[Disclosure – some of the treats featured in this post were PR samples/products given to me free of charge. I wasn’t obliged to post reviews and they were all offered, not asked for. I’ve written after each entry whether it was paid for or provided free of charge, so you can be sure]
I don’t think we’ll ever forget the spring of 2020 will we. Plans cancelled, life changed forever, a strange three months with little human contact, and even now people keep chucking around the phrase ‘new normal’ like it’s some kind of fun thing that’s a little bit ‘wey’ and a little bit ‘woah’ rather than the basic necessity of trying to stop a pandemic in its tracks.
That said, things are starting to return to the life we once knew which for this blog means restaurants, cafes and bars. Basically someone else cooking and a setting other than our dining room or garden. And while we’re on this subject, please don’t take this as a suggestion that you should do the same. If you’re not ready to get out there, then don’t. Everyone’s situation is different and everyone has to make their own judgement call.
That aside, the reopening of the hospitality sectors feels like a bit of a full stop on a chapter of our lives that has had more highs and lows than an Alton Towers rollercoaster, and despite the hard times I can’t help but look back on some of it fondly.
As someone who has spent most of my adult life on the go, whether that was traipsing down to London for work, flying around the world on press trips, travelling around the country to see friends, or roadtripping at every opportunity in the campervan, lockdown felt like a bit of a pause. A chance to stop, take stock, and appreciate what – and who – I have.
While some of it has been difficult, I have a huge bank of happy memories from the spring and while I know not everyone has the same – some the exact opposite – I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s okay to have found some joy and positivity in such a dark time.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of those memories involve food, which if you’ve read my Love Letter to Food you’ll see has become an ever more special part of my life. So I thought it would be nice to round-up some of my favourite lockdown treats that have crossed the Manning threshold and made it into our greedy little bellies.
As we all know, the food and drink industry has performed what can only be described as a bit of a miracle in pivoting to provide wonderful edible happiness to us all over the country, even as they face the toughest time ever.
During lockdown I’ve discovered some wonderful lockdown businesses, been able to support some of my faves and also ventured (via my credit card and couriers) further afield to try other offerings. Here are some of them – many are still doing deliveries or takeaways so if you fancy the look of something, why not support them too. They still need us.
Sweet selection from Sweet Retreat
Early in lockdown I realised the joy of getting sweet treats delivered to my door. Sweet Retreat Rugby is a wonderful shop right on my doorstep yet I’d never been in. Lucky for me, they’ve been doing local and national delivery so I ordered some for my pregnant friend to binge on, and thought it would be rude if I didn’t partake too…. (Paid in full, though I did get an extra little treat in my package)
Sweet Retreat Rugby, 298 Hillmorton Rd, Rugby CV22 5BW
Picnic food from Onley Grounds Farm Shop
If you follow me on social media, you’ll have seen that Onley Grounds Farm became a bit of a destination of choice for our longer dog walks. Another place I knew of but hadn’t really used, Onley really came into its own when lockdown hit, delivering meat and veg to people across Rugby.
The farm shop itself also stayed open and is the perfect place to also pick up your picnic treats. Many an afternoon has been spent munching on scotch eggs, pork pies and other delightful deli bits from them – including this epic Ploughmans Pie. And don’t worry – you can grab a cider to wash it all down with too. (Paid in full)
Onley Grounds Farm Shop and Butchery – Onley Grounds Farm, Willoughby, CV23 8AJ
Tapas for two from Warwick Street Kitchen
One of our first ‘take-out’ meal experiences, I ordered tapas for two from Warwick Street Kitchen in Leamington Spa. I love these guys and what they do and it was amazing to see them adapt to such difficult times.
The tapas didn’t disappoint – ready to eat and packed with the same trademark flavour you get when you eat in. They’re back open now and have also just had their first tapas night so keep an eye on their socials for all the loveliness. (Paid in full)
Warwick Street Kitchen, 102 Warwick St, Leamington Spa CV32 4QP
Brownies from Square, Dunchurch
A more recent discovery for me, I’d actually been meaning to get to Square in Dunchurch, Rugby, for months then lockdown hit and stopped me. Luckily they reopened for takeaway coffee and some of these amazing brownies and blondies.
They’ve also now opened a ‘Secret Garden’ where you can book a two-hour slot and enjoy all sorts of drinks (yes, including alcohol) as well as small plates in a cute little garden. I’m yet to try but it’s on the list! (Paid in full)
Square, 6 The Green, Dunchurch, Rugby, Warwickshire CV22 6NX
Build your own burgers from Strip Club Streetfood
You know when you see a burger and you want it instantly? That’s how I ended up ordering an amazing box of burger-y goodness from Stripclub Street food. Beautiful patties, brioche buns, all the toppings needed to recreate two of their iconic burgers – including biscoff spread, pickles, and all the right sauces.
Despite the videos showing us how to replicate Stripclub’s epic creations, we still took about three goes (yes, that’s still two burgers each on three occasions) to get them right. But man, was it worth it. (Paid in full)
You can find Stripclub Street Food at Digbeth Dining Club at the moment.
Ploughmans box from the Royal Oak, Brandon
Even though it’s not that far from me, I was a stranger to The Royal Oak in Brandon until we met via social media. They’re one of the businesses that has had to work super hard to pivot and offer takeaway to people who would usually go out to the pub.
They kindly offered me one of their ploughman’s boxes on what was meant to be a lovely sunny weekend. The weather failed me but The Royal Oak didn’t. You don’t need sunshine to enjoy a box full of cheese, freshly made bread, and a camembert to bake in the oven at home complete with roasted garlic and chutney.
Lovely people, good pub food, and they are constantly working to keep their menu varied and do everything they can to keep things going. (PR sample)
The Royal Oak, Brandon Ln, Brandon, Coventry CV8 3HR
Tacos from Andy Low’n’Slow
If you haven’t heard of Andy Low’n’Slow you are missing out. He’s up there with some of the best barbecue people in this country and appears at all sorts of wonderful festivals including the beloved Meatopia (I am still mourning the fact it’s at least another year before we can get there).
With festivals and street food events on hold, Andy started offering his beautifully-sourced, even-more-beautifully-cooked creations via FLOC Market. He went on to do national delivery but at the time I ordered his Ox Cheek Barbacoa Taco Kit it coincided with a trip elsewhere for another reason so I could pick it up.
Clear instructions, sourcing and provenance like nothing you’ll ever know, and a love for food that is so often lacking, Andy’s food is a must-try. He’s constantly changing the menu so take a look and make sure you order. (Paid in full)
Sunday lunch from the Moorings at Myton
I don’t often go out for Sunday dinner, given that Jamie cooks a pretty mean roast, so I certainly wouldn’t have considered trying a takeaway version, but I’m blimin’ glad the Moorings at Myton in Leamington asked me to try theirs.
Aubrey Allen roast beef that only needed heating up, Yorkshires that somehow stayed pretty good, roasties, veg, a lovely cauliflower cheese, gravy and more. Not to mention the rather indulgent sticky toffee pudding and creme anglaise (that someone spat their dummy about on social media because they just want it to be called custard).
I honestly didn’t think a reheat-at-home roast dinner would be that good, but this was brilliant and has definitely made me want to head over to the Moorings when they reopen. (PR sample)
The Moorings at Myton, Myton Rd, Warwick, Royal Leamington Spa, Leamington Spa CV31 3NY
Burgers for tea from Libertine Burger
What can I say. When Libertine Burger closed for lockdown it was a sad day, but lucky for me they reopened a few weeks ago and we had an epic Friday night tea of burgers and potato tots. Every bit as good as I’ve raved about before and I’m so glad they’re back. (Paid in full)
Libertine Burger, Chapel St, Rugby CV21 3EB
Afternoon tea from Tea at Rainbows
If lockdown showed me anything about people’s eating tastes, it’s that we seem to love an afternoon tea. One of the big offerings for home consumption seems to have been the afternoon tea, and I actually discovered Tea at Rainbows when someone from BBC CWR asked me for some recommendations and I noticed they were getting rave reviews.
Rea at Rainbows ended up going on the radio and as a thank you they sent me a sweet and savoury afternoon tea. A big old tray of sarnies, cheese, cheese cones, and sweet treats like cake, scones and a lovely fruit skewer. My mum informs me that when she went when they were open they did a lovely slice of classic cake too. One to get back to methinks. (Gift)
Tea at Rainbows, 35 The Green, Bilton, Rugby CV22 7LZ
Thai takeaway from Sophie Hyam
Despite ordering a rather large amount of food through lockdown (as you might have gleaned from this blog post so far) it got to the latter stages and I started to panic that everyone would stop doing takeaway offerings and I would have missed out on this strange ‘restaurant-at-home’ idea which would suddenly disappear.
I scouted around and realised that Sophie Hyam, who can usually be found doing food demos, pop-ups and private cheffing, was doing takeaway meals for people to enjoy at home. A few messages later and I had ordered a three-course Thai menu (she does all sorts) for Jamie and I to enjoy at home.
It was brilliant. Generous portions, wonderful flavours, quality ingredients (think the biggest juiciest ribs you’ve ever tried and satay chicken that beats pretty much anything you’ve had before) and a super reasonable price (£10 per main and £5 per started) and you can’t go wrong. I am 100% getting Sophie round to cook for us ASAP. (Paid in full)
Wine from Gallachers of Rugby
There are a lot of things we don’t have in Rugby but one thing we do is a wine merchants that usually doubles up as a wine bar, complete with one of those fun tasting things that’ll pour you a glass so you can try something.
While Gallachers had to stop ‘wine bar Friday’, it switched to home delivery and later on click and collect, ready for all your wine needs. The good thing about places like this is you can tell them what nice food you’ve got coming or are cooking and they’ll pick you out something to match. You don’t get that at the supermarket… (Paid in full)
Gallachers of Rugby, 37 Regent St, Rugby CV21 2PE
Meat box from Aubrey Allen
Sometimes there’s a misconception that it’s the younger, less experienced businesses who struggle more than their older, more established counterparts. Maybe that’s so in some situations, but not this one. Covid-19 hit everyone hard, and everyone had to adapt, including one of the country’s most-famous butchers.
Aubrey Allen have innovated in so many ways, from cooking up meals for people to enjoy at home to offering meat boxes. Early on I was gifted one of these fab boxes, but later on bought one myself because I think it’s great value for such good quality meat.
Steaks, joints of meat, burgers, even chicken. We’ve had some delicious meals and it’s reminded me why Aubrey’s is one of the premier places to buy from, not just in our area, but across the country. They’re selling them again I think if you want to get your hands on one. (PR sample + paid for myself)
Aubrey Allen, 108 Warwick St, Leamington Spa CV32 4QP
Homemade pizza kits from the DIY Pizza Co.
Further down this post you’ll see that we went on a little jaunt to see Flying Cows Burgers and the Wedding Pizza Co. at Kenilworth Rugby Club where they were doing a little socially-distanced street food pop-up. They’ve moved on to other locations but the Wedding Pizza Co. has also pivoted to form the ‘DIY Pizza Co.’ selling its wares in Co-ops across Warwickshire and Northamptonshire.
We tried one and spent a fun evening shaping sourdough into bases, crisping in a pan, then layering with their own tomato sauce and cheese before chucking in the oven. They’re not the only ones doing it, but they’re the only ones I’ve tried and I was pretty impressed. Fresh ingredients, clear instructions, a fun night of cooking and a pretty tasty result.
Follow the Wedding Pizza Co on social media for detail on where they are
Crumpet pack from Wayland’s Yard
If you’re from Birmingham or Worcester, you’ll already know the allure of Wayland’s Yard. If you’re not but you venture into either of those cities try to check them out at some point. They do lovely breakfasts and brunches and great coffee.
Lucky for us lockdowners, they also started sending stuff out, which meant I could get my hands on one of their trademark dishes, ‘eggy crumpets’ complete with chilli jam and halloumi. Yes, I am aware I could replicate this at home using supermarket ingredients but that’s not really the point is it kids? Needless to say, it was a brilliant brekkie and was lovely to support these guys. (Paid in full)
Wayland’s Yard, 42 Bull St, Birmingham B4 6AF
Pizza and burger night with Flying Cows Burgers & the Wedding Pizza Co.
Yes, you saw it up above. There have been a few small, carefully-organised, socially-distanced pop-up type events as we’ve eased out of lockdown, including one in nearby Kenilworth that saw Flying Cows Burgers and the Wedding Pizza Co. serving up some banging food.
We swung by en route home from a day trip and got our hands on a Flying Cows Burger (if you haven’t tried these you absolutely must – I love them), as well as a bacon and maple syrup pizza (and maybe a margherita too) from the Wedding Pizza Co. Such a treat, such a carb-coma, and a little reminder of the delights of street food events that we’ve all been missing. (PR sample)
Cider from Napton Cidery
Pubs may have been closed, but I discovered that local cidery Napton Cidery just outside Southam was open. They had to cancel their tours and events, but could still let you in for a browse and to get your hands on some ciders.
They do a range of several different types of ciders, all from local apples and made naturally, plus a Prosecco cider and a whiskey cask one too. Owner Charlotte is fab and will talk you through everything you need to know. They also sell all sorts of local spirits as well as wines. Their tap room is back open now on Saturdays from 12-9pm so contact them to book a table. (Paid in full for the copious amounts of cider we bought)
Napton Cidery, Napton on the Hill, Southam CV47 8NY
Brownies from #nom via FLOC Market
Was it even lockdown if you didn’t order unnecessary brownies to be delivered by post? #nom are based in Bromsgrove but are selling via FLOC Market so you can get your hands on them too. Somewhere there is a video of me trying one of these and predictably it’s pretty excitement-inducing. (Paid in full)
Cannoli from Cafe Cannoli
I’m no expert on cannoli, but I know I like it. I think until this point the best I had had was from the Tuscan Deli I love in Norfolk, but when Cafe Cannoli offered asked if I’d try some of theirs I couldn’t resist. That was a wise choice.
They pipe the ricotta in fresh, so you have the delight of a light, crispy case full of light but rich creamy filling. None of that dried, set, squidgy nonsense inside a rock-hard casing. They do a range of fillings and one is easily enough for a full pudding. But obviously I ordered 12…. (Six cannoli were given to me to try, but I paid for six myself too)
Jerk chicken from Negrills, Rugby
Sometimes it’s the simplest things closest to home that get overlooked. I think I’ve tried Negrills‘ jerk chicken at events in Rugby before, but perhaps hadn’t quite appreciate it until I ordered a takeaway on a Wednesday night early in lockdown.
Simple fare, well done, packed with flavour, and served up in generous portions with the friendliest service going. They do all sorts of specials, as well as other Caribbean classics and have also been helping support the community during lockdown.
Negrills, 128 Railway Terrace, Rugby CV21 3HE
All the baked goods from Revel Bakery
I’ve raved about Revel Bakery before so I won’t go on and on. I’ll be eternally grateful to Lac for teaching me how to make bread just before lockdown which has not only kept us in carbs and comfort, but helped me discover the joys and therapy that comes with kneading, proving and shaping a loaf.
In between that, Revel has been open for all my cake, pastry and dough needs, from epic Opera to Pastei de Nata, quiches and all manor of sweet treats. They’re back open and I think you can also still get their produce delivered so take a look online. (Paid in full)
Revel Bakery, 7 Churchside Arcade, Little Church St, Rugby CV21 3AW
Fruit and veg from Manor Farm Shop
Another of the farm shops to really seize the bull by the horn when lockdown hit, Manor Farm at Catthorpe has been a mainstay of the food and drink scene around Rugby, providing fruit and veg boxes, meat, cheeses, and an enormous range of frozen meals and ingredients.
I’d been once before but had forgotten how wonderful it was until we ordered a fruit and veg box to collect. My mum also started doing her shopping there instead of the supermarket and has had brilliant service. It’s continually adapted, adding outdoor seating to serve snacks (pre-booked and pre-timed of course) and has even been doing PYO strawberries. A lovely place right on our doorstep and one I shouldn’t overlook. (Paid in full)
Manor Farm Shop, Main St, Catthorpe, Lutterworth LE17 6DB
Scotch eggs from the Seven Stars
The Seven Stars is a proper boozer and one of our favourites in Rugby. No fussiness, just a proper pub where we can take the dogs, enjoy a nice drink, and tuck into one of their homemade scotch eggs or a pork pie.
Lucky for us, while they couldn’t open their doors, they carried on doing takeaway beer and making scotch eggs so we could all get our fix. They’re reopening on July 22 and need our support, so if you’re local, get down there for a cheeky drink. (Paid in full)
The Seven Stars, 40 Albert Square, Rugby CV21 2SH
Smash egg from Mary’s Cupcakes
I’d almost forgotten that I ordered Jamie a little treat from Mary’s Cupcakes way back at the start of lockdown, then saw a picture of this glorious delight and had to add it in. This lovely family-run business provides sweet stuff of your dreams, from ‘goo cups’ to the ‘smash egg’ that you see above.
Think Willy Wonka, then go a bit further, and that’s what you’re looking at. If you’re wondering what the smash egg above is, it’s an easter egg, filled with sticky, sweet marshmallow with a brownie inside for good measure. Now there’s a sugar high to end all sugar highs. Unnecessary but so very, very good. (Paid in full)
The dinner to end all lockdown dinners from Elite Bistro at Home
Last but definitely not least in any way, shape or form, is the meal I ordered as our kind of ‘last lockdown dinner’ the night before July 4 when everything was due to reopen. I have no doubt we’ll do a few more meals like this now we’ve discovered the joys of eating amazing food without having to put shoes on or organise a dog sitter, but this one felt like a milestone.
After much perusal of menus, I ordered something a bit further afield than usual and went for Elite Bistro at Home. The brainchild of chef Gary Usher and his team, it was already a hit on social media by the time I ordered and having tried it it’s obvious why.
Don’t just trust me. Google it and you’ll see a bucketload of effusive reviews from people far more qualified. We ordered burrata and octopus to start, then Aubrey Allen’s 50-day aged sirloin complete with Mrs Kirkham’s cauliflower cheese and a glazed carrot, as well as red wine sauce. I added some fine beans as well as Yorkshire Parkin for dessert and we were done.
Predictably (and delightfully), the food was brilliant – clearly the product of some serious work. Just the right amount of work was needed to heat or cook various bits, with clear instructions on paper as well as social media. While I do love a restaurant meal and not having to deal with the washing up, there’s something quite fun (and challenging) about having to finish things off yourself and try to plate up, restaurant-style, whilst quaffing wine and listening to your own playlist.
So there you have it. Most, but not all, of our lockdown treats. Weeks’ worth of memories, unnecessary treats, local discoveries, special purchases and food adventures without even leaving the house. I know it’s been rubbish at times, but lockdown is something I’ll never forget. I’m just glad I had food to help me get through it…