Once I discovered my husband was planning a little weekend away in Clacton, I instantly hit Trip Advisor to find us somewhere tasty to have our dinner on Saturday night. Being a weekend, I was keen to book us a table in case the local restaurants were busy, so I thought a little research wouldn’t go amiss. American bar, grill and coffee house Charnallies was literally a two minute walk from the front door of our hotel, also boasting numerous five star ratings. Checking that the array of burgers, ribs, pizza and pasta was suitable for my fussy other half, I promptly booked a table for 8pm, intrigued to see whether the quality of the food would match the reviews I had already read.
Upon entering Charnallies, I certainly didn’t have to worry about booking a table as the place was empty. There were a few other couples scattered around the edges of the restaurant, a long table in the centre housing a family 50th birthday meal but other than that, there was plenty of space. The restaurant was roomy enough that we could all sit at separate ends and not really interfere with each other which offered great privacy. The way the tables were laid out though also ensured you wouldn’t be interrupted or squashed together which was nice, and there was also some booth seating, with tables surrounded by plush lipstick red cushions.
Stylistically, there was that American diner feel, with retro style tables and chairs and a gangster style wall mural covering the back wall, utilising bright primary colours against the dove grey of mafia suits. With twenties style lettering and a jukebox design covering the front of the menu, the theme is maintained throughout. I instantly felt at ease and relaxed, the atmosphere hovering just the right side of cheesy to be acceptable and fun rather than overdone in any way. Sat at a dining table for four, we had plenty of space for just the two of us, although the freezing, gale like winds that buffered us whenever the door opened wasn’t the best. Wearing a top and cardigan, I soon had to resort to whipping my scarf back on too – never a good sign!
I was really excited to try the cocktail menu – yes, they did have a wine menu but I barely gave it a second glance when I saw that the majority of the cocktails available were just under a fiver each. With cocktail prices hitting nearer £7 local to me and then swaggering around the £10 point in London, these cheap and cheerful prices had me studying the different categories with gusto. Did I fancy fruity? What about enjoying a classic? The creamy, dessert like option also drew my eye and that’s without even considering the long drinks or the shots. Needless to say, I would have to try and few throughout the evening. With Dan picking a prawn cocktail for his starter, I decided to kick things off with a Tequila Sunrise instead, one of my favourite combinations that includes orange juice, grenadine and tequila. Decorated with a generously fat circle of orange, it was presented nicely and tasted ok but I couldn’t quite grasp the punch of tequila. Either alcohol portions were small or it had been too watered down with the juices. It was refreshing though.
Dan’s prawn cocktail on the other hand was certainly a bit lacklustre. Served on an oval plate, a trail of anaemic prawns formed a line down the centre, a garden of lettuce stacked to the side next to two rustic cubes of toasted ciabatta. The seafood sauce formed a zig zag across the top. Dan commented that he struggled to eat the components together, much preferring this dish when served in a traditional glass.
For my main course, I had gone for one of my favourite types of food – the folded up pizza also known as a calzone. The one I had gone for was the Calzone Carne and I was looking forward to a meaty hit here. This one contained slices of pepperoni, large shards of thick sliced bacon, cut up sausage segments as well as red onion, all mixed in a tasty Italian style tomato sauce. On top was also a very generous puddle of cheese sauce. When it arrived at the table, I was a bit surprised at its presentation, as the calzone had been cut in half and I hadn’t seen this done before. I was pleased to see so much cheese sauce however as I love saucy foods and dunking my meals in various sauces, so this was ideal for my pizza crust section of the calzone that was devoid of filling. The creamy cheese sauce was also a perfect juxtaposition to the tomato sauce within, providing a good contrast. I wouldn’t say the cheese sauce tasted overly of cheese – it was boarderline between a cheese sauce and a white one, but it wasn’t unpleasant. The dough of my calzone was really delicious – soft and springy it was really lovely and the perfect case to my filling. The pepperoni was pretty standard, adding a nice level of spice to the tomato sauce and I really enjoyed the rustic, thick cut bacon. It was nice to have actual pieces rather than the usual miniscule cubes of pancetta. The sausage segments were nice and added to the meatiness, although you could tell that the quality of the sausage wasn’t great. It was a decent size portion and I didn’t feel like I needed any sides. I didn’t feel too full afterwards either which is always a good thing when it comes to dessert. I did enjoy my calzone and although I think it could have been fine tuned slightly to be a better version of itself, it wasn’t a bad meal.
To go with my main course, I switched my cocktail to a White Russian, mixed with vodka, Kahlua and cream. Served in a standard glass, it did have a more alcoholic vigour than my first drink, although not really enough for me. It had a lovely flavour and the cream was thin enough to make it drinkable with my meal. It was nice but still verging on the cheap side. For his main course, Dan had ordered the haddock and chips, which ended up being cod and chips as that was the white fish they had in. His battered fish did look a bit sorry for itself, clearly overcooked as it was a very deep brown batter, however some sections of the fish didn’t look that great inside. Dan found the tartare sauce too bitter for his liking, although the chips and peas were fine.
Dessert is usually my favourite course, and with an array of sundaes and cookie options available, I was really impressed by the choice on the dessert menu. I pretty much wanted everything! Knowing my penchant for chocolate and my love of sundaes, I had to pick the Chocolate Crunch Sundae, which used a combination of both chocolate and toffee ice creams, topped with chocolate fudge cake, honeycomb pieces and whipped cream, drizzled with chocolate sauce and speared by a flake and wafer. When the sundae arrived at the table, it was a decent size – nothing is more disappointing than a small sundae. The flake was smaller than my little finger which is a shame as I was expecting a full sized one, however once I digged under the creamy topping I found the lovely chocolate fudge cake. It was definitely more a light chocolate sponge than a dense brownie, crumbled into large to medium bite sized segments that were sat atop a bed of crushed up honeycomb. Underneath this layer was the chocolate ice cream, with the toffee ice cream at the bottom, the chocolate sauce attempting to lace its way down the dessert. I loved the flavours and the textures, really enjoying getting stuck in. My only comment would be that it was very divided and regimented. With a sundae, you need some of the toppings and fillings inserted underneath the first ice cream layer and even something at the bottom too, to maintain the flavour and interest as you go along, constantly giving that differing texture to eat alongside the ice cream. With this one, everything simply had it’s one layer and you had to eat all of that before you could even reach the next, so it wasn’t put together as well as I would have liked. Dan opted for the Wiseguy Waffles which were basically waffles topped with one scoop of vanilla and one scoop of chocolate ice cream, swirled with chocolate sauce and scattered with cookie chunks. Sampling a cookie chunk, I would describe them more as biscuits rather than cookies – cookies are meant to be gooey, soft and chewy, while these were a mashed up chocolate chip biscuit in my opinion.
To have with my dessert, I carried on with the ice cream theme for my accompanying cocktail, this time going for a Frozen Brandy Alexander. This was brandy and dark chocolate liquor, blended with vanilla ice cream for a thick cocktail, served in a martini glass and dusted with cocoa powder. The flavour was heavily of the soft scoop vanilla ice cream, although laced with alcohol this did perk up the flavour. My one comment on the cocktails is that they taste more like soft drinks – definitely need to actually add a single portion of alcohol to give the cocktails their true flavours. It tasted as if there was barely any alcohol added at all.
The service was quite good, with the waiting staff being attentive and inquisitive, chatting away happily and politely. We had to wait a little while for our mains, but our waitress did apologise for this. Price wise, I would say that Charnallies was rather cheap, coming to £50.60 for one starter, two main courses, two desserts, three cocktails and one soft drink. My only problem was that this cheapness was reflected in some of the shortcuts used which took the shine off what could have been an exceptional meal. For example, adding the right amount of alcohol to drinks and using good quality cuts of meat and fish. This little tweaks would make all the difference. Walking back to our hotel afterwards, we both agreed that the five star ratings on Trip Advisor were over generous, and although the food was nice, we weren’t sure if we would bother going back. I enjoyed my meal much more than Dan enjoyed his, and although everything was ok and tasty, there was nothing exceptional or anything that stood out. It was just a good meal. It was tasty and I liked it but I wouldn’t write home about it.