Is this Warwickshire’s quirkiest bar + kitchen?
At Leamington Spa's playful Hart+Co, meals are served school lunch style, then there's the bottomless cocktail brunch from 5pm-9pm! But why is there a bathtub in the middle of the room? Muddy's Rhiannon Pursall investigates...
It’s rare to find somewhere serving good, honest food, while also being incredibly quirky and suitable for day or night, young or old. But we think this family-run joint may just have cracked it…
Slap-bang in Leamington town centre: tucked down Augustus Place, which runs off from bustling Regent Street. St Peter’s multi-storey car park is next door, which is handy. Hart & Co occupy the ground floor of a classic white Regency-style building. The entrance looks and feels like the front door to a big family home…no coincidence, given the ethos of the business.
Leamington-born-and-bred Louise was, in her mother’s words, “a pampered princess” of a teenager “who would never hold down a job”. While these words were delivered in affectionate jest, Louise was determined to prove her wrong, landing herself a role pot-washing in Pizza Hut at age 15. Cue the birth of her love for hospitality; something in which she’s clearly tremendously talented. Fast-forward ten years and, following a Masters degree in Business (which she didn’t particularly enjoy studying) and tons of experience working in catering (which she adored), Louise is now the proud founder and owner of Hart & Co; café bar & grill and fast-growing hub for local group events. Her natural instinct to welcome people in, settle them into her ‘home’ and feed and water them shows no bounds.
Family is the name of Hart’s game. During university, Louise realised she was more family-oriented than any of her peers and that her clan was unique in always wanting to hang out together. Deciding this was something to treasure, she moved back to her Warwickshire hometown once she’d finished her studies, to start her career surrounded by her nearest and dearest.
It wasn’t a smooth ride: Louise couldn’t get a business loan or premises despite trying repeatedly, so after a while she sent her uncle to apply. Low and behold, he was granted the cash and the building. Louise can’t be sure, of course, that being turned down was due to her being a woman; but she’s inclined to believe it played a part. Hence the peppering of slogans including ‘The future is female’ and ‘I got it from my mum’; the message is that you underestimate the power of women at your peril. The feminist slant of Hart & Co also reflects the fact that the family is relatively female-heavy.
Speaking of décor, think ‘funky diner’, with neon signs, metro tiles, homebuilt industrial-style tables with low lighting. Oh, and a lot of pink. However, it wasn’t always like this…when she first acquired the space, Louise gallantly painted it brown and deep green. She loved it; sure, it was very dark (there’s only one window) – but you stepped inside and lost track of time, without a care for the outside world.
Yet she was outnumbered; everyone who visited told her she had to re-paint – and, in a bizarre twist that Louise believes happened for a reason, the upstairs neighbours’ bath suddenly fell through the ceiling and forced her to redecorate. Ahh, now the random bathtubs dotted around the place make sense!
Everything here has a story, but they’re not immediately apparent. This is set to be rectified – a blog is in development, along with other ideas for conveying tales from Hart & Co’s journey to their punters.
As the business grew, more of the family got on board. Following a series of chefs that didn’t work out, Louise had something of an epiphany that the best food she eats is the home cooking served by her relatives; fashioned from the heart and designed to be shared. On that note, she began to recruit her kin – her sister gave up her teaching job to join full time and her mother found herself transported from her own kitchen onto the premises on Sundays, cooking up her famous roasts (well out of her comfort zone for someone initially terrified of cooking for the public – so bravo to Mum for becoming something of a local hero!).
Hart & Co’s target audience has been ‘everyone’ from the start – infuriating advisors who told Louise she needed to define her market. But it worked out just as she’d hoped; clientele range from parents with prams during the weekdays, to families enjoying relaxed meals and gangs of friends hitting the boozy brunches on weekends. The venue is proving a popular hub for networking and events: Cloud Femme bring their monthly inspiring nights of female empowerment; Mama Tribe kicked back and enjoyed a night off the other week; and fashion consultant Raquel Garcia of Raxanie hosts regular evenings to kick our disorderly wardrobes into shape.
Scoff and Quaff
Dishes are mostly designed to be shared between two and comprise favourites that you’d expect to chow down in a stateside diner. The breakfast menu runs 9am until 3pm Mon-Sat and offers a stonking start to your day – choose from the likes of a pancake stack, breakfast pizza, giant bacon butty, avo hash and ultimate fry up.
Main meals served from 6pm Mon-Sat include fajitas, cheese fondue, ragu, pimped salad and the ‘All-American’ sharing platter of mac ‘n’ cheese, cheeseburgers, chicken wings, steak and fries. On Sunday it’s all about Mum’s roast, served from 12pm. Then there’s the brunches; take your pick from a post-work energiser from 5pm on Fridays complete with cocktails, or a lazy affair on Saturdays from 12pm partnered with Prosecco. Boozy brunches consist of sharing boards such as the pizza platter, ultimate fry up or chip board (yep, chips come in 4 different varieties!) and unlimited drinks flowing for two hours.
At lunch time, which is when I visited, there’s a choice of sharing dishes or single portions of grab-and-go classics (which are designed to be eaten in, not taken away). Each of my parents plumped for The Lunch Box when I took them to Hart & Co for brunch. Lunch bags arrived on the table containing sandwiches wrapped in foil, with fries in candy-striped paper, side salad and a surprise bonus chocolate brownie. It evoked memories of that exciting moment you peered inside your pack-up on a school trip!
My mother chose the ultimate comfort food – a grilled cheese sandwich. The chunky white bread oozing with creamy soft cheese and salty hard cheese was a nostalgic taste of the good old days when food was honest, simple and satisfying.
My father opted for his favourite fish finger sandwich and it over-delivered, consisting of juicy battered fish goujons, a charcoal bread bun (which apparently didn’t affect the flavour, but looked fancy).
I was feeling the autumn chill, so plumped for warming porridge. What arrived was a true masterpiece: a huge bowl of the stuff dusted with cinnamon, accompanied by fresh fruit, fruit compote, honey, maple syrup, sugar and fist-sized dollops of peanut butter and ganache! I assumed the generous portion was because I had ordered a dish designed for two but was informed that they had made a special single helping for me. Louise’s self-confessed fear of people leaving her premises hungry would certainly not be realised.
I was delighted with the thick consistency, but should you prefer it with more liquid you can adjust to taste with the accompanying milk. We all enjoyed our hearty lunch – wonderfully fitting for the season of stodge!
We were on the soft drinks, but if you’re partial to a cocktail this is the destination for you. Each concoction is carefully crafted to represent a member of the family – and Louise now has plans to expand, creating new drinks for friends. Her favourite is Nanny Vi; it may be flavoured with Parma Violets and have a super-sweet appearance, but it gives a cheeky kick…a lot like Grandma Violet herself!
Out & About
Being in the heart of Leamington, there’s tons to keep everyone entertained before or after your visit to Hart & Co. Vue cinema is a few strides away, as are a plethora of independent boutiques, high street shops and cafes. If you’re hankering for a spot of culture, check out the Royal Spa Centre or Pump Rooms Art Gallery & Museum; and you fancy a stroll to help you digest all that food, you’re just a few minutes’ walk away from the glorious Jephson Gardens or the open space of Victoria park.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: If you’re looking for scrumptious sustenance to share, you’ll find it in Hart & Co’s yummy, generous portions. It’s got more of a party vibe than a relaxed one – perhaps more suited to a boisterous evening with friends or large and loud family gathering than it is for a quiet catch-up or romantic date.
Not for: Peace and quiet. The music isn’t too loud, but it is noticeable; upbeat and energising rather than the background tinkling of your average coffee shop. Come here for fun and food for the soul; after all, life’s too short not to eat big, laugh lots and socialise.
The damage: Breakfast is designed for two people to share – the Porridge Bowl is £10, Pancake stack £16 and Ultimate Fry Up – £17.50. The Lunch Box is a bargain £8! In the party mood? Every Friday, from 5pm-9pm, Hart & Co’s £30/£35 cocktail brunch (everyone on the table needs to opt in) includes a sharing meal for two with around 7 choices, a cocktail from the menu topped up for the next two hours.
27 Augusta Place, Leamington Spa, Cv32 5EL, hartrestaurants
Opening times: Mon – Thurs: 9.30am – 3pm; 6pm – 10pm; Friday: 9am – 11pm; Saturday: 9am – 11pm; Sunday: 9am-5pm. For bookings email: firstname.lastname@example.org