“ Address: The Queen's Head, Main Street, Saddington, Leicester, LE8 0QH „
It's amazing what you can find in small village pubs these days. It's not all pork scratchings and men in flat hats talking about their allotments. Sometimes there's something rather special hidden behind the 'olde worlde' exterior and in the case of the Queen's Head at Saddington in Leicestershire, you'll find a cracking little Indian restaurant that's won awards. Apparently - and rather topical following the recent revelation that he's to be our Eurovision torch bearer this year - it's Engelbert Humperdinck's favourite place to go when he's got a curry urge. Bearing in mind he's an Anglo-Indian born in Madras, it's a fair bet that our Engelbert knows a good curry when he tastes one.
It's also fair to say that without a GroupOn offer to lure us there, we'd have been very unlikely to ever know that the Queen's Head even existed, let alone that it has won a Leicestershire Best Restaurant award. Saddington is a small village south of Leicester and you could drive through without even registering it's even there. The Queen's Head is not a particularly impressive looking place from the roadside with its white painted pebbledash exterior. Once we negotiated the rather shar turn into the car park and saw the views over the fields and down towards a lake, we realised that maybe this was rather more than we'd expected. Despite the dull front view, it's clear that the pub has been extended substantially on the back to create the restaurant.
We entered through the back door from the car park along a narrow corridor passing the toilets and the kitchen. As we headed up the stairs, it struck me that this isn't a place that's very accessible for wheelchair users, people with pushchairs or those who aren't good on their feet especially since the restaurant itself is laid out on several different levels. I would guess the most wheelchair friendly approach would be from the road side, but even then you'd have a few steps to contend with.
~Get used to waiting - there's a lot of it about~
We found the restaurant reception and waited for about 5 minutes whilst the man finished dealing with a booking. We soon learned that nothing moves quickly at the Queen's Head. When he finally came to meet us and took our GroupOn voucher, he then directed us to the waiting area and said he'd bring the menus. This area looked as if it has been recently decorated. There were some very stylish curtains and some nice painted wainscoting and the floors were stripped wood. It could have been quite smart if they'd not shoved quite so much furniture into the rather small space. We squeezed into an ugly little two-seater leather sofa which was slippery and uncomfortable. After about 10 minutes of wondering what was going on, the menus finally came. Another ten or 15 minutes were needed before the order was taken and another long wait before we were finally led through to the restaurant.
The restaurant is quite smart in appearance with attractive slate grey tiled floors, lots of lightly painted wood and minimalist tables with wipe clean surfaces - which indeed were wiped clean after each course. Since I have a tendency to leave a scatter-zone of debris when eating Indian food, the lack of table cloth was not a bad thing. We were given a table with four chairs, set for two people which meant we had plenty of space. The table was set with a basket of four popadoms and two trays each holding three different pickles each in a small square china dish. My dish had lime pickle, tamarind sauce and a light mango sauce. My husband's was a little more conventional with chopped onion, mango chutney and yoghurt sauce.
~Slowly slowly catchee curry~
Normally I scoff too many popadoms and then have no space left for what follows but it turned out to be a good thing that we polished them off because it took forever to get any more food. An hour after arriving we'd eaten the popadoms but nothing more was forthcoming for a considerable time. We watched all the tables around us getting their starters and main courses and wondered if we'd been forgotten completely. Eventually - about half an hour after our popadoms - we finally got our starters. We shared a portion of chilli mushrooms and another of paneer shashlik each of which was beautifully presented on an oblong plate with a little decorative sweep of tamarind sauce at one end and a pile of finely shredded carrot and beetroot salad at the other. There were four mushrooms, each intensely tasty and cooked in chilli and garlic. What I liked was that the flavour of the mushrooms came through despite the chilli and garlic they had been cooked in. The paneer comprised 5 good-sized chunks of paneer and large pieces of green pepper and onion, all served in a bright orange sauce. Both of the starters were delicious but neither was very big. There was no fear we wouldn't have space for our main courses - when they eventually arrived.
Our offer came with some supplements to be paid for various of the options. Typical of GroupOn, they really do exaggerate the value of the deals and there was a supplement of £3 on all of the fish or prawn dishes. Since I don't eat meat and my husband generally avoids it so that we can share the dishes, we decided to go veggie for the starters and then pay extra for the mains. We ordered a 'fish Kerala (described as containing coconut milk, lime, tamarind and 'delicate' spices. I didn't expect it to be lurid red in colour though. The other dish was a king prawn karai with monster king prawns in a brown sauce containing thinly sliced mushrooms. We ordered a garlic and coriander naan and a portion of boiled rice.
Warm side plates were provided for the naan and one of those hot metal stands was placed in the centre of the table. The karahi dish came to the table sizzling slightly whilst the 'Kerala' dish was less noisy. The portion of rice was a little on the mean side in contrast to the monster naan which was very garlicky but not noticeably tasting of coriander. The fish in the fish kerala was a firm, meaty type without bones. I suspected it was probably the swordfish we'd seen as an option on the starters. It was certainly good quality fish pieces and the dish was delicious despite it's lurid red colour. I can't say that anything about it really reminded me of Kerala and I felt the bright red sauce was at odds with the rather gentle level of spice and the strong coconut flavour. The king prawns were monsters - I don't recall ever seeing such big ones before and I wondered if they'd been happily swimming in the effluent from Sellafield but they tasted delicious. The mushrooms were so thin I didn't actually realise they were there at first.
Coffee and liqueurs were included in our deal but the coffees were dreadful (Did you ever have a good coffee in an Indian restaurant? I certainly never have) and nobody offered us liqueurs which we wouldn't have taken even if they had. By the time we'd paid up for our drinks - two large diet cokes and two pints of bitter came to £9.50) - and our fishy supplements, we'd been in the restaurant for two and a half hours. I had paid £20 for the voucher which represented a saving of about £20 on the menu prices.
I was really impressed by the food at the Queen's Head and since it was only a 35 minute drive from home, I'd probably consider going back again. The only problem is that there are just SO many good Indian restaurants in our area that I'd probably want to try out a few more local ones first.
Leicestershire country pub serving Indian food