With my fiancé’s birthday being just five days before Christmas, he usually glosses over any form of celebration with a muted meal out hastily arranged during the course of the day with whatever family members happen to be free at such short notice. This year however, I decided that enough was enough, and I stealthily organised a complete birthday takeover with my usual efficiently energetic enthusiasm. My other half is a notorious fussy eater – although he blindly denies this – so picking a suitable venue where every item on the menu would tickle his taste buds was no easy feat. His immediate family, who I was also inviting along for the surprise dinner out, are also traditional diners so it was important to pick a local restaurant that would satisfy everyone.
With a love of ribs and all things barbequed, I thought I had hit the nail on the head when I stumbled across American speciality restaurant Simply Blues, situated on Station Lane in Hornchurch. Also with a branch in Leigh-on-Sea, this small diner not only offered a fully-fledged and oversized carnivore lover’s menu, but it also provided a really relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. Complete with a dollop of laid back cool, Simple Blues is decked out in an abundance of large vibrant posters and billboard pictures from times gone by, the slightly dusty coloured shades working really nicely with the polished dark wood bar by the front door, and other wooden accents throughout the décor. The tables were protected by bright red and white checked tablecloths, really enhancing that diner feel that is so closely associated with America. Since the restaurant is quite small, it had a really cosy and comfortable vibe, and this intimate vibe was ideal for our small family gathering.
We had a large rectangular table for eight people, so half of us sat on a wooden bench booth, while across the table, the other four sat on wooden dining chairs. It was a bit of a squeeze to get sat down, and since we could only get in from one end of the table, there was rather a lot of inelegant sliding. There was also nowhere for those of us sitting in the booth section to hang our coats, and there wasn’t really enough space to wedge them in between us. I ended up hanging mine over the top of the booth since there were no seats behind us, but my coat did end up falling on the floor at one point. Despite this however, we weren’t too squashed in, and I still felt like I had plenty of space to eat my food, which makes a change as so many restaurants really try and squidge too many people into small booth style seating.
Since this was a birthday treat, it was only natural that we would go the whole hog with three full courses. We started by perusing the drinks menu and I was pleasantly surprised by the wide selection of cocktails that they had on offer. Neatly divided into sections and filling two entire pages of the drinks menu, I quickly zoned in on the tequila sunrise – one of my favourites and also one of the cheaper drinks at just under £5, which is great for a cocktail. Granted, it tasted mainly of juice rather than the gutsy punch of tequila, but it was light and refreshing with my heavy meal nonetheless. In a decoratively shaped glass and sporting paper umbrella, cherry and a glitzy stirrer, you knew the night had now begun. If you’re going to do cocktails, you may as well do them in style, and with cocktails, appearance is half of the battle.
Browsing the starters, one thing really stood out for me – the grilled quesadillas (and no, I have no idea how to say it either). I soon discovered that this was a flour tortilla filled to the brim with oozing and melting cheddar, peppers, onions, tomatoes and jalapenos, and then cut into quarters. It was served with a fat blob of guacamole and sour cream. The portion size was absolutely giant for a starter. Now I can eat a lot of food, and even I was surprised by the size, which reminded me more of a main course. The quesadillas were fantastic though – the tortilla had a slightly crisp bite around the edges, but was still soft and doughy. The beautifully melting hotpot of Mexican flavours within worked complete magic together, with the fresh tomato and peppers ensuring that the mass of gooey cheese wasn’t too overbearing or heavy. I ended up picking the quesadillas up with my fingers, using my knife to plonk generous lashings of the green guacamole on top. The guacamole was a lovely texture as well – smooth yet with a nice weight so not too runny and not too chunky either. All in all, this starter was right up my street and I loved it. The size was a bit much, but I was in for the long haul, so I wasn’t going to let it beat me.
The array of main courses had my other half crippled by indecision – Simply Blues are famous for their burgers, yet on offer was also ribs, chicken and steak to name but a few of the categories. I decided to go for something a little bit different with the American style pulled pork. The slow cooked pork shoulder is cooked and then shredded in house, before being combined with thick barbeque sauce and gently pushed into a haphazard burger shape to be placed into a plain white bun. I opted to swap my chips for a jacket potato, topped with sour cream and with coleslaw on the side. The jacket potato was massive and probably would have done for a meal by itself if I had just been at home! I liked the fact that there was so much choice for how to have your potato – the options were chunky chips, curly fries or jacket potatoes. You also got to decide whether you wanted sour cream and coleslaw on your plate so they really made the effort to personalise your meal as much as possible which was nice.
Speared with a small paper American flag, I tucked into by pulled pork with gusto, and was instantly hit by the intense depth of flavour in the barbeque sauce. It was smoky and tangy, and acted as the perfect glue to hold the pulled pork in some form of shape. The meat itself was cooked to perfection and was tender to eat. I enjoyed eating the pork piled up in the burger bun and I liked the fact that the textures were so soft and saucy. It was great to have the bread to soak up any leftovers of the sauce that may have attempted to escape my greedy clutches. The jacket potato was pretty basic really and just cooked and then plonked on the plate with the splat of sour cream mounted atop it. The coleslaw was also very much what you would expect. Not out of this world, but thoroughly delicious. The dish worked well all together and definitely brought traditional American cuisine to the heart of Hornchurch. The portion size was again, a little on the large side, but I never refuse a challenge. I must confess I was completely stuffed after my mains but I really enjoyed getting stuck into the hands on food.
After waiting a decent interval to create some space for afters, I had a look at the dessert menu. Mainly ice cream and sundaes with a scattering of classic puds such as apple pie and cheesecake, one thing however caught my eye – the Oreo cookie bash. This chocolate cheesecake had whole cookies layered within it, complete with a white chocolate mousse, and an almond and cookie crumble crust. Dusted with more chocolate and cookie crumbs, I opted for a dollop of vanilla ice cream instead of cream. When it arrived at the table, my eyes were out on stalks – once again the portion was more than I was expecting, the ice cream scoop a fat globe nudging the dark chocolate slice sitting in the centre of my plate, a thick drizzle of chocolate sauce meandering across the dish. Despite being stuffed with chocolate, it actually wasn’t too rich, and I think this is because of the biscuit notes that help to break it up. It was luscious and luxurious to eat and I loved every opulent mouthful. The textures were fantastic combined together, with the crunch of the whole cookies, the melt in the mouth mousse and the dusty coco crumbs of the crust. Pure chocoholics heaven on a plate and a must eat.
The whole group had a really great night at Simply Blues. The food was good and hearty – no delicate and creative flavour combinations or decorative daubing on the plate here. You get what it says on the tin and you love every overwhelming massive bite of it. The menu had a good range considering the slightly restricted American diner theme and you still get options to mix it up with your side orders. Starters and desserts have a pretty basic selection but there are some stand out options which do make you want to return. The service was a tad slow at times, but on the whole the staff were polite and helpful. The food was gorgeous to eat, and although you are full to the brim when you leave, a part of you can’t wait to return.