Leamington Spa is exactly 14.2 miles from where I live. 15 if you go a different route. It’s full of restaurants, bars and cafes, with more new openings in the past year than I can even list, and several that are high up on my ‘must try’ list (it’s a loooooooong list). But despite this and its relative proximity to home, Mr M and I don’t get to Leamington anywhere near enough.
In an effort to remedy the situation, we planned to go to a lovely event at the recently-refurbished <arel=”nofollow” href=”http://www.starandgarterleamington.co.uk/”>Star & Garter in Leamington last month – the introduction of its Ultimate Grill Night, complete with tonnes of Aubrey Allen steak and a talk from Aubrey Allen’s managing director Russell Allen. Our perfect night. And then we got our moving date – the following day. No steak for us :-(</arel=”nofollow”>
Luckily, we were invited back to check out the Star & Garter once we were all settled in our new home, an offer we didn’t need to be given twice. The Star & Garter is a bit of a Leamington institution. It’s been around for years – the original Mrs Manning (my mother-in-law) remembers it as a bit of a spit and sawdust place from a few decades ago. Not so now after having undergone a major refurbishment. Impressive from the front, it’s decked out as a smart yet cosy and appealing gastropub, and inside a kind of hybrid of pub/bar/restaurant/diner.
We visited on a Thursday night – grill night – and it was abuzz with people eating, drinking, socialising, some even working. It’s one of those places that you could pop in for a beer after work, start your night out at with a few drinks, or indeed go for a nice meal. Part of the independent Peach Pubs group, which includes the Rose & Crown in Warwick and the Almanack in Kenilworth, it offers the same gastropub-style menu and wide range of drinks. Mr M was pleased to have not one, but three, Aspalls ciders on offer, while I just about managed to control myself enough to avoid one of the ‘Grand Gins’ they do (or indeed the gin flight, which would have been even more dangerous).
The restaurant is a mixture of booths running down the side and tables elsewhere, and we got ourselves settled in a nice cosy table for two. If you’re looking for a quiet, romantic venue this might not be the place for you. Well, not on grill night anyway. But if you want somewhere buzzing with the sociable hubbub of people having a good time, then it’s right up your street. The menu’s got an appealing range of dishes along with a few extra specials for each course. Then on top of that, grill night offers a whole separate menu, including starter, as well as different cuts of meat – mainly, but not only, steak – with choice of potatoes and sauce.
Mr M, predictably, could not be distracted from the grill night menu for his main course, and on this occasion I decided to join him. But we were both tempted to try the starters from the normal daily menu, mainly because they were a bit of a departure from normal pub fare you find everywhere. Smoked sardines aren’t that uncommon, but I haven’t seen them served breaded all that often, while Jamie’s Baked Golden Cenarth Cheese and Truffle Honey wasn’t something either of us have seen on other menus.
The cheese was a whiffy, melty, oozy delight. To my inexpert palate, the truffle honey wasn’t hugely noticeable, but then who’s too worried when there’s a bowl of melted cheese in front of you?
My sardines were crunchy and clean-tasting on the outside, with a rich, moist smokiness hidden beneath. The smokiness could almost have been slightly too much, were it not for the slightly refreshing lemon mayo they were served with – a good choice.
For main course, Jamie went for the rib-eye steak – 28 day dry-aged 20oz peppered rib-eye to be precise – with baby jacket potatoes and a blue cheese sauce. You’ll be pleased to know I took the opportunity on this night to have a ‘serious’ talk with him about my difficulty in finding new and different ways of describing his menu choices on these trips, which have increasingly resulted in the words: “Mr M had the steak (no surprise there)”. So from now on get ready for him challenging himself to trying other menu items – for you, so you have something else to read and look at other than a nicely-cooked bit of meat, and for me, so I can practice using new descriptions (we hope).
Ironically, this serious chat happened on the night that I, too, went for steak. But my one defence is that I tried something a little bit different, the so-called ‘spider steak’. No, don’t worry, no arachnids were harmed in the making of this blog. It’s just their way of describing the tail ends of the fillet that they use for this particular item on the menu.
I don’t order fillet very often and tend to go for the slightly fattier cuts (can’t resist a bit of fat, me), but my choice on this occasion was bang on. Tender, lean and full of flavour, the meat cut like butter and was super tasty. My sweet potato fries were decent and the bearnaise rich and tangy with its tarragon.
Wash it all down with a glass of wine from their fairly extensive list, including a ‘wine of the month’, and you’ve got yourself a nice dinner. Yeah, so steak, chips and wine is a tried and tested offering, yet so many places still manage to cock it up. It’s not cheap – Jamie’s main was priced at £23 and mine at £18.50 (those include the chips and sauce) – but I’d suggest if you want cheap, there’s plenty of other places you can grab a poor quality steak, cooked badly, for less than half the price. Me, I’d rather pay a bit more and enjoy my meal without having to pluck gristle from my teeth.
If you read my Rose & Crown review, you’ll know that their ‘Touch of Sweetness’ idea – a mini pudding with a coffee – was a hit with me, when I just want a little taste of pudding without all the guilt that comes with a full-size portion. They use the same idea here so I took full advantage again and went for a small portion of the St Clements Cheesecake. Just the right balance of creaminess and citrusy tang. Jamie, again on one of his regular choices, chose three scoops of double chocolate Jude’s free-range ice cream, which came in a cone perched in an ornate holder. What can I say – he loves ice cream and this was no exception.
Something I’ve noticed about the Peach group is they seem to have a great selection of cheese that you can order in varying sizes of selection. This is definitely on the agenda when we go back. As are the gins. Oh, and the brunch menu which also looks fab.
Needless to say, the service was great and not just because I was there doing a review. I watched the waiting staff dealing well with what seemed to be a crazy service, and special credit goes to the poor waitress whose first night it was. Cracking job 🙂
Sometimes when places try to be a few different things in one it can go very, very wrong but so far in my experience, Peach Pubs seem to be getting it right. Like the Rose & Crown, the Star & Garter is a good example of somewhere you can enjoy a quiet catch up, a nice bit of food, or more of a night out and it will fit the bill for any. I’ve had a little gander at their events, and it’s the same story, from ‘grown up party nights’ to menu tastings, special occasions, and wine and cheese nights. Something for everyone, and if they keep the standards up across the board they’re on to a winner.
Our dinner at the Star & Garter was complimentary. I wasn’t asked to write a positive review.