Celebrating spring at The Star & Garter

Celebrating spring at The Star & Garter

THERE’S a gastropub just a few moments from the shopping heart of Leamington Spa which is fast developing a reputation as one of the best foodie pubs.

A stalwart of the Warwickshire dining scene, The Star & Garter has everything you’d expect to find in a great gastropub – a warm welcome, relaxed surroundings, friendly service and of course, delicious food and drink.

The duo behind all of this are manager Hollie Hawkins and head chef Stefan Elliott, who between them and their teams front and back of house, strive to make the pub the perfect place to unwind and enjoy top quality fresh food and drink.

Hollie took over the reins at the pub in September 2019 and has lost no time in making the place even more welcoming and comfortable. She’s brought some nice touches to the bar, with new high tables and chairs for more informal grazing or a relaxed bite to eat, and a sense of style to the eatery with smart new place settings and tableware.

Hollie has fantastic food and wine knowledge from her days working at the Compass Group and Greene King pubs and loves making guests feel completely at home.

She said: “This is a gorgeous pub that already had a great reputation for the quality of its food, drink and service, so all I’ve really had to do are a few tweaks to make it lovelier than ever.

“Whenever I have a dinner party at home, I like to infuse the evening with good food, drink, friends and conversation, and that’s exactly what I try to do here too. I’ll often open a bottle or two of something special – I want people to share our passion for serving the good stuff – and look after guests really well so they feel right at home. There’s nothing better for me than looking round the pub seeing everyone chatting and having a fantastic time,” she says.

Stefan Elliott, Star & Garter

Head chef Stefan Elliott, pictured right, has also made a big impact since joining the pub last autumn. He used to work with Michelin-starred Warrick Dodds of Northcote Manor and under the watchful eye of Sergi Arola in Madrid, before spending time in Marbella cooking with fantastic local produce from wild fish to caviar. Lots of those incredible influences have brushed off on his food and inspired some of the dishes on his new menu.

Stefan only cooks with the good stuff, too – free-range chicken, eggs, pork, ice cream and sustainable fish, native where possible. All the beef and lamb he uses are British, reared by farmers who share the same ethics and with whom the business has long-term relationships. All the pub’s 28 day dry-aged steaks and its steak burgers come from Leamington’s Aubrey Allen, who only supply slow and ethically reared beef.

New for spring are mains of wild mushroom and pea tart with truffle Hollandaise, rocket, radish and beetroot salad and roast Cornish lamb with broad beans, peas, button onions and new potatoes.

Stefan has also created a good range of veggie dishes, including creamy garlic mushrooms on sourdough toast and a daily changing spring soup of the day, and vegan options, like baba ghanoush with pomegranate and flatbread plus beetroot falafel and coconut yoghurt. When only a steak will do, there’s 28 day dry-aged 8oz rump cap steak or 28 day dry-aged 10oz rib rye, served with chips and watercress and Béarnaise or peppercorn sauce on the side.

The Star & Garter, Stefan Elliott, Leamington Spa

Above the pub, there’s a sophisticated private dining room which overlooks the delightfully secluded Dell gardens opposite. A grand, elegantly proportioned room with full length sash windows that let the light flood in and its own balcony, it’s ideal for dinner and drinks parties, business meetings and conferences for up to 26 guests.

All of this makes The Star & Garter exactly the right place to hole up for something delicious to eat and drink. So whether you need a quick pit-stop for lunch, a leisurely weekend brunch, a delectable three-course dinner or a feast fit for any celebration, the pub offers it all.

The Star & Garter, Leamington Spa

The Star & Garter is open from 9am to 11pm Monday-Thursday, 9am to 12am Friday and Saturday and 9am to 10.30pm on Sunday. Good food is served all day, every day, with lunch and dinner plus a fixed price lunch every Monday to Saturday, with two courses at £14.75 or three for £17.75.

Find them at 4-6 Warwick Street, Leamington Spa CV32 5LL. Tel: 01926 359 960. www.starandgarterleamington.co.uk.

Giggling Squid leaves you with plenty to smile about

Giggling Squid leaves you with plenty to smile about

WHEN it comes to authentic Thai dining at a chain restaurant, it doesn’t, in my opinion, come much better than Giggling Squid.

So I didn’t need asking twice when I was invited to head down to their newest venue, in The Royal Priors in Leamington.

Giggling Squid, Leamington Spa, review

Bold flavours and exotic ingredients take their inspiration from the Thai traditions and legends and have their own personality and story to tell, celebrating the abundance of ingredients found across Thailand.

I was told: “Giggling Squid is all about how people eat their food and spend their mealtimes in Thailand. Generous food to share and celebrate together, whether you have more adventurous tastes or prefer something simple and satisfying; an all-involved, love of food, living for flavour, being together experience.”

I’d say, based on my experience, that sounds like a fair assessment.

Reason to celebrate then as locals can now enjoy in the vibrant Giggling Squid menu, which is cooked by expert Thai chefs and served with true Thai generosity.

Giggling Squid, Leamington Spa, review
The Sharing Platter

Our party kicked off this feast with Chicken Satay, Pork Dumplings and the Sharing Platter for two. (Don’t judge – there were four of us!)

While all were flavoursome, it was the platter which won the highest praise – and are definitely the dish of choice for the hungry diner!

With 18 dishes to choose from, I guarantee there’ll be something for even the fussier of diners – I know because we had one with us.

And if decision making isn’t your strong point, you’ll be challenged by the Mains menu which offers nearly 30 dishes – all equally tempting.

We opted for the Wholesome Cashew Stir Fry (with chicken); Sticky Chicken Stir Fry, Chubby Cheek Pork and Crying Beef. Be warned though this is served on the rare side despite not being asked your preference. I guess this is how they recommend it be taken. Regardless, rare may not be to everyone’s taste although, luckily, in this instance, it was still devoured.

Desserts here are all about quality over quantity which is fine by me. And those of us who left enough room were rewarded by the indulgence of Melting Heart Chocolate Dessert and Sweet Heavens Above Trio (a mini Salted Caramel Souffle, Melting Heart Chocolate Dessert and Pineapple and Coconut Finger.) Delicious.

Other options include Caramelised Mango Cake, Prosecco and Muddled Berry Cheesecake, Coconut Pudding with Berry Compote and a variety of exotic ice creams.

Giggling Squid, Leamington Spa, review

Other stand-outs on the creative evening include Samui Zingy Prawns (prawns with a fresh, citrusy sauce), Betel Leaf & Ginger Lime Salmon Morsels (salmon pieces nestled in lemongrass, lime cubes, ginger and roasted shredded coconut wrapped in betel leaf) and Pad Cha, a popular Thai seafood stir fry with a fiery flavour combination of pounded chilli, garlic, thinly sliced krachai and fresh peppercorns delivers a zingy punch of flavours.

Giggling Squid, Leamington Spa, review

A dedicated vegan menu and wine list is also available alongside a large selection of vegetarian dishes.

The popular tapas lunch menu offers an extensive selection of small plates and includes Giggling Squid favourite Salt & Pepper Squid alongside the fiery Som Tam Papaya Salad and the Big Flavour Mushroom Larb (a speciality salad from Isan Province with juicy, exotic mushrooms tossed in fresh mint, dried chilli flakes, ground toasted rice and shallots).

Wholesome Cashew Stir Fry (with chicken)
Wholesome Cashew Stir Fry (with chicken)

A welcome change from other high street offerings, families will be able to enjoy the ‘Little Tapas for Little People’ menu (£5.99 for two dishes) with the option to add a pudding for £1.99. Designed to encourage children to be more adventurous with their food choices, the menu features smaller versions of popular dishes including Chicken Satay, Pork Dumplings and Pad Thai.

Giggling Squid’s fresh and stylish interior, celebrates its ingredients from the sea and land while including a subtle hint of Thai. Hand-pressed flowers in vintage frames and hand-painted stencils combine with bold, floral wallpapers to add a subtle splash of colour. It really is one of the most stylish and comfortable High Street restaurants I’ve experienced.

Prices for main courses range from £10-£16.50 and in that sense, are perhaps not suited to all pockets. (A three-course meal for a family of four will carry a not insignificant price tag.) However, if it’s authentic tasty Thai food at its best that you’re craving, it’s worth every last penny.


Swapping scales – entrepreneur finds her recipe for business success

Swapping scales – entrepreneur finds her recipe for business success

IT’S exciting times for south Warwickshire entrepreneur Saffron Medway as she prepares to expand her successful cake-making business with the launch of a new cafe.

But for the master baker who admits she ‘doesn’t like cake,’ it marks a huge departure from her previous profession – nine years as a Weightwatchers instructor!

Saffron Medway, Caking and Baking, Leamington Spa, Weightwatchers
Photo: Annie Johnston Photography

The owner of Caking and Baking in Leamington Spa, Saffron was inspired to join the slimming group’s ranks after successfully shedding a whopping four stone in just 15 months under their weight loss programme, slimming down from a size 20 to size 10 dress size.

The 47-year-old mum of four said: “I had always been active and liked to run and, when I lived in London I was working as a childminder so was always on the go. But when we moved to Warwick I changed my job and worked in an office all day and was cooking less and having more takeaways and generally eating badly, so the weight just kind of crept on.

“So one day I decided to do something about it and I signed up to Weightwatchers and eventually reached my goal weight.

After a couple of years I decided to train to become a leader because I felt inspired by the journey I had been on and wanted to be able to give somebody else the same feeling and same experience I had.”

And so, she quit her long-held position at a Leamington export business, passed her nutrition training and went on to spend nine rewarding years instructing others on how to achieve their own weight loss goals.

Caking and Baking, Saffron Medway, Leamington Spa
Photo: Annie Johnston Photography.

“I loved seeing people achieving their goals and changing their lives for the better,” said Saffron. Some of my members lost 10 or 11 stone. It was an amazing experience to be a part of and some of them have become lifelong friends.”

But balancing her classes with the demands of a full time job was taking its toll and worrying signs, including bouts of insomnia and depression, signalled the need to make changes in her own life again.

But, in the meantime, Saffron’s passion for baking was continuing to feature more heavily as she worked throughout the night to perfect her sugarcraft skills.

She said: “I have always liked to bake and cook but I would find myself up in the middle of the night with insomnia trying to find something to do that was quiet – and there’s only so many books you can read – I just wanted to do something constructive. I don’t consider myself artistic funnily enough and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to pick up a pencil or a paintbrush or something, but I did enjoy baking and got hold of some books and magazines and watched You Tube videos and literally started teaching myself cake decorating.

“The children would come down in the morning and there would be a whole array of sugar craft animals or creatures in the kitchen.  It got ridiculous because there was cake everywhere in the house. There was cake in the oven or on the table or in the office. And our space was completely taken over with cake making equipment.

She added: “The workload just got bigger and bigger and it had got to the point where I was literally working 24 hours a day. I was running the Weightwatchers meetings during the day, then having the children and doing all the domestic stuff and then it was off to another Weightwatchers meeting in the evening and then coming home at around 9 or 10pm to do my paperwork and then starting on my cakes. I would be working through to about 6.30am and wasn’t sleeping at all.

“I had to make a decision and it was at this point and my husband supported me to give up the Weightwatchers work to concentrate on the cake making but set me a challenge of making a profit within my first year, which I did.

“I also learned that It’s important to remember that things can change and even in the darkest moments there is light around the corner. Your mental health is important and making sure you are taking the time to look after it is vital, healing takes time but it is possible.”

It was time to focus on her new vision.

She added: “We started advertising and the business quickly grew until it became just too big for my kitchen at home. Around the same time a friend of mine was looking to sell her bakery business in Leamington Spa so I took it on.”

As well as a clutch of local business awards, Caking and Baking has already won recognition from all quarters of the industry, including a Certificate of Merit from the world’s largest cake competition Cake International, as well as being featured in Vogue and Cake Masters magazines.

Caking and Baking, Saffron Medway, Leamington Spa

Saffron’s skills have even been given the royal seal of approval when, in 2017, she was among seven teams chosen to recreate the Queen’s wedding cake for her 70th anniversary, right.

She said: “I am a member of the British Sugarcraft Guild and they were asked to find people to recreate each of the seven tiers of the original cake. We spent an afternoon royal icing netting and polystyrene to make the sixth tier.

“It was an immensely proud moment and I felt extremely honoured to be chosen to do that, even if it was just a small part. In fact, I would say it was the pinnacle of my cake making career so far.”

She also does her bit for the local community by linking up with national charity Free Cakes For Kids, (https://freecakesforkidsleamingtonspa.weebly.com) an organisation dedicated to creating birthday cakes for children who, through circumstances beyond their control, would otherwise not have one.

It partners with organisations such as children’s centres and social services who request cakes on behalf of the families.

The irony of the slimming instructor turned baker’s tale is not lost on Saffron herself who even unashamedly admits to some of her best customers being former Weightwatchers clients!

Caking and Baking, Saffron Medway, Leamington Spa
Photo: Annie Johnston Photography

She said: “It was hilarious. It was a never-ending business circle because I would be supplying cake and helping them lose weight and then supplying them with cake again and helping them lose weight again! I would often turn up to my meeting with a celebration cake for one of my members because they’d ordered one.

“But it also helped because I developed a lot of low fat cake baking with fresh fruit or Greek yoghurt.”

But Saffron is keen to point out that you can, in fact, have your cake and eat it!

“You can still have cake and lose weight. Weight loss and healthy weight maintenance is about having everything you want, but just in moderation. There is no reason why if you’re trying to lose weight that you can’t eat cake. You just have to make allowances elsewhere.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with cake or enjoying a little bit of what you like because if you deprive yourself of something you just crave it more and you’re going to end up over-indulging because that’s what we do as people.

“It’s just about self-discipline and being in control. But when you want it enough it will happen. When you want the weight loss more than the piece of cake or more than that glass of wine or more than that bag of crisps, that’s when it changes.”

She added: “People are amazed when I tell them what I used to do. Weightwatchers instructors, when they leave, tend to go into their own weight loss classes or fitness and nutrition classes because they have the knowledge -and then there’s me baking cakes for a living!”

Saffron Medway, Caking and Baking, Leamington Spa
Photo: Annie Johnston Photography.

Some 18 months on from the shop opening, her team has now grown to five, headed up by manager Abby Hawkins  – and Saffron is already planning for the next project – to open her first café, in the new year, in neighbouring Warwick.

Saffron said: “Years ago, before I even started to make cake, it was always my plan to have a tea room or coffee shop so it’s lovely to see that happening. I always had my eye on Warwick.

“When people refer to me as a businesswoman I say, ‘I’m not, I just make cake!’ I also think to myself, what am I doing starting a new business at my age? But I do feel proud of what I’ve achieved and the business it has become.”