This month’s Hometown Tour Guide is food writer Seetal from Savla Faire. Here’s what she has to say about her hometown, Braunstone Town and the neighbouring city of Leicester, there’s a lot to say about a city as culturally diverse as Leicester, so take a read and hopefully it will whet your appetite to visit.
What is the name of your hometown and where is it?
I’m from Braunstone Town on the outskirts of Leicester in the East Midlands. It’s a 1.5-hour drive from North London, or just over an hour on the train from St Pancras.
What, if anything, is your hometown famous for?
Braunstone isn’t on most people’s radars, but Leicester is a different story, especially after Leicester City Football Club (LCFC) won the Premier League in 2016 in spectacular style. They started as 5,000-1 outsiders for the title after coming close to being relegated, so this is one of sport’s greatest stories! My dad was a season ticket holder for a while when I was younger and I went to a few matches with him, but I rarely saw them win; I was a bad mascot.
Also, Leicester has one of the highest Indian populations in the UK, and the Golden Mile near the city centre is lined with restaurants, sweet marts and saree shops. You can easily spend a few hours here sampling Gujarati snack food in-between trying on richly embroidered outfits. Don’t forget to take home a box of brightly-coloured sweets; my favourites are soft, fudge-like “peda”, usually made from khoya (dried whole milk), saffron, sugar and cardamom.
But Leicester’s major claims to foodie fame are Walker’s Crisps and pork pies. 10 million bags of crisps are produced per day in two factories in Beaumont Leys, the world’s largest crisp factory. As for the pies, they’re technically made in Melton Mowbray, 19 miles north-east of Leicester, but they’re worth travelling for, trust me.
The top 5 attractions are:-
Richard III – The King’s remains were uncovered in February 2013 on the site of the former Greyfriars Church after a year-long archaeological project initiated by Leicester City Council, the University of Leicester and the Richard III Society. A reburial service was held at Leicester Cathedral in March 2015.
Leicester Cathedral – A beautiful gothic, Church of England cathedral in the city centre, where you can find King Richard III’s tomb.
National Space Centre – The striking rocket-shaped building is dedicated to space science and astronomy. Its six main galleries regularly host exhibitions and visitor activities, and the UK’s largest on-site planetarium.
New Walk Museum and Art Gallery – This museum showcases Ancient Egypt, The Dinosaur Gallery, Wild Space, World Arts and The Victorian Art Gallery among others.
Jewry Wall – A 9-metre high Roman bath-house wall just outside of the centre. A museum displaying the archaeology of Leicester is also nearby. For me, it’ll always be associated with taking my music exams (I used to play the trumpet and keyboard at school) as the exam rooms overlooked the ruins, which look otherworldly when lit up at night.
Are there any local sports teams? Where do they play?
LCFC – Nicknamed “The Foxes” after their mascot Filbert Fox, they’re based at the King Power Stadium.
Leicester Tigers – The local rugby team, who play at Welford Road Stadium. I’m told they’re a decent team, but I’m completely clueless when it comes to this sport.
Leicestershire County Cricket Club – Fischer County Ground on Grace Road is home the “Leicestershire Foxes”, and I know even less about cricket than I do about rugby. I’ve been to two matches in my life in Bristol and rain stopped play on both occasions; just call me the rain charmer.
My 3 favourite restaurants are:-
As my mum and gran are fantastic cooks, my favourite places to eat will always be at home! However, if you’re visiting, I recommend the following:
Sardaar – A pure vegetarian restaurant on the edge of Braunstone Gate. With mouth-watering dishes such as samosa, chilli paneer and all varieties of daal, you won’t give meat or fish a second thought.
Mem-Saab – Fine dining Indian-style in the heart of Highcross Shopping Centre, with a Champagne Bar to boot.
Martin Inn – This is one of the best pub/Indian grills in the city, where you can expect lots of sizzler platters and bold flavours. The odours are equally strong, so be prepared to take them home with you!
John’s House – Leicestershire’s only Michelin-starred restaurant specialising in modern British cuisine using local, seasonal produce is a cheeky addition for 2 reasons: I’ve only been asked to mention 3 places and I haven’t dined there yet. I’m hoping to combine it with one of my trips home as I love chefs who champion local ingredients.
My 3 favourite bars/pubs are:-
Boozy nights in Leicester are a thing of the past for me, but I’ve got a soft spot for the below:
The Looking Glass – Part of the Braustone Gate bar scene. They serve cocktails and premium lagers to a live acoustic soundtrack on certain nights.
The Orange Tree – I remember getting into the spirit here in my college days. It’s in the centre, offers great drinks and food and has a private courtyard; what more do you need?
The Landsdowne – This retro-designed pub on London Road is a gorgeous place to unwind and catch up with mates. They’re also known for their varied vegan and vegetarian menus.
Top 3 Hotels are:-
Hilton Leicester – I got married in Leicester and the team at the Hilton really took care of my husband’s family and friends when they arrived from London for the finale in our week-long celebrations.
Marriot Leicester – Good facilities and conveniently located near the motorway for early starts and/or late arrivals.
Premier Inn Leicester City Centre – If you’re after a central location, close to the train station, that won’t break the bank, you can’t go wrong with this chain. The rainbow colours on the outside make it a little more unconventional than usual.
Why do you love your hometown?
First and foremost, I love its cultural diversity. In a world where intolerance and hatred is being legitimised, I’m proud to hail from a place which welcomes people from all over the world and all walks of life, including my paternal grandparents, father, uncle and aunt back in the ‘60s. I also love the range of Indian clothing available; there are so many options on one road that I didn’t even need to travel to India to do my wedding shopping. Lastly, London has sweet marts galore, naturally, but I’ve yet to try peda that come close to the fresh ones from Alpa Sweet Mart on Melton Road.
Who should visit your hometown?
Anyone who loves football, Indian culture and cuisine, space and shopping; Leicester is no one-trick pony.
Best time of year to visit (weather):
British weather being unpredictable, your guess is as good as mine! I’d take a punt and head over during one of the city’s many religious festival celebrations. For example, colourful decorations are hung up in shop windows along the Golden Mile to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu “Festival of Light”. The entire road is shut off for an evening so people can walk around and admire them while snacking on delicious dishes from street food stalls (chilli chips are a must; a fusion speciality, if you will!). You can also catch a few traditional dance, music and theatrical performances by schoolchildren in Belgrave Park just off the main road. With over 35,000 people in attendance every year, it’s one of the biggest celebrations outside of India.
Language spoken: Mainly English, although the population is so ethnically diverse that you’ll also hear Gujarati, Hindi, Somali, Urdu, Marathi (originating from Maharashtra and Goa), Arabic, Punjabi and Polish.
Currency: GBP, and I’ll also accept payment in peda.