Tuesday, 3 June 2014

REVIEW: Queen of Bradgate, Leicester

The bar
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

OK, possibly a tad overdramatic, but having visited the newly re-opened Queen of Bradgate, on Leicester's High Street last week I think I may have found a new favourite pub. The old QoB justifiable had a rough as guts reputation, so I know that a number of people I have spoken to have not really considering trying out the newly revamped version. It is easy to miss, as although it has had a nice lick of paint, the exterior remains very much the same. And this is an interesting point, the concept of the new Queen of Bradgate is to combine the units two historic uses - a boozer and a furniture shop.

The Furniture

Their website boasts that they will be 'selling Cask Ale and Craft Lagers alongside some fabulous artisan food from a thoroughly modern British menu using the best local produce.' All this, and as an additional twist 'the Queen of Bradgate will also act as a sort of living, breathing showroom for an online, British made (in the main part, Midlands made) bespoke, up cycled furnishings and interiors business called Queen B. Interiors.' Sounds a bit crazy right? But it's a concept that really works. For 20 years until 1999 the building was a furniture shop in various guises. They have restored that heritage by making all of the furniture in the pub available for purchase. If you wanted to, the bar staff assure me, you can walk out with one of their very nice tables slung over your shoulder. Or, if you prefer something that hasn't had crumbs and ale spilled on it by patrons, you can order your own, made to measure to your own specifications.

As a way of continuing the traditions of the building, they have taken the parquet floor from the first floor and brought it on to the raised dining area. It has been beautifully restored and looks absolutely lovely. I really like when a business makes the most of its assets rather than trying to create something new and riding roughshod over what is already there.

Everything must go!
And to be fair, I thought the pub looked fantastic. It is a lovely mis-match of rustic furniture, with a contemporary twist - farmhouse style chairs with shiny metal banding, tables topped with a leather finish and studded detailing and lots of great accessories - whole walls filled with fun signs, upcycled mirrors and a bewildering array of funky clocks.  Overall it gives a really interesting vibe to the place. There is quite a subtle mixed palette approach in the decor -  the muted pastel shades of the vast majority of the seating area being sharply contrasted by the black and white tiling by the table service 'second bar' and of course the deep red of the ceiling which does not overdominate but brings the whole place together. There are comfy chairs to unwind in as well, if you don't feel like sitting at a table.



I am looking forward to the table service bar opening too. This has comfy American-diner style stools and you will be able to sit there and have your food and drink served straight to you. It's a lovely cosy space and given the huge, airy windows at the front of the building it makes it a great spot for people watching whoever is passing by on the High Street.

We weren't sure about some of the music, but we were assured by the barman that it was just a random selection on iTunes, hence the hit and miss nature of the quality. I look forward to a more consistent approach to the tunes. We were hoping that they might go for a kind of folk and blues feel, perhaps with a bit of light reggae thrown in. No more early 90s pop please!

While I'm on facilities and functionalities I think it's worth mentioning that the ladies toilets are clean, well decorated and best of all there are SEVEN cubicles. That's the last time I wait, crammed like a sardine with 17 other people I don't know to use the two cubicles in the absolutely tiny lavs at the Orange Tree (sorry chaps, but you know it gets crowded in there.) Also, although it is not available yet, they are planning to get the garden at the back operational, which will add even more plus points to this venue for us, since decent beer gardens are a relatively rare commodity in city centre Leicester. If the attitude they have taken to the refurbishment of the pub holds good in the garden then I am sure it will be a real hotspot when the sun shines.

There is currently no wifi, well none that I could get on my iPod - I hope that is soon resolved. To be fair they may not have had chance to get it set up in under a week since opening!


Beer menu. Yes, this is just beers.
The Bar

They offer a quite excellent range of drinks. The beer menu takes up a whole page, which definitely impressed The Boy. He is getting ever more picky with his craft ales and so I was amazed that he sampled so many that he loved at the QoB.

They have an excellent selection of bottled beer, craft ales and draught beers, so something to suit all palettes. In addition to their beer offering, they have a medium sized, but solidly stocked wine list and an array of about 10 quality cocktails - both old favourites and some new twists. You won't go thirsty is what I'm saying.


The Beers

The Boy worked his way through a good number of beers on offer, but don't worry, he only had a couple of whole ones, the rest were just samples - something which you shouldn't be afraid to ask about in the QoB if you're not sure about trying something new.

FLYING DOG - Raging Bitch
No puns here thank you. Flying Dog is already a brewery that are firmly established on The Boy's favourite list. He loved this one and spent the entire time that he was drinking it trying to identify an elusive flavour note. He went from spicy, yet herby, to vegetal, perhaps a note of brassica, then maybe it was actually green pepper, before finally deciding that the unique taste was an edge of curry leaves and fenugreek. Who says beer tasting is not as complex as wine tasting?

He also tried the MEANTIME BREWERY Yakima Red, which was a surprise to him - he enjoyed its nice, hoppy flavours and to my utter disbelief said that he would be more likely to order that next time we visit than the Raging Bitch. He did say he thought some of the beers were about 50p too expensive for the area, particularly in the case of some middle-of-the-road offerings on the menu such as the Goose Island Honkers Ale, which is according to him 'widely available and not that great'. Sadly he was also unimpressed with CHAPEL DOWN's Curious IPA, saying it was just too thin and lacked that American IPA punch, and also didn't have the carbonation of its American cousins. I would guess that would be a matter of taste though, since he is a 100% convert to American craft ales. I liked its light, almost caramel colour but I have to agree that there was not enough carbonation for my taste in the sip I tried.

It was all uphill from there though. After a protracted conversation with the extremely friendly bartender about taste in beer, making beer and other beer related topics, The Boy also tried a taster of the MEANTIME BREWERY The Black Pale, which got the thumbs up for its treacley taste, and the London Stout, also by MEANTIME, which he was again surprised by, due to its intense chocolatey notes, despite it not being a chocolate stout.

A big thumbs up on the beer then. Some areas for improvement, but coming from one so dedicated to the ale, The Boy made positive noises in all the right places. Let's take a break from the booze for a minute (you know the wine commentary is going to take up a lot of space) and talk about the food.

The Food

 The menu is extensive, freshly cooked and locally sourced. They have offerings for all appetites - small plates, main courses, sharing boards and a delicious looking weekend brunch menu.

I loved how outside the kitchen at the back of the pub, they have a rack with a load of the ingredients on so you can see the freshness of the produce and also identify some of the locally sourced ingredients for yourself. That kind of confidence in the raw materials really helps you to feel at ease with the quality of the venue.

After much deliberation, you will all be deeply surprised to hear that we decided to order the charcuterie board to start (£12.00). It really has been a meaty, cheesy, winey month in our household. Long may it continue.
As the name suggests, this dish is served on a board, so perfect for a couple or a group to share. I would say there was definitely enough to act as tapas for a group of four with drinks. You get a little bucket of fresh baked, local breads - for us the brown sourdough was the absolute highlight, with a deep and tangy flavour and excellent crust. This accompanies a selection of three local meats. Sadly, I'm not up enough on my charcuterie to be able to name them. There was a salami-like one, a proscuitto-like one and one that was a bit like a bresaola in texture but I don't think it was beef... Anyway, they were all flavourful and delicious. They were interspersed with rocket leaves, pub pickles and juicy (and, you guessed it, locally sourced) heirloom tomatoes which The Boy confidently declared were the nicest tomatoes he had ever eaten. All this came with a drizzle of excellent olive oil, a dish of olives and also some butter to go with the bread.

It was just excellent, a really good combination of flavours which can only come from high quality ingredients. Needless to say we demolished it, not a crumb was left. Weirdly, this was served without side plates, so we spent the time between courses wiping down our crumbs off the table with our napkins. Definitely a recommendation for improvement there!

For his main, The Boy had the aged sirloin steak served with a pat of pungent garlic and herb butter, super crispy fries and a watercress and heirloom tomato salad. At £18.50, it's not the cheapest dish, but the steak is worth it. I made him cut me a sliver because I just had to taste it. 

Served rare, it was absolutely melt in the mouth - full of flavour, with the slight edge from the char-lines and a fantastic finish from the deeply flavoured butter. This is a phenomenal dish and definitely worth every penny. The steak is a really good size, so will definitely be more than enough for any appetite.

Oh, and the barman requested I make specific mention of the steak knives. They are very pretty and they do cut steak very well. Highly commended cutlery.

I opted for the chicken, ham and leek pie which came with mixed green vegetables - beans, mange tout and peas - and a slightly strange over-sized quinelle of mashed potato. It looked like an oversize cigar. This was also served on a board. I don't really know where I stand on the whole board thing. I think I would have preferred it on a plate, but it's hardly the end of the world. It is clearly the current trend and it's easy enough, once you get in to the pie, to dump your mash and veg right into the dish.

The pie was well filled with generous chunks of chicken and a lightly flavoured, just-thick-enough sauce. The mash was both creamy and butter and I thought the veg was cooked to perfection - just a slight crunch and a really vivid green colour.

As you can imagine, at this point we were stuffed beyond all comprehension. We'll have to leave the dessert menu for another time I'm afraid. Do comment below if you have tried the puddings!



The Wine

The moment you've all been waiting for. Or is that just me. How was the wine list? Well, just like The Boy I didn't actually drink glasses of all of these, some of them were just tastes - for research purposes you understand.

HUGONELL Crianza
Rioja, 2011
A powerful and thick wine with velvety black fruit on the nose, fruity but still full on the mouth. It has a viscous feel in the mouth, perhaps a slight element of caramel along with a roasted vanilla taste that means it is luscious and nuanced. Absolutely delicious.

VELLAS Merlot
Valle Central, Chile, 2011
It's been a while since I said this, but one to avoid sadly. If you used to go to rock clubs or festivals about 10 years ago, you'll recognise the bouquet on this one immediately - it smells like poppers! It's medium bodied without the roundedness of a decent 100% Merlot and sadly the chemically taste carries through from the nose on to the palette. There is fruit, there is a little citrus, but for me, try as I might, I could find no redeeming features. Don't be fooled by the modern multi-font label.

CINTILLA - Shine
Portugal, 2012
I headed back up the wine list and tried their house red as an antidote to the merlot. Considering this is the cheapest red they stock (5p cheaper than a house red next door in the Orange Tree) this is a nice little wine. Made with the Castelao grape it is medium on the nose, but heavier on the palette it is fruity with passion fruit and a slightly acidic raspberry flavour. It's not quite as smooth as the house merlot on the Orange Tree's list, but it is more complex with very light hints of herbal (rosemary?) and an earthy pungency that put me in mind of a freshly tarmaced road. But that's getting a bit too out there isn't it? On to the rest of the wines...

CINTILLA - Shine
Portugal, 2013
The same brand provides the house white. Made with Fernao Pines this is fresh and floral to smell with a dash of grapefruit in there for good measure. A super pale, almost transparently clear wine. Rounded, lemony and light, this soft but crisp wine nearly tumbles into the realm of a melon-like flavour, perhaps even lychee but with a heavy floral, maybe elderflower edge to cut through the sweetness. Simple, but well executed I can definitely see a chilled glass of this working out in the summer sun.

GRANFORT - Sauvignon Blanc
France, 2013

This is heavily citrus, on the orange end of the scale - it has a thick, but still fragrant smell that is also orangey in the mouth, but balanced with more lemony notes. It is slightly heavy on the finish, but I think this is because of a robust peach element in the wine. Definitely worth trying, even though I am not a big white drinker.



The 'Queenies'

I was amazed that even though the QoB had been open for less than a week when we visited, the staff there were already comfortable and knowledgeable and exhibited a sense of camaraderie that you would only normally expect from well established teams. They have evidently been well trained on both the food and the drink menus and are able to answer any questions, make recommendations based on your personal taste and generally shoot the breeze about beer, wine or any other menu based topic.

The self styled 'Queenies' seem extremely proud of their part at the Queen of Bradgate. They are quick to give information about the furniture that is for sale and it seems that they are keen to buy up quite a lot of it for their own homes! They also offer impeccable service. We found that our hostess was extremely attentive to our needs, and similarly attentive to other diners around us. They checked that everything was OK during courses, made sure to offer additional cutlery, condiments etc. as required and generally seemed 100% focused on making sure you had a good time.
After our meal we went to sit at the bar for the rest of our visit and we found this to be a really sociable experience, chatting with the bar staff and other customers, but not to the extent that anyone had to wait unecessarily - friendly, but still efficient. Even after one visit, we were excited to hope that we were already part of a newly forming Leicester community. It feels like such a welcoming environment and we want to be involved in making it a success. We noticed customers of all ages were already visiting, a truly diverse spread of Leicester's population had clearly already heard the QoB word and the atmosphere was buzzing, yet calm and unhurried.

The Food: Snack Edition

Whilst sat at the bar, we also discovered that a range of bar snacks was available. From croissants and pastries (made locally and baked on site) to cookies, there is a little snack in there for you. Unfortunately, our super friendly bartender noticed us discussing this and immediately insisted that we tried some. Happily they had brown bags in order for us to be able to take these items away because we were so super full from dinner still!

The sausage rolls are immense. The Boy described them as 'a sausage brick with a coat of pastry'. You'll never touch a supermarket 'faux meat' sausage roll again after you've tried one of these. They are HUGE! I had to eat mine in two sittings in order to get through it. Look, I even took a picture of the second half with a 1p coin, so you can get the sense of the scale we're talking about. Not for the faint hearted, but totally yum. I might just start buying one to takeaway on a Monday and that'll be my work lunch sorted for the week.

We were also given a cookie to sample - again baked on site. This is a chocolately offering, with choc chips, nuts and dried fruit inside. It is as crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside as you would hope from a large, American style cookie. Naughty but nice.


And we've made it. Well done for getting this far. I had a lot to say, didn't I? That's because I'm excited. Normally, we find a lovely pub when we visit a place and then we are sad we are unlikely to ever go there again, like when we discovered Moo in Penrith. This time we've found an absolute gem of a pub - and I can walk there in three minutes from my office. Boom.

I'm so excited about this pub that the usual 'out of ten' system of Extreme Points seems somewhat redundant. My first impressions of the Queen of Bradgate were amazing. We'll be taking a large group of friends there on Thursday and then no doubt be popping in for afterwork drinks on several, or more occasions in the future. Many thanks to the Queenies for being our generous, attentive and welcoming hosts. All hail the Queen.

5 comments:

  1. Quit pissing about on the internet and follow the lovely advice, and get your asses to that pub, quick-smart.

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  2. Hello dear. Just discovered your blog and reading all your posts. I'm from Leicester too and love discovering new places to eat. Keep smiling and exploring. Nice blog btw. X

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading Leelee, glad you like the blog.

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  3. Just thought you might like to know that you can buy the wines from this establishment by the bottle and not the case at www.wineman.co.uk where there is no minimum order. Perfect for getting a few bottles in to try. I used to work for the main importer and know the wines very well

    ReplyDelete

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