Restaurant 23 & Morgan’s Bar, Leamington Spa
Off on an adventurous 6-course blind tasting culinary journey at Restaurant 23
As we arrived a Rolls parks up before us opposite Restaurant 23 & Morgan’s Bar, next to an Aston Martin. Our nippy silver Leaf looked a little shabby in comparison. I feel like I should be sashaying up the steps of the glamorous-looking cream Grade II listed Victorian building in Hamilton Terrace, in a slinky cocktail dress like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Christina Hendricks from Mad Men.
Here you’re right in the centre of Leamington Spa, only a short walk away from the main Parade – and the local nick, so no misbehavin’! A new team has recently taken over the 10-year-old fine dining eatery and is currently on a ‘brand re-establishment journey’. This follows the departure of Head Chef Peter Knibb who had forged an impressive culinary reputation, earning the restaurant two AA rosettes.
New Executive Chef Curtis Stewart was previously Executive Chef at Manchester’s fine dining restaurant Quills after stints at the two Michelin-starred Whatley Manor in Wiltshire and the Michelin-starred Coworth Park near Ascot, Berkshire. Restaurant 23’s current owner is the 2015 UK EY Entrepreneur of the Year Dr Richard Steeves, originally from Vancouver. The Chief Executive of Synergy Health, who moved to the UK to do a PhD in biochemistry at St John’s College, Cambridge, holds dual Canadian and UK nationality.
Restaurant 23 has two private dining suites, an attractive terrace with pop-up gin bar and a stylish dining room. On the first floor, there’s Morgan’s Bar, which is said to serve some of the best cocktails in town. Juices are all hand-pressed and their mixologist makes her own cordials. No guessing where Mr Muddy and I head first?
The clever house Cocktail of the Month sounded particularly inviting – a citrus-y and effervescent Bloody Pome. Made with Chase Marmalade, freshly-squeezed Pomegranate and Blood Orange purees, Campari, Martini Rosso, Lemon Juice and Egg White, it was as you’d imagine quite tart. A bit like an alcoholic Berocca it fizzed fabulously, tasted deliciously fruity but felt healthy too – all those antioxidants! Mr Muddy had a girly sounding Maiden’s Wish (!) – Bombay Sapphire Gin, Francois Voyer Torres Champagne VS, Cognac, Lillet Blanc and Apricot Liqueur. I took a sip and immediately got a macho Cognac hit with an Apricot aftertaste.
Morgan’s Bar itself has a relaxed feel; a light-coloured room with dark grey panelling filled with cosy armchairs, sofas and candlelit tables. Our waitress Sue brought over the menus for us to peruse. Rather than the Chef’s Signature Tasting Menu – we opt to go on an adventurous sounding 6-course blind culinary journey and wine tasting. Vroooom! And we’re off…
We were seated on a lovely table next to French windows overlooking the terrace in the plush candle-lit dining room downstairs with high ceilings, immaculate white table-cloths and cream leather seats. The very charming manager Eduardo Nito and his team greeted us enthusiastically. Nothing was too much trouble and I’ve never known such swift, attentive service.
This was one of most Instagram-able meal I’ve had, a real photogenic work of art – and an epic taste odyssey. Our first course was a clever twist on the humble cheese and cracker. Stilton, celery, teeny-tiny apple balls, a blob of chutney and fresh herbs balanced beautifully on a delicate onion cracker served on a bowl of pure white pebbles. Warm homemade wholemeal bread made with Cotswolds flour was accompanied by two butters – salted and marmite (cool idea!). The combination of flavours was wonderful, washed down with a a deliciously crisp 2015 White Malagousia from Greece.
Raw tuna with passion fruit mousse and a crisp sesame seed shell was our second surprise of the night.
Third-course was pasta. Wild and cooked mushrooms in ravioli with Balsamic Caviar, lovage and truffle oils melted in the mouth, paired with a 2014 fruity red Radford Dale South African Pinot Noir.
Mr Muddy’s fourth course was Black Pudding which looked more like a Rocky Road. It was served on a rolled white serviette. He’d never tasted anything like it before but said it was delicate and creamy.
I had a tasty clear seafood soup with octopus and squid, well-balanced with a refreshing glass of Chablis.
My fifth and main: tender Brill with puy lentils, roasted veg and watercress pesto. This was accompanied by Chateau Val D’Arenc 2014, a lovely, delicate Rose.
Mr Muddy’s beef was served with crispy tempura broccoli, jus and what ‘on earth’ is that…I hear you ask? Well, I did anyway.
It’s actually bone filled with bone marrow served in a bowl of real fresh grass. A Damon Hirst-like artistic statement, maybe? Cows eat grass, but now all that’s left is the bone…Food that makes you think. Turf-ific. Sorry about that. I couldn’t help myself after watching too many episodes of The Trip with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon…
A light clementine pre-dessert included biscuit base, clementine sorbet and clementine meringue was followed by beautifully presented stewed apple with cinnamon doughnuts and a beautifully balanced Austrian dessert wine.
I finished off my meal with a cappuccino which arrived with two strawberry macaroons and two home-made white chocolates. This was our first blind culinary road-trip and was it something of a tour de force! The playful, imaginative modern British menu and excellent wine pairing was interesting and great gastronomic fun. I’d definitely recommend putting on your imaginary blind-fold and heading on over for a super special treat.
The blind menu changes frequently so you never know what you’ll get next…
It’s not hard to see why Restaurant 23’s established a reputation as one of the best restaurants in Warwickshire. Not only does it offer something technical, great attention to detail and exquisite flavours, but the service is dazzlingly good. A Michelin-star is surely on the cards.
Good for: A decadent choice for a romantic dinner or impressing your other half for a surprise birthday celebration (there are also two private dining rooms seating 8, and 16). The menu could be described as modern British: fine native produce with touches of exotica – like tuna with passion fruit mousse. Also good for art lovers. This week Restaurant 23 teamed up with Leamington’s Deasil art gallery for a new monthly after work art and cocktails club.
Not for: This is relaxed fine dining but I can’t see many children sitting down to a 6-course tasting menu, especially after 7pm. But lunch or a Sunday Brunch in Morgan’s Bar is a far more relaxed family-friendly experience.
£££: Yes, the 6-course blind tasting menu and wine pairing is quite expensive at £55 & £43 a head, but for a special occasion it’s definitely worth it. You can enjoy a very good value 2-course lunch for £19.95 or 3-course for £24.95. There’s also a fantastic value 2-course Sunday Brunch menu for £20 with unlimited cafetiere & tea. Cocktails are around £7.50-£9.