Donington’s Garage 39: the UK’s best race circuit cafe?

Alex Gassman

by Alex Gassman

Garage 39 cafe, restaurant and bar at Donington Park

Cafés and restaurants at motorsport venues across the UK have a reputation for serving some of the least inspiring and blandest food going, set in surroundings that haven’t been updated for decades. But Donington Park’s Garage 39 café, bar and restaurant makes an attempt to buck the trend.

In this article we take a look in detail at what is potentially the best race circuit food venue in the country.

Contents

food at UK race circuits

There’s not usually anything much more consistent in the world of UK motorsport than the type of food you’re likely to be served at a race circuit. Whether you’re a competitor, trackday-goer or spectator chances are you’ll be in for a menu of chicken balti, steak and kidney pie, chilli-con carne and huge undercooked chunky chips.

Like it or loathe it, you know the on-site café isn’t like to stray far from these stodgy recipes. The only Michelins you’ll be likely to find will be on all four corners of someone’s track car, rather than as stars in the café’s window.

Chilli con carne

Usually the surroundings aren’t much better. A dining area that looks like something you’d expect to find in a secondary school hall is more normal than a fine-dining experience with gentle mood lighting and a pianist tinkling away on a baby grand in the corner.

And you know what? We put up with it. Petrolheads care more about their lap times and racing lines than the quality of food at lunch. So for years we have come to terms with sub-par food and surroundings, or made ourselves some peanut butter sandwiches the night before.

But Donington Park is the first circuit in the UK to try and change things up and to improve our race circuit eating experience once and for all. But has it managed?

Cheese salad with lots of raw onions

what is Garage 39?

Garage 39 is the name of the new café, bar and restaurant located in the pits and paddock at Donington Park.

It has a fully stocked bar selling beers, ciders, wines and spirits. It has a ‘refuelling station’ café where you can quickly pick up a bite to eat and a hot or cold drink. And it has a restaurant area serving more traditional English grub in a queue-up canteen style.

Garage 39 cafe at Donington Park
Garage 39 cafe and restaurant at Donington Park
Garage 39 cafe and restaurant

It is a stylish, modern and very comfortable venue in which to grab a bite to eat or a drink on a track or race day. Calling itself a restaurant might be a push too far (see reviews further down this page), but a café it definitely is, serving breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner.

A custom interior design firm was used to help design and bring the venue to life, and it has paid off. The interior is designed to reflect a vintage car workshop, with references to mechanical engineering, vehicle components and racing all around the interior. It is a lovely place to sit, eat and chat all things motorsport.

A light in the shape of a gearbox cog

where is Garage 39?

Garage 39 is smack-back in the middle of the pits and paddock area at Donington. It sits in between the pit garages and the rest of the buildings that line the start-finish straight at Donington. Its location makes it super easy to access for anyone in the pits or paddock area.

If you are entering the circuit, enter via the main entrance and, if it’s a busy race day, park in one of the designated areas. Then either walk or drive through the paddock entrance. Once in the paddock turn right and Garage 39 will be a hundreds yards or so ahead of you on your left.

There is also a pedestrian tunnel that leads to the circuit infield (which has some great spectating and viewing areas) directly adjacent to it.

Garage 39 opening times

You might be heading to Donington Park for a number of reasons. You might be there as a competitor during a race day or trying to set the fastest lap time in Time Attack. You may be on a trackday at Donington, you may just be there to spectate on one of the many race events or you might be honing you car’s setup on a Donington test day.

Every time there is a race meeting on at Donington, no matter how big or small, Garage 39 will be open. During the biggest race events such as the BTCC or World Superbike the bar, restaurant and café areas will all be open but expect them to be busy all day, especially during the lunch break. Usually on a big race weekend the bar will be open later on Saturday evening, often until 11pm.

Garage 39 Food Restaurant Cafe Bar at Donington Park for trackdays

On a track day the café will be open all day for breakfast and lunch. But as the number of people on site during a track day are always a fraction of those there on a race day, they usually on have a limited amount of food prepared. So get in early at the start of the lunch break to make sure you get your choice of meal.

Garage 39 menu

Whilst the interior design and décor has had a complete makeover, the same can’t quite be said for the food menu unfortunately. You probably won’t find anything here that you wouldn’t expect to find at any other Motorsport Vision race circuit. There isn’t a fixed menu as what they offer changes from day to day, but below are some examples of their take-out menu from the World Superbike event in July 2021. Click here for the full menu.

Garage 39 menu
Garage 39 menu

what are the reviews like?

So what’s the verdict? Is this the start of a revolution in race circuit dining, or is the fancy new interior décor just a new way to present the same old stodgey race circuit café food?

On Google Garage 39 at Donington gets 4.4 / 5 with over 180 reviews:

Garage 39 cafe restaurant reviews

There are a good number of recent reviews that are pretty positive about the experience, for a variety of reasons:

Garage 39 cafe and restaurant review
Garage 39 cafe and restaurant review

As ever though there are some anomolies. The options for those with food allergies seems to be a bit limited.

Garage 39 cafe and restaurant review

This customer wasn’t best pleased with the bar staff calling last orders early on a Saturday evening of a big race event.

Garage 39 cafe bar and restaurant review
And the cost of food, based on its quality, hasn’t been up to scratch for a number of people.
Garage 39 cafe and restaurant review
Garage 39 food review

other food at Donington Park

If Garage 39 isn’t for you, on a busy race weekend there are likely to be other hot dog and burger vans dotted around the site, near the various spectating areas or the infield camping area.

On trackdays, however, it’s unlikely there will be anything else. So either bring your own food or be prepared to drive to a nearby fuel station or shop on the lunch break to pick something up.

If you are heading to Donington as a spectator, driver or team member, make sure you check out our complete guide to Donington Park circuit before you go.

Alex Gassman

I‘m Alex. I write F1 and motorsport travel guides based on my experience as racing driver and full-time motorsport nerd. I’ve traveled the world watching F1 and other racing series.

I started oversteer48 with the aim of helping other motorsport fans who are planning on watching some racing themselves.

leave a comment

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Join the oversteer48 Inside Line

I’ll share all this with you (and more) for free:

  • Tips for getting hold of F1 tickets, even if they appear sold-out 
  • Updated travel guides and info in the run up to the big race weekends
  • Link you up with a huge community of F1 fans travelling to each race