I don’t think we have ever anticipated doing a food review more than Orton’s Brasserie. Firstly what with the world going ‘pop’ in-between the Orton’s team taking on the venue formerly known as the Queen Vic Arts Club in the heart of Leicester’s Cultural Quarter, and them actually being able to finally open their doors – a delay of around four months – and secondly because it meant getting together in the real world with much missed colleagues as we put the new introductory cocktail and food menu well and truly through its paces.
One benefit of the lockdown, we guess, is that Orton’s was well and truly ready and prepared for reopening. A new outside garden and entrance makes the venue more flexible and easily facilitates the necessities of social distancing. The whole venue has been anti-bac ‘fogged’ as well, meaning that all chairs, tables and surfaces are covered. The treatment is done monthly for long lasting protection, which is very reassuring. We also really liked the big clear markers on the tables that were left empty for social distancing, as well as things like the wrapped cutlery and disposable menus being delivered to our table. Top marks!
For those who knew the venue in its previous incarnation, the changes are subtle but fundamental. Under new ownership, Orton’s Brasserie is very firmly a brasserie AND bar, and all are welcome, be that for brunch, lunch, dinner or just cocktails. Menus – both drink and food – are simplified and offer classics-in-the-making, with fresh twists on traditional favourites. And the shocking acoustics of its predecessor have been fixed so that you no longer feel you’re dining in an echoey school canteen. Gorgeous artworks, stunning light fixtures and a shift in colour palette give an overall fresh, lighter, younger and cooler ambiance. And we love it.
With an emphasis on drinks on Mondays and Tuesdays, food is served from Wednesday onwards. It would’ve been remiss of us not to put the extensive cocktail list to a mini-challenge. With half of our party driving and the other very much drinking we went hardcore and virgin with our choices, starting with a Long Island Iced Tea, Cosmopolitan and two virgin Pina Coladas, which hit the spot on what was an incredibly hot summer’s day. The drinks were beautifully presented in exquisite glassware and it was evident that they had been rustled up by someone who knows the art of great cocktail making. Bravo.
As with most venues at the moment, the menu was a little more streamlined than what it will ultimately be, but we all easily found something to take our fancy. I opted for a classic Caesar salad with crispy pancetta lardons, followed by pan fried chicken on a bed of charred corn, tarragon mash, mushrooms, asparagus and heritage carrots.
My salad was everything I wanted it to be but twice the size – honestly, I could have just had this and been happy. Flaked parmesan and salty pancetta with crispy croutons and a homemade Caesar dressing with fresh crispy cos lettuce was just the job and I was a little bit gutted to stop myself from eating it all; I wouldn’t have had room for my main course otherwise!
All regrets were forgotten, however, when my pan-fried chicken arrived. Beautifully presented with little pendants of ultra-crispy, flavoursome chicken skin, the perfectly cooked chicken and tarragon mash, which had an almost whipped consistency, was a little mouthful of perfection.
Conversation round the table was already turning to desserts but honestly, I was feeling really full. I love cheese though and have really missed a good cheeseboard during lockdown. I justified ordering the selection of local cheeses with homemade digestive biscuits and chutney by saying I could share it with my fellow diners but in reality, they weren’t getting a look in! A good selection of crackers, crisp apple slithers and juicy grapes made this a platter to keep picking on even when your head and your belly says no more.
Four starters and four mains mean it’s super-easy to ensure everyone can choose something. What the menu lacks in breadth, it gains in depth of flavour.
I have this ‘thing’ that I like to choose something at a restaurant that I wouldn’t (or couldn’t) prepare at home. The ham hock terrine from the starter menu being one of them. Artistically presented, the terrine was tender and presented with a selection of pickled vegetables which gave that added bite.
You wouldn’t guess it from my choice of starter, but during lockdown I’ve enjoyed lots more vegetarian and vegan food so for mains, I went with the Plasagne, which is the plant-based lasagne. It’s worth pointing out that the kitchen team is particularly skilled in vegetarian and vegan cuisine, so I look forward to the veggie menu developing over the coming months. In the meantime, the Plasagne was hearty, rich and my only disappointment being when I cleared the plate! Next time, I’ll order with a side of salad or chips, depending how healthy I’m feeling. Who am i kidding, it’ll be the chips.
Having such a sweet tooth, the star of any menu is invariably the desserts. It was every man for themselves and I was taking no prisoners in commandeering the Chocolate Fondant, which delivered everything I wanted and more. Rich, luxurious and served with a delicious vanilla ice cream, I didn’t offer my spoon to anyone else to try. This mound of chocolatey heaven was all mine.
First up on the menu for me was the Pea Soup. The creamy and crisp pea goodness, sprinkled delicately with house made croutons and pea shoots, was the perfect portion. Both light and bright, it was a sumptuous summer dish that I felt was just enough to start and any more mouthfuls would have overdone it.
Taste buds tantalised, taking the centre stage for the main course, was Chef Andy’s Chicken, as someone who eats meat less frequently, this was a real treat. Pan fried and free range, the chicken was spot on, and served up with deliciously moreish tarragon infused whips of mashed potato and a sprinkling of charred corn and wild mushrooms. It pained me to have to leave anything on the plate but dessert was calling and I didn’t want to miss out.
For the final act, I was drawn in by the classic Eton Mess, a firm favourite of mine and I was intrigued to see how it fared amongst others. Placed down in front of me, the whole table was wowed with visions of pinks and red, it was a real showstopper. Looks certainly were not deceiving and the taste was just as vibrant, each spoonful of gorgeous vanilla infused Chantilly cream, tart macerated strawberries and a mix of crunchy and chewy sweet meringues went down a treat. The serving was a tad generous, so it felt a shame to not clean the plate.
I chose the Chicken Liver Parfait for my starter. Beautifully presented, the parfait was infused with orange and served with a house made red onion jam, which complemented it perfectly. Toasted brioche was the perfect additional accompaniment.
For my main course, I chose the Orton’s Fish & Chips. As a North Eastern lass, I’m quite particular about my fish and chips, but I’m pleased to report that this dish absolutely didn’t disappoint. The deliciously fresh and perfectly cooked British Pollack was encased in a crispy, light batter. The lovely twist to this dish is that it’s served with split pea dal, chunky masala chips and a curried mayonnaise, which together with the fish created the perfect marriage of flavours. I would definitely have this again.
At this point, I thought I was going to be beaten and have to skip dessert, but then I spotted a Chocolate Fondant on the menu and decided I absolutely had to power through! Deliciously rich and gooey, it was like heaven on a plate, and the popcorn, “burnt” caramel and ice cream complimented it perfectly. Another dish that I would eat again (and again!)
Despite it being a limited menu, we loved the food at Orton’s Brasserie. Considered yet unpretentious, all dishes left us satisfied and feeling very much like we’d had an amazing dining experience just like in ‘the good old days.’ The only thing we thought was missing was a house burger but we’re sure that this will be added in time and we’ll be straight back to try it! Add in the excellent, not too invasive safety measures and relaxed and friendly service and our experience was as stress free as it was satisfying. With main courses starting at £11.95 too it won’t break the bank – especially if you take advantage of the current Eat and Out to Help Out incentives in August (every Wednesday).