Lifestyle: Restaurant Review – Oscar’s, Leamington Spa

IT never fails to amaze me that, although it is indisputably one of the world’s great cuisines, there are relatively few French restaurants in this area.

There’s plenty of Brazilian food around, as there is Japanese and southern-style American and I can even eat Swedish meatballs and loganberry sauce at a well-known build-it-yourself furniture store but I’m probably more likely to find a Patagonian-Siberian fusion restaurant in the average West Midlands high street than a bistro that brings forward the flavours of France.

Which is why I was delighted to find this traditional little bistro slightly off the main drag in central Leamington.

Owned by renowned local butcher Aubrey Allen, it pays tribute to traditional French street corner eateries, complete with red and white chequered table cloth, candles and Edith Piaf singing about not regretting a thing in the background.

Having taken a sneaky peek at the menu online, I was looking forward to trying crab followed by a steak from Aubrey’s dry-aged beef so I confess to being a little disappointed to be presented with a set menu.

Apparently on Tuesdays Oscar’s offers its ‘Auberge’ menu which is a three course set meal for £17.50.

On the night we went it was mixed salad, pine nuts, anchovies and parmesan shavings followed by pan fried chicken breast Provencale and fondant potato and Eton Mess. Eton Mess in a French restaurant? Sorbonne Sludge surely.

Being offered a set menu is obviously a fairly popular concept here as the restaurant was quite crowded and I got the impression that many of the diners were regulars.

After a complimentary bowl of bread, olives and some earthy saucisson, washed down with a glass of that classic unoaked white Burgundy Macon Charnay (£6.30 for 175ml) my dining companion and I got stuck into a very light and tasty salad.

The combination of anchovies, pine nuts and parmesan shavings is a finely judged one and we had soon polished off a very pleasing and refreshing starter.

Our main course was a classic bit of rustic French cooking. Chicken cooked in its skin combined with a muscular tomato-based sauce and served with fondant potato.

Whilst it might not sound like a world-beater on the menu, it had a depth of flavour that is symptomatic of the best old world, Gallic cooking. It was hearty and delicious.

My partner said the chicken was on another level. True, as were the toilets coincidentally. 

The dessert may have been best of all. I’m a late adopter of meringue but I’ve taken to it like a duck to…. well meringue.

And meringue is associated with French cooking even if Eton isn’t!

Sweetness and light, this was a gorgeous pud and all very self-contained, not a hint of mess – a sort of Eton neat.

After spending my life telling people I’m not a dessert person I think I’m becoming a dessert person. 

All in all this was a nicely balanced meal and the cooking felt homely and understated. Pretty much everything you would want from a local bistro – the sort of place you would like to visit once a fortnight.

I still prefer to choose what I want to eat from a menu but I can do that on any other night at Oscar’s and I’ll certainly be doing so in the future. The steak sounds too good to miss. A restaurant owned by an award-winning butcher – what’s not to like?

But I enjoyed my Auberge night at this lovely little restaurant. Perhaps, sometimes, no choice is the best choice after all.

Oscar’s is at 39 Chandos Street, Leamington Spa, CV32 4RL. Tel: 01926 452807.