So, as a disclaimer I should mention that I absolutely love the Phoenix. I have been a customer since, ahem, 1996. The Phoenix is an independent cinema and arts venue in Leicester where they show some mainstream films, some subtitled films, live streams of opera, theatre and dance as well as other arty exhibitions. It used to be based near to De Montfort University and Gateway College (where I did my A Levels) and was the place that first introduced me to the joys of a hummus sandwich. You could say it’s the longest and most fulfilling love affair I’ve ever had.
Let me tell you why. So I have some beef with cinemas. I recently took my eldest son to a large cinema (part of a huge chain) to see the Boss Baby. It was a ‘love bombing’ day designed to make him feel special and induce a little bonding. The afternoon cost me a lot of money and frankly, the experience was soulless. The tickets were bought from a machine (there was no human behind the desk), the drinks ridiculously expensive and the sweets were over £5 for a small bag. The screen was huge (tick) but the whole thing felt like a nothing of an experience. Even my 8 year old son seemed underwhelmed, despite being allowed to buy food and drink from the actual cinema rather than smuggling snacks in. I left feeling financially abused. It was not great, in short.
Going to see a film at the Phoenix is altogether a different experience. First off you buy your tickets from a person. Yes a real human being. They can even advise you on which film to see. And there are notes on every film you can peruse before you choose. Mainly though, you have to trust the Phoenix. Time and time again I have arrived and felt there’s nothing I desperately want to see and yet once I bite the bullet and watch one of their recommendations, I’m always left happy. I’ve watched some films there that on paper I might never choose. I have never been disappointed. And the pricing is fair. They’re not trying to make you feel distressed after buying your tickets. (£8.90 after 5pm and at the weekends for a full price ticket, or £15.80 if you choose to dine as well).
Secondly if the box office area is busy you can buy your tickets from the bar.
And you can buy a drink to take in with you. Maybe a beer, a glass of wine, a coffee or just a fizzy sugary drink. And the prices are reasonable.
Then there’s the snacks. You can buy crisps, chocolate, ice cream, cakes, popcorn, nuts. Okay, not so revolutionary. But the prices are again, reasonable. It’s exciting to buy snacks and enjoy them instead of feeling abused by the price. They also don’t sell nachos to take into the film, which in my book is a good thing. I do not want to listen to people crunching and munching and licking their salsa covered fingers whilst watching a film. Maybe that’s an age thing.
Now to the food. The cafe bar is a huge, airy, relaxed space with an area for kids games, pens and activity sheets.
There’s a book swap stall. There’s a water and sauce station.
There’s plenty of seating. It’s comfy. The windows are decorated with art. There’s an area where short films and animations are played onto the wall.
The food menu is varied. There’s the usual burgers, omelettes, burritos and sandwiches. There’s a kid menu that’s incredibly good value.
And then there’s the specials board, which is where I almost always choose from. And it changes daily.
We shared a plate of whitebait to start which came with the most delicious, piquant chunky tartare sauce I’ve ever eaten. I finsihed it off by the spoonful after the whitebait was long gone.
I followed the starter with a salmon and avocado Caesar salad. It was huge and delicious. My only minor gripe was the bacon being a little less crispy than I personally like. But then I am a woman who grills her bacon until it crumbles. I know I may be alone in this fetish.
My pals burrito was well packed and tasty. I know because I finished it off for him. And the prices are reasonable. The whitebait was £7 and the salad was £11. We didn’t wait long for our food, but reassuringly long enough to know it was freshly cooked.
There was homemade cake if we’d have wanted it, but we were too full. We had just enough time to check out the fruit, veg and herb garden outside supported by local brewery Everards.
Let’s talk logistics. The Phoenix is in the cultural quarter of Leicester, so it’s in town. You can park just outside in a designated car park. Yes it will cost you money, but the amount you save on tickets, drinks and food is so immense it is still cheaper to enjoy an evening out here than at a multiplex cinema on a soulless purpose-built leisure complex. And the cinema screens are big, just as you would expect. Though I’ve never witnessed anyone talking on their phone in the Phoenix. Which may sound like a strange thing to mention, but it seems this is the norm in a lot of big cinemas.
Can you tell I’m a fan? It never ceases to amaze me how many people I meet day to day in Leicester don’t know about the place. The dine and watch deals, the weekend kids specials, the excellent breakfasts, the cinema room hire (watch any film you like as part of a birthday package!) It makes me feel sad. Which is why I agreed to do this review. I want more people to actually enjoy going to the cinema. It’s a far superior experience.
You can even pick up a beautiful greeting card in the foyer; the kind of stuff you never see in Clintons. Look!
And lastly, one of the best things about visiting the Phoenix is the people. The other people who visit and the staff. It’s just a deeply friendly, personal experience. I’ve chatted to many people in the cafe before seeing a film. Not people I know, just other people who are excited about seeing a good film. A community of enthusiastic lovers of film and art. The staff are happy and smiley and seem to really enjoy their work. It’s heartwarming stuff. The Phoenix is the gold standard of a film and dine experience. It’s leaves you grinning.
NB: I received complimentary tickets, food and drinks.
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