Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Romeo and Juliet at the Y Theatre

We were invited to a wonderful performance at the Y Theatre at the end of last week. Ballet Theatre UK were performing a one-night-only special of Romeo and Juliet. It was rather marvelous being able to tell everyone we were going to the ballet that night, I think we quite took people by surprise.

I must confess the only ballet I've been to before was seeing my friend perform when we were in primary school (she did proper lessons and had a nice performance at the theatre. It was very exciting, but a long, long time ago) and for some reason I have not been back. Therefore, I warrant that I am not the best person to talk in technicalities about the performance.

However, I think that's the secret really. I know nothing about ballet, and yet I was absolutely spellbound. I don't know how to judge the standard, but I thought the choreography was lovely, the dancers' lines were beautiful and of course, with such a wonderful story, the whole thing was quite enchanting. I could not stop staring at their feet up on pointe.

I loved the opportunity to enjoy the performance in the intimate surroundings of the Y too. This is a theatre I tend to visit for purposes of comedy rather than anything more highbrow. But it lent itself very well to this show and the use of clever staging made the space seem much bigger. 

For me, Juliet's mother (that's Mrs Capulet, right?) was the out and out breathtaking performance, although the whole company can absolutely be congratulated on their outstanding talent. And naturally, as is with the way of every performance of Romeo and Juliet I have ever seen, in whatever style or interpretation, Juliet's nurse was a highlight. There is just something about that character, she must be a joy to play.

It was an emotionally charged experience and as the saying goes, there was not a dry eye in the house by the closing scene. The entire audience were enraptured by the whole thing and even The Boy thoroughly enjoyed the show and our dissection of what we had seen afterwards.

So thank you to Leicester's oldest theatre, the Y for being such gracious hosts. Thank you to Cool As Leicester for the invitation and the lovely production shots that I have used in this post. And finally, thank you to Ballet Theatre UK for giving me something new in life to love.

Get yourself a copy of the upcoming programme at the Y. Stick a pin in it and go to see something you haven't experienced before. I can highly recommend it.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

What do pork pies and gin have in common?

Onwards we go with #Tryanuary, and what better thing for me to try than something inspired by our fair city, Leicester? I know classically Tryanuary is about beer, but I've never been one for convention.

Burleigh's have become something of a global phenomenon since I first started writing about them nearly 18 months ago when I attended the 45 Gin School and made my own bottle of 'Housewife's Ruin'. Hot on the heels of the sell-out success of their limited Pink edition gin, with its added emphasis on floral botanicals, Master Distiller Jamie Baxter has now released the Blue version - the world's first Leicester Dry Gin.

At the opposite end of the spectrum to the Pink edition, the Leicester gin focuses on the herbal notes in the botanicals, and the spices. Taking its inspiration from the county's people and its food and drink heritage, you'll immediately smell a very herbaceous bouquet to the gin. It leans towards the smell of woody herbs and a walk in the Nanpantan outwoods in the autumn but still fresh and with a good burst of juniper forthcoming.

Burleigh's Leicester Dry Gin is available at 45 West and 23 Wine & Whiskey

In the mouth it is pure spice - nutmeg, mace perhaps even a hint of coriander. This warming embrace is softened by a refreshing citrus flavour, a mixture of grapefruit and perhaps even a dash of orange peel. It is velvety in the mouth and not overwhelming when sampled neat, although as you can imagine it makes a perfect gin and tonic, where the tonic allows the citrussy sweetness to be drawn out further and gives the palate more time and space to consider the complexity of the spices.

I've heard it said that it matches particularly well with the Fevertree Mediterranean tonic - which brings back that element of floral balance which is otherwise purposefully downplayed in this particular gin. However, it is has enough of a strong enough character to work well in a variety of cocktails, a White Lady being my personal preference.

Quality through and through and another unsurprisingly gifted offering from Burleighs. What a hardship to have some of the finest gin in the country being made mere miles from my home! 

And the pork pie connection? 

Well, I've heard it said that the initial inspiration for a Leicester dry gin came from a pork pie making competition between two Leicestershire-based friends (for any readers living outside Leics, this is a completely normal thing around here, we're all having amiable pie challenges, all of the time), where it was realised that the combination of herbs and spices being used to flavour the meat would also make a perfect base for a gin. But that has the ring of an apocryphal tale to it. One should never create a clickbait blogpost title based on hearsay after all.


Monday, 2 January 2017

Framework Brewery

Well, we ensured that 2016 didn't let the door hit it on the backside on the way out and here we are in a shiny new year. Which means that Tryanuary is here again, the month where we ignore all of the advertising telling us that we aren't good enough and make those bleak winter months fly by by trying exciting new beers and giving our tastebuds a treat.

What better excuse to head over to Leicester's latest brewery and see what the deal is? Framework Brewery are just a matter of months old and yet they have already found themselves a home at a variety of pubs in the region.

Aiming to take a quality approach to modern brewing, they have ambitious plans for their brews and the potential of their brewery, a small unprepossessing warehouse tucked away in the wings of Leicester city centre. Their branding is already understandable on point, with the support of Leicester's mighty Bulb Studios, so it was time to see if the product lived up to the branding.

It's an impressive new set up, with an experimental feel at the present time. They aren't focusing on a range of core beers, but rather trying new things with the ingredients that present themselves at the time. Coming too late in the year for a firm contract with hop suppliers, they are now buying up the leftovers and creating new recipes according to what they have in the cupboard. It has a lot in common with my approach to cooking in fact, and helps to keep the brewery lively and fresh.

Who doesn't like sticking their nose into a fresh bag o' hops?

They also shun the use of finings in the beer, to reduce the number of processes and try to keep hold of every drop of aroma and taste that has been extracted through the brewing process. We're seeing a lot more of these more 'natural' approaches in both the beer and wine making industries and I think it's great. It seems that the absence of finings actually makes the beer last slightly longer so that's a great thing.

If there's beer kit that needs to be held underarm, Johnathan's your man

They have also been quite canny with their kit, investing in KeyKegs as well as the usual metal casks, which will give them more flexibility when it comes to the venues that they can put their beers into - and the special events they can cater. The KeyKegs are really great not just in their flexibility but their environmentally conscious materials and great design for preserving the best possible condition.

Shiny, shiny tanks

We tried a bottle of their American Amber, which I'll confess was a surprise to me - from the name I was expecting something quite hoppy and aromatic, but actually it was sweeter and definitely had a lot of interesting malt characteristics - not quite caramel but still something quite deep and rich. That said it was still light and refreshing with a pleasing finish.

So as I mentioned, Framework's brews are already being rolled out around the city and beyond so it shouldn't take you too much effort to find some to try for yourself this Tryanuary. I am looking forward to seeing this brewery mature and can't help but feel like they are an exciting addition to an already thriving beer scene in our locality!

Saturday, 31 December 2016

A Foodie, Boozy Year in Pictures

2016 has been a year of true ups and downs. Everyone seems to be blogging their resolutions, goals, memories and complaints about how this year has treated them and I don't know if I can be bothered to reflect on it all here. However, we have had a great year of fantastic food and drink, so let's see some of the best in my foodie year in pictures! Click on the caption to read the original post.

NB - sorry to anyone that didn't get a mention - the post was already getting far too long - what a year it's been!

What was your gastronomic highlight this year?

We had some superb japes courtesy of the Western Park Beer Festival team
We enjoyed a predominantly vegetarian affair in India
A phenomenal trip to Porto rounded off a busy start to the year
2016 was the year all food went blue for LCFC. And so did my hair.
The Birmingham Foodie Festival was a great treat
Incredible menus were presented at Chutney Ivy
Sadly we said goodbye to some Leicester food greats - like The Kitchen at the Cookie
The Parcel Yard presented some blinding special menus - this was for the Queen's Birthday
We visited Ireland for the first time and enjoyed phenomenal fish and Guinness!
I enjoyed the best wine tasting of my life care of Recaredo
We went on a staycation and fed an American more pork pie than is advisable
2016 was the year of the Afternoon Tea, like this bottomless example from Exchange
We rubbed shoulders with some of the greatest Gelatiere in the world, including Leicester's Gelato Village at Via Del Gelato, Turin, at the Terra Madre festival
We welcomed some new friends to the city, including Bodega!
Local wine tastings were on par too - like this example in Oakham with Bat & Bottle
And finally, the festive offer has been strong, like 33 Cank Street's incredible menu with Ben Martin

Friday, 30 December 2016

Festive Afternoon Tea at 1901, Leicester

We've been following the process of the 1901 at the Turkey Cafe for quite some time now. Their dedication to innovative cocktails, in beautiful settings, has only gone from strength to strength in that time.

Amazingly I had accidentally managed to reset my camera to a low resolution so apologies if some of the photos don't quite do it justice. I wondered why everything looked so weird on the viewfinder!

So... mulled Jaegermeister. That's a thing.

During the present season of goodwill, they have created a bespoke festive cocktail menu, supported with a delicious afternoon tea and I was delighted to be invited along to give it a try, since they have happily extended the menu to take us all the way through the dark month of January.

Yep. That's Santa's Boot.

Here we are, in the slow time betwixt Christmas and New Year, and yet at 1901 the festive spirit will remain alive for some time to come. The festive cocktails are subtle, for the most part, yet extremely clever and totally delicious. I'll grant you, the Santa's Boot isn't particularly subtle, but the Christmas Spice Espresso is a clever take on an old favourite. Slightly sweeter than your average espresso martini it gets its flavour profile from the heady coffee, the deep salted caramel vodka, and a light, but fragrant in-house made Christmas spice syrup.

Don't worry, he didn't drown. I had already eaten his head.

And then we were on to the afternoon tea, and what a spread it was. Beautifully presented on a delicate cake stand, we were treated to an array of finger sandwiches, including the obligatory turkey, cranberry and stuffing. They were light and delicious.

From there we were on to the cream tea - a fluffy, homemade scone with absolutely perfect texture served with jam and a thick clotted cream. With the afternoon tea you have a number of options - for £9.95 per person you can have it with unlimited tea and coffee, and this would be super with the scone. You can upgrade at £14.95 to have sparkling afternoon tea, or go the whole hog and have a festive cocktail with it for £15.95. This is a super great deal as the cocktails cost between £8 and £10 for the seasonal specials. Bargain city!

At the top of the afternoon tea tower was a fresh cake pop - with sponge, white chocolate and coconut for texture. It was sweet and decadent, bordering on the 'so wrong it's right'. I'm not the world's most dedicated sweet eater but I just couldn't put it down until it was all devoured. Another homemade classic, then followed up by the homemade mince pie. A winter spectacular and no mistake. And so very filling!

It would have been rude not to have another stab at the festive cocktail menu before leaving, and so I managed to squeeze in a maple and frankincense Old Fashioned. Once again, this was a new twist on an old favourite and I love those heady, strong cocktails from the old school. The frankincense bitters added a really unusual, distinctive but delicious perfume, which was complimented by the surprisingly heady aroma from the smoked ice ball. Yep, that's a smoked ice cube. The touch of sweetness coming through from the maple was just enough to offset the mule kick of the Jim Beam oaked bourbon and overall this made for a cocktail which summed up Christmas in a log cabin, in front of an open fire, to sweet perfection.

Stir it up!!

Yep, you guessed it, although I have fallen for the espresso martini as much as everyone else, the Old Fashioned was definitely my favourite. Its charm was understated and intelligent. You should get down and try it.

Thanks to 1901 for inviting us along for such a gorgeous treat. I loved sitting at the upstairs bar, watching the world go by and enjoying the beauty of the original tiles at the back of the bar. The Turkey Cafe building is really such a unique gem in Leicester. Long may it reign.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Riders vs Lions: Leicester basketball action

The Leicester Riders took on the London Lions in a pre-Christmas game last week. We were fortunate to be invited along to be guest of Rider's sponsors, Everards, and we had no idea what a game was in store for us.

I love the Riders, not only are they the home team, but they are genuinely an awesome team full of spirit and talent. I enjoyed a game at the Leicester Sports Arena earlier this year, not long after it first opened. You can read about that one too...

It was a close game throughout. We knew the Riders had been having a good season so far, and they lived up to expectations, but the Lions kept up point for point throughout the game - and then, they began to edge away.

Temperatures were rising all around the arena, and a bunch of extremely questionable foul calls against the Riders started to get the crowd really vocal. By the fourth quarter, the Riders had lost ground, but unbelievably, they made up the deficit to cause a tied game.

By this point everyone was shouting and hollering for their team! We had an extra period of 5 minutes to live through where the game could go either way, but the Riders came out strong, stronger and victory! I haven't shouted so much since Leicester won the Premier League! 

So if you want a night of fast paced action I would highly recommend heading down, and of course you can enjoy a nice pint of Tiger during the game. Fantastic fun, I loved it.

Celebratory pint - winners!

Friday, 23 December 2016

Ragdale Hall winner

We have an early Christmas present for one Extreme Housewife reader. The winner of our competition with Ragdale Hall and Rothley Wine has been selected at random using the Rafflecopter app and that winner is...

Caroline Clarke!

Congratulations! I will be sending you an email later today regarding receiving your prize of an Evening Spa Experience at Ragdale Hall. Remember, if you didn't win it's not too late to get those last minute gifts of Ragdale Hall vouchers, or to pop to Norths of Rothley, 23 Wine and Whiskey or other stockists to pick up your delicious Rothley Wine for Christmas. I personally recommend the Spirit of Freedom rose sparkling for the Christmas table!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Tapas tricks they don't want you to know, and bonus wine tasting!

So I spent a very jolly afternoon with the effervescent Mmm...Miranda and we came up with these little videos. Some tapas ideas, wine pairing inspiration and a whole lot of Sunday drinking. Enjoy!!

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

12 Pairs of Christmas at 33 Cank Street

I was at a meeting the other day, where some quite significant local figures were discussing the limitations that Leicester currently had on it. Among other infrastructure issues, they bewailed the lack of a Michelin starred restaurant in the city. This made me laugh, as I think any of you that have read this blog before will know, I adore the city's food scene and believe that we have culinary talent that is well up there with any of the best in this country. And, quite frankly, (sorry chefs) I am pleased that I can get Michelin quality food without having the commensurate price tag!

I was invited to another example of these secret wonder-menus at 33 Cank Street last week. This bar has been a firm favourite for me since it opened, because of their innovative cocktails, fabulous jazz and blues evenings, and of course, that cheeky Pinotage they have as the house red. It was also one of my absolute favourites in 2015's Tapas Trail with their beautiful Spanish menu.

This Christmas they offered 3 evenings of beautifully crafted menus in conjunction with the incredibly talented chef, Benjamin Martin. Named the 12 Pairs of Christmas, each exquisite course was matched not only to the song, but also to a carefully selected drink or bespoke cocktail. How did you miss it? I don't know - I totally warned it was coming up in my pick of festive foodie events. It was clever, it was thoughtful and it was absolutely stunningly executed. You can tell I liked it because I think I'm already starting to bubble over and I haven't even started talking about the food yet.

Who needs the Michelin guide?
Nine Ladies Dancing
Dancing prawns infused with a Marie Rose sauce matched with a White Lady

Immediately I was absolutely floored by the quality of this dish. The sweet, juicy prawn was matched with the passionfruit coulis and delicate Marie Rose sauce, which was complemented by the crisp vegetable and fragrant dill, all tied together with the lovely texture of the rye bread croutons. Perfectly presented.

And of course, with this we had our White Lady. The basis of this (besides gin of course) was the homemade Clement-cello (the Canksters' take on the classic Italian Limoncello) which complemented those delicate sweet flavours in the dish. The egg white foam gave a lightness of touch which meant that this drink truly danced over the palate - and I cannot emphasise enough just how effective the super-subtle garnish of a kaffir lime leaf was on the top, adding beautiful fragrance each time you lifted the drink to your lips.

Yeah, I liked this one a lot. I would pretty much drink that Clement-cello as my desert-island drink.

Ten Socialites are Slurping
Hog roast slider matched with a Christmas spiced and fortified cider

Then the slider. Oh the slider. I can tell you exciting foodie things, like how the roast ham was gently cooked in cider and roast ham - making it the perfect match for the warming glass of Christmas cheer that was the mulled cider. I can tell you how the accompanying mustard mayonnaise was somehow robust and delicate all at the same time - creamy and warming and amazingly delicious. The light texture of the handmade roll, with its crispy top.

But the fundamental fact remains, this was essentially the best bacon sandwich I have ever had. I know, that's not strictly true because it wasn't bacon, but it was thick cut, flavourful ham with a delicious sweet coating, served warm and mouthwatering.

Eleven Pipers Piping
Christmas dinner terrine with fermented potato bread and pickles, paired with Piper Heidsieck champagne

On to our main and I was absolutely fascinated with how this course was put together. I think the best way that I can describe it is that the key elements of a Christmas dinner were deconstructed, and then put back together as a cold Boxing Day lunch. But with subtlety and incredible balance. This knocked yer turkey sandwiches into a cocked hat. I don't care if you're having a gourmet ham delivered especially for Boxing Day, this was better.

For me, the soft terrine of turkey and a beautifully aromatic stuffing was just beautiful and having the dense potato bread with its olive oil and salt seasoning really brought out the best in it. This combination of flavours matched the dry refinement of the Piper Heidsieck champagne and of course the bubbles gave the real sense of celebration. What could be more appropriate for Christmas than fizz from one of the oldest Champagne houses in the region?

Obviously I can't let this one pass by without commenting on the brussels sprouts. Oh the sprouts. Never in all my days have I been served individual leaves of a sprout. I'm sure with a more sensible person, perhaps one who hadn't enjoyed three drinks at this point, would find this the highlight of haute cuisine. I found it hilarious. Gut wrenchingly hilarious. There you go, I'm not a sensible person. Doesn't make it wrong though. Or does it?

Twelve Drummers Dramming
Nutmeg and orange blossom creme brulee served with a Christmas pudding infused Rusty Nail cocktail made with Monkey Shoulder whisky

By far the most creative and best determined expression of the 12 Days of Christmas theme for me. Drummers Dramming! Ha!

As you would expect, a perfectly executed creme brulee in every way, from the satisfying crack when you broke through the crisp sugar shell, to the smooth and decadent cream filling with its delicate Christmassy flavouring that was made all the more permeating in combination with the delicious Rusty Nail. The Christmas pudding infusion was clearly in evidence, and using the excellent quality Monkey Shoulder whisky made it all the more delicious.

The accompanying shortbread 'drumstick' was crumbly and light. The cocktail had a GIANT icecube in it which kept it at the perfect temperature throughout. The orange peel and rosemary garnish on the side of the glass kept that delightful festive aroma present throughout the course. And the creme brulee was served in a little drum ramekin. Just perfectly. If I was wearing a hat, I would have to take it off to chef Benjamin Martin and Cank Street's talented mixologist, Kal Ruparell.

So, there were three of these nights, and if you didn't go then you missed out. Sorry. However, I'm sure this is not the last pop-up collaboration we'll see between Mssrs Martin and Ruparell. So remember to keep checking in with me and I'll let you know when it's happening. In the meantime, if you haven't set your plans for New Year then I think 33 Cank Street's Rhythm & Booze extravaganza would be a good shout. It's a black tie jazz and blues special, with what will undoubtedly be fine canapes and out of this world cocktails. And of course bubbles at midnight. A more refined new year celebration. You can pretend you're in a New York speakeasy. Fabulous.
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