A Little Plug- Kovalam Restaurant

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What: South Indian Cuisine

Where: 27 Waterside , Brightlingsea, CO7 0AY

How Much: £20-£25 a head

Overall: 9/10

When it comes to memories of a town, so many people associate my little corner of the world on the Essex Coast with that brilliant little Indian near the water. It’s called Kovalam, it was on my list of dinner resolutions for this year and it is certainly brilliant enough to warrant tacking the long and winding road into Brightlingsea for a curry night.

The restaurant itself is easy to miss, nestled in a previously residential building near the industrial/posh marina end of town depending on which direction you choose to look. It is pretty unremarkable in terms of Indian restaurants you find in the UK, with straight back chairs and impeccable place settings but is thankfully devoid of the seeming trend of weird blue neon strips and bubble lines around the bar. What is remarkable is the food here, which does veer away from the expected offerings one might assume of a standard curry house. Yes, you can have an onion bhaji and a chicken korma if you really need to, but they offer a proper range of vegetarian dishes as well as fish and seafood which (I am reliably informed) are indicative of the cooking traditional to the region of their namesake. I can’t comment much on the great nuances of South Indian cuisine, but I can tell you that at Kovalam I have never had a duff serving of anything at all. The food is obviously fresh and presented proudly, always aromatic and enticing if not necessarily beautiful. One of the greatest charms there is their glorious laminated menu books complete with kitsch educational snap shots of info on the ingredients used and what to expect from them. It might seem a bit funny and patronising at first but I like to think I learn something new whenever we go there, although the Mr insists I say the same thing about not knowing what tamarind actually was every time……….

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Koonthal Roast at Kovalam: an exceptionally executed but simple squid dish.

A lot of the dishes favour mild, sweeter flavours with coconut and mango bases, making this an easy crowd pleaser if you have spice-phobics in your group. The Malabar range, cooked in a mild but complexly flavoursome roasted coconut sauce is incredibly tasty and easy eating if you don’t feel up to risking something with a bit more kick. And I say that as someone who usually hates coconut.  The chicken Makhani is nothing short of lush, buttery indulgence and also very friendly for those of a chili sensitive palate. I would invite the heat seekers among us to join me further down the menu, however. The Koonthal Roast- a pretty simple dish of stir fried squid (yes I know it says roast) with lots of green chilli and curry leaves is well worth venturing away from the Curry Madras for. It is hot, but it is also clean and sharp with a genuinely belly warming finish that doesn’t burn your tastebuds out. Divine. Bulk it up with a Kerala Paratha which is  basically a hefty dough pancake which is utter filth on your calroie load but so much tastier than your garden variety naan or chapati. If you have to go garden variety, at last upgrade it to their garlic naan here which is second to none. Low carbers might steer towards the frankly enormous mixed grill of kebab and tandoori meats (The Mr needs a doggy bag for this one). Weight Watchers will also be glad to see a shashlick on the menu too, which is very good and served with a really sharp and punchy salad packed with lemon and herbs. On lazy nights when it’s too far to walk the half mile down there (or put on a clean t-shirt) we have been know to order up their whole tandoori chicken for delivery which is always wonderful, tender and deeply satisfying. Especially if you eat it straight out of the bag infront of House of Cards!  One should also take the time to have a good look through their sides and venture into something new. Although my mother, the daal afficionado, was not desperately thrilled with their lentil sides I think it’s nice enough, as are the expected popadums and spicy spuds but the mushroom bhaji is off the bloody scales: again simple and not fussy, just stir fried with a good amount of green chilli and tomatoes is it absolutely perfect. The vegetable menu at Kovalam is wide on the whole and you really don’t need to worry about bringing a vegan or two along with you as their is more than enough animal-free action here and it is sometimes better than the meat dishes.

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The only infallible side dish to any curry.

 

The prices at Kovalam are always surprising reasonable and the portions although not dauntingly huge (other than the mixed grill) are more than enough to prompt taking your belt down a notch for the walk home. Like any restaurant the sundries and drinks can tot up a little if you let them but never to the point of pain. The wine list is not always reliable in terms of the menu being up to date but it is beyond me how most people can resist a pint of cobra with a curry, which is of course available.  I’ve never made it with enough room for dessert there but a full meal with drinks and popadums has rarely gone over twenty quid a head on my watch, and if you are in the catchment for their takeaway service you can eat very well for about a ten to twelve quid each without any decrease in the quality of the food that is served in house.

Of all our local eateries, Kovalam gets the most of our local monies because you really can’t go wrong, it works for everything.  Home late with house guests? Kovalam. Impromptu cheeky week-night-date-night on a budget? Kovalam. Step-dad’s birthday blow out dinner with wine aplenty? Kovalam. Lads’ night curry with extra Kingfishers all round? Kovalam.  Pretending to be on a diet with a shashlick and a foot long fried dosa pancake? You know where to go.

You won’t find them online (other than the Just Eat site) but can call 01206 305555 to book. 

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Salt Masters

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If you have an interest in cooking and don’t live under a stone, chances are that you’ve heard recent buzzing about Himalayan Salt- the pretty pink sensation coming to table tops and bathtubs near you!!!

You may well ask why I care about this and I will give you two reasons. The first is, rather obviously, dinner. Salt is one of the most widely used and massively misunderstood components of a decent meal and if you hadn’t noticed yet, I do like a decent meal. The second is that I’m an Essex girl, and if I have to live with the constant barrage of dubious Dad-jokes and stereotypes associated with my region then I shall take my revenge by constantly shouting about some of the really good people, businesses and products that come from Essex too.

Enter Salt Masters, providing you with oodles of Himalayan Salt products from their base in sunny Romford, just up the A12 from this food fan. You can have a check of their lovely website here  and will see all kinds of products ranging from culinary salt to cooking blocks to bath salts to therapeutic lamps and bricks, and back again. I’d like to talk about their culinary salt for a little while.

So what’s the buzz, it’s just salt, right? We-ll, sort of right. In general terms when we say ‘Salt’ we mean sodium chloride, NaCl for those of us that didn’t bunk off chemistry GCSE, and in the loosest way all table salt is the same in that it mostly contains sodium chloride (usually well over 90%). The origin of Himalayan salt, mostly in the Punjab foothills, gives it a unique mineral profile of additional trace compounds and rosy colouration which makes it stand out from many other culinary rock salts. Salt Masters salt is mined without explosives and processed without additional flavour enhancers or anti-caking agents making the product that ends up at your letter box is pure and pink and unadulterated, right from the source.

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Coarse ground Himalayan pink salt from Salt Masters

You have to take a moment to note that as condiments go, this stuff is very pretty and makes an eye catching filler for your grinder or salt pig- it is has a particularly pleasing look when mixed with dried rosemary leaves  in a clear grinder. The coarse ground culinary salt is great to use as an abrasive when mashing up herbs or spices to make rubs and marinades, much as the way you might use traditional rock salt or sea salt. The fine ground salt will also make a pretty spectacular glass-rim garnish for the tequila fans amoung us.

I think the most striking difference I have found in using the Salt Masters culinary salt though is that it tastes, er, really salty…….That sounds like a daft thing to say as what else would it taste of? But this strength of flavour means you really don’t need to use that much of it to enhance your cooking. Using less is something of a double win as although you do need an amount of salt in your diet, there are numerous medical concerns with consuming too much, and when you don’t need to use as much your stash lasts longer and is effectively cheaper! I have found the pink Salt Masters salt especially effective in sweet dishes to enhance rich desserts that could be potentially sickly otherwise and would recommenced this salt in particular for salted caramel or dark chocolate recipes- I will be trying some in a chocolate fondant the next time we have dinner guests. Below is a really easy salted chocolate fudge recipe which works wonderfully with this salt and is a perfect pick me up with a cup of tea or an indulgent movie night treat. As this fudge uses chocolate to set you don’t need to fuss about with endless boiling or sugar thermometers, you just need a good saucepan and a spare fifteen minutes.

Check out the full Salt Masters site here with free delivery on everything over £50!

https://www.himalayansaltmasters.co.uk/

Pink-Salted Chocolate Fudge

 

Kit:
4″x6″ rectangular baking tin
Greaseproof paper
Silicone backed spoon

100g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate (75% cocoa solids)
1 can condensed milk
230g soft dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp fine ground Salt Masters Himalayan Salt
1/2 tsp coarse Salt Masters Himalayan Salt

Line your tin with greaseproof paper and set aside, then break your chocolate up into pieces. Pleeeeeeeeease don’t use cheap cooking chocolate for this recipe invest in a couple of decent, high cocoa content bars! I particularly like the fair trade 80% dark chocolate from Co-op.
Melt the butter in a reasonably sturdy pan then take off the heat and stir in the condensed milk, then the brown sugar. When thoroughly mixed, return to the heat until it just starts to bubble. Start to stir now (don’t use a wooden spoon) and maintain a low, steady simmer for 2 minutes.
Take the pan off the heat and add the fine salt, vanilla extract and the chocolate, stirring until the chocolate is thoroughly melted and combined with the sugar mix.
Return to the heat until it just starts to simmer again then take the pan off, stir quickly once more then pour the mixture into your tin. If you have a silicon spoon use this to level the top or simply give the pan a good wiggle to distribute the fudge out evenly.

Set aside on a heat proof surface for 2 hours then scatter the coarse salt evenly over the top. The fudge will take over night at room temperature or 2-3 hours in the fridge to set fully, do it at room temperature if possible as the set will be better.
Cut into pieces with a sharp knife and serve or gift as you wish, it will keep in an air tight container for a couple of weeks, if you can resist it for that long!

fudge

 

 

*this post has been sponsored by Himalayan Salt Masters and I was gifted two bags of their salt for this purpose, however I would assure you that I would never recommend products or services with anything but my genuine opinion. 

 

The Breakfast Club- Fork & Wine

I’ve alluded previously to my good fortune as regards eating establishments within spitting distance of my humble abode in Brightlingsea so I won’t go on about that again other than to say here’s another one!

Although breakfast has always been a popular date activity for the Mr and myself, however out outings have been curbed since such recent relationship milestones as The Mortgage and The Spare Room Remodelling. We have truly rescinded our Only-On-Special-Occasions- Breakfast-Club retirement for Fork and Wine.

When we first moved to town there was a lot of chatter about a bistro opening on the high street with a confusing and over priced small-plates based menu that frankly put me right off visiting. It was a short lived venture, the gloomy white washed ashes of which gave life to Fork and Wine which seems to be doing much better trade with a hearty, grill based repertoire that requires no translation for those of us who just fancy a normal sized steak followed by some kind of brownie, thanks very much. Plus regular specials, seasonal fish offerings and a remarkable wine list, it all looks pretty good. The internal decor is also quite striking if slightly scattered through several aesthetic themes that might have one reminiscing about a stroll through the Ikea showrooms. Not in a bad way.

I am yet to sample the apparent delights of a dinner at F&W but we were suckered in from a well placed Facebook plug shouting about their early weekend opening hours, great value full English and opening month special of FREE COFFEE WITH ALL BREAKFASTS! Woo hoo! We both commented that the advertised prices couldn’t stay in place for too long and we had better get over there before they ran out of Columbian dark roast.

The full on Full English at Fork & Wine

The breakfast menu is pretty bloody fab, and still holding stupidly good value breaking no more than £8 a head for a hot plate and bottomless coffee or tea. Yes, £8. If you’re being excessive. My last receipt there for an early morning date night came in at £12.95. For both of us. Does anywhere local beat that?
But at those kind of prices the food must be rubbish, no? Well, no. It’s really good, freshly cooked and generously plated to the extent that the Mr will go until dinner without eating again after their full English. This almost never happens.

The menu boasts the expected items- a proper full English at around six quid, an all veggie, scrambled eggs for the kids and avocado toast for the trendy twats, maple-pancake stacks for those of us who aspire to American glucose tolerance levels. You can even have icecream if you want to. It’s a great little menu, with just enough options for a fair choice without putting a struggle on the kitchen to produce everything freshly cooked and prettily turned out.
Service there is not without the odd surprise, however.
Such as an ever present garnish of rocket or greens where one might not expect them, stealth herbs and spices and pesto dressings and filo wrapped deep fried quorn sausages in the All Veggie. Traditionalists might struggle with these little flourishes, I personally think they are fantastic (particularly those filo wrapped nuggets of  crispy TVP wonderfulness).  It is always reassuring to see from your plate that you are eating from a kitchen where someone really appreciates ingredients and knows how to stack up easy, compatible flavours without being utterly boring about it. There are some proper chefs in that kitchen. My only remark against this might be that they are not the fastest chefs in the world BUT hey, it’s the weekend, it’s breakfast out, there is every reason to enjoy every second of a relaxed service with another coffee (I mentioned the free refills, right?). Take the time to think of ways to work off all that buttermilk and crispy bacon with the rest of your day.

A perfectly poached egg atop smashed avocado and foccacia toast, Fork & Wine

After several visits, I have to give these guys a solid 10 out of 10 on their morning set up, it is an excellent place to stop for breakfast. The Mr is fully behind their gut-busting full English-with-green bits and recommends anything that comes with their home-fried potatoes. I am thrilled to be one of the food-trend-bores and steer you towards their triumphantly seasoned avocaodo toast, served smashed with tomatoes and perfectly poached eggs.  I also suggest you dine with someone who orders something with the home fried potatoes so you can nick some of them too.

 

 

Click here for  venue info but their breakfast menu isn’t on here yet. http://www.forkandwine.co.uk/

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A Little Plug- Church St Tavern

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What? Quality bistro, cocktails, modern bar menu

Where? Church St, Colchester, CO1 1NF

How Much? From bargain to blow out

Overall: 11/10

http://churchstreettavern.co.uk/
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.

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THAT celeriac and blue cheese custard. Want!!!!

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.

 

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snaps from my last outing including the cheese custard, cold choc fondant, magnificent pistachio cake, rock oysters, ceviche and steak club skirt steak and chips

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.

A Little Plug- The Loft at Sudbury


The last few weeks have been insanely busy with work and house repairs and family occasions of all flavours. Family occasions leads me to my birth month, which I share with both parental units (pretty selfish of them I think) and thus leads to annual busyness and diary synchronisation. This year I had it all planned to fit in everyone and bugger off to Norfolk for a couple of days chips and sunshine afterwards to lessen the pain of being well into my official mid thirties. Then Work happened and dictated a paring down in festivities. Sad face. Sad employed face however, which could be much sadder afterall. To bring this long story short I spent the last day of 35 with the older male sibling being fed untold delights of immeasurable wonder before setting off on day one of 36 for an action packed day out in the cutesy market town of  Sudbury in Suffolk. Sadly most of this was also pared down due to an unscheduled stop on the M25 but again one must not moan. One must get cleaned up and go for dinner. 

The Loft came about as to complete this trio of birthday mishaps, the very eatery I had been desperate to try, and had thus prompted this visit to Sudbury in the first place, was so incredibly rude when I tried to book a table that this plan too changed abruptly. I won’t name names but unusual bovines by the river won’t ever be seeing any of my hard earned dinner monies. So a last minute Tripadvisor trawl came up with a lot of curry houses and a highly rated Polish place. I’ve never really done Polish food properly and it was close to our lodgings so that was that. 

What a ridiculously marvellous turn of fate to end up here for dinner. 

You will find The Loft on Gaol Street, a few minutes from the main town centre, and when you do find it you will be treated to a comfy, airy space made bright with large picture windows to the front though somewhat surprisingly it is a ground floor establishment. There is a rather charming split of furniture- classic solid, glossy wooden  tables and high backed dining chairs in one end morph seamlessly into more rustic constructions of old palettes and sack cloth around the bar. Very nicely done and a summary of the food on offer here which is both quality and relaxed at once. 

The Mr and I got ourselves a menu and got stuck into a couple of gloriously cold Tyskies to get started. The food here varies around the general theme of meat and cheese as you might expect, leading us to begin with a ham wrapped baked Camembert and the seriously understated ‘pork dripping’. I must admit it was the house pickles that came with the latter that prompted me to order this, I do love a pickle and this is certainly something we know the Polish to do well. The pickles were brilliant- sweet, sour and crunchy and the perfect cleanse to a mouthful of rich and surprisingly meaty dripping smeared over some fresh white bread. It was akin to a light and exquisitely silky pate- simple, filthy and divine. I hope I don’t need to tell you that a parma wrapped baked Camembert is a very good thing too. 

top schnitzel, bottom chicken with sun dried tomatoes and Polish cheesecake


The Mr won when it came to the mains as he stuck to the golden rule of going somewhere new by going with the house special- in this case pork schnitzel. And what a schnitzel, taking up most of the plate so as to literally be served on top of some seasonal veg with a thick ketchup and aioli on the side. I had a noteworthy chicken breast cooked sous vide with sun dried tomatoes and herbs and some excellent roast potatoes. The addition of coleslaw to this dish seemed an odd choice until serving as it complemented the rest very well providing a creamy crunch to go with the soft chicken. A lot of places are touted as ‘homely’ cooking but The Loft really was like a special meal we would have at home, a Saturday dinner if you will, and plenty of it. Desserts were wonderful but ill advised in terms of physical comfort- we skirted the recommended waffles for a traditional and slightly odd Polish cheesecake made with quark and raisins and a very thin cake base for me and a full serving of pancakes and stewed cherries for the boy. Ooof. 

It wasn’t busy but it was an early Sunday evening service with 2 other tables eating but this had no impact on atmosphere as such. The staff were incredibly friendly and warm, we spent most of the evening with service from the manager/owner whose chatter and warmth only added to the homely feel of the evening. It was pretty perfect for the occasion and in an untraditional way my heaven of utter indulgence- the summer dining holy trinity of beer, meat and cheese made comfortable without losing the general feel of still having a treat night out. With cheesecake. 

Value at The Loft is astounding when considering the volume and quality of the food on offer with three courses for two plus several large beers coming in at £50 plus a little change, although this was at a small discount as the manager refused to prepare our bill until I had a look at their Twitter page which prompted me to speak a password for a ten percent discount! 

As the preceding too many words would indicate, I can’t praise The Loft highly enough and I can’t wait to go back, particularly when the weather turns and I may feel more inclined to try out some goulash and the vast range of flavoured vodkas on offer, many at less than three quid a go, not to mention the waffles. 

Great value, lively people and brilliant food you may well not have had call to try before so go there’s do try them out, even if it isn’t your birthday. 

A Little Plug- The Cells, Colchester

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Themed interior No 1 at The Cells

What: Mixed menu of classic grills, veggie and vegan options and all sorts with comically prison themed dish names.
Where: Behind and under Colchester Town Hall, entrance just off the High Street.
How Much: £30-£40 a head three courses and drinks
Overall: 7.5/10

The Cells boasts to be the only venue in the country where you can eat your dinner in an underground cell. One assumes they mean in a voluntary fashion but it’s a new theme on me and a visit here has been struggling to get in the diary for a while now. The theme runs heavy throughout as you take your seat in one of several ‘cells’- from classic Medieval to Hammer Horror era lunatic asylum. Your service staff come presented in cheerful convict-orange jumpsuits or old school black n white Hamburglar-esque stripes. Sounds fun. Sounds silly. Sounds potentially damp, cold and draughty but we were pleased to take our seats in a robust historically themed cell, complete with shackles hanging from the wall and a nice high level high window! Yes, yes technically the cells are beneath street level but you aren’t descending into the pit for your dinner and there is some chance of natural light coming in. To be clear these were once upon a time in use for the Magistrates Court in the Town Hall above your dining room. So the decor is fun, the beaten metal or bench seating isn’t as uncomfortable as it looks and you can stand to take your coat off. Now, to eat!

The correctional institutional theme continues into the menu and seems to be the only one as the a range of dishes on offer is tied up only by humnourish titles such as ‘He Battered a’ Fish and Chips and ‘The Last Supper’ Steak. Points for effort there guys. Offerings range from deep fried sharing platters and dirty burgers to salads and vegan sausage and mash with a curry option in the middle somewhere. All the beers and wines you would expect in an eatery of this type are available alongside an impressive cocktail list which in itself makes it worth visiting their bar alone. I thoroughly recommend the botanical Gin creations. Unfortunately I can’t recall the title of my downfall that evening and the cocktail list isn’t on line for reference but it involved cucumber, pink peppercorns and rose petals and it was a perfect refresher alongside a very spicy starter.

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My poison of choice- a wonderful gin bowl with cucumber, peppercorns and petals. Truly delicious and cooling against the Holy F*ck wings.

I will take a moment now to suggest that The Cells abandon the frankly irritating 2-4-1 Thursday night cocktail offer which invites you to rush to the bar on hearing a siren to claim your BOGOF mojito or similar. So, I can get up from my dinner and go through with my purse to the bar to line up and buy my drinks? But I can’t have this offer if I stay at my table where the bulk of my money is being spent? Assuming I can even identify the right ‘siren’ through all the whines and alarms of your phone and kitchen calls? Just, no. Do a happy hour or something, this is is ill thought out and unnecessary when the drinks are as good as they are.

And on to the food. We Want Plates Twitter fans will note the tin trays and billie tins in lieu of plates and you will probably get your chips in a charming old school enameled mug. I was excited to try my first commercially available Holy Fuck sauce here in the home town, as served on their starter chicken wings. We went halvsies on one set of hot wings and one BBQ. The sauces were both exceptional- HF hot and full bodied as expected while the BBQ was sweet and well flavoured. It’s a shame the chicken beneath was probably within about ten seconds of being cooked. It wasn’t worrying enough to send back, so why mention it? Because I want to get my dinner and focus on my nice, piping hot and slightly crisp wings, I don’t want to be checking for pink bits in an unwelcome distraction from my hot sauce.
Mains also came meat heavy with a Green Mile Gammon for me and On The Inside for my hot lady date. Now that I’ve moaned about the chicken, I shall sing like a canary for the gammon. I’ve not eaten better in a restaurant- a well sized and well cooked gammon steak gloriously topped with a perfectly fried egg AND lovely charred pinapple AND a cheeky slice of black pudding, peas on the side. And a mug of chips. Take note millions of other pubby menus that offer your ham and chips with egg OR pineapple, you’re just mean. This plate was exceptional in that it was simple and flawlessly served. Bravo. ‘On The Inside’ was basically the cheese-BBQ-bacon-chicken combo often called Hunters or New York Chicken in other eateries. It was devoured without ceremony, along with another mug of chips, and lived up to the standards of the Hot Lady Date. That’s saying a lot- she is something of the cheese-BBQ-bacon-chicken combo aficionado. So mains, brilliant!

Ah, dessert. A technically competent brownie and a rock hard waffle. The ice cream was good. The desserts menu is plain without the puntastic dish titles, I felt that perhaps the effort ran out somewhere at the end of the entreé specials in the kitchen as well as on the menu. A shame.

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List of Offenders- Green Mile Gammon top, Holy F*ck hotwings bottom left, tin mug free waffles bottom right.

On the whole, I recommend the cells and will certainly be going there again. Although our dining experience wasn’t as arresting (ahahahahahaha!) as it might have been it’s a fun, novel place for your dinner with a good varied menu. Like many newer ventures, it does feel like The Cells is still finding its feet though not in an incompetent way. The venue is a draw in itself and a mild stroke of genius use for the space; the service is friendly and prompt; the menu is enticing and spans enough to cater to most eaters without fuss or special requests. The ham egg and chips is bloody brilliant. Nothing here needs work, perhaps just a bit of a polish in a couple of spots.

We’ll be back.

Read up on The Cells and book here.

A Little Plug-Il Padrino

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What? Traditional Italian
Where? Church Street, Colchester, CO1
How Much? Menu dependent, potentially ouchy for meat lovers, budget friendly for pasta fans
Overall? almost but not quite 8/10

Il Padrino has been open some three years in Colchester and I must confess to not having heard that much about it. To be honest Italian isn’t always something that floats my boat for many reasons, most of which are Ask, Prezzo and the related glut of fake fast Italians on the average high steet. Equally unappealing is the fact that a real, quality Italian is often relatively expensive and pasta makes you fat. It makes me extra fat because I like it with lots of cheese and red wine (bloated sad face). More recently however, I have heard several credible sources sing the praises of Il Padrino, including someone I know to get their wallet out with far less gusto than I do myself. Hmm. Then I had a school night date with two of my favourites, favourites who are up on the short list of people who enjoy a cheesy pile of carbohydrates more than as much as I do. Double hmmm.

So, Il Padrino. Tucked away on Church St it houses a mildly sparse ground floor seating area and much grander winery-esque basement space where one can enjoy a range of freshly cooked traditional and modern Italian fayre. Decor is mostly classic Mediterranean style with green woodwork. If you’re eating here, definitely ask to be seated downstairs.
Staff were a mixed bag as one doesn’t tend to expect to have to explain how a Pimms is to be served but perhaps I am too snickety on these details. The service of our main courses however was an absolute joy as bought out by (we assumed) the owner/manager with genuine pleasure and unexpected showmanship. What a refreshing difference to get your dinner from someone so clearly proud of what they are bringing to you, and justifiably so.
The menu is mildly irritating by point of there being slightly too much good stuff on it, making it a chore and a half to choose exactly what you want. Lots of meat and shellfish on the options and a pleasing range for the vegetarians amoung us. If you are eating with happy sharers, this is probably the way ahead to sample a good amount of the dishes on offer. I was eating with two people who had already studied the menu furiously online and I was under strict instruction to have their razor clams, which made the elimination process easier for our party.

We all opted for seafood specials to start- one razor clams served pan fried with a sweet but seriously punchy mix of peppers, and two crab gratin served cheesey in the shell. The opinion of my co-diners on this was a muffled grumble of ‘yersh relly nice’ around a gobful of garlic bread. The garlic bread, by the way, is absolutely excellent but will make your pasta main a merry chore to get through unless you are a seasoned belly stretching proffessional.
The main event was carb heavy with Tagliatelle ai Funghi di Bosco (mixed mushrooms, tomatoes, cream), Penne Calabrese (sausage and chilli, quite a serious lot of chilli) and a smoked chicken rissotto (er, smoked chicken and rice). The short version is that it was all very good. The long version escapes me somewhat as I don’t know much about Italian cookery or how to properly describe the nuances of pasta and sauce. I would like to return in days when I haven’t just bought a house and might be able to splash out on a fishtastic special of skate wing or a steak. Ever notice how well proper Italians cook a steak? Musings for another day.

 

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Tagliatelle ai Funghi di Bosco- maybe not so photogenic but a rib sticking satisfying bowl of pasta that will have you loosening your belt and impersonating Tony Soprano in no time. 

An ‘ample’ pasta course will put you back about a tenner and is very nicely presented with fighting flavour and obviously fresh ingredients- it is well worth it. If you are a dessert fan, go with the small serving or be prepared to take a fairly long recovery period before hitting the sweet menu. Maybe don’t drink a couple of pints or fizzy drinks before you turn up either because such well executed dishes deserve an empty stomach ready to savour them. It isn’t jazzy here and on the outside it looks fairly stereotypical but expect some serious talent beneath the surface at Il Padrino. Expect ‘creamy’ to be seriously oozy and rich and lush and indulgent. Expect ‘chilli’ to be hot and clean and make your nose run a little bit but not in a bad way. Expect huge meat jealousy if someone on a nearby table goes for one of the strictly carniverous dishes as they look pretty spectacular but will roughly double your pasta budget.

It isn’t flawless, but for a weeknight stop with the girls and no dessert, I recommend it here. I hope in months to come I may also be able to recommend it as a no-holds-blow-out-three-courses-coffee-and-wine location too but time will tell on that score. Don’t mistake my lack of technical speak for dwindled enthusiasm- Il Padrino ticks all the ‘proper’ Italian boxes, including tinned blood orange San Pelligrino for the designated driver and a comedic oversized black pepper grinder dragged to your table on demand. Who doesn’t love one of those?

check out menus and booking info here