Cultura, the newest restaurant in Clarendon Park, has caused a serious stir among Leicester’s foodies since it opened at the end of November 2014. Ambitious and sophisticated, this classy modern-European restaurant looks set to be a real contender in Leicester’s growing restaurant scene. The great news for Clarendon Parkers is that it’s right on our doorstep – near the junction of Queens Road and Clarendon Park Road, right opposite All Fours Garage.
January 2017 update: It’s closed. Should’ve listened to Thor (see comments section).
My first visit to Cultura was to the downstairs bar just a few days after opening night. If you’re having dinner in the restaurant the bar is ideally placed for an aperitif, with a friendly atmosphere, comfy seating and a nice range of world beers and mid-range spirits at reasonable prices. Find out more about the bar in my earlier First Impressions article, or keep reading to get the lowdown on the restaurant itself.
Situated on the first floor, the restaurant has been decorated in such a way as to make the most of the building’s attractive interior features. The exposed brickwork and candlelit ambience echo the modern-vintage style of the bar downstairs, while the vaulted ceiling with its wooden beams juxtaposed with clean white plasterwork gives an impression of space. The restaurant consists of one large split-level room which is decorated in a classy, understated way using mirrors, original artwork, candles and simple rustic table centres.
Bright and breezy
The large juliette balcony which opens onto Queens Road will give the place a wonderful breezy continental feeling in the summer months, even if the gaudy signage of All Fours Garage isn’t terribly easy on the eye. The first floor location isn’t without it’s disadvantages though – from an accessibility point of view it’s disappointing that there is only one way of getting to the restaurant, which is up a flight of fairly steep stairs. Those with mobility difficulties may have trouble with these, and wheelchair users will be going hungry altogether unless there’s an alternative way in which escaped my attention.
Overall, Cultura’s restaurant has an unfussy, modern feel with a hint of vintage character, which marries well with the elegant, modern-European menu created by Tom Boarder. Owner and head chef Tom has plenty of experience in this type of cuisine, having previously worked as head chef at Carluccio’s in St Peter’s Square, and before that at one of Jamie Oliver’s restaurants. His passion for good food and his innovative approach is immediately obvious from glancing at the dishes on offer at Cultura.
The menu is reasonably short, which I always find reassuring as it’s generally a good sign that the individual dishes have been finely honed and are freshly-cooked to a really high standard. I noted on my earlier visit to the bar, before opening night, that there was a scarcity of vegetarian options on the example menu. Happily for veggies this has since been remedied, with half the starters and a good number of the main courses being meat-free. The vegetarian dishes are scattered through the menu too, rather than being dismissively relegated to the bottom of it like second-class options, as is often the case.
Beetroot gets a makeover
I had real trouble picking a starter off the short list of possibilities – the jalapeno and sweetcorn pan-seared fritters with mango and mint chopped salad caught my eye, but in the end I went with the gin and lime cured salmon tartar with homemade beetroot sorbet. I didn’t regret my choice – the salmon was beautifully prepared and seasoned, with the unusual accompaniments enhancing rather than overpowering its delicate flavour. The beetroot sorbet in particular was a revelation – often clever-clever technical stuff like this is included because it looks impressive on the menu rather than adding anything to the dish – but happily not in this case. It has a lovely smooth texture and the beetroot loses none of its flavour in the complex sorbet-ing process – apparently the folk in the kitchen have been perfecting it for months so I’m pleased to be able to report that it’s paid off.
For his starter Will had the chilli salted tail on tiger prawns, lime and wasabi mayonnaise. It was a beautifully presented dish and the tastes were as bold as you’d expect from such tasty ingredients but really well balanced so that no one flavour dominated – quite an achievement when working with such a strong combination of flavours.
The wine menu is short, but nicely varied, with a large number of wines available by the glass, including two proseccos. Bubbly-lovers are particularly well catered for, with an additional list featuring seven indulgent Champagnes and sparkling wines available by the bottle only. Prices range from a small glass of house wine for £4.25 to a bottle of Bollinger le Grande Annee from 2004, which will set you back a cool £120. We opted for the Rio Alto Merlot, a rich and slightly spicy Chilean affair, which stood up well to the robust flavours of our main courses.
The service was speedy and friendly throughout the evening. A bit of settling-in will soon calm the nerves of some of the younger and less experienced members of staff. All-in-all, considering the restaurant had been open less than a week when we visited, the service was impressively fluent and I suspect it won’t be long before the front of house performance will be polished to perfection.
The main attraction
For my main I had pork belly with chorizo mash potato, served with cream kale, black pepper honey and black pudding flapjack. I had sampled both the pork belly and the flapjack in canapé form and they were both delicious so I was really pleased to see this dish on the menu. I love food with really punchy, strong flavours and this really fit the bill. Salty, savoury and juicy, the pork was everything you’d want it to be, and it was perfectly accompanied by the mash and kale. The portion was hefty, which is no bad thing, but I felt that the plate was a little crowded. Much as I enjoyed the flapjack on its own, for me it didn’t add anything to the dish as a whole, and I feel it would have been a more balanced and attractive plate without it.
Meanwhile, Will tucked into a crab and lobster claw burger with dill and lemon creme fraiche. Simply served, on a rustic board with the chips in a little pot to the side, it was a nice looking plate of food. The robust flavours were once more in evidence, along with soft, tasty bread and a beautifully cooked, moist burger crammed full of rich, tasty seafood.
There are a selection of side dishes available to supplement your meal, including garlic and rosemary chips and rocket and parmesan salad. The size of the portions is such though that only the hungriest of diners will need any of these extras!
We were sat at the table closest to the stairs and as the evening went on there was a fair bit of noise coming up from the bar below. I quite liked this as it gave the place a pleasant, laid-back buzz. However, if you’d prefer a quieter dining experience, ask for a table away from the stairs and any noise from the bar will be minimal. Less avoidable is the hubbub in the restaurant itself, which due to the acoustic properties of the room echoes noisily off the vaulted ceiling. This is all fine if you like plenty of bustle while you eat, but if you prefer peace and quiet, or if you have hearing difficulties, you might find the noisy atmosphere irritating.
There are just four dessert options on offer; we chose to share the pancake with vanilla ice cream and mixed berry compote. It was a lovely, light finish to the meal, with a refreshingly tart edge to the fruit compote. Of the other dessert possibilities, the chocolate and espresso torte with baked figs and honeycomb sounds the most tempting. I had a little nibble on the honeycomb on my earlier visit to the bar and it was deliciously moreish.
A sophisticated addition
Cultura’s menu is ‘cheffy’ in places – ingredients like pea shoots, micro herbs and balsamic reductions will be instantly recognisable to Masterchef viewers as being utterly on-trend. There were even a couple of things I had to Google because I had no idea what they were – schiacciata anyone? You can get a cream for that. Don’t let these little vanities put you off though. There’s nothing fussy or fiddly about the food at Cultura – it’s full of big, bold flavours, imaginative, unashamedly innovative and not for the faint-hearted.
Our meal of two starters, two mains, one dessert, a coffee and a bottle of mid-priced wine just tipped £75. This puts Cultura on a par with Jones’ Cafe Bistro further down Queens Road in terms of price. However, it’s without a doubt head and shoulders above the down-to-earth neighbourhood bistro in terms of ambition and sophistication.
Cultura is a seriously impressive addition to Leicester’s dining scene and it’s testament to Clarendon Park’s upmarket reputation that Tom Boarder has chosen Queens Road as the location for his refined new venture. If top-notch food and wine served in unfussy, laid-back surroundings is your idea of bliss I highly recommend you pay it a visit. Get your table booked soon though – I’ve got a sneaky feeling that Cultura is about to become extremely popular indeed.