For my grandma’s birthday this September, we knew that we wanted to take her somewhere a little bit special – somewhere that offered deliciously hearty food that wouldn’t offend her sense of a traditional menu, but somewhere that wasn’t just your norm. Birthdays are only once a year you know.
We really hit the nail on the head with The Nag’s Head, a swanky gastro-pub situated in the smart side of Essex, amidst rambling country lanes and hitting the Towie crowds’ home turf of Brentwood. Although it has the appearance of a simple pub, The Nag’s Head is completely geared up for fine dining, and they have recently refurbished their menu with an array of intriguing and interesting flavours that seem a far cry from the usual pub grub combinations. Upon entering, you can clearly see that the layout is all about encouraging people to sit down and order food – The Nag’s Head really isn’t one of those places where you find yourself squashed by the bar for the majority of the evening. Peaceful pared down neutral tones of sage green and peach offer a tranquil ambience and you can opt to sit at a small coffee table surrounded by plush bucket style seats, or ask one of the compliant bar staff for a table. The bar is in the centre of the wooden beamed building, the seating area sweeping in a ‘u’ shape around it, with chunky, masculine light wooden tables giving diners plenty of space to spread out.
Since this was a special occasion, we perused the menu with gusto, raring to get stuck into the full three courses. We started by ordering our drinks, and I decided to pick an aromatic white wine to have with my meal. I normally steer clear of white wine due to my distaste of overly dry or crisp textures, yet I felt confident in picking the French Viognier after reading its blurb. With vanilla, honey and rounded fruit tones, it sounded right up my street especially as it had hints of apricot and peach, which I think always works really well in a white wine. It had a fantastically full flavour that was well rounded and it had a subtle and smooth strength which I enjoyed. For just under £20 a bottle, it wasn’t the cheapest option, but it was definitely a treat.
For my starter, I decided to go for something a bit different for me and even though it’s not something I would usually settle on, the combination of flavours really appealed to me. I went for the thyme roasted pigeon breast, served in a red wine and beetroot risotto. I have to confess, I absolutely loved this dish and I could very easily have continued eating it for the rest of the evening. The red wine gave the risotto a decadent depth and an earthy twang that steeped beautifully into the thin strips of beetroot that enhanced the purple-red colour tones of the plate. It had a wonderfully sticky texture and a luxurious taste that only brought out the best in the game meat of the pigeon, which was succulent and slightly pink in the centre (which suited me just fine). The flavours were completely married to each other and I believe it to be a really well thought out and delicious dish. I enjoyed it so much that I am even contemplating trying to re-create my own version of it at home.
With such a successful start, you sometimes worry that the rest of the meal won’t live up to your expectations. I had nothing to worry about however with my choice of mains, as I opted for the very classic 28 day aged ribeye steak, served with hand cut, triple cooked chips and a béarnaise sauce. I asked for my steak medium rare, and it was perfect for me. The huge slab of meat took up the majority of plate and not only was it juicy and cut like butter, but it had a brilliant natural flavour that demonstrated how you don’t need to mess around with good quality beef. The bernaise sauce provided the ideal dunking partner, thick, goopy and peppered with chives and herbs, the slight creaminess juxtaposed well with the blunt beef texture. The chips were fantastic – I love thick chips and I always view them as my indulgence whenever I have them out, and these crispy coated bad boys were no exception. Gorgeously fluffy on the inside, they were perfect. The only downside to this traditional dinner was the onion rings that seemed rather pointless to be honest. They were so incredibly thin that it felt like I had been given a round of overcooked batter that didn’t really taste of much, and I was hard pushed to locate the onion within. Apart from this minor problem though, I thoroughly enjoyed my main course, which felt me feeling very full with the good portion size. I also shared some of the creamed spinach and garlic as an extra side which was very tasty, although the creamy sauce seemed more likely to remain at the bottom of the dish than on the spinach.
Round three and it was time for dessert. I adored the sound of the Rhubarb and Custard Eton Mess – I love custard and I was interested to see how they would pull off this unusual mix of desserts all rolled into one. All I can say is that it was amazing. The rhubarb was in strips and still had its tangy bite and crunch, which worked so well with the soft custard swirled cream. The meringue was expertly folded into the creamy concoction and the combination of textures was completely spot on. I was oohing and ahhing all over the place with this dessert, which satisfied my sweet tooth.
After having my arm twisted, it was up to me to sample something from the cocktail menu and for me, the obvious choice was the Chocolate Martini, with Smirnoff Black, Baileys and Crème de Cacao. Served in a long stemmed triangular martini glass, it had a strong yet smooth taste that had a veiled punch drenched in chocolate undertones. It was opulent and slid down a treat to finish off my meal.
The Nag’s Head is a fantastic venue – the staff were polite, talkative and full of personality, even if they did forget my dad’s beer a couple of times. The food was lovingly prepared and professionally executed, with no complaints from any of us even though we had all chosen different dishes. There is plenty of choice on the re-vamped menu and I spent ages flicking between final decisions attempting to make my mind up. The atmosphere is casual and comfy yet it has an upmarket feel that brings bags of class to country pub dining. The only downside is that it is on the pricier end of the spectrum so it’s not a cheap date night, especially as you will no doubt want to sample more than one course (and not all wines you can buy by the glass). I would definitely recommend a visit and I can’t wait to return – although I will probably have to wait for the next special occasion…