[Disclosure: We dined for free at The Queen & Castle for their soft launch.]
I’ve only been to The Queen & Castle in Kenilworth once before. We’d been for a walk around Kenilworth Castle, which sits just opposite, then had a bit of lunch. Soup and a sandwich I think. It was pleasant.
Jamie has far more extensive memories. Mixed ones too. Happy because on a regular basis his family would go to The Queen & Castle for dinner when it was a Beefeater. Less happy because those family meals meant he missed Baywatch….
Either way, both of our experiences were some time ago and it’s safe to say the Queen & Castle is somewhat different now. It closed in mid-July for an extensive renovation and has now reopened with a swanky new interior. There’s also a new menu that promises: “an exciting new social dining and drinking experience, featuring fresh flavours inspired by modern world-food trends and packed full of delicious dishes”. Sounds promising, albeit rather complicated – really we want to know is it a good pub restaurant and is the food nice, right?
The transformation is definitely impressive. A large, impressively-landscaped garden perfect for summer days and evenings. An interior that’s equally as huge, but divided into various different spaces and rooms, lending a cosy feel despite the cavernous size of the building. It definitely feels fairly opulent, yet still cosy – all-important in what is essentially still a pub in a small, quaint town.
The ‘all day’ menu is an all-encompassing tome of starters, small plates, mains, salads, dishes from the rotisserie and grill and burgers and pizzas. It’s not the only menu. There’s brunch, there’s lunch, there’s Sunday lunch. There’s also a vegan menu and a dedicated kids menu. In short, if you can’t find something you like here, you’re probably the world’s pickiest eater.
The small plates menu is divided into ‘classics’ and ‘faraway flavours’ so between the four of us we went for a mixture. Chipotle fried chicken with a smoky chilli jam was the most popular on the table, but panko breaded brie with a sweet, tangy apricot and ginger chutney was a surprise hit with me.
My own ‘Som Tam beef’ was fragrant, tender strips of beef with a crunchy, refreshing pickled slaw. Something a bit different and a choice for those who want to steer clear of the ‘classics’ you find in a fair few other places.
Pan-fried king prawns with chilli and feta had a shakshuka look about it.
As tempting as the array of main courses looked, I found myself ordering a steak. The 70z fillet was cooked just right, tender and had plenty of flavour, though the crispy onion rosti it came with nearly stole the show. Why don’t we eat onion rosti with every meal?
If I have one criticism, it’s that if you ask where the meat is from you’ll be told – as per the website – that it’s from ‘British and Irish farms’. Understandable given the way some companies procure their produce, and I appreciate that not every restaurant or pub has a one-to-one relationship with a small, artisan supplier, but in a world where provenance is so very important, I wonder if there’s a way of being a bit more specific.
That said, Jamie agreed that the ribeye was also a good steak, and the meal put together as well as any other gastro pub’s take on a classic steak and chips meal.
As good as the steak was, I’ll confess to having a bit of food envy when I saw my friend Ness’ (food blogger Hungriness – go check her out on Instagram) meal. The maple-glazed pork belly came in hefty chunks, with a good balance of fat and meat, while the addition of a pulled pork and cider bonbon added another dimension.
There was a sexy slab of dauphinoise potatoes, some tenderstem broccoli that hadn’t had the pants boiled off it, a smear of celeriac and apple puree, and a shiny Bordelaise sauce. Predictable flavour combinations, yes. But if it ain’t broke, why try to fix it, especially if you’re going to execute it well, which The Queen & Castle did.
The mains were washed down with a bottle of wine from the rather extensive menu , before we all piled in to the most obvious dessert choice – a Lotus Biscoff chocolate bomb. Yes, the melting of a chocolate sphere with hot sauce is possibly overdone these days, but I’m not sure it ever really gets old. Especially when it combines chocolate brownie with biscoff in said melted sphere. Is this a dessert that challenges the tastebuds and sparks conversation about flavour and texture? Probably not. Is it a sugar and calorie-loaded plate of joy that’s the definition of indulgence? Yes. And I’m more than okay with that.
Safe to say, we had a great time at The Queen & Castle. It’s been a stalwart of Kenilworth’s pub scene for a long time now and this revamp will probably secure its future for a long while more. The service was slightly slow on our visit, with a few long gaps between courses and for plates to be cleared, and given the size of the building, it’s going to be a challenge for any team to keep up with the sheer numbers of covers if the entire upstairs and downstairs is fully booked.
However, that’s the whole point of soft launches and preview nights. To have a practice run and iron out any problems, and to allow a team to bed in, so I don’t think we need to judge too harshly. A lot of time, thought and money has gone into bringing the Queen & Castle up to the standards of a great gastropub and if it lives up to the night we had on an ongoing basis, it’s definitely one to add to the list – somewhere you’d even be willing to miss Baywatch for!