The Drawing Board
DB could have been teleported straight from the streets of Shoreditch, Hoxton or Brighton to Regency Leamington Spa.
Owner Sam Cornwall-Jones’ slick geek-chic design brings together flashes of neon, his old collection of 70s and 80s annuals, framed vintage comic books and games consoles mixed in with squishy retro leather sofas, mismatched dining furniture and log burners. Looks very cool, no? There’s even a bike from Sam’s garage, a jet engine cowling mirror he made himself and don’t forget to check out the toilets.
Mr Muddy and I booked a table last minute. We had tickets for a comedy gig at the Royal Spa Centre in the across the road. DB was already jam-packed downstairs when we arrived at 6.30pm. Well, it was a Friday night! Being an independent Free House DB has a fine selection of Craft Draught, local Real Ale, Imported German & Belgian beers, Scrumpy cider, 57 Single Malts, 25 Bourbons, 29 Gins, 23 rums and 49 wines. They also take their Bacon Bloody Mary (#DBBBM) pretty seriously…
It comes as no surprise that this child and dog-friendly superior independent gastropub reached the final six in the Best Freehouse category of The Great British Pub Awards 2016. DB also made it into The Good Pub Guide 2017 and Sawdays Guides 2016, 2017.
This is the downstairs entrance area. When we arrived it was already buzzing. We sat upstairs on a table for two in the corner by the bar surrounded by framed comics and shelves of vintage annuals – which brought back childhood memories.
Owner Sam, 42, who grew up in Leek Wootton and Rugby, wanted to be a comic book artist as a child and studied an art foundation at Mid-Warwickshire College. He’d always worked part-time in pubs and ended up running a pub in Brighton at 19. He ran various venues across Shropshire, Staffordshire, North Wales and Sussex before moving back to Warwickshire and buying The Red Lion in Hunningham with former business partner, Matthew Beresford. Sadly, after much flooding from the River Leam and Matthew’s illness and subsequent death, they sold up in 2013.
Our waitresses were refreshingly wry, funny and knowledgeable. Spoilt for choice we went for the House Dry white, a very drinkable, refreshing and light Italian, La Cavea Blend (£17.95).
Head Chef Saleem Ahmed is from Inverness and in his 20-odd year career has worked for the likes of Marco Pierre White and Richard Turner, in Michelin stars, held Bib Gourmands and been an Executive Chef. Sam said: “I wanted to do something a little different here and he got on board with that. I give him pretty much carte blanche with the menu and that’s where we find ourselves almost at the end of year two. Some really interesting dishes!”
Saleem’s use of Middle Eastern and Asian flavour combinations can really make life interesting. He puts a modern take on a British classic – and it will not necessarily be what you’re expecting. There’s an impressive array of menu choices from Small Plates to Starters, Mains, Bits in Buns and Tapas. As we were on a time-schedule we dived straight in for mains. As you can see they were beautifully presented…
My DB Tempura Sea Bass was amazing! The tempura batter was lovely and light, not greasy. We both loved the fresh herbs and mix of exotic flavours. I could really taste fresh coriander and mint. I would never have thought of putting those flavours together, but it all worked very well together. We shared some French Fries and our waitress recommended a fab hot chilli sauce that’s definitely going in my basket next time I go to Sainsbury’s.
Other popular mains are the Chargrilled DB Dexter Burger in Sour Dough Brioche, the Slow Cooked Blade of Black Beef and for vegetarians the Limbrian Lentil, Goats Cheese and Sundried Tomatoes Hand Raised Pie. Small plates include Tempura Soft Shell Crab, a Rillette of Jimmy Butler Pork Shoulder and veggie Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella Arancini. There’s Sides too such as French Fries, Fine Beans and Mixed Leaves.
We had just enough time to squeeze in a pudding. Apparently, the Honey Parfait, Tropical Fruits is delicious and the Bitter Chocolate Tart with cherries sounds very tempting, but top-of-the-desserts believe it or not, is Rice Pudding.
I grew up loving my dad’s home-made rice pudding for Sunday lunch which was always slightly over done, browned and crispy on top. My sister and brother and I used to fight over scraping the bowl (a Northern thing, perhaps). But this is altogether infinitely posh-er: Vanilla, Rum & Raisin Rice Pudding, Jerk & Oat Crumble with a blob of Rum ‘n’ Raisin Ice Cream. It arrives like this in a little ceramic pot.
Take off the lid…
Ta-da! We both loved it – especially the kick of the Jerk & Oat and hint of rum! It’s not stodgy and didn’t remind us school dinners at all. I always like to have a coffee with dessert; here a cappuccino comes with a cute little cinnamon meringue.
I can imagine it’s a great place to come with your girl pals for Prosecco and Tapas on a night out. There’s 15 different Tapas choice (£4 each or £3 for £11) ranging from Severn & Wyve Smoked Salmon to Mushroom Churros and Moroccan Chickpea Salsa.
It’s also very family-friendly with 4 Kids food choices – Chipolatas, Linguine Bolognaise, Fish Fingers and Falafel, Flat Bread, Hummus & Pea Lebneh. If your children are fans of DC Comics they’ll totally get the ‘DB’ logo and will love the fun, quirky decor. The pub’s right opposite Victorian park, Jephson Gardens on the River Leam, with its award-winning flower beds, fountain, play area and Leam Boat Centre – so ‘spirited’ toddlers and children can have a good run around before or after they’ve eaten.
Before you go here’s some photos from the Ladies’ – comic wallpaper decoupaged from about 15 Manga books, from Gunsmith Cats to Akira. (Sam had a lot of help there!)
DB has regular ‘happenings’. You’re slap-bang in Leamington Spa Town centre so it’s a quick 5 min walk if you fancy a shopping trip or a big night out.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Foodies, large groups or friends or family, out-of-towners and chilled out lunches. Enjoying good qualty food without ironing your best outfit. This is definitely a place for relaxed eating and is child & dog-friendly. Foodies, large groups or friends or family, out-of-towners and chilled out lunches. Prosecco and Tapas is a good bet for nights out. Really handy too if you’re going to see a show at the Royal Spa Centre – it’s in the same square.
Not For: The casual, hipster vibe might not suit those looking for a more starchy fine dining experience.
££: Very reasonable. £3.50-£9.50 small plates. £10.95-£15.95 mains, £3.50 each for sides, £6 Bits in Buns, around £6.50 sweets and £6 kids’ menu.
18 Newbold Street, Leamington Spa, CV32 4HN, thecamodog.co.uk Tel 01926 330636.