A Little Plug- Kovalam Restaurant

kovalam

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.

cobra

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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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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The Rosebud, Brightlingsea


What:
Independent pub with seafood specialty menu
Where: High Street/Hurst Green, Brightlingsea, Essex
How Much: Variable
Overall: I want to sell my house and live here instead.

http://www.rosebudpub.co.uk/ 

menu

My cousin recently commented on how lucky we are to live in a reasonably small town with so many excellent eateries, and whilst I’m not about the label Brightlingsea as the Bray of North East Essex, we are very much spoiled when it comes to dinner options in this little corner of the world.

I first stumbled into The Rosebud about a year ago, some months into our new residency and for out first real search of a local table for two. I had seen some advertising of their new management and fish-heavy menu and been tempted but in all honesty I couldn’t work out where on earth they were! A well placed social media shot of their cold seafood bar snacks prompted me to get out the google maps and drag the Mr out for dinner.

You will find The Rosebud at the far end of the apparently never ending High Street in Brightlingsea, and you could quite easily blink and miss them snuggled in a residential row. You could also quite easily make the snap decision that this is an average, pokey pub in a small town that you don’t need to stop into and that would be a massive mistake.

The building itself is something of a game of two halves- a traditional pub space with exposed beams, heavy wooden tables and an open fire place serving a good mix of real ales, fizzy lager favourites and reasonably priced wines. Nice, comfy, pubby. A walk through past the bar however will take you into a large, bright conservatory area overlooking their gardens into a sprawling green view down to the water. This space is a small slice of genius, having turned what might have just been an extension of drinking space into a crisp, gloriously light area made fresh with some well placed plants. A cynical observer might suggest that this is almost a His n Hers set up, though casual sexism aside there is a welcome option of the cosy quiet dinner inside versus the bright and more energetic lunch with a view. Of course, you may need a jumper in the evening in the back!

overall

Top: eton mess, tuna steak with chickpea salad, salmon. Middle: THAT crab linguine, pickle mackerel salad, cockles. Bottom: hake loin, monkfish.

 

On to the food- which is very fishy indeed and far removed from what one would expect as general pub grub- a sad fact which has earned them some snarky comments on Tripadvisor but if you want scampi, chips and peas and a bbq chicken wrap there are plenty of other places in the locality that will serve you this. The Rosebud menu is, much like the rest of the pub, both delicate and traditional at the same time, offering sturdy classics and refined contemporary plates. The menu changes regularly but you can expect local oysters for the run of the season, razor clams and rich pates to start, maybe followed with a tuna steak or swordfish, moules or a fantastic kedgeree in the colder months.  Not really your bag? Sound a bit fussy? How about a prawn cocktail and a steak sandwich and chips? Because you can go for either, or even both. His n hers. Basic or blow out. I’m hard pressed to come up with recommendations because almost everything I’ve had there has been fantastic without too much of a running theme. Their avocado prawn starter with marie rose sauce is classic and well executed despite wandering towards the dread deconstructed category. The deepfried soft shell crab leans more to the modern American form of dining without being completely crass and the pickled mackerel salad currently on offer is one of the best things I’ve eaten in a very long time: again a balanced contrast in the form of rich but slightly tart fish with a very simple salad base. Beautiful.
Whilst there is usually an option for steak or chicken on the a la carte I would press even the most avid carnivore to try one of the fish offerings- be that a finely served monkfish tail or a gloriously hearty bowl of crab linguine depending on your needs, as I now struggle to decide between which of these has been my favourite there. And herein once more lies the glory of this place in that those of us who can’t choose between foodie finesse and a big fat pile of creamy carbs don’t have to.
Desserts are of course available, perhaps slightly less unexpected in range but usually suitable if you have room to spare- the snowball cake they had on over Christmas was well worth weeping over three days’ of weight watchers points for. A good time to throw in that they do have set menus from time to time along with lunch time offers and their Christmas menu in 2016 was a proven popular choice for a festive dinner with out friends at less than £30 a head for three courses and obligatory coffee and mince pies.

xmas

Christmas set menu offerings from 2016, including a full turkey dinner!

Cost wise, it isn’t easy to put a price prediction on a visit here as it will range depending on your eating theme of the day but it would take hard work on the wine list (which is as eye opening as the rest of the menu) to go beyond £40 a head for three courses and drinks. If you’re more of the mind of a swift pubby dinner and a beer you shouldn’t break £15 and this is the point where I should stress that if you are more after a pint than a restaurant experience then this is also definitely the spot for you. Our most frequent visits are for a well selected mid-week real ale and a white pepper drenched bowl of cockles to fight chat over.

You will often find the management on site offering a friendly hello from the bar or kitchen and a spritely and warm team offering no fuss service that alludes so perfectly to the homey atmosphere and simple enjoyment of really, really good food.

I could gush on all day about The Rosebud, perhaps I already have. Suffice to end up with a solid top rating and heartfelt recommendation to give them a go if you are local and make the trip out here if you are not. Be sure to book though, as they are not always busy but you can guarantee that when you don’t reserve you will turn up to find standing room only!

I’ll see you at the bar.

cockles

a bowl of cockles, served with pepper and vinegar in the conservatory for summer pick me up perfection

 

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.

2017- The Dinner Resolutions

Some eating out highlights of 2016, from Mexican to Michelin and many manhattans in between.


Believe it or not, I really don’t eat out very much and I’m horrible at choosing restaurants. One bad review in amoungst the three hundred full-star reports on trip advisor will cancel a booking and send me back to my tried and tested just eat menu or to the co op for some chillies and a pack of tortillas. Because I love eating out so much, I really am rather terrified of getting it wrong because it sucks to waste a meal. Really.

It also sucks to keep hearing myself say ‘Oh, I keep meaning to go there’ then in related follow ups, being disappointed to hear of smaller venues closing down before I have had a chance to bite the bullet, take the plunge and spend my weight watchers points with them.
So no more dreaming of that interesting night out, no more fear of the unknown menu, no more missed belly aches and instagram opportunities, I pledge now to get out there and try these places and spend my money with smaller, weirder and localerer calorie salesmen. 2017 WILL be the year of the end of meaning to do dinner related stuff I never get around to. So far I’ve come up with a fantasy short list, the bare minimum, The Risks to Take, and they go a little something like this:

Where: Albatta, Sir Isaacs Walk, Colchester:
What: Lebanese, mezze
How overdue? About 2 years.
Albatta is a Lebanese restaurant and takeaway in central Colchester, which to be honest looks a bit pokey and uninviting from the street but sooooooo many people have raved about their dinners there that it must be investigated. Mezze,  or any small plates dinner, is potentially one of my favourite kinds of meal- sampling across a range of unusual or new menu tasters rather than blowing it all on one thing. And here, they have fattoush, which I (usually) love for it’s simple, crisp flavours and the foresight of putting the bread in the salad so you don’t have to order it separately! Albatta is top of the list in all respects. 

Where: Bonedaddies
https://www.bonedaddies.com/

What: Ramen
How Overdue? 2-3 Years



I am so sick of hearing about how good it is at Bonedaddies and how much everyone likes Bonedaddies and oh look, everyone is at Bonedaddies again! A curse on all you fly London types and your cock scratchings. One day I will be in town without the kind of schedule that prohibits a no reservations dinner venue and all the lovely noodles will be mine.

Where: Harkstead Farmers Market
http://www.harksteadfarmersmarket.org.uk/
What: The clue is in the title
How Overdue? Not yet!
In truth, I’m resolving to visit more farm shops and farmers markets in general in 2017 and this seems as good a place to start as any. Suffolk is a lovely drive from us and home to many, many foodie and pretty places to visit. Plus, this will be easily aligned with an Adnams visit and obligatory freezing cold stroll up Aldeburgh beach.

Where: Il Padrino Pizzeria, Church St, Colchester
What: Traditional Italian pizzeria
How Overdue? Barely 2 months

This is the sister venue to the big daddy Italian eating destination that is Il Padrino, again in Colchester, which opened quietly in winter 2016. I am yet to find anyone who didn’t have a good/great meal with Il Padrino, I look forwards to seeing what they can do with a large Hawaiian. Who doesn’t like Pizza? No one I know, and certainly no one I care to.

Where: Kovalam, Waterside, Brightlingsea
What: South Indian Cuisine
How Overdue? 11 months and one week
Followers of my rantings will notice that I moved last January to the Essex estuary outcrop that is sunny Brightlingsea. This was exciting for many reasons such as having a garden, a spare bedroom and a living room big enough for me and the Mr to comfortably ignore eachother in whilst still technically engaging in couples time. Oh, and living within staggering distance of that amazing curry house near the harbour- The Kovalam.
I visited there for dinner more times in my 15 years as a grown up living 10 miles away than I have in the last year when i could walk there in ten minutes. By which I mean we haven’t been down there yet. Why?!?!? Well, to be honest being in mortgage land has realigned financial priorities which means we get takeaways more often than we eat out and Kovalam don’t have an online menu. The Raj Palace does. The Raj Palace also does an amazing pickle curry thing and a green masala thing which I adore so they have won on the recent Ruby opportunities. But we will get there this year. Hopefully in February with the council tax money we don’t have to spend.

Where: Lily Vanilli- The Bakery, Columbia Rd, London E2
http://lilyvanilli.com/the-bakery/
What: CAKE!!!
And pastry and cookies and personal hero worship.
How Overdue? Since the second I saw her twitter feed

lv back

Sweet Tooth back cover, the front is too splattered from constant use to photograph now.


I love Lily. Love her. Love her cakes. Love her books. Love her style. Wish to squee ridiculously at her and ask how the hell it is that I can’t make my Hackney buns look the way they do in Sweet Tooth, my favouritest cake book of all time. So for her sake, I hope she isn’t around when I finally manage to fit in a Sunday visit to her bakery.

 

Where: The Man Behind The Curtain, Vicar Lane, Leeds
http://www.themanbehindthecurtain.co.uk/

What: Good question.
How Overdue? Missing from my life like world peace, an interest free Tiffany’s account and a smaller butt.
For the most part I’m too poor and too far away to go for dinner here and it destroys me with intrigue and Tweet Rage when I see others who have managed to get a table there. Frankly, I think Michael O Hare is wonderful for omitting all menu information other than the cruellest of teasers and just saying: I’m going to feed you amazing food in a funky place. A set menu is one thing, not knowing what that menu is is quite another. One might argue that the Hair Metal Chef persona is equally as pretentious as any well oiled French sounding bloke charging £230 a head plus service in the M25 outskirts, but hooray for something a bit different and not as outrageously expensive as many of his home counties peers. Maybe I can round up a 40th birthday expedition there by 2020.

 

Afternoon Tea At Memoirs

Tea is served! Full afternoon tea at Memoirs Colchester, with a Botanical Royal accompaniment

I’ve been meaning to check out Memoirs for some time- the now not-quite-new conversion of the old library in Colchester town hall into a fine dining restaurant. This was the first of several moves from the town hall to make more commercial use of the space there including The Cells in the old magistrates dungeons below and the new addition of The Courts upstairs (where I shall hopefully fill my Town Hall trilogy of bloggings before Christmas).

Where The Cells and The Courts are a more casual affair offering plenty of fried stuff and drinks deals, Memoirs is pitching to a very different audience and boasts one of only three Michelin listings for the town. Once used for weddings and civil ceremonies, it is an absolutely beautiful space, airy and high ceilinged with décor in gold and cream that pulls off being luxe without feeling too over done or cheesy. An impressive bar with a distinctly 30s feel marks a shiny focal point beneath an ornate window which fills the space with natural light during the day. It is a very pretty, fresh space befitting the menu and the level of punter they are trying to attract.

My call to eat out on a higher budget doesn’t come so often in Colchester these days, and on those occasions of late that it has I have found myself deferring to Greyfriars up the road or Church St Tavern down the road and round the corner but I finally made a visit in October to take the bestie for a birthday treat. Their day to day menu is modern, offering plenty of classics with a twist and solid meat and fish options, daily specials and the geographically expected oysters. Check out their website for full menus and some surprisingly good value set menus that I can’t comment on because we went for afternoon tea.

Scone, cream, jam, in that order!

Afternoon tea has always struck me as a hard balance to hit- splitting that massive pile of mid PM carbohydrates into the right amount of sweet, savoury and cheese covered is not an easy task, especially if one needs to function as a human being later on in the day without feeling both bloatingly nauseous and hungry again by five. But on the other hand, it’s nice isn’t it? We all like cake and it’s a bit of a treat to argue over the cream and jam order for your scones (cream then jam BTW) and eat off the pretty little stack of plates like some kind of delicately bouffanted Jane Austen character. If you’ve not met my companion or I, I can assure you that is exactly what we are like…..

So it was a treat, it was the afternoon and we both like a bit of cake so we went for afternoon tea. And what an afternoon tea. Due to a midweek 2pm sitting the choice of table was unrestricted as we were the only ones in there however the service was friendly and the space so comfortable that we were gassing away and enjoying ourselves pretty quickly without the need for provided atmosphere. If you’re planning on a first date here however, you might want to stray into their busier hours. Despite the lack of rush on the staff there, I should mention that the service was impeccable and hit a wonderful balance of being both relaxed and efficient without becoming the slightest bit snooty which is something I rarely experience. Top marks there.
Starters came in flutes with the inevitable fizzy upgrade which then became fizzy cocktail upgrades. If you are boozy lady (or gentleman over the age of 18) who lunches I would steer you towards their Botanical Royal- a prosecco base spiked with a mystery house ‘botanical’ infusion which is a wonderful bright lilac in colour and I’m damned if I can tell you what is in it but the finish is smooth and distinctly floral. 

Tea components change with demand but we were treated to some well executed though not desperately noteworthy sandwiches which can pass with only the comment that they didn’t scrimp on the fillings.

Next up two scones which get double points for being both huge and delicious. One fruit, one plain with some kind of very crunchy sweet glaze, served with a good amount of clotted cream and the compulsory tiptree jam pots on the side. Marvellous.

The top tier

The top tier seemed mildly underwhelming at first holding banana bread, a little pile of saucy berries with a single meringue going as ‘eton mess’, a potted cheesecake and a small triangle of something chocolatey and evil looking. In a world of gold velour seats and penguin suited barmen, this wasn’t quite the display that one might have expected other than the delicately placed violet flower in the middle of this humble offering. I say humble, it wasn’t really once you got down to the eating- for style must never come before substance in the world of posh grub. I’m a bit of a snob about banana bread and can say that I would sell limbs to be able to recreate my own quite as well as they did, add in a major vital organ for the ability to actually present it in an even slightly aesthetically pleasing way as they managed to in a sneakily cut duo with a topping of fresh sliced ‘nana that was by some kind of sorcery neither slimy nor brown. Intrigue. Saucy berries and meringue thing were fine, passionfruit cheesecake was bordering the sickly-over sweet realms but balanced with odd punctuations of crunchiness which I’m still considering the merits of. Micro basil addition was inspired, however. But the then there was the little triangle of something chocolatey and evil.

 

Well.

 

Bravo, Memoirs. That dark point of tart was a miniscule culinary victory of overt rich chocolatelyness complimented perfectly by a crunchy base, Bestie described it as like a slice of the best chocolate truffle she’d had. I could have cried into my earl grey. Many people might say that you only needed a tiny piece as it was so densely flavoured but to be honest those are the kind of people I could probably eat as well as an entire chocolate tart, however along with the rest of the tea it was an ample serving. Satisfied? We were both merrily stuffed and outwardly ashamed of ourselves and I have to say I felt no need to eat again for the remainder of the day until some pre-bed martini soak up toast was required but that is another post in itself, for another time.

The view from the table, nice bar, nice chairs, nice all round.

Afternoon tea is by pre-booking only at £18.85- £23.95 per head depending on alcoholic add ons, and is well worth the money for a fine afternoon treat.

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.