Discovering more of Leicester…

 

melton-road

The Golden Mile’s Diwali light switch on

 

I’m always back in Leicester to spend time with family and friends, but I never really venture out much. This is usually because I want to spend time at home and not rush about. But as I took a week off to enjoy more than a quick weekend, there was a great opportunity to try out somewhere different for food…

Before going into anything about food, I think it’s worth mentioning that people really need to visit Leicester during Diwali. I was lucky that the Diwali light switch on took place whilst I was there and if you take a look a the image above of the huge Diwali gathering, this is the time of year where the Golden Mile (previously Melton Road) is closed for all of the public to come and enjoy a huge street party; from street performers, smells and tastes of street food, fireworks, and a community like atmosphere.

There’s always a great pause when the lights go on, with everyone gathered together all wrapped up from the chill, then smiles and children being held up to see the magical moment and everyone cheering, just before the fireworks go off. It’s the best time to visit, I promise – and you should know that it’s the biggest Diwali celebration (with roughly 30,000 people) outside of India…

So, food. There were a couple of recommendations provided by my Sister and parents that I had to try out. Both being Indian places, both being completely random.

 

van-snacks

Varsha’s Bhelpuri & Panipuri

 

When my Sister said there’s a van selling amazing street food dishes, with no seating around so you have to stand outside or eat in the car, it was far too interesting to miss out on…

The van is Varsha’s Bhelpuri & Panipuri and is quite an experience. You pull into an industrial estate – we went around 7pm and it was dark and extremely quiet – and then you rock up to this bright, tall and wide van with huge posters on each side containing menus for loads of small dishes. Cars pull up and order a few bits to eat back in their car, or they’d have a little gathering outside to eat with their plastic forks, or hands, and throw away the disposable plate and cutlery into the bins provided outside, and go. I couldn’t believe it. But I absolutely loved it.

With dishes starting from £1 (!), there were 4 of us and we tried (clockwise on the image) the pani puri (explosion of flavours in a fried, hollow puri), bhel puri (vegetables, puffed rice, salad, topped with tamarind chutney and sev), papdi chaat (potatoes, chickpeas, topped with yogurt and chaat masala), and dabeli (boiled potatoes with spices and topped with tamarind chutneys, pomegranates and peanuts, then placed in a pau, which is the bread). They even do thali dishes on Sundays, and more…

They were all so good. I think my favourite was the dabeli, because I was after something I could hold like a burger whilst standing up! And the flavours coming from the pomegranate and peanuts were just unexpected and delicious.

So here’s a place to try when you want a little drive out to a little gem for a quick bite, but also try out as many little dishes as you like!

 

rahat-restaurant

Rahat Restaurant

 

My parents, being great cooks, are extremely fussy when it comes to eating out. So when they told me a while back that they keep returning to a small ‘corner shop like restaurant’ with simple and plain interior but great, home-made food, how could I not go?

Rahat Restaurant, based on St Saviours Road – an area I never really go to – is literally like a corner shop, but with faded windows so you can’t really see in, and a simple sign above with their name. You walk in and realise it ain’t no joke about the lack of interior. It’s simply a room with tables and chairs, a counter at the back containing drinks, and a sink. The menu is above the sink containing only a small number of dishes – but broken up into small curry dishes, then a couple of specials, then some bigger dishes like biriyani and kebabs. The menu changes frequently too, so this may not be the same as my description if you go, which is part of it’s charm to me as you don’t know what to expect when you turn up!

We went for the small curries to try a variety of dishes, plus a side order of garlic naan bread. We went for: Karahi chicken, palak chicken, dry meat and another gosht lamb, then the proper Indian salad of raw onions alongside a yogurt and coriander chutney. We also had brain, but I didn’t take a picture of it, though I wish I did. But it was weird. Dad said he has it every time and I wanted to try it without the whole ‘Oh my god it’s brain’ mentality, but it was so creamy and thick, sticking to your tongue, that the texture put me off. It tasted quite nice in the spices, but then an offal like taste comes in after – and I’m already not into any offal or game where there’s a certain after taste… But I’m glad I tried it!

The atmosphere is strange to begin with, as there’s no music and it was very quiet when we arrived. Thankfully a few younger groups that were chatty came in and made it a bit more buzzing, and they seemed like locals so were very comfortable. Everyone, including my Dad, called the main owner Mama (uncle) when they ordered or needed anything extra.

And when the group of young lads next to us wanted more cob like bread, that they also serve to eat like naan, ran out, a sweet old man on the other side of us just picked his up and passed it down. So it was more like someone’s home where a few strangers can pop in to have a bite and not be phased by others around them in this small, almost empty room. This meal in total was £29, so pretty damn cheap for 4 people…!

So there you are, I lived here my whole life before moving to Bristol and had never tried these places. This is a small glimpse of the Indian food you can get in Leicester, and I look forward to trying out more on my visits.

I also plan on returning to both of these places at some point, that’s for sure…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Ultimate Christmas Thali

 

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Thali Café Southville – taken from the website with photo credit to Paul Box

 

Last month, The Thali Café – Bristol’s own Indian restaurant chain – held a launch night for their new Christmas menu, created by Meera Sodha.

Meera is the London based chef that I did a blog post on a while ago to represent her 2nd book, Fresh India.

Thali Café, which is the only Indian place in the city that I’ve eaten at more than once, have an array of street food dishes and traditional thali meals, but with a twist. Always colourful and vibrant like their interior, the new Christmas menu is nothing short of this description. Click here to see the full menu (including prices) with some descriptions on the history behind the dishes, plus giving an idea on the spices used to get your taste buds yearning and juices flowing…

See below a couple of images I took with a brief description of my experience trying out the menu – which by the way, I tried through a taster version – so the portions are smaller than you’d expect for a reason.

samosas

Both samosas: Venison with cranberry chutney. Plus the vegetarian alternative: Mushroom and walnut with coriander chutney

Slightly blurry image… but it’s no surprise to see venison, mushrooms and walnuts on a festive menu. But I’ve never had these flavours in a samosa or with spices – and I have to say, the samosa which took me by surprise was the venison version. Which is strange as I’m not usually a fan of game, but the venison was so nicely spiced, without being overpowering, and the gamey taste wasn’t really there, which is a huge plus for me.

Instead, it was rich, allowing the spices to dance around in your mouth without it being too spicy (heat wise) and leaving a nice aftertaste. The cranberry chutney was also sweet enough to balance the whole combination and it made me really pleased to have tried something completely different.

thali

A bit of everything from the thali section…

What a treat. A real comforting, warming, and perfect for any cold weather thali selection.

Instantly, I was taken away with the pig cheek vindaloo. I never go to curry houses, but I understand that a vindaloo is the spiciest one to get. But this didn’t seem like it was hot for hot sake – which is how some people have described vindaloo to me before. It was spicy yes, but it actually reminded me of my Dad’s cooking – where you know there are many ‘complex’ spices used, but my god does it all blend in together and taste so good! And the cheeks were ever so soft and the sauce was ever so delicious!

… Where an image of the desserts would’ve gone…

I did take a picture of the two desserts but for some reason it was playing up when trying to load it, so, I can say that I ate them in one bite each as they were so good!

But by far, the one I recommend is the chocolate kheer (rice pudding) with almond chikki. What can I say? It was comforting, very chocolate-y and the jaggery-caramelised almonds on top – as Janice from Friends would say – Oh. my. god…  I asked if I could buy a big normal portion size of it away from the tasters, but it was all gone. 😦

Just another reason to go back and try out the full menu. But I’ll order two bowls of the chocolate kheer…

So if I were you, I’d get ready to try out this menu, which is due to start from 15th October – 15th January. I’ll see you there.

Please note: I had this meal through a first come first serve basis for those that signed up for the taster menu – so I did not pay for my meal. However, this has not in any way effected my opinions or enthusiasm about the food.