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Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Bouillabaisse at Cafe Rouge Leicester. How was it for me?

As seen in my last blogpost 'Pretending I am on holiday in France' I went over to Leicester recently to have a mooch around their lovely indoor market (voted Britain's Favourite indoor market) and to spend a free £20 Tesco voucher on a meal at a Café Rouge.

The Saturday market was as lively as ever I remembered from my last visit two years ago and I took lots of photos of characters in and around the market. When I went to find the fish and meat market however I found the Fish Market sign still above the door but, the premises had now turned into a bank!

I asked someone passing where a replacement venue might be and was enthusiastically pointed towards a building site at the side of which was the brand new Fish, Meats and Deli market. It was rammed full of shoppers on the run up to Saturday midday so I had a quick look around and went off to Café Rouge for lunch with the intention of returning later.

Understandably very busy at lunchtime on a Saturday.

Café Rouge at Highcross Leicester wasn't so busy around midday and I easily got a table for one inside and placed myself in the nosey person corner. I was eager to spend my £20 voucher and probably a bit more. The blonde haired Spanish waitress called Anca told me that alcohol wasn't allowed on the voucher. Fair enough.

I had been hankering after an aromatic Bouillabaisse dish after watching various TV programmes featuring this most typically French, chunky fish stew, style dish. So, that is what I ordered and to start I got some tasty mixed olives and gherkins to nibble on and then some oven baked potted snails (escargots) with Roquefort butter and potted with smoked lardons and lemon paprika crumble toppings. The escargots came in a tray of four small pots and were very tasty and not as mouth scolding - volcanically hot - as those I had some years ago at French Living. Not having your tongue blistered beyond repair by ultra hot olive oil cunningly masking the escargots is always a bonus. Back then, eating those French Living escargots felt like a particularly cruel task set Indiana Jones. Luckily I was pre-warned by the friend I was dining with. I mentioned to Anca that I would love one day to go to a fete de l'escargot ( a festival of eating snails). She said they have them in Spain a lot and eat the snails with cooked beef mince, fine herbs, tomatoes and garlic. Sounds yummy to me!

The Bouillabaisse was presented in a somewhat smaller casserole dish than I was expecting in my hungry head. My expectation was probably founded on seeing huge steaming tureens of luscious fishy brothy stew over flowing with seafood to die for on the telly. The smaller side container I initially thought was a very yellow butter for the fresh baguette pieces, turned out to be mustard.

On enquiry I was told that one should spread some of the mustard on the bread like butter then add some of the grated cheese provided and dip it all into the fish stew. This was supposed to enhance the fish flavour. I tried this but frankly, to me, it just tasted like a weird combo of bread, mustard and fish stock. The taste was not unpleasant but no big food revelation either.

I enjoyed my Bouillabaisse but for a hungry traveller like myself the overall contents were relatively thin on the ground especially as it cost nearly £15. There were certainly some mussels (in shells) in the Bouillabaisse and sea bass or sea bream fillet sections, squid rings, possibly some shelled prawns swimming in a rich fish stock. I hope I haven't missed anything out. The contents were fairly limited I have to say.

For a chain French style restaurant I normally enjoy going to Café Rouge and seeing that there is no longer one in Nottingham I am stuck between choosing Leicester and Birmingham. Both are nice enough places especially the Birmingham branch at the Waters Edge venue. However, Leicester, half an hour's train journey, replete with a carriage full of London bound travellers, is certainly closer to home. The Waters Edge venue (around the basin of the canal) is certainly more convivial and I seem to remember a branch on the High Street at Solihull that had a lot of low beamed charm and a wood burning fire to give a very homely atmosphere. That was in the late 1990s however when I used to frequent the area in a previous job. From a quick search on the internet I see it is still there and the décor has taken on some subtle vintage inspiration from the nearby Motorcycle Museum. Cool.

Back at the Leicester branch the staff were very friendly and helpful and I amused myself by people watching as I drank my glass of pre-dinner lager beer and was grateful to Tesco for my free £20 voucher.

How I imagined my Bouillabaisse might be.

I will be curious to see how a Bouillabaisse dish at a classic French restaurant differs from the Café Rouge chain version. Any offers to review, East Midlands restaurateurs? Email me at

Interestingly, I was stopped by an overly officious yellow jacketed security guard (Highcross shopping centre) as I tried to take a photo of the outside of Café Rouge. He was a whiney small man with big poorly researched opinions. Apparently taking a photo of the restaurant is a gross security risk. I smiled politely and assured him that the photo was just for enhancing my food blog not for some radical pro Basque anti - baguette terrorist cell or even the Khmer Rouge. He very kindly allowed me (how gracious) to take the picture but would be reporting my action to one of his superiors. This would be someone with an IQ above 0.30 I expect.

Later on I returned to the indoor Fish, Meat and Deli market and checked out all the fab fish (including snappers!) on the Trawlerman fish counter. Interestingly, the weights for the fish on the counter are shown larger in the imperial (pounds) weight than in the metric (kilos). It was almost French in its variety too! Almost. The clean lines of the two year old indoor market are a blessing to the eye and to hygiene matters. With this high standard market coupled with the fresh vegetable and fruit market next door I sometimes wish I lived in Leicester.

Thomas Cook statue Leicester with my bag!

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