Review: Pickled Crab supper clubs in Warwickshire
April 18, 2024

[Disclosure: I was invited to enjoy the Pickled Crab supper club for free. We paid for our own drinks]

Nigel Keller-Godwin doesn’t mess around when it comes to his food. Ask anyone who has met him and they’ll agree he is a bit of a force of nature. He doesn’t suffer fools, doesn’t mince his words, and doesn’t really worry too much about people-pleasing or schmoozing.

He’s also uncompromising when it comes to his food, and we all know that for a chef that is no bad thing at all. Quite the opposite.

Warwickshire people will know Nigel from The Pickled Crab on Smith Street in Warwick, a restaurant serving up his creations from the fresh fish counter he ran there. He offered a decent line in street food too when Covid meant we couldn’t eat in, and I have fond memories of devouring his fish tacos in St Nicholas Park when we were finally allowed to meet our pals, even if it was to walk aimlessly around while everywhere stayed closed.

The Pickled Crab’s Warwick venue came to an end and Nigel has been off pursuing his private cheffing and events in the Cotswolds – whose gain was our loss. But now he’s back offering supper clubs across Warwickshiree, showcasing his style that couples his fine dining background in Michelin-starred restaurants with a confidence to experiment and a love of raw ingredients, whether it’s fresh dayboat fish or foraged ingredients from our Midlands countryside.

His first venue was No 75 on Bedford Street in Leamington Spa – a pop-up dining concept launched by House. With a huge team of just one other chef, Nigel laid on a full tasting menu showing off not just fish cookery, but his skill at pretty much every element of a multi-course menu.

Pickled crab snack 1

After a brief intro from Nigel – a theme which continued throughout the meal and lent a personal feel to what other than that was very much a restaurant feel thanks to the layout of the room and level of service – we got cracking.

Salmon ‘cornettos’ – simple, delicate, and a showcase of salmon tartare without too much complication. Nigel’s homemade wholemeal bread was perfectly baked, but it was the hoisin butter and duck crackling that stole the show, narrowly beating his imaginative plate decor when it came to attention-grabbing elements in front of us.

It’s a reminder that nothing is ever ‘just’ something with Nigel – every element has to be just right, whether it’s bread and butter, a salmon tartare, or a carefully constructed course of food.

Pickled Crab supper club

Pickled Crab

A smoked duck taco is where things really get going. One of the courses of the night in my humble opinion, while it comprises a fair few elements, none detract from the star of the show – Udale duck aged in Himalayan salt chambers then smoked, teamed with earthy ceps and a tastebud-twanging pop thanks to sherry vinegar gel. A hit with everyone it seemed, and an education in flavour balance.

Pickled crab duck

Cotswold white chicken was transformed into a contrast of textures – a rillette-style tower topped with a deep fried, breaded chicken oyster. The tried and tested combination of chicken and asparagus brought spring simplicity to the plate, and the fried oyster all the undeniable enjoyment of crowd-pleasing fried chicken, but the soft texture of the other element was not to everyone’s taste. I’m still undecided, and I guess there’s an argument that the most creative cuisine challenges us, but I’ll stick to conventional chicken I think.

chicken pickled crab

The same goes for Mi Cuit chalk stream trout. Mi cuit translates as partially cooked – in our case cured, then confit’d in rapeseed oil. It created a striking colour, and excellent flavour, especially when coupled with crunchy pickled fennel, citrus heavy curd from Easy Peelers, and a dusting of foraged sea truffle.

Powerful, punchy flavours that I could eat again and again, but that seemed slightly at odds with a slightly mushy texture, where I usually would have enjoyed a bit of bite from a piece of fish like this. That said, there’s no denying that the execution was exactly what Nigel set out to achieve, and if that comes with a challenge for some of us more used to traditional flavours and textures, then so be it. You don’t come to the Pickled Crab for food you can get everywhere else, you come for something different, and this was definitely it.

Trout pickled crab

That said, the penultimate course was both crowd-pleasing and adventurous. A cube of excellently-cooked belly pork, served with a nugget of Scottish lobster. A winning combination, their richness tempered by the sourness of homemade kimchi and a citrus hit from lime gel. An Asian-inspired theme helped by the addition of Bok Choi and a jus to bring the whole plate together. A triumph, and the kind of course that stays in your memory and you hope he’ll serve again.

Pork belly

The same can be said for the dessert, which didn’t float my boat based on the description, but delivered a life lesson that just because something might not suit us ‘on paper’, the reality can be very different.

Soft, moist banana bread, buried under a perfect quenelle of creamy banana parfait. The softness and smoothness of these elements balanced by a chewy crumb and crispy Tuile perched on top, and the whole dish brought together with the sexy indulgence of Dulche de Leche. Simple, winning pudding flavours, notched up a gear by skill and presentation into a a dessert any high end restaurant would be more than happy with.

pickled crab dessert

While supper clubs can sometimes feel informal and occasionally amateur, Nigel’s own uncompromising standards when it comes to what he serves seemed to feed through the whole evening, from the way we were welcomed and escorted to our table, to service that didn’t miss a beat.

Yet all this came with a friendliness and informality that turned the venue into a bustling restaurant atmosphere, where a decent wine list kept everyone well hydrated, and decent decor and ambience ensured the perfect environment for a one-off experience.

Except lucky for us, it’s not a one-off, and Nigel has plenty more supper clubs planned, not only in Leamington but elsewhere in Warwickshire. At £79 for six courses of food of this quality and an experience you won’t get in many other places, it’s safe to say, we’re lucky to have Nigel back in our neck of the woods. And I for one plan to take full advantage.

Find out more about the Pickled Crab supper clubs and how to book here.