Review: No. 34 Garden & Grill, Warwick
June 6, 2022

[Disclosure: Caviar & Chips Group, which owns No. 34 Garden & Grill, is a client of mine. My work for them doesn’t include reviewing their venues, but I was given a complimentary meal for the purposes of this blog]

It’s a brave move to take an established pub in a fairly traditional town then change pretty much everything about it – from its appearance and its offering to its name. Yet that’s exactly what Caviar & Chips Hospitality Group, who also own the Virgins & Castle in Kenilworth, did when they took on the old Racehorse pub in Warwick and turned it into No. 34 Garden & Grill.

Unmissable thanks to the whacking great big metal horse out the front (which is still there, by the way), the Racehorse was somewhat of an institution in Warwick, though perhaps not for the best of reasons.

Still, taking it from traditional pub on the outskirts of town to what they dub a ‘botanical dining destination’ is bold. Especially when you combine that with launching a menu that is half dedicated to completely plant-based options, leaving the rest for high quality, sustainably sourced meat and fish dishes.

Despite these fairly major changes that to some may be a step too far for a familiar venue, it seems that yes, the guys at C&C may be pulling it off.

No 34 Garden & Grill
No. 34 Garden & Grill
No. 34 Garden & Grill
No. 34 Garden & Grill

I was there at their launch, where they showed off a bright, airy space complete with all the greenery and foliage that comes with somewhere that describes itself as ‘botanical’. There were free drinks, canapes, a band and lots of fun. But we all know that it’s not the launch that really matters in the long run – it’s what goes on afterwards.

After giving them a few weeks to find their feet, I went back with some fellow food-loving friends for the proper dinner experience. We go on a Wednesday when it’s fairly quiet but still manages to have a nice atmosphere.

A platter loaded with bread appears as we try to decide what to eat, flitting between the plant-based ‘Garden’ side of the menu and the ‘Grill’ side that boasts everything from a burger to a bacon chop and a couple of fish options if you don’t fancy the more meaty courses on the menu.

No. 34 Garden & Grill

Starters at No. 34 Garden & Grill

As tempted as I am by some of the plant-based dishes, the chicken terrine wins me over to start. I’m no terrine expert but I imagine some may say it should have been more compressed. I think it’s great as it is – generous chunks of chicken, well seasoned and laced with leek then wrapped in bacon.

The addition of crispy chicken skin adds texture and dresses it up a bit, while the cherry gel brings sweet and spice to pep things up a bit and there’s a hazelnut dressing that brings a bit of crunch to the dish.

No. 34 Garden & Grill
No. 34 Garden & Grill

No. 34 Garden & Grill

My pals both go for Parmesan and soft herb gnocchi from the garden menu which proves to be a brave choice given the portion size. The dumplings themselves are comfort food personified – big fat pillows of carbs smothered in a garlic cream sauce and topped with pea shoots and lettuce.

I’m simultaneously jealous and somewhat relieved that I haven’t had to tackle such a hefty portion ahead of a main course. But it’s fair to say this kind of generosity in volume of  food will most likely quell some people’s questions around the prices on the menu – which while not unreasonable at all in my view are perhaps somewhat higher than the former venue’s offering.

No. 34 Garden & Grill main courses

My sea trout tastes as fresh as it looks. It feels a bit like the personification of what No. 34 is trying to do, showcasing great ingredients, treating them well and turning them into pretty plates of food that taste as good as they look.

No. 34 Garden & Grill

 

No. 34 Garden & Grill
No. 34 Garden & Grill

The fish is cooked brilliantly – crispy skin, soft, moist flesh. It sits on a softened mount of savoy cabbage, carrot and celeriac that’s laced with salty pancetta. The garlic cream is the same that comes with the gnocchi but since I haven’t already had it I’m happy to enjoy its light delicate flavour that works well with the fish.

One of my friend’s has the same and struggles to finish her main after that huge portion of gnocchi (I also forget to ask her how she feels about having the same sauce on starter and main, but since she didn’t mention it I imagine it wasn’t a problem). She agrees that it’s a great main but wishes she’d had a slightly smaller starter.

No. 34 Garden & Grill
No. 34 Garden & Grill

Another friend has the bacon chop that’s thick and substantial and comes with a pot of pineapple and chilli salsa that looks as fresh and complementary as it sounds, while the thick cut chips very mch do the job at showing that the guys behind No. 34 know not to mess with things like decent chips.

They also know their way around an onion ring, judging by the gargantuan, perfectly fried wheels that arrive as her side portion.

Desserts at No. 34 Garden & Grill

The dessert menu is as generous with the vegan options as the main menu, making this a great place for people who don’t just fancy a ‘day off meat’ but want to go the whole hog. Each dessert can also come as a mini version with a hot drink, but I’m here to remind you that No. 34’s version of ‘mini’ might not be the same as yours and mine. Not a complaint, given you can never really have too much dessert, but the theme of generous portions continues right through to this final chapter of the meal.

No. 34 Garden & Grill

I go for the mini version of a warm cherry and chocolate brownie that comes with whole cherries rather than a cherry gel and a scoop of ice cream sitting on top of a mound of chocolate soil. The brownie is good, hitting the spot in texture terms and flavour.

But the star of the show is the vegan vanilla ice cream – something I would never choose by choice and admit I was sceptical about, but is a more-than-adequate substitute for the dairy version and enough to make me more open minded about going down this route in the future.

No. 34 Garden & Grill

My friend has a similar experience with her vegan vanilla chantilly that comes on the side of a raspberry Bakewell Tart and could easily pass for the real thing. She’s not particularly blown away by her tart and its ‘raspberry textures’ but there’s equally not particularly anything wrong with it. It just doesn’t send her wild.

No. 34 Garden & Grill

The verdict

There are a few things that stand out about No. 34 Garden & Grill. The fact it has exactly 50% of its menu dedicated to plant-based options isn’t just brave, but still relatively unusual, especially in a small Midlands town.

That concept isn’t just a bit different, but is well executed, with clear thought and attention put into making those vegan, meat-free and plant-based options as tasty as they can be, rather than some poor relative to the meaty stars of the show.

But the real star of the show is the service. I have no doubt the staff who served us knew why we were there, but I’ve since been back and witnessed them serving other people as well as serving me when they didn’t know who I was, and the level was just as high. From knowledge of the menu and the products behind it, to an enthusiasm for the ethos that runs through No. 34 Garden & Grill, staff training and finding the right people has clearly been a priority here, and it shows.

At a time when recruitment is hard, service is usually the first thing to suffer, so it’s refreshing to see a mid-market pub restaurant putting time, effort and undoubtedly money into trying to make sure that the way its food is served is as good as the food itself. Put the two together and you have a promising combination. Here’s hoping No. 34 is here to stay.

[Disclosure: Caviar & Chips Group, which owns No. 34 Garden & Grill, is a client of mine. My work for them doesn’t include reviewing their venues, but I was given a complimentary meal for the purposes of this blog]

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