A student guide to places to eat and drink in Leicester

Just started at De Montfort University? Never been to Leicester before? Want some recommendations on pubs, cafes, bars, restaurants and takeaways in the city from a like-minded spirit who’s pretty much the same age as you? Ah. Sorry. Can’t quite help you there. Journalism lecturer Jeremy Clay will have to do instead.

I know what you’re thinking. ‘Here I am, in a strange new city, with no idea what’s what. I wish I had some tips on things to do and places to go from a dreary, middle-aged, white man.’

Well, it’s your lucky day.

But before we begin, you should probably follow Cool as Leicester. It’s full of stuff about bars, restaurants and whatnot, and it is not run by a dreary, middle-aged … etc.  The website is here.

Leicester has all the usual chains, from the blah-blah burger and pizza places to the likes of Revs, Cosy Club, Brewdog, Hogarths, Five Guys, Tim Hortons, the Giggling Squid, Rileys and so on. We’ll take it as read that you know all about them, shall we, and press on to the independent stuff that help make Leicester tick.

This is just an introduction, mind – some suggestions, to get you going. This is your city now. One of the pleasures of moving somewhere new is finding your own favourite places.

Pubs and bars

Let’s start on home turf. The Soar Point is one of DMU’s go-to pubs, with screens showing BT and Sky Sport, pool and foosball tables, and a balcony overlooking the Mile Straight (that’s what they call the stretch of canal that runs by the campus. And if you think that’s a little bit odd, wait til you hear about Frog Island).

At the city end of the campus is the Bowling Green. They screen live sport here too, and the food menu includes all-day breakfasts, which is handy for those days when your body clock is catastrophically out of sync with Greenwich Mean Time.

If you go through this medieval archway …

… you’ll find:

a) the church where Chaucer is said to have married;

b) the castle where Parliament was once held, and where everyone arrived armed with bats in case it kicked off;

and c) Leicester’s smallest pub: a bonsai boozer called The Castle, which is run by the SU. Or at least it was before the pandemic.

Will it be open again now? Good question. Erm, I haven’t checked. If you’re a Journalism student, there’s your first lesson, right there.

Cross the canal from the campus and you’ll find Braunstone Gate, home to 2Funky Music Café, Natterjacks, the rock bar the Metal Monocle and the city’s original brewpub, the West End Brewery.

The chances of your taste in pubs coinciding with mine are so remote it’s hardly worth me mentioning some of the ones I like the best. But I’m going to anyway. The Globe has been going since 1720, so it would be rude not to visit. The Rutland and Derby is a handsome old pub with a menu that includes Canadian catnip poutine among the usual suspects. The Black Horse, also on Braunstone Gate, is brilliant, and you’ll absolutely love it – but maybe in about 25 years’ time.

Wygston’s House, on Jubilee Square, is both one of Leicester’s oldest and newest pubs, as it opened in 2017 in a 15th century building. It’s not the cheapest place to drink but you’ll be sitting in a place that was already quite old when Shakespeare was born. Plus it does two-for-one on gins on Fridays until 9pm (I’m not on commission for any of this, honest).

The Tree, on the High Street, describes itself as a neighbourhood hang-out, which may or may not make your teeth itch, depending on which side of past-it you are (excuse me, while I attend to some furious teeth itching). But people are really fond of it, and it has a spiffy little garden. Plus, they allow dogs in, so if you’re missing your own, and want to treat someone else’s as a fleeting surrogate, knock yourself out.

At one point, people might have called Firebug a bit grungy. Insert the current term here. It’s open until 4am every single night of the week and has a pop quiz on Tuesdays, should you feel the need to answer questions about … *Googles band names from the last decade* … girl in red. Cough.

If bars, cocktails and/or gin are more your thing, try Sophy, 33CankStreet, The Gadabout, Manhattan 34, The Exchange Bar, Bruxelles, 45 West and the Bottle Garden. Though best not on one night. And good luck with your finances.

Don’t drink? Need a night off? &KITH is a cafe and dry bar with non-alcoholic cocktails.

Food

If Leicester people can agree on one thing, it’s that they can’t agree on which is the best samosa shop. Which is a bit odd, as it’s clearly Mithaas on the Narborough Road. They do swoon-inducing, cheap veggie curries too.

Belgrave Road, the self-styled Golden Mile, is variously said to be home to the biggest or one of the biggest Diwali celebrations outside India. It’s also quite possibly the veggiest stretch of road in Britain, with loads of meat-free restaurants. There’s a little-known bit of media law that requires every national journalist visiting Leicester to go to Bobby’s for a quote (and in the hope of blagging some free bhajiis, no doubt). 

Kayal, on Granby Street, near the railway station, has taught a culinary trick or two to Paul Hollywood and the Hairy Bikers. It serves up seafood, meat and vegetable curries from the tropical Kerala region of India, while its sister restaurant Herb, just across the street, is purely vegetarian and vegan.

Even in Leicester there’s a risk of mediocre take-away curry misery. Play it safe by trying the splendid Little Club or Paddy’s Marten Inn (as seen on Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain).

Full disclosure: I’ve not been to Istanbul. Nor have I been to Istanbul, on the Narborough Road. But I know for a fact – a fact – that people rate them both. It’s usually crammed.

There’s no sign outside Casa Romana, just a green door on an unassuming side road off Belvoir Street (it’s pronounced Belvoir, by the way. You’re welcome). Inside, you’ll find one of the best Italian restaurants in the Midlands: simple food, done brilliantly. Book in advance: Casa Romana is half-restaurant, half-cult, with a devoted following.

Casa Romana doesn’t do pizzas, mind. When you crave a *proper* pizza – and with the power of suggestion, it’s quite possible that’s suddenly right now – then Maurizios delivers, in more ways than one. 

Nearer to campus, Peter serves traditional Neapolitan pizza made with hand-shaped, fermented sourdough that’s a country mile away from the standard American-style stuff churned out by the chains. This is the place that Claudio Ranieri where brought his Leicester City squad to reward them for the first clean sheet of their title-winning season. Peter also do DIY home pizza kits, if you want to give it a whirl yourself. (Ranieri not included.)
Even closer to campus is Bagos. They deserve your custom if only for this:

The Korean-inspired Grounded Kitchen is a Leicester success story which has spread across the Midlands. The original store is on Queens Road, deep in Leicester University territory, with a new outlet just opened at Fosse Park shopping centre out near the motorway.

And if we are breaking the rule a little by mentioning smaller scale chains, say hello to Tamatanga, Bodega Cantina and the newly-arrived Afrikana. Birmingham’s opulent Varasani is making a foray into the East Midlands with a new restaurant on the High Street due to open later this year – stand by for an all-out Instagram onslaught.

But sometimes (read: with indecent regularly) nothing else will do but a good fry-up. In which case – *taps nose, winks* – haul your bones to a Leicester institution, the Rialto, in Malcolm Arcade, which first opened in 1963. When the restorative power of hot oil + salt has worked its magic on you, they have games consoles. Honourable mention for dezombification breakfasts: Cafe Two Ten, at the far end of Narborough Road.

Café Roma, on Halford Street, is a good bet for pasta and a proper espresso, and actually feels a bit like being in Italy, if you face away from the window and/or squint a bit. Head towards the Curve theatre, and you’ll find Grays Coffee Shop & Kitchen. Well, you will, if you know where to look. It’s squirelled away in the LCB Depot business centre, but it’s no works canteen. The current menu includes tuna toasties, vegan burgers and quadruple-cooked chips. Quadruple! Have some of that, you thrice-cooked slackers.

The Victorian tellers and clerks who used to work in the striking Grade II-listed former bank by Every Street, near Leicester’s Town Hall Square, would be quite startled to hear it ended up as a coffee house, and even more so – once you’d explained the concept – that it’s vegan.  Prana, needless to say, is far more likely to make you coo ‘get a load of that ornate cornice work’ than your usual cafe. Obscure fact: the name Every Street, comes from the taxi firm that used to be there, which boasted their cabs went to every street in Leicester. Huh!

Crafty Burger is a much-loved regular pop-up restaurant which runs on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at the St Martin’s Coffee Shop – random review on TripAdvisor: “I have never been disappointed”. By St Martin’s Coffee Shop, we imagine they mean, rather than life generally.

Bread and Honey, a stone’s throw from the campus – if you can lob a stone several hundred feet, that is – packs a lot into a small place: home-made soups, fresh cakes, Belgian single-hot chocolate and Monmouth coffee too, which apparently makes people who know about such things levitate slightly with joy.

In case of sunshine – or gloom, or joy, or simple persistent nagging by your sweet tooth – try Gelato Village, on the edge of St Martins Square. USP: luxury ice cream, made with Leicestershire milk by two splendid men from Turin. The result is about as far from a Strawberry Mivvi as it’s possible to get. What’s that? Oh, ask your Nan.

Want to eat and work? Try the The Distillery, which offers lunch, bottomless soft or hot drinks, wifi and power for a tenner. That’s bottomless, as is in you get refills, not a calamitous flaw in the mug design.

If you’ve got a visit from the family pencilled in, and they have deep pockets, push the boat out with a posh curry at Chutney Ivy (opposite the Curve theatre and handy for the Exchange bar). North Bar and Kitchen, which promises British classics created with flair, is a short walk from the campus, on the Hinckley Road. Keep going along the road – no, further … more … no, you haven’t gone wrong, promise – and you’ll eventually come to Winstanley House, a smart wedding venue/hotel/restaurant/bar on Braunstone Park. It’s in the city, but you’ll feel like you’re right out in the sticks.

Winstanley House

Back in the centre of town, The Case has been feeding mums, dads and their freeloading student offspring for decades. Restaurant reviewers would probably use the words space or room approvingly.

A final tip: Leicester’s LCB Depot, near Curve theatre, hosts #LastFriday at the tail end of each month, with street food stalls, music and arts.