bar billiards and a few tables for dominos and the like. Most people were propped up at the bar watching the Rugby, although I managed to find a table for two to sit at. The back room of the pub is larger, quieter and good for kids. The pub itself is rather "old man" and not particularly stunning or noteworthy, but seats are comfortable and the service quick and friendly.We decided to eat, and our curry arrived quickly after ordering it and I enjoyed my Tarka Dall and rice for £4. The pub chef is Indian so the meal was authentic.The Swan and Rushes isn't the hidden gem of Leicester that I'd recommend everyone to visit, but its friendly and pleasant enough with staff who know how to keep their beer and offer reasonably priced food. If you are in this part of town then you can do worse than pop in.
by Slug on June 27, 2013
With my beloved being a former food hygiene inspector, buffet meals are not really our thing. The thought of having the equivalent of perhaps 80 wait staff of indeterminate hygiene standards serve food of indeterminate heat and age is not really for us. So, we weren’t exactly overjoyed when my brother-in-law suggested we meet him and a few of his homies at a new Leicester restaurant the Chef and Spice. As it was, we were impressed with the place and happily spotted wait staff ensuring that the serving bowls were clean and the food hot. As you might expect by the name, Chef and Spice sells different curries (Indian and Thai) with a couple of pizza bits if you happen to have an unadventurous child in tow. The Chef and Spice is on one of the main arterial roads leading out of Leicester and just outside Leicester city centre. We had to pass through a depressed looking bit of public housing to get there, which probably meant I’d be a little cautious about returning back into town on my own later at night (but again all was well). There is a trendy and nice looking bar and restaurant opposite the Chef and Spice so we reposed in there for 30 minutes while we waited for the rest of our party.The Chef and Spice is very cleanly and recently done out, and it has movable tables to cater for parties of different sizes. In all I think there were about 16 people for our meal and the restaurant coped admirably. Rather amusingly, the restaurant doesn’t like people taking images of the food serving areas. I’m not sure why as to me it just makes the internet generation a bit nervous about what they might spot there, as in fact I was quite impressed. The starters row of bowls were in fact perhaps the most disappointing, as there wasn’t a fantastic choice of what I might call traditional starters. In fact, the chicken chilli curry and a number of other what I would call "main course" dishes were in this row too. However, I snaffled a couple of bhajis and livened them up with a couple of small spoonfuls of curry, and then added salad and sauces and was quite content. For the mains there is probably a choice of 20 main course curries and a reasonable veggie choice. The naan breads seemed a little less than plentiful; on both occasions I visited, I nabbed the last bits of bread in the bowl. The curries I sampled were good – not excellent, but perfectly tasty, hot and adequate. The meat was of a good standard. There is also a doza section where a man prepares the doza in front of your very eyes; this had something of a queue and I couldn’t be bothered standing there for 10-15 minutes waiting my turn; my beloved however enjoyed her fresh doza (an eggy Indian flat bread filled with curry). There was something of a silly rule about the number of lamb chops you could take from the sizzle area which seemed a little unnecessary; I would serve so many per hour and when they’ve gone they’ve gone rather than have a list of "do’s and don’ts".Our meal came to around £15 per head on the all you can eat buffet, and a nice touch was that waiters came around for glass refills and you could pay separately – this is what we all did to make the food bill equal between us and then buying your drinks on top. As always in a UK curry restaurant Cobra lager was king, although there was a range of other drinks available too. To sum up, we weren’t particularly looking forward our evening at Chef and Spice with it being a buffet meal and all, but in the end we were impressed with the reasonable quality of the food, the tidy serving areas and the good service.
OK I admit it, we had had a little too much fun the evening before and before our drive back to the wastes of West Yorkshire we needed a little sustenance and an hour or two awake before we could face the motorway. While on our Leicester wanderings on a quiet Saturday morning we spotted the oddly named Cafe Mbriki in the city centre offering breakfasts. At first I thought it must be a Polish place judging by the name, but I was quite relaxed to find a Greek Breakfast on the menu. The Mbriki actually refers to a traditional Greek coffee pot. Who knew?The building is a grade ii listed building meaning it is old and of some architectural importance, and we found it attractive from the outside, and nice and clean and recently furnished inside. Rather strangely there were lots of photos of the Northern Lights inside; I’m not too sure Greece (or Leicester for that matter) sees the Northern Lights too often. I actually couldn’t get past that Greek Breakfast on the menu, and my sister and law also had one. For the money it was good value, and was a twist on a British breakfast. There was Greek Sausage and Ham and served with boiled egg, olives, salad and Greek Bread. Although I rarely eat ham it was obviously good quality meat. I liked it better than the standard and rather greasy fried English breakfast (which you could have also ordered). My beloved nibbled on a piece of toast as she is but a delicate flower, but she liked her strong fortifying cup of coffee. My brother-in-law went for the Mexican chilli sandwich, which I have to say didn’t look great (but then neither did my brother in law). At least it showed the Cafe Mbriki could put their hand to any type of cuisine. Service was quick and friendly and I feel the young wait staff knew exactly what ailed us and allowed us a bit of space and quiet to enable us to get our heads in focus for the day. We also tested the bathroom and found it as spick and span as the rest of the little cafe. All in all, the Cafe Mbriki is a good little friendly pit stop place for breakfast and lunch and for us it certainly did the trick for waking us up for the day.
Our flying visit to Leicester started with a visit to the Orange Tree in the city centre; we had driven down to the city after forgoing lunch for the benefit of a late lunchtime start, and so arrived in Leicester mid afternoon hot, thirsty and hungry. The Orange Tree was the first reasonable looking bar that we spotted serving food. My beloved was delirious that the place served fish finger sandwiches and so refused to move from the spot. We were fortunate to be able to grab one of the two outside tables and watch the world go by (a beautifully dressed Hindu wedding party as it goes) and enjoy the summer afternoon on the streets of Leicester city centre.The bar itself looked pretty cool and trendy, although we old gimmers didn’t feel too uncomfortable or out of place. The public at the bar were just chatting and there was a pleasant relaxed Friday afternoon feel to the place. The bar staff didn’t refuse to serve us which was a bonus. Just joking as they were very friendly and patient while we fiddled around working out our food and drink order. To be fair the name the Orange Tree gives an image that doesn’t exist in Leicester – the front of the place simply leads right our into the pedestrian shopping centre and there is no sign of an orange tree (be it a real one or an ornamental version). I actually chose a pint of San Miguel Spanish draft lager as I was so hot and thirsty, but there were a couple of nice looking real ales on tap which were well served and appreciated by the two women in the party. The food arrived and exceeded expectation; my beloved was expecting a standard dayglo orange breaded fish finger in her sandwich but got some rather gourmet examples. The fries were also pretty good, although I have to say they tasted refried (which was perhaps a symptom of our arriving right at the twilight zone between lunch and dinner. To sum up we were quite comfortable at the Orange Tree and if I lived in the city (actually I did for a little while in a different life almost 3 decades ago) then I’m sure the Orange Tree could become a regular early evening haunt.
by Slug on June 28, 2013
Considering we didn’t have a great deal of notice to organise our Leicester weekend meet up with my brother-in-law and his wife, the deal we got at the Leicester Central Travelodge was very good indeed; a budget busting £24 for a Friday night. The Travelodge is on the edge of the ring road meaning that most things in Leicester are within a short walk away. The rooms that face onto the ring road are a little noisy with traffic, but we were fortunate enough on our last visit to get what i would call a "city view" room of the third floor to the back of the hotel which was much quieter and allowed us to open the windows. Our room was large and modern if very basic (as is the Travelodge way). This room was one of those with a fold out sofa in addition to the double bed, so it was nice to plonk our suitcase on and store all our goodies for the night there. There is a TV and the shower worked very well – the free little bar of soap seems to come from a new supplier and felt rather gritty and didn’t lather particularly well; no matter we only tend to use the soap bar for washing our hands so it was adequate. We had a little too much fun on the evening of our stay so our sleep went very well and undisturbed.One slightly disconcerting thing is the sloping and bouncing corridor to our room; I remember it from last time we visited and it gives the building a very temporary feel. The floor of the room felt rather more robust thankfully. Check in was efficient and friendly although the place was quite busy and there is an anonymous looking bar that doubles as the breakfast bar in the morning. Think of the cheap furniture section of IKEA and serving a few drinks from it and you are there. Leicester perhaps isn’t the most attractive or exciting UK city but I would have to be particularly tired or dulled by life to want to stop here for a meal or a drink. However, there were a couple of people waiting for their friends sat here when we arrived, so I guess it’s has its purpose. I’d suggest you wander the 4-5 minutes into the city and stop at the Orange Tree if you want a nicer environment to meet people in.The Leicester Travelodge is housed in a bit of a warehouse building and seems to be shared with the gala bingo hall and casino.Parking can be had just across the ring road at St Nicholas Place – if you pass the reception staff your token, it means your car parking is only £5 a night – a stonking discount of over £10 on the full parking cost which makes it very reasonable.
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