[Ad – we were invited to the Star & Garter in Leamington for a bit of a showcase of everything they offer, from their vegan meals to Chase vodkas and gins and more. I wasn’t asked to write a post but thought it might be nice to share]
I’ve written about the Star & Garter in Leamington on this blog before. One of the Peach Pubs family, it’s a great pub in Leamington that has always (in my experience) offered consistent food alongside good service and been a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Long before the world stopped turning, we were invited for a bit of an updated visit to the Star & Garter. It may be a firm favourite in Leamington but that doesn’t mean things don’t always change. Manager Hollie Hawkins took the helm in September 2019 and head chef Stefan Elliott came on board last autumn, so they wanted to show us everything great about the Star & Garter, and what they think makes them stand out.
The evening took place in the private dining room upstairs in the Star & Garter, which I actually didn’t even realise they had, where we started with a little tasting of some gins and vodkas from Chase Distillery. If you haven’t heard of these guys, take a look. They have a great story, and make rather lovely spirits too.
Of course, I was there for the food and we were in for a real showcase of everything on offer, starting with groaning boards of Capreolus charcuterie and bread from Oxfordshire’s Brown Sugar Bakery.
Capreolus are a Dorset-based producer of English charcuterie using local meat and it was great to try a selection of their wares – if you can, try the lomo, it was a particular favourite.
If that wasn’t enough to ‘start’ a meal, we hit a few starters to give Stefan and his kitchen the chance to show off what they can do. A ‘tasting’ the Star & Garter’s deli plates included some of the best falafel I have tried in a long time in the form of their beetroot version, alongside flatbreads, coconut yoghurt and baba ganoush.
Also up was a starter dish of native scallops with cauliflower puree, black pudding and pickled apple. A classic combination yes, and wonderfully executed.
I think I’ve said this previously but one of the things I like about Peach Pubs is that while they’re ambitious, they appreciate that often when people go to a gastropub they want the assurance of tried-and-tested dishes and flavours, done well, that they can enjoy in relaxing surroundings. Innovation’s great, but innovation for innovation’s sake can be too much – and the smart places know the difference.
Somewhere in my food fantasy archives, there’s a world where every meal includes two starters, two mains and two desserts. My waistline and general health is probably thanking me that that world isn’t real (well, unless I actively created it) but for one night it was fun to try.
Our ‘first’ main course was Skrei cod loin with brown butter, capers, shaved fennel and new potatoes. We had a helpful explanation from Stefan of what Skrei cod is, but for those of you who don’t have a chef on hand to talk you through it, Skrei is a type of Norwegian Cod that’s only in season from January to April each year.
It’s got a slightly different texture to normal cod – more robust and firm – yet with a delicate flavour. Again, served classically to allow the cod itself to shine, and it was a great course.
If that wasn’t enough, we also had the chance to try roast Cornish lamb sourced from Aubrey Allen, and served with broad beans, peas, button onions and new potatoes.
Each portion included cushion of lamb as well as noisette, combined with sweet onions and broad beans which in my view are hugely under-rated. An ode to spring on a plate I reckon and, again, simple flavours, artfully combined and using good quality produce. The stuff gastropubs should be about.
The fantasy continued with double dessert. Wouldn’t it be great if every meal had double dessert, especially when they’re like this. First up, the comfort food one of the gang. Sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream. Moist sponge, toe-curlingly sweet, steaming hot, and shrouded in rich toffee sauce, topped with a perfect sphere of proper vanilla ice-cream.
Up second, a slightly ‘posher’ dessert choice of tiramisu cheesecake with espresso martini crumb. I was determined only to try a small mouthful. It didn’t work. Its tiramisu cheesecake a step too far? No folks, it isn’t. It’s heaven on a plate.
Just in case we weren’t convinced of the Star & Garter’s ability to throw a good bash and serve up decent food (and wine – we tried a South African Chenin exclusive to Peach as well as a red that I think was a Douro) then they wheeled out the cheese.
All five of the cheeses they offer, to be precise. Which include Camembert Gillot, Rutland Red, Strathearn, Blanche Goats and Northern Blue, which was my absolute fave. All served with water biscuits, apple and chutney. A fitting end to a feast fit for kings.
Of course, I get that this was a special treat. I appreciate that we were wined and dined with what was basically a meal for two people EACH. But what you’ll be pleased to know is that everything we had is on the Star & Garter’s menu and I’m 99% sure will be as good as it was that night.
As I alluded to earlier, this isn’t the first time I’ve had positive things to say about Peach Pubs and that’s not for any reason other than the fact that they’re good at what they do. They source things properly, they know their stuff, they know what they are and who their customers are, and they provide what they want.
The night we went for our treat, the Star & Garter’s manager Hollie described it as a premium gastro pub and she’s absolutely spot on. The food is great without being inaccessible, it’s ambitious without being lofty, and the whole environment is designed to create what most of us want out of a good dining experience – fun, quality and full of good food.