What a Goal Leicester

We were invited to try out some of the facilities at What a Goal Leicester this week. It’s a really interesting place, a relatively new business. In a seemingly random location on a Thurmaston industrial estate, a whole host of facilities are available. I presume they wanted to have plenty of space because the complex itself is huge. There are indoor football pitches, indoor cricket and a well-equipped gym. Take the kids to the Rascal Ranch soft play, or participate in one of the weekly programmes of exercise classes. Visit the sports bar and grill, barbers or nail bar. It feels like they are trying to create a real “destination” venue.

Rascal Ranch Soft Play

The facilities are really good. We took Bam Bam and a friend and had a little tour. Everything is well kept and fresh looking. The sports pitches are well equipped and sharp. The gym in particular looked hugely impressive – a really great workout space with more than enough equipment to keep you going, even during busy periods.

The Rascal Ranch soft play is at the back of the site. The play facilities themselves are impressive. The equipment runs over multiple levels with a toddler section and main juniors area. The crowning glory is the volcano slide, which left Bammers in tears because she wanted me to carry her up to the top (she gets scared on small slides right now, and I’m not hauling her up a steep slope on climbing holds only to have to edge back down again…) I can see that kids of all ages would be incredibly excited to go there.

A Cautionary Tale

However, my first impressions were unfortunately not great. We went towards the end of the day, as we were planning to eat afterwards in the bar. Upon arrival there were a good number of staff members, all stood disinterestedly behind the counter, while the seating/cafe area was in distinct disarray. Unoccupied tables across the venues were strewn with empty cups, plates and the general detritus of family usage. The whole area was difficult to negotiate as chairs were here there and everywhere. I can’t imagine what you’d do if you brought a pushchair with you. The floor was in dire need of a quick brush and possibly a mop. At a venue where you are naturally going to be in your socks most of the time, with your precious little one, that did not sit particularly well with me.

However, in the soft play itself, I could have no complaints. At 2 years old, I kept Bammers in the under-4 area, away from the more raucous juniors end, where she would have just caused a bottleneck, bless her little kitten socks. Much to her chagrin of course. However, the smaller toddler area had plenty to keep her active for an hour. We enjoyed the slide, general soft play tunnels, steps and exploration gubbins, mini trampoline, giant blocks, and the piece de resistance, a ball pool with a vacuum that the kids can put the balls in, only to have them sucked away and spat out on to their heads. This caused much hilarity. She was nearly crying with hysterical laughter. Big tick in that box.

What A Shot Bar & Grill

On to dinner, and we walked around the outside of the site to get back to the sports bar at the front. I really hope that tidying up the exterior is high on the to do list, because it is such a let down compared to the freshness of the interior. It is an industrial estate, but I don’t really expect to have to try and move my child around so much litter and hazardous material, not to mention the absence of a safe route for pedestrians through the car park. That was a big let down for me, and would put me off returning as we would come by foot in the future.

By stark contrast, the newly refurbished bar is absolutely pristine. Although there are many screens to show the sport, they somehow feel integrated and unobtrusive. The bar is dark, atmospheric and intimate – despite its large size. There is also the biggest screen I have ever seen, along with comfy chairs and a pool table off to the far end. I imagine they will be in huge demand at the next big Lionesses game. As a sports bar, it is unparalleled in the city. For a watering hole, it ranks highly. As a restaurant, it is certainly well fitted and comfortable. High praise for the team’s work on the refurbishment.

Also by way of contrast to the relatively disinterested service we saw at the soft play, the bar team absolutely could not do enough for us. We were incredibly well looked after by an enthusiastic team who obviously have good service at the heart of their ethos.

The Food

We started off with cocktails. A mango mojito mocktail for my guest and Espresso Martini for me. Because I am a creature of habit and honestly, I think it’s probably a good benchmark at this point. The mocktail was served with a theatrical dash of dry ice and well received by the driving member of our party (and her daughter who could of course share). The Espresso Martini was made just to my liking – easy on the sweetness and heavy on rich, bitter, but perfectly smooth coffee tones. A hugely encouraging start from a relatively inexperienced but hugely enthusiastic bartender who I hope has an epic career in front of him. He certainly appears to have the basics down and the flair will soon be built on that.

The kids choose from the children’s menu, you will be surprised to learn. Bam Bam went for the chicken tikka ‘naanza’. One of the reasons I was most interested to try What A Shot was because of its self-proclaimed Indian fusion menu. I wasn’t really sure what it would entail. I hoped it wasn’t random Instaworthy dishes from around the world smashed together with Indian flavours. But it kinda was, dear reader, it kinda was. The naanza, as the name may or may not suggest, was a pizza made on a naan.

How Was It?

This did not work. Bam Bam, lover of pizza, lover of paneer tikka pizza, and lover of a good curry, turned her nose up at it. I tried a bit and honestly I don’t really blame her. The naan made for a sweaty, doughy, flimsy base. Instead of tomato sauce, a lighter and slightly spiced tikka sauce was used. The whole was topped with a torrent of cheddar cheese, some practically uncooked peppers and some very tasty chicken tikka, which was frankly not in its best situation on that creation.

The other kids option we tried was good old chicken nuggets and chips. This really did what it said on the tin – beige on beige. No complaints from me really, because that’s what was ordered. However, the portion was enough to cow a hungry adult in my opinion. Too much for a child. As you can tell, I was not hugely taken by the childrens’ menu. Good job I got to order from the adult alternative.

Your Starter For Ten

For starters we went for seekh kebab bao and prawn gyoza. Once again, this was a slightly ungrateful collision of cooking cultures that didn’t quite come off for me. The gyoza were great – the sweet prawn filling really hitting the spot and working well with the crispy exterior, but I did not dip in the ‘burnt tomato salsa’ accompaniment because I believe it would have completely overpowered the delicate flavours of the filling. There’s a reason that dumplings tend to come with a light, slightly salty dipping sauce in my opinion. And of course, this is just my opinion. This was in no way a bad starter.

The seekh kebab bao did miss the spot a little because the bao bun itself was poorly risen and so a little on the doughy side. In all honesty, you would have been best removing the bun altogether and enjoying the small but flavourful seekh kebabs, served with red onion, sauce and a delicious green chutney on their own. It was the perfect blend of flavour and texture, with just the right amount of spicy kick for my taste. The bao added nothing, in fact in this instance it actually detracted.

The Main Event

On to mains, and my guest ordered the biryani. It was wonderful. Cooked with a naan lid to seal in the steam and the flavour, the rice was fluffy and flavourful. A waft of saffron-scented steam arose as the doughy lid was lifted. Just perfection. The portion size, once again, was insane – this dish could easily serve two as a main course. I had the 50/50 curried prawn, which was served in a creamy coconut and tomato sauce. Once again, it had just the right amount of heat, sweet and richness. Hugely enjoyable with a light and slightly crisp garlic naan (much nice than the one that composed the child’s pizza). Great dish.

To my eye then, where the chefs concentrated on their strengths, the menu worked extremely well. Indian classics, executed well. Juicy prawns, crisp naan, fluffy rice. Is it worth going to What A Shot to pay a premium for strong Indian cooking that is so readily available across Leicester? I’ll let you decide.

They Think It’s All Over

Absolutely a mixed bag for me then. Some real highs, some gloomy lows. Amazing service in areas, lacklustre disinterest in others. On that basis, I think I recommend you go and try it for yourself. What A Goal is very new, and the bar/restaurant is literally days old. I am very happy to take the enjoyable points at face value on the assumption that this is a work in progress that is going to continue to develop, improve and grow. Do some sport, give the kids a run around, have a cocktail and pick the most Indian thing on the menu. And I’m pretty sure you will have a good time.

We were invited to What A Goal as guests and received our soft play, drinks and meals for free. However, my opinion related here is an honest reflection on my experience. I mean, you can probably tell.


Bestselling author and freelance drinks writer. Champion of pubs and breweries. Occasional printmaker.

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