Sometimes, two words that are already beautiful individually become something even more special when they are combined. Chocolate fountain. Free bar. Beach holiday. A perfect example of this lexicographical oddity is the humble beer garden.
We’re spoilt for choice in Leicester when it comes to roof terraces, hidden gardens and cosy courtyards where we can enjoy a drink in the sunshine. I caught up with a handpicked selection of the city’s restaurateurs, bar owners and food bloggers to find out their al fresco favourites.
The Rutland and Derby Arms
Leicester’s Cathedral Quarter is home to this popular city centre pub, which is part of the independent ‘Beautiful Pubs’ collective. The pretty garden is a popular hideaway for people looking to enjoy local craft beers and the pub’s quirky take on traditional pub food with a Germanic twist. The chicken jägerschnitzel, served with brown mushroom gravy, fries and wild rocket, is a mouth-watering example.
“My favourite beer garden is at the Rutland and Derby on Mill Lane,” says Bejal Gosai, blogger at be-lavie.com. “I love the two-level terrace and brightly coloured plant pots amongst the brick building. It’s the perfect place to have some of their lovely ciders and the food is locally-sourced great produce.”
King Richard III
This beautifully restored Victorian public house on Highcross Street focuses on fresh, locally sourced food and carefully selected craft beers and wines. The bijoux courtyard, complete with faux grass and jaunty strings of lights, is a lovely spot for a drink or a bite to eat at any time of day. On a sunny evening, it takes on something of a lively London pub vibe, with groups of drinkers filling the garden and spilling out into the street.
“We love the King Richard III beer garden, mainly because we can get a cheeky drink before service commences at Lilu two doors down!” says Pratik Masters, owner of Lilu, Leicester’s fine-dining Indian restaurant. “The staff are lovely and have become friends – they are so friendly and always there to lend a lemon or two in our time of need!”
Queen of Bradgate
The traditional façade of this High Street pub gives little indication of what’s hiding within. It’s basically a one-stop-shop when it comes to eating, drinking and entertainment. There are three bars spread over two floors, an epic range of cocktails and craft beers, a dedicated gin bar, a dance floor, a separate dining area, a stage for the regular live music performances, a vintage-themed cinema, a secret rum bar and three table tennis tables. Oh, and it also has a beer garden.
This is my own pick. The courtyard-style beer garden out the back of Queen of Bradgate is a real sun trap on a summer’s day. It’s also just the kind of secluded, intimate setting that I’m looking for when I’m indulging in a sneaky glass of some obscure IPA on a weekend afternoon. I really should be doing something productive, but instead I’m knocking back half a pint of Flying Dog Raging Bitch in the sunshine. Bliss.
Knight and Garter
With its carefully considered range of boutique drinks, steakhouse, gallery space and regular DJ performances, there’s a lot going on at Knight and Garter too. The location of this pub’s continental-style terrace, overlooking market square, makes it ideal for a spot of people-watching. It’s especially popular at weekend brunch-time, when a menu “inspired by lazy capital city breakfasts” is on offer, complete with soulful music, complimentary papers and juice bar.
“As a family, we love the terrace at the Knight and Garter overlooking the marketplace,” says Jamie Beaglehole, blogger at daddyanddad.co.uk. “The kids can scooter about on the paved market square while Tom and I enjoy a cold beer.”
It might be a little off the beaten track, but Winstanley House, set within 160 acres of parkland, is well worth seeking out. A boutique hotel, restaurant and wedding venue, it’s also home to a classy bar and beautiful outdoor drinking space. This is a luxurious hideaway for the more discerning drinker to kick back, relax and take a break from the fast pace of the city.
Arti Chaudasama, owner of veggie deli The Pantry in The Lanes, is a big fan. “I love Winstanley House, which is tucked away in Braunstone Park,” she says. “It’s so tranquil and green and it serves great gin cocktails.”
The Orange Tree
This legendary pub on High Street came up time and time again during the course of my, ahem, research. It’s famous for its huge beer garden, fabulous cocktails and, increasingly, for its excellent selection of vegan menu options. Always quick to respond to customer demand, The Orange Tree’s menu incorporates several vegan dishes, including the intriguing “tofush and chips”.
“I love the beer garden of The Orange Tree in town,” says Neha D’Souza, blogger at mostlyfoodandtravel.com. “When you’re there, it doesn’t feel like you’re in Leicester, and it has a great vibe. Not to forget the selection of cocktails and food they do is excellent and good value.”
Steve Tabbernor, owner of The Real Ale Classroom, which has branches in Stoneygate and Lutterworth, agrees: “My favourite city beer garden would probably be the Orange Tree because it’s right in the heart of town and there’s always a cool vibe in there.”
Coming soon: The Real Ale Classroom
Perhaps inspired by The Orange Tree, Steve has some exciting news about an upcoming venture of his own. The Real Ale Classroom is a micropub with a big personality, serving cask ales and ciders from the best local, regional, and national brewers. And its Stoneygate branch is about to get a second outdoor space to complement the existing pavement terrace.
“At The Real Ale Classroom, we’re about to put a planning application in for a beer garden at Allandale,” Steve explains. “Hopefully it will be ready on a basic level for the end of August and we then hope to have a special garden ready for this time next year.”
With such an abundance of places to enjoy a tipple when the sun shines, and more on the way, let’s keep our fingers crossed for an Indian summer.
Photography by Shane Coles