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October 25, 2005

Review: The Leamington Bar and Grill

Leamington’s newest bar and restaurant opened last night, and Rachel and I happened to stumble upon it, not realising it was the first night of opening.

We weren’t sure what to expect, although the menu on the door looked fantastic. The Leamington Bar and Grill is on the bottom floor of the new Travelodge hotel right in the centre of Leamington. Apparently, when built, it was the largest hotel in Europe! Unbelievably, it’s been virtually derelict for the last seven years, so it’s no wonder it’s taken this long to rebuild it.

You enter through one of those plush revolving doors – like Tesco used to have, albeit wooden rather than glass and metal – into the wood-panelled reception room. Only now can you see the decor, which is possibly one of the best bits about the place. From the outside, you can’t really see very much at all!

The bar is probably the most diverse I’ve ever come across, with the menu lasting for pages and pages. Eight vodkas, for instance!

I’d recommend having a drink first, as it’s a great room and the prices aren’t too bad, considering it’s a restaurant bar.

Next, into the restaurant, which is the biggest I’ve ever seen, without feeling too large. I reckon there’s probably seating for 150+ in the restaurant alone.

Rachel described it as being like eating in a Monte Carlo casino, and she’s not far wrong. Half of it used to be a ballroom, so imagine that doubled. Again, the decoration is amazing, and if you ate on your own, you’d probably spend most of your time finding a mirror, arch or even a bar that you hadn’t spotted already.

So, to the best bit of the night – luckily for the chef – the food!

I had mussels to start, and Rachel had smoked salmon with a mustard vinaigrette. The mussels were fantastic, with a really rich white wine sauce, and some amazing ‘rustic’ bread which had a hint of ginger in, that really worked.

For the main course, I had best rump steak, on the nicest salad I’ve tried, with mushrooms, olives, peppers, rocket, vine tomatoes and chilled new potatoes. The steak was perfectly cooked (medium rare, thankyou very much), and the whole dish was just superb.

Rachel had corn-fed chicken with potatoes and a red-wine gravy. All I can say is I wish I had their gravy recipe, as it was brilliant. Almost required a doggy bag!

The puddings were a bit more modest. I had apple crumble, with a layer of real vanilla custard (none of that Bird’s muck, thank goodness), which was good except I’d have preferred the apples to have been a bit softer. The crumble was very good though.

Rachel didn’t really want one, but I forced her to have ice cream, which wasn’t anything special, but then didn’t need to be either.

We drank the Beaujolais, which managed to taste light and dark at the same time – probably saying more about my knowledge of wine than the drink itself. It was £14, probably the second or third cheapest of the reds, but very good. Would have been interesting to try the Lebanese red, although it was a bit out of our price range.

Then we went back into the bar, had a couple of drinks and went home feeling pretty full up!

The service was very friendly, and the waiters had clearly been trained to ask the right questions. They also sounded like they knew what they were talking about, and had probably tried all of the dishes themselves. They were a bit nervous though, probably because it’s the first night.

The meal and drinks came to £65 for two, which isn’t bad at all. The main meals averaged about £12. I’d suspect a similar quality meal from a similarly grand restaurant in London would cost between £100 and £130, and it may be that prices rise as the restaurant’s reputation grows.

There’s also a bar menu, so you can eat there almost any time of day.

So I’d say this: if you’re going out for a posh meal any time soon, do it at this place, while it’s still quiet and hasn’t attracted the attention of the real food critics.

P.S. Looking for the restaurant on the web, the only thing I found was this: “the Ask restuarant chain will operate an upmarket bar and grill in the former ballroom of the Regent Hotel”, written earlier this year. Ask? Doesn’t seem like any Ask I’ve ever been to.

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