[Disclosure: I was invited for a complimentary meal and drinks at The White Lion to review for this blog]
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Peach Pubs know what they’re doing. For someone who loves an independent, that occasionally leaves me wondering if I’ve sold out slightly given Peach seems to be growing – and quickly. But their latest Warwickshire addition – The White Lion in Radford Semele – is evidence that these guys haven’t lost any of the individuality, care and passion that makes independents win our hearts.
For those who don’t know (and if you don’t, this proves my point), Peach is the group behind The Rose & Crown in Warwick, The Star & Garter in Leamington, the Almanack in Kenilworth and The One Elm in Stratford-upon-Avon, plus a fair few more gradually spreading south and east.
They’ve been around for 20 years in Warwick and each of their places seems to be a hit in its own town, offering good food, great service, and the perfect balance of consistency of quality, yet its own atmosphere and personality that makes it feel like an indy.
The White Lion is their latest Warwickshire addition. The thatched pub reopened its doors in June after being done up by Peach so after giving it a few weeks to settle down, we went along to check it out.
Like many pub refurbs, the reopening came with the promise that the village pub had been brought back to life, retaining its former charm and character while being brought up to date and appealing to a 2022 audience. That’s exactly what they’ve done.
The classic exterior gives way to an interior that’s been well done. Old beams, exposed brickwork and the snugs and nooks you’d expect in an older building. But those sit alongside a bright garden room with bifold doors, a new bar and a clever mix of wooden furniture and vibrant upholstery.
The inside is lovely, but it’s the garden that really wows. Not only has the huge space been well landscaped, but they’ve created a sprawling terrace complete with lounging sofas and tables for al fresco lunches and suppers, while a pergola adds shelter when its cool and shade if a heatwave happens to descend again.
So far so good. The White Lion is a lovely place to sit and enjoy a drink, whether inside on an autumn or winter’s day, or outdoors on a 30-something degree day like the one we visited in. But it’s never just about the looks is it. If the food is pants, there are plenty of other pretty-looking places in Leamington and wider Warwickshire.
Happily, Peach also know what they’re doing when it comes to the food. Head Chef at The White Lion is Stefan Elliot, whose career has included Michelin-starred Northcote Manor and work in Spain with Sergi Arola, friend of the late Paul Bocuse.
Add an experienced chef that a focus on decent ingredients that goes beyond words and shines through in their flavour and quality. Steaks from Aubrey Allen, who need no introduction. Fish from day boats that changed on a regular basis. Imaginative vegan and vegetarian options. Classics done well and other imaginative twists to keep an audience somewhere like Leamington, where good food abounds, interested.
We start with bread and big fat gordal olives, a pint for Jamie and a glass of NYE Timber for me. To be fair, even this first drink is a tough choice given the array of cocktails, fizz, gins and spritzes on offer.
The food menu offers similar variety but it’s the specials board – literally a board brought to the table which makes a nice change from a scrappy bit of paper or having to traipse inside to look at something mounted on the wall – that gets our attention.
For me, a simple starter of burratina – basically burrata – with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, crispy chunks of bread, leaves and a decent quality olive oil. It’s simple but it’s perfect for a summer’s day, washed down with a glass of rose recommended to us by our waitress whose name I stupidly forgot to ask but whose skills at service were yet more evidence of how Peach gets it right.
For Jamie, another simple special. Aubrey Allen beef carpaccio, cut wafer thin and served with black garlic truffle mayo, rocket and parmesan. All the classics, a boatload of umami and nothing too filling or heavy.
The theme of simplicity, allowing quality ingredients to shine and doing just enough to bring them into their own without messing too much, continues. His main is a classic, and while we might ordinarily be sceptical of the prospect of lobster about as far from the sea as you can get, given Peach’s dedication to doing things properly it’s a temptation too much to resist.
It’s done the best way it can be, in my opinion. With garlic butter, fries and salad. The claw meat has been helpfully removed, making it an easy eat for any landlubbers who might not be up for cracking into lobster shell and pulling a crustacean apart with their fingers.
It tastes great. The meat is sweet, tender and fresh, emphasised by the garlic butter. And yes, it’s another perfect summer dish.
My chicken schnitzel is the perfect advert for a schnitzel – a dish I grew up with courtesy of my mum, who always vowed to make them better than the flattened, cardboard-like creations her own Czech mum served up when she was a girl.
Mine is free range chicken, still fat and moist, covered in golden, herb-laced breadcrumbs. A generous chunk of garlic and parsley butter perches on top, melting slowly into the chicken beneath, adding flavour without taking away from the crunch of the breadcrumbs. And if it’s crunch you like, you’ll be overjoyed at the addition of crispy chicken skin on top.
It’s the star of the show, with fries and some rocket and parmesan as the support acts and while it’s another light, summery dish perfect for an August menu, it’s a generous enough portion to leave me more than satisfied.
As we wait for dessert, we meet general manager Lianne, who is yet more proof that this group gets it. To create consistently good venues, you need decent people who can lead teams, build them, and make sure that your values run from top to bottom.
Lianne’s spent four years at the helm of another Peach pub, The Swan Salford near Milton Keynes, and her dedication to the company and to what she does is clear. With her running the show, I’m fairly sure the standards we’ve seen at The White Lion are here to stay.
We finish with an English classic – an individual pavlova. The twist is passionfruit curd, which is studded with fresh raspberries and sits underneath a meringue top. In an ideal world, I’d have had a slightly more chewy texture to my meringue within its crispy exterior, but that’s very much a personal thing.
It’s a great meal. A great experience. I won’t go on. The White Lion ticks all the boxes, because the people behind it have 20 years experience of getting it right. They could have got lazy, but they haven’t. So lucky us, because The White Lion is yet another great addition to Warwickshire.