The Tree, Leicester
One of my longest standing watering holes closed its doors recently, and has undergone a refurbishment under new owners. The Tree Leicester, on High Street, threw open the newly painted doors this week to customers old and new.
We were invited down to get the inside track on the new Tree. My first thought upon entering was that it looks basically the same as the Orange Tree did – which was a relief. Listening to the other punters in the busy bar, it sounds like everyone thought the same. The Orange Tree worked and the new owners, the small nationwide Charlie Wells group, have obviously taken that on board. The Charlie Wells group has about 9 venues across the UK, so not actually that much bigger than The Orange Tree group at its zenith.
We were given a lemony Prosecco on arrival as we took a look around. There is a lot more rough wooden cladding, inexplicably. But local artists’ work is still for sale on the walls, and the odd quirky touch in the decor gives that authentic faux-boho feel. The exterior has been given a dashing racing green finish, while the inside hasn’t been painted at all judging by the dado rails still being coated with a thick smear of varnish which extends for several inches either side on the wall. Just as I remembered it!
The beer garden is similarly intact. The addition of a few small beach huts provide some privacy and cover, but at what cost?? The oldest urban grapevine in Leicester has been ruthlessly culled. No doubt I’ll be the only one to mourn it, but it was at least 15 years old and fruited strongly each year.
The bar offering is unadventurous but comprehensive. Big name cask and keg dominate the beer selection, with us opting for a pint of Beavertown’s Neck Oil on draft. Actually disappointing compared to the canned version, the fresh piney hoppiness loses much of its character and comes out rather woody sadly. I was told that London Pride would be a regular feature on the handpull because it’s so popular. Not to my knowledge in Leicester, I can’t think of anywhere else that serves it, but it is a well made ale and a solid bet.
A large cocktail selection and some ‘fancy’ juices and soft drinks again hark back very much to the strengths of this venue in years gone by. My espresso martini had a very good coffee flavour, although I suspect this is because all the vanilla syrup had pooled in the bottom of the glass. Quite an achievement for a shaken cocktail!
The menu is based around the Charlie Wells pizzas, pots and pints concept. A pizza oven turns out semolina coated fresh bases with a wide range of toppings. The pots are one pot meals, made for simplicity and comfort food delight. Then there is the vegan menu, another strength of the old pub that has been retained. And the new addition of a kid’s menu, so I guess we could be seeing more families amongst the daytime crowd.
It’s always nice to have a menu that manages to function without chips or other fried foods. We both ordered the prawns to start. This was five large, juicy king prawns in a garlic and herby sauce served with toast and chilli jam. Proper finger licking stuff and by far the dish of the day.
Unfortunately, all of our food was brough out at the same time, so The Boy’s Lamb Kofta flatbread had gone cold and rock hard by the time he came to eat it. Sadly as the most expensive dish on the menu this was also the most disappointing. Three miserly koftas languished miserably in a sea of tzatzika, dwarfed by an ocean of hard flatbread. What we’d assumed would be a side actually came across as the main component of the dish, a chickpea salsa which was, well, chickpeas in cooked down tomatoes, just with the merest hint of cumin for flavour.
Sadly for the Boy, his side of a jalapeno slaw was also disappointing. Absolutely too much mayonnaise, there was a little shredded cabbage and carrot in there and just a few slices of jalapeno. The weirdest thing about it was that we had no idea what dishes on the menu this side would actually complement!
I fared a little better, with the brisket lasagne being hearty and bubbling. The sauce was mainly comprised of large chunks of carrot and celery which were still a little hard – so not quite an A* sofritto effort, but the overall dish was pleasant enough. My cheese garlic flat bread was also fine – it did exactly what it said on the tin, although again was cold by the time I came to eat it.
In conclusion then, The Tree is The Orange Tree. Perhaps, like me this means that you’ll occasionally pop in for a drink on a warm day to enjoy the garden, but more than likely you’ll swerve the menu. Perhaps the pizza offering will turn your head, or maybe the regular cocktail happy hours will be more your thing. Whatever happens, you’ll be pleased to be able to reminisce about the Good Old Days in somewhere that hasn’t changed since the Old Days were Good.
Thank you to The Tree for inviting us for the purposes of this review. Our meal was complimentary but my opinions are an honest reflection of my experience.