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bill's, leicester.

Known for modern British cuisine at breakfast, lunch and dinner, the restaurant that seems to be appearing more and more up and down the country has finally come to Leicester. Bill's first began as an East Sussex green grocers before becoming a cafe and now the bustling restaurant business it is today. Over 15 years since Bill Collison's light bulb moment, you can still buy confectionary, drinks, chutneys, conserves, chocolates and gift hampers in their shop as well as dine from their vibrant menu.

Blackboards, shelving, industrial touches and natural woodgrain are a nod towards the garden shed roots of the business. Elegant touches such a chandeliers and long candles turn the allotment inspiration into a welcoming dining area, which was soon filling up with hungry mouths. Having opened a few months ago at Leicester's Highcross, Bill's still seems to be thriving. I'd heard really mixed reviews, so couldn't wait to order myself.

With my boyfriend, my sister and her fiancé in tow, we went along on a busy Friday night. I'm sure he won't mind me saying that he can be quite a fussy eater and rarely adventurous in food. Favourites include classic dishes such as lasagne, gammon & eggs and steak & chips, so this was a great place to try that includes contemporary classics on the menu.

Whilst we chatted about the menu, I enjoyed a mix of elderflower cordial and Prosecco coined a Hedgerow Fizz. Refreshing, easy drinking and a tiny bit fruity. 

Starters included the Pea & Mint Soup (£4.95), Chicken in a Jar (£5.95), Warm Roast Red Onion and Gruyère Tart (£5.50) and Avocado, Bacon and Spinach Salad (£5.50).

What gorgeous presentation, eh? From what I tried, the soup was the perfect Spring combination that was wholesome whilst still being quite light. The tart was warm and beautifully gooey, with a great crust too. The chicken starter was much more beautiful than the name suggested; a chicken parfait and marmalade dressed with edible flowers and served in a quaint Kilner jar (cliché, but I'm still loving them).

I ordered the avocado, bacon and spinach salad. (Did you guess?) The spinach was slightly wilted but still crisp, bacon rather crunchy and the ripe avocado just scattered through. I loved the seasoning and use of hard and slightly salty Pecorino cheese too. This could also be ordered as a larger portion, which I'd totally be happy with for a light lunch.

And so, mains. I went for the Slow Cooked Crispy Gressingham Duck Leg (£12.95). This is served with feta and spring onion croquettes, a watercress, red cabbage, pea, broad bean and basil salad and drizzled with lemon dressing and wasabi mayonnaise. I hadn't considered these flavours together before but I knew I'd like them individually at least. As you can see, the duck was seriously crispy and the meat was rich and succulent. The salty tang came from the feta, with a sweetness of greens and sharpness in the lemon dressing. I couldn't taste as much wasabi as I'd like in the mayo as a real fiery kick would have been a brilliant extra element.

My dining companions enjoyed the 10z Sirloin Steak and Chips (£18.50) and the Bill's Style Pork Ribs (£14.50). All dishes went down well (realising now that I didn't get a look in) with sides, sauces and chips all championed and devoured.

I chose a couple of sides too; the Kale Crisps (£1.95) and Rocket & Pecorino Salad (£2.95). I was the only one to enjoy the kale crisps, which were deliciously light, moreish and slightly salted. This was more down to the tastes of my fellow diners than them not being appetising. The rocket salad was generous and tasty too, although I would definitely have preferred subtle Pecorino shavings as in the avocado and bacon salad rather than the thin slices.

You know me, always room for pudding. I'd seen the Treacle Tart (£5.50) online and had been dreaming about destroying it. You don't often seen treacle tart on dessert menu and this needs to change. I hope you can see from the picture, it had a gloriously crunchy crust with soft and sweet inner. I expected the accompanying ice cream to be a little too sickly, but it actually worked very well. Thumbs up for the tart!

No surprises that Sam went for the Bill's Cheese Board (£6.95), along with a Warre's Heritage Port (£4.50). This was a medley of Westcombe cheddar, Cornish brie and ‘Wrekin’ blue cheese, served with Bill’s chutney, celery and sultana bread. Quite the cheese board connoisseur these days, I'm assured it was a good spread.

There's a really good variety of timeless desserts on the menu (eton mess, tarts, cheesecake,brownies...) so even fussy eaters can get involved. My sister and her partner opted for a classic Eton Mess (£5.95) and Lemon Meringue Pie Cheesecake (£5.50). Yet again reinventing the presentation, the cheesecake came in a glass with a poppy seed meringue spilling over to top. Win-win.

A brilliant meal in a great environment that left us happy and comfortably full. I loved that interesting flavour combinations had been made more accessible to everyday diners through recognisable combinations. By that I mean, none of us had ever tried edible flowers, my sister had never sampled Gruyère, everyone gave the kale chips a go and I might not have realised that feta cheese went well so with duck. With a few favourite local restaurants that they always head back to, they admitted that next time they'll be giving Bill's another go.

With the green grocers element still very much a part of Bill's, you can take a little bit home with you just by ordering whatever takes your fancy and adding it to your overall bill. A really nice touch. If I'd had room, I may have taken an Earl Grey & Lemon chocolate bar home...

Have you ever been to a Bill's restaurant? What is your favourite time of day to go or go-to dish? I really hope all restaurants across the UK are as good as my experience, as I think they're on to a winner!

10 shires lane
le1 4an.


Note: We dined as guests of Bill's. All opinions are honest and my own.

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