For two people who spend their lives juggling work, home, social lives, family, friends, and blogging, my husband and I can be very disorganised. It was for this reason that despite coming up with a gazillion ideas of how to mark our 3rd wedding anniversary, by Saturday morning (two days before our anniversary but the only evening we had free to do something) we hadn’t booked anywhere. Cue a panic!
We wanted to go somewhere other than Rugby, but Jamie was working until 6pm so it couldn’t be anywhere too far afield, and we’d left it so late that a lot of places were fully booked. And then my fab hubby remembered somewhere I’d be going on about going to for ages but we hadn’t quite made it to – the Stag at Offchurch. Just outside Leamington Spa, it’s not too far from us, and I’d seen pretty good write-ups. Lucky for us, they could fit us in at 8.45pm, so it was a go. It was one of those last-minute choices that turned out to be rather serendipitous, as we found the perfect spot.
Tucked in the idyllic Warwickshire countryside, the Stag is one of those country pubs that makes you want to move to a village. It’s actually got some sister pubs in Myton nearby, and Feckenham in Worcestershire, neither of which I’ve been to either, but might be tempted to try now. It’s in a handsome building, well cared for, and inside has all the charm of an old building with a modern finish. The restaurant is split between two different rooms, the bar area is cosy but not claustrophobic, and the whole place (when we went anyway) is filled with that gentle hubbub that I have spoken about before – the one that’s synonymous with people eating, drinking, and generally making merry.
With such late notice, I had the rare experience of not having pored over the menu for hours before our visit. Quite refreshing actually, to have that excitement again of sitting down and not already having a fair idea of what you’re going to eat. It may sound strange, but I have to confess to enjoying little touches like the fact the menu was called the ‘Food Guide’ and was a slightly smaller A5 booklet which meant we could look at it whilst continuing a conversation, without holding billboard-sized bits of cardboard up in front of our faces.
It was a tough decision – there were a lot of things that sounded great. I opted for the twice baked tomato souffle, served with goats’ cheese cream sauce and black olive tapenade. Souffle’s always a gamble, but since you don’t see it that often on a menu I just had to go for it. It was everything I hoped – light, delicate and melt-in-the-mouth – while the creamy sauce looked slightly soupy yet its thinner consistency actually suited the delicate souffle more than a thicker sauce would have.
Mr M managed to resist the temptation of box baked Camembert that came with the sharing platters which I would have predicted he’d order. Instead, he chose minted lamb macaroni cheese. Because, he said, it was just so unusual. This really was a bit special – it’s such a strange flavour combination, you’d wonder if it worked. It did! The warming cheesiness of mac’n’cheese, yet packed with the flavour of roast lamb and mint sauce. Seriously, the depth of flavour was really quite impressive.
Grinning like Cheshire cats, we moved on to our mains. I had been massively tempted by ‘The Stag lamb supper’, including a cutlet, sweetbread and shoulder croquette, but was helpfully told it was perfect if I was ‘very hungry’. I probably could have managed it, but I knew I wanted to squeeze in something sweet at the end, so decided to be slightly more restrained. I went for roasted breast of Gressingham duck, which came with confit duck leg rosti, wilted spinach, and cherry sauce. The duck was nice and pink, and the rosti was to die for – oozing with the yummy fatty taste of confit duck.
Mr M chose a steak (god, how many times have I written that line!). He’d been tempted by the slow braised Aubrey Allen short rib of beef, but went back to his old favourite – a ribeye steak, also supplied by Aubrey Allen. It came with chips, slow roasted beef tomato and watercress. And since a sauce was on offer, he chose rocket & parmesan pesto. It certainly got the Manning seal of approval – good quality meat, served simply but cooked perfectly. Jamie’s perfect meal.
We were far too full to face a full dessert, as much as I drooled over the peanut butter fondant and salted caramel ice cream. As a compromise we opted for a ‘coffee with a little sweet’ – a homemade Jaffa cake for me and a chocolate cigar for Jamie.
We had started off with a glass of Prosecco and a cider, and quaffed a rather nice bottle of wine with our meal, yet were pleasantly surprised to find that the bill came to just over £100. Now, for the quality of food we had, and the rather nice wine, I didn’t think it was that bad. In fact, we both had a lightbulb moment when we realised that when you took off the price of the wine and the drinks, the food itself had cost that much more than the meal we’d had at Beefeater just a few days before. We had more food then, obviously, but nobody could say it was as good. Either the Stag is good value, or Beefeater is overpriced for what it is, unless you take advantage of one of its many deals.
From what I’ve heard others say and from my own experience, I wouldn’t go so far as to describe the Stag as cheap, but it’s yet another reminder that big chains aren’t always better value than their smaller rivals. Our own experience of the Stag was brilliant – great food at (in my view) just the right price point, with brilliant service and a lovely ambience. Their ‘food guide’ had all the classics, yet quite a few dishes you don’t usually see, showing a bit of imagination and passion coming out of the kitchen. We had a lovely evening – a great place to celebrate our anniversary – and even decided to book for Christmas Day!
We paid in full for our meal at the Stag. They didn’t know I was a blogger.