The Foodie's Guide to Royal Leamington Spa

PUBLISHED: 12:32 19 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:42 20 February 2013

It’s all about the food for Peter Knibb

It’s all about the food for Peter Knibb

The average New Yorker can find every conceivable restaurant, café and <br/><br/>food shop on their doorstep. The same could be said of Leamington Spa. <br/><br/>Alycia Smith-Howard reports from the foodie capital of Warwickshire.

The Foodies Guide to Royal Leamington Spa

The average New Yorker can find every conceivable restaurant, caf and
food shop on their doorstep. The same could be said of Leamington Spa. Alycia Smith-Howard reports from the foodie capital of Warwickshire.


There is something about Leamington Spa that reminds me of my old Manhattan stomping ground in the West Village, on the edge of Soho. More than just the hustle and bustle of this popular market town, with its delightfully diverse range of shops and cafes, there is something accessibly cosmopolitan about Leamington, particularly its foodie scene that feels very familiar.
There is a theory that the average New Yorker need venture no farther than the ten-block radius of their neighbourhood (roughly a mile) to find every caf, restaurant or shop they need, or could possibly want.
Leamington Spas compact centre, anchored by the Parade, and adorned by the lovely Jepson Gardens (Leamington Spas own Central Park?) offers a similar appeal. A recent visit to Leamington set my mind adrift back to days I spent as a university professor and wannabe socialite in Manhattan, where my life revolved around meetings over coffee, decadent breakfasts, luscious lunches, cocktails, and dinner.
So I set myself the task of re-creating a typical, New York-styled foodie day in Leamington Spa.


BREAKFAST


My chum, Lady Lawrence, joined me in my early morning quest. We had decided to meet for breakfast, but were unfortunately disappointed in our attempt. I shant mention where we dined, in the hope that we merely caught this particular establishment on a lukewarm morning.
With somewhat dampened spirits, Tamara and I pressed on to do a bit of shopping. A visit to the Leamington Wine Company was just the tonic to lift our spirits!


SHOPPING


The Leamington Wine Company is a drinks company with a difference. This stunning shop offers a dazzling array of fabulous products personally selected wines, specialist spirits, miniatures, over 180 beers and ales, plus a range of drinks-related gifts. In addition, there are regular tasting events, and they are also willing to source the rare and unusual for customers bespoke needs.
The atmosphere of the shop is warm, friendly and inviting. Upon arrival, you are greeted like an old friend by owner, Anita Mannion, and her dedicated staff. The design and layout of the shop belies Anitas wonderfully creative and meticulous attention to detail.
Anita turns this same care and precision to her customers interests and tastes. Having previously mentioned that my brother-in-law a great whiskey aficionado might be accompanying me, Anita had pre-selected and set out half a dozen blends of whiskey for us to taste.
However, without missing a beat, Anita deftly changed gear in favour of my tipple of choice: champagne. Our tasting centred on two absolutely gorgeous Taittingers. True to form, they possessed that light, trademark style with its emphasis on elegance and finesse, but were individually quite distinct.
The first, a Taittinger Prlude was divine a brilliant, pale yellow with silvery highlights, floral scent with a hint of elderflower. The second, the Taittinger Nocturne was more robust, with a peachy-apricoty taste that Anita thinks might make an attractive champagne to men.
Anita, formerly a solicitor, has made great study of her new trade and is incredibly knowledgeable. And, it is clear that she enjoys sharing this knowledge with others. As a result, the Leamington Wine Company is more than a mere shop, it is a libations haven, offering foodies an edifying experience.
The shop has developed a following and according to Anita: There is much more interest from people who want to find out more about what they are buying instead of heading for the supermarket wine shelf, where price is the overriding consideration. Well, I shall certainly be back for more!


LUNCH


After my bubbly morning, I met my Darling English Boy for a romantic lunch at Restaurant 23. When my DEB visited me in Manhattan, we always enjoyed at least one leisurely, decadent lunch at Provence a sensational French restaurant in Soho. I have sorely missed those times, and the modern spin on Franco-Mediterranean classics we regularly enjoyed there. I have no regret in stating my beloved Provence has been surpassed by Leamingtons fabulous Restaurant 23.
Since opening its doors in 2006, Restaurant 23 has developed a solid reputation for offering exceptional, quality dining experiences in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere. In four short years, Restaurant 23 has earned two AA rosettes and a recommendation in the Michelin guide. These are well-deserved.
Restaurant 23 is owned and run by Peter Knibb, a local lad with impressive credentials. He is a graduate of Stratford-upon-Avon College, where he was a pupil of my friend and scholarly collaborator, Chef Alan Deegan. Previously, Knibb has worked at Claridges,
Chez Nicos (3 Michelin stars), Mallory Court (1 Michelin star), and with Jun Tanaka at Pearl in London. He also worked for the Gucci family on their private yacht in the Mediterranean.
Knibbs professionalism and high standards permeate Restaurant 23. The space and surroundings are stylish, yet uncomplicated. The dcor is elegantly minimalist, all clean lines and crisp linens.
The chefs principal workstation dominates the main body of the front dining room. This open kitchen feature sends a clear message to diners: it is all about the food. The dishes are served instantly, a few swift steps from the chefs very hand.
Speaking of service, this too was executed to a very high and personable standard. We felt well cared for throughout the meal. In fact, we had enjoyed ourselves so much, we lost track of time, and had unwittingly remained at our table slightly beyond the restaurants lunch time closing. The staff remained patient, charming and amiable, despite our error.
Knibb describes his cuisine as Modern European. I would describe it as simply scrumptious! Knibb offers diners a mouth-watering set lunch and pre-theatre menu that is sheer delight. To start, the warm,
freshly-baked bread was a delightfully soothing tonic against the bitter cold outside.
I felt spoilt for choice faced with the following selection of fine appetizers: Smoked herring with ratte potato mousse, horseradish and beetroot; Duck leg tortellini with puy lentils, butternut squash and sage brown butter; and a warming vegetarian option of Roasted parsnip and apple soup with curry oil. The DEB and I both opted for the Duck Leg Tortellini and we both enjoyed it immensely. I could have easily eaten that dish for the rest of my life, and been quite happy.
A succulent roasted breast of pheasant, accompanied by potato pure, chestnuts and pancetta, followed. The meal was rounded off beautifully by a decadent banana parfait with chocolate sorbet, crispy filo and espresso foam.
All three dishes were superbly well prepared, attractively presented and skillfully put together, the imaginative combinations offered a harmonious blend of hardy, rustic and tantalizing flavours. We left Restaurant 23 (reluctantly) feeling happy and full, and really, isnt that what dining should be about?


A GIRLS' NIGHT OUT


For something completely different, and a little fishy, for dinner, I opted for a fun-filled Girls Night Out, l Sex in the City, with three of my chums at Sushiya.
Sushiya is a funky, conveyor-belt style sushi restaurant. Perched a-top high-backed stools, diners are treated to the cookery display of Chef Ruwan Fernando and his team preparing fresh sushi, sashimi, and nori rolls before their very eyes. In all, a refreshing and memorable dining experience.
For those interested in exploring Japanese cuisine beyond sushi, there is a good selection of other offerings available, such as a variety of tempura, yakitori, teriyaki, dumplings, udon and soba noodles, soups and salads.
Sushiya is charming and cheerful. The food is fantastic, fresh and full of flavour. There is a distinct sense of fun and playfulness in the air, and atmosphere is hip and trendy. Very New York. Added bonuses are the very friendly and helpful staff and the food, which is consistently superb.
The quality of the ingredients used, and care in preparation is excellent. The chefs signature dish, 'Uramaki Sushiya', is quite outstanding. A delightful mlange of prawn tempura, grilled eel, salmon, avocado and caviar, it is a beautiful blend of flavours and textures.
Novices and dedicated sushi devotees alike will enjoy Sushiyas new lunch and dinner eat-as-much-as-you-like buffets. These were created with a view to introducing diners to the plentiful options available on Sushiyas vast menu. A feast of exploration!
And, I think, the perfect place for a fun night out with my very own Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha. (Perhaps, as one fellow customer suggested, we should dub ourselves the Sex in the County or Sex in the Shires girls?) One of our number, who had never tried sushi before, became an instant convert despite her self-professed chopstick dyslexia.
So, thats shopping, lunch and dinner sorted. My quest for a great breakfast in Leamington Spa will continue, and I hope to have a smashing result to report soon!


Tell us about your food and drink favourites.
Email
jane.sullivan@archant.co.uk or write to The Editor, Warwickshire Life, PO Box 219, Evesham, Worcestershire WR11 8WJ. Tweet us www.twitter.com @warkslife or post a message on our Facebook site or at warwickshire.greatbritishlife.co.uk


Foodie favourites
For meat:
Aubrey Allen, 108 Warwick Street
CV32 4QP
Tel: 01926 311208


For bread:
Bread and Co, 94 Warwick Street, CV32 4QG
Tel: 01926 831291


For sweets:
Lantern Corner Sweet Shop, 124 Regent Street CV32 4NR
Tel: 01926 451770


For deli essentials:
Deli-cious, 104 Regent Street
CV32 4NR
Tel: 01926 831614


The Rustic Food Company, 129 Regent Street CV32 4NX
Tel: 01926 885443


For a coffee:
Ardens, 98 Regent Street CV32 4NR


For other great restaurants, cafs, pubs and shops in Leamington visit www.royal-leamington-spa.co.uk and click on Eat / Drink


Alycias Foodie contact book
Leamington Wine Company,
99 Warwick Street, CV32 4RB
Tel: 01926 888994


Restaurant 23, 23 Dormer Place,
CV32 5AA
Tel: 01926 422422


Sushiya, 21 Regent Grove,
Holly Walk, CV32 4NN
Tel: 01926 330399

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