Monday, 20 June 2016

House of Fun

The best laid plans oft go to waste, and so it was during our recent visit to John's House. Not because of anything the restaurant did wrong though - quite the opposite in fact. It was our plan of sampling the reasonably-priced set lunch menu which went awry; laid to waste by the almost-as-reasonably-priced tasting menu. Still, everything happens for a reason, and the reason was clearly so we could enjoy seven courses of top-notch food.

I have a confession to make. Until the UK Michelin stars were announced for 2015 I'd never heard of John's House. But when a restaurant barely 20 miles away from where I live gets awarded one then I need to take notice. Perusal of the website and a subsequent booking took us to the Leicestershire town of Mountsorrel wherein the restaurant is located, within the slightly jarring surroundings of a busy main road and a housing estate.  I can't imagine having a Michelin-starred restaurant sitting literally on my doorstep. For my wallet's and stomach's sake it's probably just as well.

After being ushered through to the comfortable lounge area we made our menu and drinks choices. To curtail the spending a little bit we only ordered one drink each; a punchy white wine and a rather splendid lavender and Champagne cocktail. These ordered, we were led upstairs to the dining room, where we took our seats under the watchful gaze of three stern-looking cows. In a painting, obviously. Some crunchy stout-infused bread and a delicious onion roll later and the meal proper commenced.

A snappy spear of asparagus kicked us off, garnished with fragrant herbs, crispy chicken skin and an unctuous quail's egg. Raw scallop was next, matched with a delicious tube of crab meat and crunchy, fresh greens in a wonderful combination of textures and tastes.

Asparagus


Indeed it was such challenging and interesting combinations which really stood out for me during our meal. The flaky cod of the fish course was accompanied by a disk of rich brawn, which was perfect when smeared with a blob of the passion fruit gel which also adorned the plate. Blood pudding of the deepest crimson joined belly pork as the main, but its depth was delightfully tempered by the seared pineapple and subtle pineapple sauce sharing its real estate.


Cod

Dessert number one was possibly the standout dish: invigorating pea sorbet concealing gloopy coconut ice cream and a crunchy chocolate crumb, whilst itself being covered with sprigs of mint and a dark chocolate sauce. The black pepper in the shards of meringue which - with honey cream and yoghurt ice cream made up the second dessert - left a pleasing thrum at the back of the throat which stayed with us until our coffees. Even these had a surprise in store, with one of the petit fours being a smoked fudge which tasted nothing so much like a peaty Islay whisky made squidgy and cubed.

Service and surroundings were pleasant and relaxed and, though the meal cost more than we'd originally intended, it was entirely our own fault and still represented excellent value for money. There's something very pleasing about finding a gem like John's House outside of the big cities and I'm thankful that the Michelin inspectors recognised it too, otherwise we may never have stumbled upon it. I'm certainly glad that we did.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Up The Junction

In Carrington, many years ago, I had my first ever experience of Indian food: a volcanic hot meat followed by an equally unsubtle Chicken Madras. Despite this searing initiation I was hooked. The restaurant where I sampled these delights is no longer there; however, there's a new kid on Carrington's curry block, and it's a cracker.

Occupying the former Natwest Bank premises on the corner of Hucknall and Mansfield Roads, Masala Junction is the new venture of the former owner of city-centre eaterie Mem Saab. Like Mem Saab it's pointed firmly toward the higher-end of the curry market, and also like Mem Saab it does a very good job indeed. This isn't a place where you can just roll up after a night out and, in a fit of drunken bravado, order the hottest thing on the menu. No, this is sophisticated cooking and definitely best enjoyed while in full control of one's faculties.

The interior sets the scene for the rest of the experience, with nary an algae-covered fish tank or oversized elephant vase to be seen. Instead we have nicely designed window blinds with a pattern which matches the menus, and a high, white-painted ceiling. The music is similarly non-clichéed, so much so that I can't even remember what it sounded like. Which is as it should be.

Our party forewent the poppadoms and pickles and opted instead for starters of paneer, cod, scallops and - in my case - duck. I can't speak for the others, but my duck was a delight; perfectly pink with a spiced coating and served with, among other things, tiny pickled cauliflower florets and a coriander puree.

As good as the starter was however, the main was even better. After a lot of deliberation I finally settled on a Murgh Methi, which is one of my all-time favourite curries, and it's fair to say this was the best one of these I've ever had. Firm chicken thighs smothered in thick, deep, smoky sauce. Pilau rice and a crispy, light keema naan complemented the dish perfectly. Clare asked for "something like Tikka Masala but not Tikka Masala" and the restaurant rustled up a sublime Butter Chicken which wasn't even on the menu.

Service was slick throughout, our house wine was an excellent Chenin Blanc and the final bill for four of us was just short of £100.00, which I think represents excellent value for a meal of such quality. It's early days yet but Masala Junction looks like a winner. We'll be going back without a doubt.