EATING OUT / A little taste of Anjou: Les Plantagenets, 15 Dormer Place, Leamington Spa

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The Independent Culture
LES PLANTAGENETS

15 Dormer Place, Leamington Spa CV32 5AA. Tel: 0926 451792.

Open Monday to Friday for lunch and Monday to Saturday for dinner. Set three-course lunch for pounds 12.50, set three-course dinner for pounds 18.50. All credit cards accepted.

GOOD food is, I suppose, generated by various economic motors. In London, office blocks full of bankers or journalists will spawn a good restaurant round the corner; other eating places spring to life in the wake of middle-class colonisation of what were once workers' ghettos. In the country, the process is more difficult to assess; restaurants there depend on a far larger catchment area and tourism is a great help. Stratford-on-Avon is probably the hub of good food for those in Leamington Spa, but the proprietor of Les Plantagenets also advertises repas d'affaires.

I was there last week on the way to a meeting with the Royal Shakespeare Company, borrowing a bed from a former pupil. As I gave up teaching 30 years ago all my pupils are quite old now, but this was a highly original boy who has since distinguished himself in the arts, and when I asked him and his lady companion out to dinner he suggested Les Plantagenets. I used to teach him French, and we spent some time initially wondering whether there ought really to be an acute accent on repas d'affaires, and whether it was intended to lure less sophisticated Warwickshire businessmen who were having affairs. We also considered the word Plantagenets, which the restaurant sometimes prints with a circumflex on the last 'e', and sometimes not.

The restaurant is extremely modest in appearance, in the basement of a white-painted Georgian house in a terrace facing a green beside the old baths. There is a tiny bar, too small to do much more than perch in, and one room with at most 10 tables. The decor is charming, with a wooden dado panelled in a gothic pattern, and the proprietor has framed what looks like a set of academic robes, which he explained belonged to his father, a member of some wine-bibbing fraternity founded by Rabelais. This, I am sure, appeals to the cultural fall-out from Stratford.

Monsieur Loth, who runs the restaurant, is an Angevin. This provoked more discussion as to whether Angevins came from Anjou or Angers. M Loth - from Anjou - is neat, with sharp handsome features and an air of old-fashioned French efficiency.

At the table we began to reminisce about poor old dead beaks and boys who had since gone to prison. If we had not been in such a nostalgic mood we should probably have settled for the set menu at pounds 18.50. It offers a choice of four starters. There is potage Parisien, smoked salmon with a marinade, sweetbread braised in port or avocado pear with king prawns in garlic mayonnaise.

For a main course you can have stewed sirloin of beef, fillet of sole, breast of chicken stuffed with a puree of mushrooms 'flambee' with brandy and finished with a Loire wine and cream, or escalopine de pigeon a l'orange et Cointreau. There is also a choice of vegetables or a salad, with cheese or a pudding.

Driven by bonhomie and nostalgia, we opted instead for the a la carte. M Loth suggested various alternatives, all enunciated with a fine French accent and graphic use of a well-sharpened pencil. I remember in particular something cooked 'weez funnel'.

After a glass of the house white I fell for something he recommended, which was asparagus cooked in the normal way - I won't attempt the accent but I strongly recommend it to collectors - and then baked for a moment in 'zer hoven' with smoked salmon. My old pupil started with gambas - peeled king prawns with garlic and parsley - and his companion had something else recommended involving langoustines.

Aware of my role as Restaurant Expert and a former teacher of French, I told her that langoustines were definitely crayfish. My old pupil thought they were Dublin Bay prawns. I chuckled at his ignorance and was halfway through an amusing anecdote about an old man eating crayfish in Denmark when M Loth returned to the table. I asked him whether it was not true that langoustines were crayfish. M Loth was convinced they weren't, but was tactful enough to wrinkle his brow for a moment before calling into the kitchen to confirm that crayfish were ecrevisses. Langoustines were Dublin Bay prawns. It was on the tip of my tongue to floor him by asking him what gambas were, but I thought I might be sacrificing credibility.

The companion had clearly lost all faith in my abilities either as a teacher of French or restaurant critic, but said that the langoustines were very good. My old pupil was also very complimentary about the gambas. Looking at them out of the corner of my eye while pretending to pick up my napkin it seemed to me that langoustines were about twice as big as gambas, but more serious linguists and gastronomes should probably consult a dictionary.

My asparagus was okay, but a bit complicated by the smoked salmon.

For the main course, the companion ordered medaillon de porc, jus a l'orange et gingembre; I had monkfish roasted with mussels and prawns and my old pupil had some poached salmon. He said it was very good. So was the pork, which the companion very generously gave me a mouthful of to taste, and my monkfish was excellent, un-mixed up, delicately textured and delicious.

I had a bottle of Crozes Hermitage at pounds 15.50, the old pupil had half a bottle of Chablis at pounds 8.85. I tasted both, and they seemed to me to be so excellent that we ordered a half bottle of sweet Chateau Loupiac, at pounds 9.50, with our pancakes and apple tart.

The bill came on a little shirt-front with a black bow tie and worked out at just over pounds 30 a head with the wine.

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