I’ve wanted to go to Oscars in Leamington Spa for quite some time now, so when I was invited to an Evening in Provence at this tiny French bistro, I eagerly accepted. The restaurant has a tiny frontage – from the outside it looks like there are about four tables, but it’s actually a bit of a Tardis and it turns out there’s plenty of room – upstairs as well as downstairs – so plenty of room for some eager foodie Francophiles.
Fellow food blogger Midlands Gourmet Girl, who had kindly invited me, and I were escorted upstairs to a table by the window, where we could keep a nosy eye on the comings and going of people on the street below. We’d both already analysed the evening’s menu. Oscars’ menu is usually a mix of French classics like beef bourguignon as well as Aubrey Allen steaks, but the night we went was a set menu in homage to patron Pascal’s home region of Provence. As he poured us a glass of Kir, we grilled him on some of the classic dishes that he grew up with.
First up was Pissaladiere, a kind of tart/pizza from the South of France, topped with caramelised onions, anchovies and black olives. It came served with more Provençal olives, saucisson and French bread and was a nice light start to the meal. To wash it down, we were given a choice of French wines (of course) – a rose from St Tropez, or a red from Moujin near St Tropez. I’m not usually a rose drinker but it was refreshing and light, and a good accompaniment to a summery appetiser.
Next up was a Provençal fish soup. I have fond memories of being introduced to this dish on a childhood holiday to France with a school friend and her family, and this spicy broth brought back nostalgia of long summery days and my first experiences trying foods I’ve never had before. The soup was packed with monkfish, conger eel, wrasse, red mullet and gurnard. It came with little dishes of garlic mayonnaise, croutons and grated cheese, which were a nice touch, though I would quite happily have scoffed it without.
Main course was free range chicken with ratatouille and sauté potatoes. It was pretty simple, but presumably true to traditional Provençal food. If I’m honest I would have prepared something that felt a bit more like a dish I couldn’t get (obviously it would be Mr M who cooked it, not me) at home, but if we’re going for traditional and authentic, then I know sometimes this is simple by definition. The wine continued to flow, and the atmosphere in the busy restaurant was a convivial, fun party night, with many of the restaurant’s regulars enjoying the night.
Starting to feel a bit full, we ploughed on with some soft Banon goats cheese, from Aix, which came wrapped in chestnut leaves. This was delicious and luckily for Mr Manning, Midlands Gourmet Girl isn’t a fan of goats cheese so he got the remainder wrapped up and taken home for him.
Our meal finished with soufflé beignets served with white peach purée – basically deep fried donuts with a sort of peach coulis. Nice, but I probably would have been happy finishing on the cheese.
As we left, the evening was still very much in full effect, with many diners still quaffing their final glasses of wine. At £50 a head for the five courses, as well as aperitifs and seemingly endless wine, the evening is pretty good value, and many were obviously taking advantage of it.
The food was good, though some courses trumped others, and the atmosphere was great. I would have quite liked to maybe have heard more from Pascal about the food and wine choices, and even some anecdotes about his background. We were all brought our courses at the same time, so it would have been possible to get a brief low-down on some Provençal classics, which would have immersed us in the experience even more. I think having a regional themed night is a great idea, especially if you have staff from those areas, so you could really take advantage of it.
The restaurant is a lovely place to eat – quaint, bijou and relaxed. The dishes we had are a reflection of the simple, French menu it prides itself on and I’m looking forward to going back and trying some of what else is on offer. There are auberge nights, set menus, and the a la carte menu, so something for everyone. It’s definitely on my ‘must go back’ list, and judging by the collection of regulars who were at the Provence night, I’m far from the only one.
I was invited by Midlands Gourmet Girl to join her at the Provence night at Oscars. We didn’t pay for our meals, but as usual all views in this blog are my honest opinion.