What? Quality bistro, cocktails, modern bar menu
Where? Church St, Colchester, CO1 1NF
How Much? From bargain to blow out
I almost don’t want to tell you about Church St Tavern, because it is my favourite spot in Colchester and quite frankly I don’t want to share it.
Tucked up just off busy Head Street, CST is a rather square and serious looking building that one could be forgiven for bypassing in search of somewhere a bit less stiff. But if you make it inside, this is a far from stuffy eat-and-drinkery. No, they don’t do curly fries or jelly shots. They do high ceilings, low sofas and strategically placed art prints. They do pints and pilsner and perfectly executed classic cocktails at ever so slightly less than you would pay in similarly listed joints up the high st. Extra points for maintaining a decent gin selection and straying away from boring and obvious lagers at the pumps (hello Adnams dry hopped). You will also get a decent coffee and a suitably cheeky bar lunch downstairs, one can only hope they carry on with their current sausage roll trend too.
Should occasion move you to relocate up to their first floor restaurant, you won’t be disappointed. It is both a cosy and comfortable space, though not quite as casual as the bar downstairs and rightly so as you are stepping into one of only two restaurants in the local area to come up on the Michelin Guide.
For those in need of bland summary statements: the food up there is bloody good. To expand: you will experience a classic and well executed menu with some surprises. The menu isn’t massive, I would say just enough range for options without making it impossible to choose. Seasonal, local and more exotic choices are there without needing a degree in kitchen tossery to decipher what you are ordering or be frightened out of wandering out of your dining comfort zone.
I will admit to loving CST because you can trust them completely for the prescribed holy trinity of Seafood, Steak and Something Full of Chocolate BUT it is selling them short to stick to this really. It’s not just about this fish and fowl infact one of the most memorable eatings I have enjoyed is a celeriac and blue cheese custard, currently on the menu, which is absolutely ridiculous in both flavour and comfort. Who doesn’t want to kick off a meal with a Stilton creme brûleé covered in candied pecans? Plus pears and leaves to soften how utterly filthy it is. This kind of dish makes meat free Monday a preference rather than a grudging and guilty contribution to combat climate change. Just wonderful, I want one now for breakfast please.
You can stray from the steak and chunky chips to hearty seasonal fayre that will please veggies and fish fiends alike or game dinners that have not failed to impress this greedy girl more than once- they put out excellent pigeon dishes. Most mains are enough alone but you do your belly wrong not to dip into a Jansson’s Temptation on the side too. Finish up with a cold chocolate fondant (yes really) or if the season allows a phenomenal cucumber and gin panacotta, it’s like a creamy kiss from a soused flower fairy. Divine.
This might all be starting to sound expensive and, well, if you chuck in some oyster ‘bites’ and a glass of English fizz to get things going it can be, but there are thrifty options a plenty too. Check their website for a really reasonable set menu for fifteen or twenty quid for two/three courses at lunch or early evening service and I cannot shout loudly enough about Thursday night Steak Club *insert fight club no talking about steak club gag here*. Price for this varies up to about £25 depending on the cut and gets you a steak dinner with a suitably paired glass of red plus starter or dessert. The cleverest of us like to take our ladies date night to steak club then chuck in some bites and an extra course with matched dessert wines for an excellent blow out dinner that wont get you in trouble if you forget to burn the bank statement before Him Indoors gets hold of it.
Fuss must also be made of the front of house team. The bar service downstairs is friendly and knowledgable without being snooty- don’t ever be afraid to ask for a recommendation to try something new or what they think is good for that day. I would never have discovered Ophir n ginger had I not been swayed from a usual G&T here on the way home too late on a school night. Service in the main restaurant has never been short of impeccable, I can’t find the slightest thing to moan about or suggest improving. Bravo.
So you can mix it up at Church St Tavern with a bargain beer and a burger in the bar or an all out four courses with matched wines. A long lunch is lovely, an early dinner is the perfect mid week treat and they serve a whopper of a sunday roast. Keep an eye on their social media for special offers, wine nights and this Thursday’s steak club.