Warwick is a special place for me and Mr M. It’s where we got married a few years ago, and the whole town is littered with memories for us. So when we were invited to go and try out one of its popular pubs, we didn’t hesitate in saying yes.
The Rose & Crown is part of the Peach Pubs group. They’ve got places scattered across the country, including a few in my neck of the woods in Warwickshire, but they’re quite a clever bunch because they pride themselves in no two places being alike, which means you don’t get that ‘chain’ feel. Certainly not with the Rose and Crown anyway – until now, I’d been labouring under the illusion that it was completely independent. We’d popped in for a drink back when we were planning our wedding, but this was our first visit since it had been refurbished and new manager Giles Hammond took over. I’d heard great things from fellow bloggers, and my usual pre-dinner menu analysis revealed some interesting looking dishes, so it goes without saying that I was pretty excited.
We arrived on one of those evenings where it’s just about warm enough for people to sit and have a drink outside, helping it project that wonderfully stereotypical olde worlde English pub feel. The image continued inside, with a cocker spaniel sitting next to a pint of ale on one table the front part of the inside is dog-friendly (and yes, his owner was there too), and a couple having a tete-a-tete in the cute-looking ‘snug’ alongside the main room.
The restaurant is behind – a cosy and slightly glam feeling area, with a few booths around the edge, and the walls adorned with photos of stars on their crazy nights out. A little nosey around with manager Giles revealed the ‘yard’ – literally the yard behind the pub which has been cleverly covered to give it a kind of ‘inside-outside’ feel. Mr M, who’s big on his ‘Grand Designs’ was particularly impressed by such a clever use of space.
Anyway, onto the food. And drink. I got slightly over-excited when I realised that Peach are the group who do ‘Grand Gins’ – epic combinations of gins and mixers in a huge ‘coupe’. I’ve had one at the High Field in Edgbaston and if you’re a gin lover like me, they’re a real winner. Alas, as designated driver for the night, I had to steer clear and stick to my lime and soda, but it’s quirks like this on a drinks menu that make you remember a place.
As already mentioned, the menu itself is an impressive sight, packed with seasonal, local produce, and dishes that you might not already see. They also do themed nights like grill night and fish Friday, as most places seem to do these days. I was impressed by the imagination that goes behind other one-off events like Bastille Day, and plans for some Rugby world cup nights that piqued our curiosity. Our visit didn’t come on any themed night, so we started with a little pre-dinner snack of a ‘mini loaf and garlic butter’ (rather delicious garlic butter I might add) as we settled down to make our choices.
The menu, it turned out, was only the beginning of our dinner possibilities. A whole blackboard of specials was leant against the wall, adding even more tough choices for us to make. I say ‘for us to make’, but actually, Mr M didn’t find it hard at all. Once he found out the Rose & Crown has its own smoker out back (yes, really) and smokes anything from meat to fish, his choice was a no-brainer and he went for Jimmy Butler’s free-range BBQ pork ribs, with corn on the cob and barbecue sauce. Sounds like a main rather than a starter? Well, you can have it as either.
I, trying to be a tiny bit healthy, was halfway to ordering the Thai crab cakes, then realised I was probably going to have fish as a main course, so opted for quail instead. For taste and presentation, this was definitely the right choice, though maybe not for someone who gets massive food envy as I do. Jamie’s ribs were huge and the stuff of true carnivores. I half wondered if they’d accidentally given him a main course portion. Three massive, juicy looking bits of meat, perched on a board, served with corn on the cob and a sweet, sticky sauce. My quail on the other hand was dainty, pretty and light. Imagine Hulk Hogan walking through a door with Tinker Bell. Quite a contrast.
Needless to say, the ribs were smokey, meaty, and cooked enough so all the fat had rendered as it should. The sauce was the right balance of tang and sweetness, and the corn sweet, juicy and charred. My quail was tasty and delicate, with a golden beetroot and pistachio salad and a raspberry dressing which added a sweetness that worked really well with the meat. I just couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit envious and the difference in size between our portions, but obviously that’s a combination of the very different dishes we ordered and my childish envy.
For main course I was faced with a few good-looking fish dishes, both from the main menu and the specials board. I opted for pan-fried cod with Parmentier potatoes, crispy scallops and pea puree. Again, the presentation was a cut above your average gastropub. I had a generous lump of cod, cooked well so it was moist yet still firm. The scallops were coated in a crunchy breadcrumbs – think posh scampi – and while pea puree might be seen by some to be a predictable choice, there’s a reason for that and it’s because it’s a proven success.
Mr M continued his meat feast with the Aubrey Allen-supplied 28 Day dry-aged 8oz Flat Iron steak (yes, predictable I know, but he’s still on his quest to try steak in every single place we go to), a cut you don’t see on many menus. Jamie was going to opt for the rib-eye, but because he likes his meat still mooing on the plate, our waiter suggested that the flat iron might be a better cut for him.
And this leads me on to what I think is a pretty good idea that Peach have got going. During our chat with Giles, he sang the praises of his staff, and revealed one of the methods the group uses to encourage high standards. If you’re a regular waiter or waitress, you can work your way up to becoming a ‘Master Peach’. It means you have to know that bit more, go that extra mile, and then get tested to get the title. In exchange, you get extra perks, more money being among them.
As a waitress once-upon-a-time, it sounds like a brilliant idea to me. It’s a system that gives those who want to do well the opportunity to get a bit of recognition for going the extra mile. It’s great for customers too, who get to benefit from knowledge of the dishes, the ingredients, the ways they are cooked, and the wine list. I’m not sure whether we were served by a Master Peach, but it certainly seemed that way judging by his knowledge, and for someone like me who constantly asks the opinions of the people patiently waiting to take my order, it was nice to have someone with the confidence to actually give me their informed opinion.
So, back to the steak. It got the thumbs up from Mr Manning. It came with a sundried tomato and crispy shallot salad that prompted a rare moment of Mr M actually eating all the green on his plate as well as the meat. The peppercorn sauce was a big hit and he enjoyed a ‘grill garnish’ by the side, including garlic and thyme plum tomatoes, some battered onion rings, and a mushroom that at first appeared slightly overdone and dried out, but tasted brilliant with a really concentrated tasted.
We tried to resist the desserts, we really did, but what can I say? We’re both very weak. We were tempted by the cheese – all British cheeses, and in varying sizes, from a ‘smidgen’ of one cheese, to a ‘cheese plate’ of three, or a ‘cheeseboard’ of five, all with Dorset pear jelly and various accoutrements, but we decided something sweet was in order. Rather than have one full dessert each, we tried to mediate our greed and have one dessert between two, plus a ‘Touch of Sweetness’ (a mini dessert with a coffee).
To share, we chose Dip your own Strawberries. Freshly picked strawberries, served in a flower pot, with accompanying pots filled with melted Valrhona chocolate sauce and chantilly cream, and some shortbread. We even got a bit of grass to complete the English garden picture, and the flag saying where our strawberries had been picked (in Lower Reule in Staffordshire if you wanted to know) was a nice touch.
The Touch of Sweetness was also well done. A mini passionfruit cheesecake, creamy and sweet, served with what I think was a sharp-but-not-too-sharp mango sorbet. Just right for the end of a meal. I often fancy a little something sweet, but not necessarily a whole dessert, so this kind of idea suits me down to the ground.
Even our coffees were presented well, in a stylish though not overdone way, and proved a great end to an evening in a place that clearly has decided that the devil is in the detail. From the cooking and presentation of the food, to the decor, style and service, the Rose and Crown far exceeded our expectations. No, it’s not fine dining and it doesn’t pretend to be, but it’s gastropub food done very, very well, in relaxing surroundings that can fit with whatever occasion you choose. The fact the restaurant was full on a Tuesday night is testament to its success, and if it maintains the standards we experienced, it will have no problem being a firm favourite in Warwick.
Our meal at the Rose & Crown was complimentary. As usual, all the views in this blog are my honest opinion of our experience.