With a farmers market and annual food festival, Leamington Spa is quite rightly showing off its great local produce, chefs and restaurants. I hope that my guide helps you navigate eating and drinking at some of my favourite venues in this compact spa town.
Food shopping in Leamington is easy and enjoyable, due to the variety of specialist stores and their knowledgeable staff. The town’s strong reputation for independent shops is thanks to the gems that can mainly be found along Regent Street and Warwick Street.
Topping up on a choice of more twenty different olive oils from Deli-Cious with recycled bottles is such a good idea, so this is usually my first stop when I am in Leamington.
My partner always has a jar of Ras Al Hanout on the go, so to try something new I picked up a bottle of Lebanese Pomegranate Molasses in Rustic Food Company, on a recommendation that it is great marinade for lamb and chicken. Rustic Food Company is the “labour of love” for owner Suzi Mehmet who was born in Leamington and has spent most of her life travelling the world and working in the service industry. The shop has a deli and a kitchen for rolls, homemade soups, quiches and sausage rolls.
The sandwich counter at Country Bumpkins is popular for their freshly made baguettes, but I was more interested in their cheese counter and was introduced to Fowlers of Earlswood who add real ale, mustard, chilli, garlic and parsley to their Warwickshire cheddar. For true frommage fans you can even have a wedding cake created with tiers of your favourite cheese.
The Daddy of all butchers, Aubrey Allen has a gourmet selection of meats and a nifty create your own BBQ box, to choose a sample of their award winning produce. I created a pack of the lamb and coriander burgers, plus the spicy Warwickshire Whizzer sausages with a blend of pork, chilli, mustard seeds and paprika.
They also have a gorgeous deli counter, with bread from Grants restaurant in Stratford, shelves stocked with a comprehensive range of olives, pasta, sauces and oils. On the way to their sandwich counter you have to walk past their fridge of fresh homemade pies, soups and gravies – even more temptation to purchase!
The Regency Fish Company has been on Regent Street for more than twenty years and is the only wet fish counter in the area. The shop offers a fantastic selection of white, oily and smoked fish plus shellfish. The staff are so helpful and they don’t mind if you are an unadventurous cook like me and end up buying one of the paella kits.
Louise at Cook will greet you with a warm welcome. This shop opened last August “to cook using the same ingredients and techniques you would at home, so everything looks and tastes homemade.” Each dish features the name of the chef who has prepared it and comes in handy portion sizes for the whole family or a party of guests. Browse the freezers for chicken, duck, lamb, beef and vegetarian meals, treat yourself to a dessert and if you live within a 30 mile radius your meals will be delivered. A new kids range is due in March.
Finding international biscuits, baked products and groceries is easy at Arden’s, with biscotti from Tuscany, cheese twists produced in the foothills of the Swiss Jura Mountains and naturally leavened Panettone from Fossano in Italy. Arden’s is also very family friendly. Mamma Me-Time has emergency nappies, baby-changing facilities, pushchair storage, toys, books and they will heat baby for you. Toddlers and young children can enjoy the ‘Bambino’ children’s menu.
Anyone with a sweet tooth will love the top quality cakes by chocolate specialist Jenny Hudson. Jenny started Sweet As in 2005 after training as a pastry chef at a number of top UK establishments, including Claridges, St Martins Lane and Konditor & Cook. She says : “I love to see the look on people’s faces when they see their cakes, and it’s even better when they taste them! That’s what keeps the passion in what I do alive.” Wedding and celebration cakes and award winning brownies made with local free range eggs , Belgian chocolate and Madagascan vanilla are just some of the treats instore.
Home cooks and bakers will find all of the kit that they need in The Cook Shop. With more than 12,000 products, the shop is an Aladdin’s cave of utensils, equipment and linens.
The Leamington Wine Company has an extensive range of wines, beers, spirits and champagnes. Whether you’re looking for a single bottle or stocking up for a party, the friendly and knowledgeable staff will help you choose something extremely quaffable. The shop also partners with Oscar’s Bistro, Aubrey Allen and the Royal Pump Rooms to host themed tastings.
Cafés, coffee shops and tea rooms
For cafés and tea rooms you really are spoilt for choice in Leamington. One of the original and most atmospheric is the Italian Corleone. With a shady walled courtyard garden outside or cosy nooks inside, you can enjoy excellent coffee and snacks with great friendly service.
Leaf tearoom and piano bar opened last summer. The vintage 40s style artwork in a contemporary bar space adds a touch of glamour to Warwick Street. Open all day for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, after dark the resident pianist plays while you enjoy drinks and sharing platters. On Friday and Saturday Leaf is open till 1am.
For a room with a view, try the Jephson’s Brasserie in the Jephson Gardens overlooking the River Leam. The restaurant was refurbished last year, by the same company that runs the Royal Pump House cafe and now seats 90 people for lunch Monday to Friday and Sunday.
Bringing a taste of Portugal to the town, Borges Patisserie has a tasty range of cakes, sandwiches, paninis, dish and soup of the day. This is where I head to whenever I have a yearning for a Pasteis de nata (custard tart).
I’ve only recently found Leamington’s only bagel shop. The Covent Garden Bagel Company is located in Covent Garden alley off Warwick Street and is due to move into bigger premises in the same alley shortly, so check their Facebook page for updates.
Savoury and sweet crêpes from Ame Souer are a nice alternative to sandwiches at lunchtime. The Breton buckwheat pancakes are filled with your choice of ingredients from ham and emmental to caramelised apples and Nutella. Apparently colloquial French for soul mates, Ame Souer has a cosy interior and is a brasserie that also offers traditional French steak and frites or moules.
Another newcomer in 2012, Vinteas has quickly established itself as a peaceful, refined venue to enjoy an extensive menu of tea blends, coffee served in cafieters and gorgeous cakes served on dainty crockery.
Bars and pubs
For me drinking in Leamington includes Voodoo, with its heated outdoorspace and Altoria for cocktails, then a trio of pubs The Clarendon, The White Horse and The Star and Garter.
With a stripped back interior, The Clarendon is a no frills pub where live music takes centre stage. The framed black and white photos of musicians that dot around the bar and pool table in give an idea of how important music is to this pub, which regularly hosts DJ sets and bands.
Try to stop yourself patting the life-size fibre glass horse, as you enter the heated courtyard garden of the town’s oldest pub The White Horse. The building was once a lemonade factory, a legacy which is continued by offering the pub making their own homemade soft drinks. A gastro-pub menu that is a cut above the rest with hot bar snacks, gammon and eggs on the Saturday brunch menu, Norfolk pork, West County beef and Shropshire chicken on the Sunday lunch menu. They also have s daily lunches, sandwiches and desserts that offer a seasonal twist on British classics.
The award winning Peach Pub Company added a new venue to their portfolio last year with The Star & Garter. A makeover restored its original fixtures and fittings and created a more spacious dining area with an open view into the kitchen. The upstairs floor has been converted into a private dining room seating 24, with its own balcony. Check their website or sign up for their newsletter to keep up to date with the regular events.
The move from basement premises in Holly Walk to a Grade II listed townhouse in Hamilton Terrace has given Restaurant 23 a patio, extra floor and room for the glamorous Morgan’s cocktail bar. Peter Knibb’s fine dining has been enchanting customers since 2006 in this excellent neighbourhood restaurant.
One of the reasons that the Queans menu is so unusual, is that owner and chef Laura likes to use local produce and suppliers. She often goes foraging in the countryside for mallow flowers and wild garlic. Laura makes a point of coming out into the restaurant to talk to diners and the combination of this warmth, enthusiasm and seasonal menu earned her a 10 out of 10 from Mathew Norman in his Saturday Telegraph review.
Rhubarb started life as a shop and now it is a ‘shabby chic’ restaurant with mismatched furniture and crockery. The eclectic personality runs to the mix of British and European dishes on the menu from tapas to roasts.
The Gallic charm of Oscar’s French bistro has won over The Guardian and diners alike with classic dishes Coq au Vin, steak and frittes, moule and tarte tartin. Look out for their new regional dinner events which are being launched this year.
Buffalo mozzarella from Campania, sun ripened tomatoes from Sicily and 24 month matured San Daniele Parma ham are just some of the authentic ingredients that make La Coppola a very popular restaurant. You can’t miss their floral and fauna display outside.
Even though is it not a vegetarian restaurant, my veggie friends make a beeline for Seasons for their tasty and reasonably priced halloumi and fig skewer with coriander couscous or polenta and asparagus salad. The family run restaurant also hosts a monthly wine evening with Lindsay Poole from Wine Poole of Warwick.
Ame Souer 102 Warwick Street http://www.amesoeur.co.uk
Arden’s 98 Regent Street http://www.ardens.co.uk
Aubrey Allen 108 Warwick Street http://www.aubreyallen.co.uk
Borges Patisserie 45 Regent Grove
Cook 89 Warwick Street http://www.cookfood.net
Corleone Caffe 108 Regent Street www.Facebook.com/Corleones
Country Bumpkins 53 Warwick Street http://www.foodgloriousfood.co.uk
Deli-Cious 104 Regent Street
Jephson Brasserie Jephson Gardens, The Parade www.rls-dining-events.co.uk/jephsons-brasserie
La Coppola 86 Regent Street http://www.lacoppola.co.uk
Leaf 116 Warwick Street https://www.facebook.com/leaf.tearooms
Oscar’s 39 Chandos Place http://www.oscarsfrenchbistro.co.uk
Queans 15 Dormer Place http://www.queans-restaurant.co.uk
Restaurant 23 34 Hamilton Terrace http://www.restaurant23.co.uk
Rhubarb 50 Warwick Street http://www.rhubarbleamingtonspa.co.uk
Seasons 115 Warwick Street http://www.seasons-restaurant.co.uk
Sweet As 7 Warwick Place http://www.sweet-as.co.uk
The Clarendon 44 – 46 Clarendon Street http://theclarendonpub.com
The Cook Shop 112 Regent Street http://www.cookshop.net
The Covent Garden Bagel Company Covent Garden Alley, Warwick Street http://www.facebook.com/The-Covent-Garden-Bagel-Co
The Leamington Wine Company 99 Warwick Street http://www.leamingtonwine.co.uk
The Regency Fish Company 49 Regent Street http://www.regencyfish.co.uk
The Rustic Food Company 129 Regent Street http://www.facebook.com/The-Rustic-Food-Company
The Star and Garter 4 – 6 Warwick Street http://starandgarterleamington.co.uk
The White Horse 4-6 Clarendon Street http://www.thewhitehorseleamingtonspa.co.uk
Vinteas 16 Park Street https://www.facebook.com/Vinteas
Warwick was one of the 370 towns bidding for the Mary Portas pilot and Government support to revitalise town centres. Unfortunately the town’s bid for funding was unsuccessful, but their media campaign and branding of ‘Warwick Rocks’ has put the pretty medieval market town in the spotlight for more than just its tourist attractions.
To research this feature I timed my visit with the monthly Famers Marketrun by Sketts in Market Place, where two stalls immediately caught my eye.
The Mini Jar Company is a small family business set up this year to produce chutneys, curds, mustards and in small individual 45ml jars. My partner quickly swooped on the Naga Chilli Peanut Butter, Naga Chilli & Garlic Mustard and Mexican Chilli Chutney (which we ate the next day on home- made burgers).
Next to this stall was a fantastic display of pies. The Brockleby family has been raising sheep and cattle on their farm since 1603. As specialist suppliers of rare and minority breed meats, they make Brockleby’s Pies with provenance, using free-range meat and organic Leicestershire flour for their pastry. From their tempting range, I thought that the Pingu Pie of smoked haddock sounded delicious.
With our first purchases made, we went shopping for more goodies.
The Golden Monkey Tea Company stocks more than 45 different blends of loose leaf tea. Displayed in open dark wooden shelving, the shop is a treasure trove of tea related gifts with teapots, cups and accessories. The teas are made only from natural products and have been ethically sourced. In addition to the familiar favourites, the selection also includes organic and very rare teas.
Deli The Bakehouse, has a selection of fresh pasties, bread, over 30 varieties of Artisan cheeses, cooked meats, smoked fish, fresh pasta salad bar, drinks and delicious home-made cakes. Another family run business Rumps the Butcher,with its smart black and gold colour scheme, is a cut above your average butcher with carefully sourced local meats. The Privilege Club membership is a good way of benefitting from their special offers and free delivery.
Warwick’s multi award winning Gastro-pub the Rose & Crown has another accolade in the trophy cabinet. 28 year old Head Chef Rob Hartwell has won the Pub Restaurant of the Year award, so that’s where we headed for lunch. My partner chose the roast of the day, which on Saturday is gammon with all of the trimmings and I enjoyed a fish board all to myself. With the mini prawn cocktail, salt cod brandade, goujons, smoked mackerel fillet, pickled cucumber and warm pitta I consumed a week’s worth of omega 3 fish oils in one meal!
I have a sweet tooth, so wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity of a piece of cake mid afternoon. There are a trio of traditional tea rooms in the town centre’s historic buildings. Nearest the castle is the Thomas Oken Tea Rooms with ground floor and first floor nooks to enjoy a selection of cakes and tea time treats. All of which are served on fine bone china and where possible, produce is sourced locally or is homemade.
Housed in the 14th century Lord Leycester Hospital on the High Street is Brethren’s Kitchen. The timber beamed ceiling, wooden tables and china tea sets have a quaint charm where traditional home cooked fare, cakes, scones, cream teas and daily lunch specials are served.
Tucked away in Old Iron Yard off Market Place, is Wylie’s Tearooms & Food Emporium. Housed in a 16th century building, with many original features, diners can sit in the kitchen with the original range and water pump, or the parlour with the original fireplace. Their shop is crammed with old-fashioned sweets, biscuits and chocolate and I couldn’t resist buying a bar of peanut butter chocolate. On the way out of the town centre, add Pastelaria to your list as they serve Portugese coffee and cakes, including those gorgeous custard tarts Pastel de nata.
For supper there are a variety of cuisines to try. Aqua is often a pitstop for the social media group Warwick TweetUp on their nights out. Bringing a kasbah vibe to historic Warwick, this colourful Lebanese place serves cocktails,kebabs and mezzes. In the garden is a tented area to eat al fresco and smoke sheesha pipes. Despite all of the snacks we had already consumed, my partner noted the mouthwatering Laham bil Bamia tender lamb cooked with okra, onions, coriander and garlic in tomato sauce for a future visit.
For light bites and tapas Café Catalan is next door to Aqua. Open since 2004 Café Catalan promises authentic Spanish tapas from amenu of more than 20 different dishes. For parties of six or more you can have a Tapas Party of three waves of tapas dishes to share, including Queso Manchego thinly sliced sheep’s cheese served with sliced tomato and red onion and Sardinas a la Parilla where grilled sardines are garnished with a citrus vinaigrette.
The rain unfortunately put us off venturing outside to their patio garden, so we popped across to Smith Street to see the menu for Pancho. This cellar tapas bar and bodega has a menu influenced by the travels of Chef Dale Batchelor. Dishes of Kottbulla Pork and beef meatballs served with ligonberry jam or Hillgadillos Andalus sautéed chicken livers and pancetta in a red wine reduction, are available for a very reasonable £4 each.
We were now enroute to Merchants in Swan Street for a drink. The wine bar and English brasserie uses blackboards for menus and updating customers in a fun and informal way of seasonal dishes and specials. With the full length windows open, the airy ground floor bar was great for people watching while we decided where to go for dinner.
When you see the fibre glass cow peeping over the hedge you have arrived at The Lazy Cow Hotel Steak & Ale House (or TLC). The name may be traditional, but the interior design and menu are bang up to date with dishes inspired by the Big Apple. From North Yorkshire to Argentina, TLC sources its beef and ages it for 28 – 32 days, weighing in at an 8 oz sirloin steak to a 30oz T-bone to share. Non carnivores are catered for with a mix of seafood and salads, but this really is a meat eater’s paradise. Al fresco dining is available in the paved courtyard, or by tables on the astro turf to the side of the restaurant.
For fine dining its back to Market Place to eat at Tailors restaurant. The duo of chefs Dan Cavell and Mark Fry have a modern British menu with dinner at £39.50 for two courses or three for £34.50. It had to be beef for my partner and fish for me, so the Fillet of beef with cepe mushrooms, swede, cheddar cheese and purple potatoes and sole fillets with salted grapes, grape jelly, spinach mousse and creamed potato sated our appetites perfectly. They don’t have a huge menu, but each dish pairs the best seasonal ingredients with imagination and care.
To stay overnight, there are three bovine themed rooms (Moo, Woodland and Black & Gold) above The Lazy Cow or the Warwick Arms Hotel. Behind the traditional exterior, this hotel has 40 contemporary rooms that are individually styled with flat screen TV, some of which have a view of Warwick Castle. It is also a great venue for the traditional Sunday lunch.
Rugby is a market town in Warwickshire that is credited with being the birthplace of Rugby football. The Rugby School tours, Rugby Football museum and Caldecott Park are local attractions in the town centre.
Like most parts of the country, Rugby has seen a decline in the high street’s retail offer with empty shops and venues. Luckily there is a still a small selection of good quality independent restaurants, cafes, food shops and food producers to be found here.
Starting in Regent Street, The Rose Tea Rooms has the biggest selection of loose leaf tea in town, with 30 different blends that are served in china teapots. You can also buy the teas and the pretty tea pots individually or as part of a gift hamper. The hearty sandwiches and jacket potatoes, that are made to order, are very popular with local businesses.
Just a few doors along, The Abraxas Cookshop has a well stocked two floors of kitchenware for home cooks. They also have a sister shop selling cutlery, glassware, dinnerware, table-top accessories and christening presents from Villeroy & Boch and Emma Bridgewater on the opposite side of the road.
In the same block, there is a small deli Delish at the back of Vanilla’s home shop, with pickles, jams, pasta and teas that line two walls of the shop. At the olive counter there are seven different varieties from Olives et Al, plus a cask of olive oil for bottle refills. To take home there is a small selection of cheese and meat in the chilled counter, a changing menu of sandwiches and homemade cakes. Flour, fresh yeast and a stripped pine dresser filled with a kaleidoscope of sprinkles, strands and flavourings are a must for home bakers.
Around the corner, owner Steve Prime keeps a good selection of store cupboard essentials at Wild & Free. The organic food shop has just moved into bigger premises in Bank Street which stocks cereals, pulses, sauces, spreads and vegetarian chilled foods.
If you are in Rugby on the last Thursday of the month, you can catch the Farmers Market by the Clock Tower from 9am – 2pm. All the products sold at this market are fresh farm products from within 30 miles of Rugby, with a selection of meat and cheese, fresh produce, bakery and preserves.
Wednesday’s weekly steak nights and the monthly Paella night are very popular at Vermillion. This contemporary warehouse conversion, is set in the heart of Rugby’s town centre. The brasserie style restaurant offers modern British and European cuisine with an emphasis on quality seasonal produce.
Relative newcomer Café Gnosh (which opened last year) has an extensive menu from breakfast to dinner, that includes meat from Aubrey Allen. In a refreshing change to brown and cream decor, the interior design features blues and greys with an eye-catching sparkly floor.
Walking to the top of High Street and opposite Rugby School, is French bistro Café Vin Cinq. Their new Head Chef, Frankie Brannigan, is only 23 and has previously worked with Jamie Oliver. His new menu fuses traditional French dishes, Boeuf bourguignon, with European influences including smoked trout and horseradish salad. The top floor cocktail lounge is open at the weekends for pre-dinner drinks and booths can be booked for small get- togethers.
Next door is Summersaults a Rugby stalwart for more than twenty years, that prepares home cooked vegetarian food and cakes. This coffee house and café has a daily changing lunch menu, with hearty vegetable flans or bakes with a choice of three salads as a popular lunch option. Seating is available outside or inside on two floors . The café also has jazz music on Friday nights.
Just two miles out of the town centre in Bilton you will find Cheese on The Green. This popular cheesemonger has an excellent selection of more than 100 British and European cheeses, biscuits and chutneys. The shop is about to celebrate their first birthday and is run by former Paxton & Whitfield manager Richard Cooper, who tweets a cheese of the day recommendations.
Rugby residents are lucky to have a unique collection of food producers and cookery classes on the outskirts of town too, which are all less than half an hour away. These include the Italian artisan Slow Food producer Squisito in Monks Kirby, the artisan baker Revel Bakery in Stretton under Fosse and Ringswood Ice Creams in Pailton.
One of the biggest farm shops in the area is The Malt Kiln Farmshop at Stretton under Fosse. The shop, which is open daily, has a butcher’s counter selling beef, lamb and pork reared on the farm and a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables. T he coffee shop creates snacks and light lunches with fresh ingredients from the shop cottage pie, Sunday roast, cream tea and fruit smoothies. In the summer you can also pick your own strawberries, raspberries and other soft fruit.
If all this eating and drinking has tired you out, the place to stay is Number Sixteen, a boutique bed and breakfast in a three storey, Grade 2 listed Georgian townhouse. Their four individually designed en-suite double bedrooms have king-sized beds , a flat screen TV, complimentary tea and coffee and free WIFI connection.
The Rose Tea Rooms 28 Regent Street Rugby CV21 2PS 01788 575670.
The Abraxas Cookshop 8 Regent Street Rugby CV21 2QF 01788 575111https://www.abraxascookshoponline.com/rugby.htm
Delish Deli 3 Albert Street Rugby CV21 2RZ 07964725317
Wild & Free 6 Bank Street, RUGBY, CV21 2QE 01788 570400 http://wildandfree.net
Farmers Market http://www.rugbyfirst.org/market.html
Vermillion 7A Eastfield Place Rugby CV21 3AT 01788 550222 http://www.vermillionrestaurant.co.uk
Café Gnosh 2 Eastfield Place Rugby CV21 3AT 01788 567945 http://cafegnoshrugby.com
Café Vin Cinq 25 High Street Rugby CV21 3BW 01788 541304 http://www.vincinq.co.uk
Summersaults 27 High Street Rugby CV21 3BW 01788 543223 http://www.summersault.ltd.uk
Cheese on The Green 27 The Green Bilton CV22 7LZ 01788 522813 http://cheeseonthegreen.com
Revel Bakery http://therevelbakery.wordpress.comRingswood Ice Creams www.ringswood.co.uk
The Malt Kiln Farmshop Main Street Stretton-under-Fosse Rugby CV23 0PE 01788 832640 http://www.maltkilnfarmshop.co.uk
Number Sixteen 16 Warwick Street Rugby CV23 3DH 01788 577667 http://www.no16bandbrugby.co.uk