Review: The George, Kilsby (near Rugby)
September 23, 2022

[Disclosure: We were given a complimentary meal at The George for the purposes of this blog. We paid for all of our drinks, bar one]

It’s a tough old time for pubs. Not just right now, but for the past few years. And not just certain pubs, but all pubs. According to recent stats, since 2000, a quarter of pubs have closed in the UK, and thousands more are expected to close due to rising energy prices and the cost of living crisis. A bleak picture.

Which is why, at this difficult time, it’s even more heartening to see the opposite happening – a pub reopening its doors despite an undoubtedly difficult climate. Even better when it opens and its future seems promising, rather than condemned.

George Kilsby

The George at Kilsby, a village just outside Rugby that straddles the border of Northamptonshire and Warwickshire, is one such pub. It closed its doors several years ago, leaving the historic building (which is believed to have been built by the navvies working on the Kilsby tunnel) empty, and while people in Kilsby still had another pub to go to in the form of the Red Lion, seeing a once-popular village pub empty and dark is never a nice sight to see. 

And then early this year it was announced that it would reopen. Not just that, but it would do so after having £300,000 spent on modernising and sprucing it up, and it would open with someone a bit different at the helm. Chef patron Hari Krishnamurthy who, rather than having a background in pulling pints, has spent his 20-year career in kitchens across the world, including Dubai, Muscat and Singapore, as well as training under 3 Michelin starred chef George Blanc, in Vonnes France. Back in the UK, he’s also worked at The Belfry, Resorts World Birmingham and Walton Hall Hotel.

Hari may be all about the food, but for you pub-goers out there, don’t worry.  There’s still plenty of beer on offer. And cocktails, and wine, and anything else you’d like. But there’s also a great new food offering that makes sure you can still get pub classics like steak and chips or pizzas cooked on a wood-fired oven, whilst also getting a taste of Hari’s background and heritage. 

Some might say this review is well-timed. It’s always hard to judge a place in its early days as staff – both front of house and in the kitchen – are still finding their feet. But leave it too long and you’ve almost missed the boat. Given the fact it was packed on the Wednesday evening we visited, it seems clear that the cat’s already out of the bag. The George is back, and It’s good. 

The George Kilsby
George Kilsby

The interior has been changed – transformed even – both in style and layout. With the bar moved to allow a more open an airy space, and two dining areas with plenty of seating. Given staffing difficulties these days, I often head into places expecting a poor show, but am pleased to say the exact opposite happened here, with a warm, reassuringly calm and slick welcome from Andrea, who is no stranger to the village, having worked in various places for years. Having someone local at the right hand side of a relative newcomer to the area is a savvy move, and perhaps partly responsible for its early popularity.

The menu, as mentioned, is a crowd-pleasing mix. It could be, I’m sure, tempting for Hari to go all out and show us his heritage and experience by whacking a load of South Indian dishes on the menu. And in fact, there’d probably be an appetite for that from plenty of people., But he also realises where he is, and that a village pub often thrives on its quintessential pub dishes, hence keeping them on the menu while teasing us with little tastes of something slightly less traditional. 

The starters are perfect examples. Jamie goes for the Goan Pork Scotch Egg – a play on a classic that gives a nod to Hari’s heritage. The pork mince is nicely spiced, fragrant and with a pleasant warmth, while a mustard emulsion ups the ante on the heat stakes. It comes with pickled red onion for a sour tang, while puffed rice adds texture.

George Kilsby

The only downfall is the yolk. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it overdone – there’s still a soft squidginess to it, but we agree we’d like it a touch more jammy for that full spectrum of textures in the scotch egg as a whole. 

I was always going to order the XO Prawn Momos, partly because it’s not something you’d ever expect to see on a village pub menu and partly because my friend Lou (check out Foodie Lou Travels on Instagram – you won’t regret it) gave them her seal of approval.

It was the right decision to make. Soft, light prawn dumplings, cooked well to ensure a bit of chew from the beautifully-ridged casing before reaching the yielding, sweet prawn inside. Alone, they might be a bit too delicate for some, but its the sauce that makes it. The sweetness of chilli, salty savoury umami soy, and a heat that envelopes the dumplings, tickling them into something far from delicate and leaving you wondering if four of these little clamshell-shaped beauties will be enough,

George Kilsby

It’s the kind of dish that makes you excited for the next course – and in my case glad that I’ve stuck to exploring the dishes that showcase Hari’s South Indian cooking. Fish and chips, burgers, pizzas and pasta might be national faves, but show me a dish of Keralan Tiger Prawns and roasted Cornish cod and I’m there.

The aroma is enough to suggest I’ve made the right decision and the flavour confirms it. Spice-laden, muted by coconut milk to form a classic Keralan moilee fish curry. The thin sauce is laced with prawns and chunks of butternut squash, while the cod is cooked enough to be tender but hasn’t lost its texture. Samphire (one of my favourites) adds a crunchy saltiness and that unmistakeable taste of the sea. The basmati rice is, predictably, beautiful and a welcome break from the microwaved pap you so often get served up in pubs.

George Kilsby

Jamie goes for the chargrilled Argentinian ribeye steak. I hear a fellow diner was furious at the fact it’s Argentinian rather than British, and I agree that the question needs to be asked, but The George is far from the only pub to still be buying meat from overseas, and the saving grace is that it appears to be good quality.

It’s 28-day matured and they sous vide it before searing it ahead of serving. I understand why. I’m no expert, but plenty of people reverse sear steak – cook it on a low heat, then finish it on high heat for the ‘sear’ (or Maillard reaction for the scientific people). I’m sure it works brilliantly in some cases, but given that Jamie likes a rare steak I’m not quite sure it works in every single situation and he agrees that while it’s tasty and succulent, he would have been as happy with a classically cooked steak that’s whacked on the grill.

If sides are what you like, you’re spoiled here with every grill dish coming with both truffle mash and fries, rather than you having to choose. There’s a fresh crispy slaw and a portion of roasted garlic mushrooms and a choice of sauces to please all tastes. It’s a good steak – just maybe not the greatest I’ve ever had.

The George Kilsby

We’re full but I’m assured by Andrea, as well as Amy who is proof that the front of house’s expertise isn’t limited to one person but extends across the whole team, that avoiding dessert is unacceptable. We go for white chocolate cookie dough because who doesn’t like cookie dough? Served in a cast iron skillet, it’s soft, yielding and sweet as hell. Then topped with ice cream, toffee sauce, white chocolate shavings and marshmallow just to ensure that any sugar high really is the real deal.

George Kilsby

As ever, my picture doesn’t do it justice, but kind of reflects the reality. Which is that it’s not delicate, intricate and an aesthetic work of art, but is sweet as hell, easy to scoff and the perfect pub pudding. Which really is all you want sometimes.

I’m guilty of waxing lyrical about local places because I desperately want to see my town and the areas around it thrive when it comes to food and drink. But I’d never tell you somewhere was good if it wasn’t. And the truth is, my opinion doesn’t count more than anyone else’s. But we’ll take the fact that The George has opened to a great reception and is already packed out on a week night as confirmation that they’re doing something right.

It’s also the start of a journey. We’re being teased a little with chef Hari’s experience and background while everyone gets used to a great local pub being open again. But personally, I can’t wait until we see a little more of that and can taste more of where those prawn momos and that curry came from. At the moment, we’ve got a lovely village pub doing classics and a couple of interesting additions – but soon it really could be a unique offering for our area.

[Disclosure: We were given a complimentary meal at The George for the purposes of this blog. We paid for all of our drinks, bar one]