Homeward Bound: Villagio, Basildon, Essex

Despite being an Essex girl for my whole life, there are many patches of the county I have yet to explore when it comes to mu culinary adventures. One such patch is Basildon, an area I am certainly more interested in now the hubby and I have it in our sights as a potential destination for our next home. I will certainly require good quality eating hot spots nearby so a best friend’s hen do meal at local Italian restaurant Villagio, at the Festival Way recreation park, seemed like a good starting point.

Light, bright and airy, wall to wall mirrors helps to make the restaurant feel roomier than it is, although lashings of sunny yellow paint also create a spacious warmth. With mustard yellow tones, button studded upholstery and decorative chandeliers, Villagio felt comfortable, family-friendly and casual, although we also felt perfectly at home being dressed up to the nines for our Saturday meal out.

Sitting across from another of my best friends, and a fellow food-lover, we decided the best course of action would be to share a couple of starters, to enable us to tuck into and try more food at, let’s face it, a restaurant we probably wouldn’t be visiting again in the immediate near future. Therefore, we opted for the garlic pizza bread with mozzarella and caramalised onions and a portion of meatballs. The garlic bread was really delicious; it was the size of a small 10 inch round pizza I reckon, with gooey creamy coloured blobs of the melted mozzarella generous and thickly covering the majority of the pizza, the deep brown caramlised onions cutting through the dense cheese with a sharp sweetness that worked really nicely. We all know this is a dream team flavour combo but it’s great that the ratio of cheese to onion was spot on too. The garlic was very subtle, so I would define this as more of a cheese and onion bread rather than a garlic bread; personally I would have liked it to have more of a punchy garlic kick however my bestie preferred the lower garlic payoff. I also liked the fact that the crust of the garlic bread was doughy and was thicker than you would typically get. I don’t much like it when you get a garlic bread or pizza crust that simply snaps like a poppadom; this is just flavourless and pointless in my opinion. So thumbs up for an actual crust.

With our garlic bread, we also had a white bowl of five meatballs, drenched in a chunky tomato and garlic sauce, sprinkled with grated cheese and served with two narrow grilled strips of ciabatta. The meatballs were lovely; fairly small but nice and meaty. They would have been dry without the sauce, however there was more sauce hidden in the dish than I first suspected, so it was nice to continually dunk both the meatballs, small bits of ciabatta and our garlic bread crusts in the sauce. It was a standard tomato sauce, thick and chunky with simple garlic tones. All in all, a good and simple start to the meal.

For my main course, I decided to opt for the butternut squash risotto; two things I cannot convince the husband to consume so I saw this as a great opportunity to chow down on foods that I wouldn’t necessarily get at home. Served in a beige speckled pasta dish, the risotto rice was sticky, clumping together in true risotto fashion. Luckily, it was cooked more than the traditional al dente, which I prefer, although the parsley scattered on the top was overzealous for my taste buds. The butternut squash was cut into small cubes, and stirred through the risotto along with peas and cabbage, Parmesan cheese grated on top for that final flourish. It was cooked nicely, the flavours worked well together, and it was a great little dish. As I was being greedy, I also had a side dish, which is typically quite unlike me until I saw two words: truffle oil. We all know my partiality to anything truffle so when I saw that a version of the house fries featured my favourite truffle oil and Parmesan combo, I ignored all good sense telling me no and I just ordered them. I’m glad I did though as they were yummy. The truffle was subtle but still a noticeable flavour and the cheese was another fun accent. The chips themselves were spot on too; I’m usually a chunky chip girl but these were so moreish is munched my way easily through the whole dish. Soft and fluffy on the inside and crunchy on the outside and loaded with the extra flavours. A real win-win side dish.

Although I was pretty full by this point, dessert is always going to be a no-brainer. Hence, I decided to stick with something fun and Italian and have the banana and nutella calzone. Served as a folded over crepe, sausage type shape, this was a lot smaller than I was expecting and to be honest, the filling wasn’t exactly present and correct. The pizza dough was soft and the right thickness for the dish, but the banana chunks were cut up very small so that they got quite mashed up, and although the blobs of nutella were divine with the pizza dough of the calzone, I wouldn’t say there was enough filling in general and it also wasn’t combined very well so it was more like a bite of banana and then a bite of nutella. The calzone was served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, nothing to write home about, and a weird drizzle of squeezy chocolate sauce outlining two sides of my square plate. It was a nice dessert and I did like it, but it was a bit of a lacklustre version. I feel Villagio could do more with it to make it more of a show-stopper dessert item.

Since I was driving, I stuck to Villagio’s still lemonade to drink, which was refreshing and had a satisfying lemon twang. The service was pretty standard, although I think there were some new waiting staff serving our table, so sometimes getting the food out and to the right person was time-consuming and I kept having to ask for cutlery. For my three courses and two soft drinks, I paid £33.20 which is ok price wise. I was expecting it to be cheaper considering I didn’t drink for once, but I must have blown the saving on having a side and an extra course! I did enjoy my meal on the whole and it was a friendly little spot to find.

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Homeward Bound: Tiptree Visitor Centre and Tearoom, Essex

Let’s all get real here; Tiptree jams are a staple in any British cupboard, with their iconic little round labels and array of sticky, fruity flavours. Where better then to go when looking for a decent afternoon tea than the home of jam itself; the Tiptree Vistor Centre and Tearoom, out in the wilds of Essex towards Colchester. Driving there with my husband Dan, we were both looking forward to tucking into a delicious afternoon tea, using a voucher I’d been presented with at my last birthday, for a very civilised date.

First appearances didn’t disappoint, as the tearoom was full of quaint touches and rural old school charm that transported you instantly to days gone by and the old fashioned, homely charm of jam making. The quirky-shaped building was painted a pretty pale yellow, a large white emblem of the brand’s logo laying claim next to the tearoom’s glass door entrance. Once inside, it was a complete hive of activity, and extremely busy; always a good sign when trying somewhere for the first time and you see the locals flock there like bees to honey. An old-fashioned push bike complete with wicker basket hung jauntily from the ceiling as we queued for a table, and once seated, I enjoyed looking round at all the countryside-themed decor around me. This included plenty of country cottage inspired exposed wooden beams, accents of sage green paint, and farm-themed wall displays that harked to Tiptree’s jam making heritage, for example a display of horse shoes and the corresponding equipment. Sat on a rather snug wooden table for two, the bustling and bust atmosphere gave the tearoom a unique busybody and neighbourly style vibe that you simply don’t get when enjoying high tea up in London.

For our afternoon tea, we would be presented with the usual rounds of sandwiches, scones and sweet treats, on the typical tiered stand. We both ordered breakfast tea, which came in a chunky plain white pot to share, the cups and saucers also a plain white. Our china plates were also white, however the edges were framed with a delicate navy floral pattern. For the bottom sandwich level, instead of just being presented with a random selection, we both got to choose a sandwich each from the tearoom’s main menu, as well as select what type of bread we wanted. We would then have a full sandwich each so to speak. I opted for one of my favourites, grated cheddar cheese with chutney, served in wholemeal bread. Dan on the other hand went for a prawn cocktail themed sarnie, paired with white bread. Our sandwiches were cut into neat triangles to be lined up neatly on the bottom plate of our stand, separated by token greenery. For some reasons, tearooms always seem to deliver delicious sandwiches, and these were no different. They were generously filled, the bread was nice and soft, and at the end of the day, you simply can’t go wrong with cheese and chutney!

Our next tier up was the scones. We were given one medium-sized fruit scone each, sultanas studding the exterior and icing sugar dusted gently on top. Naturally, we had a miniature pot of Tiptree strawberry jam each, as well as an individual plastic tub each of Cornish clotted cream. It’s always nice to have individual portions of everything as at times, sharing can be a complete nightmare unless you are completely coordinated. This way, we could both dress and tuck in to our scones in peace. I cut my scone in a rather wonky half, smothered each half with equal parts of the jam, and then layered each half with cream. This my friends, is the best way to eat scones in my opinion. The scones themselves were very nice. They had the classic crumbly buttery-ness that I always look for, and I much prefer a fruit scone to a plain one so that made me happy too. They were still soft in the centre, and they fell apart in a wonderful cascade of scone, fruit-filled jam and silky smooth cream when you bit into them. The jam was a rich colour, sticky, and had a deep strawberry flavour that I liked. The clotted cream was thick and luscious; I always feel that clotted cream has an air of the forbidden, as it feels like such an unctuous and rare treat! All in all, this three-way combo is always a delight, and each component married itself well to the next to create a very satisfying middle layer.

The last, top layer always pushes me to my dessert stomach boundaries when I enjoy afternoon tea with Dan. Although he can eat chewy sweets until the cows come home, he doesn’t have what I would typically call ‘a sweet tooth’, therefore it always falls to me to devour 99.9% of the final pastries round. A challenge I usually relish with greed in my eyes and a fork in my hand. I must say however, I loved the wide ranging treats Tiptree tearoom presented us with; it certainly wasn’t the typical array that you expect. Firstly, there was a mini trifle served in a dainty plastic shot glass, layered neatly with red strawberry scented jelly, a colourful yellow custard that still flowed eagerly onto your spoon when you mined for it underneath the decorative swirl of whipped cream on top, milk and white chocolate curls scattering the top. As a huge trifle fan, I was pleasantly surprised by this addition, and it was a child-like treat to enjoy the trifle in its classic flavour combination. All layers were lovely.

One of my particular favourites was a decadent chocolate stack, topped with a single rolo chocolate. This turned out to be a chocolate mousse cheesecake concoction, with a crumbly and buttery digestive biscuit base, a thick and creamy milk chocolate mousse stacked atop it, with a final smooth circle of dark chocolate ganache adding a decorative sheen to the top, accentuated by a zig-zag of heavy caramel sauce and the rolo. However, hidden in the centre of this wonderful chocolate haven, was a gooey caramel bomb, much like the rolo chocolate itself. This sticky, super sweet surprise filling helped to cut the potential stodgy-ness of the chocolate mousse, especially when eaten with the biscuit base too. This was just divine and so original too; needless to say, I loved it!

Also for my delight, there was a very generous square of carrot cake, decorated with a decent layer of cream cheese frosting that had been scattered with chopped walnuts. The sponge was soft, moist and light to eat, with a dreamy gently spiced flavour that I loved. There was also a meringue type treat, with two small meringue molehills sandwiched together with a sticky orange marmalade and presented in a paper cupcake shell. The meringue was the hard type that crumbles and flakes as soon as you bite into it, but the sweetness and blandness of the meringue was the ideal conduit for the flavourful orange that had been partnered with it, as it really allowed the Tiptree favourite to sing its flavours loud and proud. Last, but by no means least, was a miniature shortcrust pastry tart, filled with apple and topped with a custard type cream that had been speared by a round of chocolate. Dainty and delicious.

We steadily made our way through each layer, refusing to leave a crumb behind, as our waitress kept us topped up in tea. Granted, I could barely move afterwards, but I thoroughly enjoyed each stage of our afternoon tea. It just goes to prove that Tiptree really do know what they’re going on about! The good thing about enjoying our afternoon tea at the visitor centre however, is that there is also the Tiptree museum to peruse, as well as its gift shop. The museum houses lots of useful tidbits about the history of the Tiptree family, and how the business overall progressed and grew throughout the generations. You can also see original pieces of machinery from its old factories, as well as old advertising. The gift shop felt like a haven for a spendaholic like me, and I came away with numerous miniatures snatched in my grubby mitts as well as some of Tiptree’s fruity raspberry gin liqueur.

This was a really lovely afternoon tea. I liked the fact that we could tailor our sandwiches to our preferences, and the unusual mix of sweet treats at the end was a real delight, especially when first trying to work out what everything is. It is also reasonably priced which is always good news, and the fact that you can make a bit more of a trip out your visit thanks to the museum and gift shop is also a win in my book. A lovely afternoon out!

 

 

 

 

Homeward Bound: The Fat Turk, Brentwood, Essex

The Fat Turk interiorMy husband has a December birthday, which as you can imagine, means trying to organise a birthday dinner out can be a rather stressful occasion, especially as we normally have to make a late booking due to family being spread out across the country and we’re never sure who will actually be in town or not. This year, as my husband’s birthday loomed, we knew we had to book a table for three, for the two of us and my father-in-law. Since my other half enjoys Turkish food, we fancied trying the Fat Turk, a converted classic pub that was now the lap of Turkish luxury on the outskirts of Brentwood.

Entering the Fat Turk, I absolutely loved the décor. It’s incredibly opulent yet modern, with streamlined white walls paired with traditional Turkish trellising in dark wood. Spotlights scattering the ceiling in symmetrical lines while large domed ceiling lights hung down like decorative pearlescent baubles. Strokes of teal and gold added a dignified colour accent and that air of luxury, especially as the chairs at our table were more like upholstered lounge chairs rather than dining chairs. The comfily padded seats were covered in a Halloumi Chipsteal and gold patterned fabric that helped bring the colour scheme together, while touches of grey, including the immensely detailed and decorative grey and dark wood patterned archway wall next to our table, melded nicely with the other colours to create a harmonious and calming atmosphere. It felt glamourous, and  certainly sought to create an occasion out of eating out, which suits my agenda perfectly.

I also loved the way the table was laid, including the decorative touch of tealight holder that was shaped like a large raindrop, sliced in half vertically. The outside of the holder was teal while the inside was painted gold, maintaining the colour theme. The glassware was also gorgeous and I really liked the angular slants to the sides of both the water tumblers and the wine glasses.

Since I was the designated driver, I ordered a bitter lemon to drink which arrived in one of the tumblers I had Fat Turk Izgaraalready admired, decorated with a slice of lemon and ice. I then got down to the serious business of picking my food. Turkish menus can be rather limiting, however I found the variety at the Fat Turk refreshing, mainly in their selection of starters. Normally, Turkish venues tend to stick to simple meze options for starters and leave it at that, however the Fat Turk cranked its menu up a notch to offer not only meze, but also a full starter menu too. This suited me to a tea as I soon spotted halloumi chips and once I had seen them on the menu, it was like a siren call to my stomach. I love halloumi but it is one of those foods that I don’t get to have very often, especially not in chip format. Served with a spicy tomato relish, the halloumi chips came up in wondrously thick and neatly cut cuboids, like the fancy triple-cooked chunky chips you find in many gourmet restaurants. Presented on a long, white rectangular plate, I had two thick chips at each end, sat on top of a couple of slices of gherkin, the relish in a small dip dish in the centre of the plate. I really loved this starter. The cheese was lovely; frying it did nothing to deter from its salty yet creamy taste, yet its new crispy skin added an ideal bit of crunch alongside the cheese’s Dips and Sidesnatural chewiness and softness. I had never had gherkins with halloumi before, but this worked surprisingly well, with the slight tang and pickle tones of the gherkin cutting through the cheese to freshen the dish up. I also enjoyed the dip; to me it tasted more like a sweet chilli style dip as it was certainly sweeter than I was expecting. However, since I have a sweet tooth, this was fine with me! Overall, a really great way to whet the appetite for main course. My father-in-law opted for the prawns, which he loved as they were large and juicy, while my husband went for the traditional Turkish sausage, which had a strong, punchy flavour. We were also given a bread basket of very lightly toasted flatbreads to have with our starters. Since no dips were given with the bread, I dunked my flatbread in my relish, which worked very nicely for me.

Being a naturally indecisive person when it comes to food orders, as soon as I saw the Fat Turk Izgara, I knew my Turkish Sausageproblems were solved. This is basically the greedy person’s answer to everything, as it features chicken shish, lamb shish and kofte shish, served with bulgar wheat rice and fresh salad. Both my husband and father-in-law decided to just have the lamb shish. I must confess, I was expecting to have the same amount of meat as you would typically find on one skewer, but a little bit of the three different meats. This was not the case. I was given three full-sized skewers, that completely filled the length of my wooden chopping board style platter. My husband and father-in-law looked on in envy. Alongside my three meaty skewers was a whole green chilli, with the seeds still intact, and a white dish of the side salad, which contained the normal suspects of chopped tomatoes, cucumber, red cabbage and thinly sliced carrots. The orange toned bulgar wheat rice came in two white side dishes and was placed in the centre of the table for us to share between the three of us.

PrawnsAll I can say about this meal is wow. I absolutely loved it. Let’s face it, just grilling skewers isn’t exactly a complex cooking method, so when the style of food and cooking technique is that simple, your ingredients need to scream quality, and the execution has to be perfect. The Fat Turk hit both of these points to perfection. The lamb was beautifully tender and still a pale pink at the centre for a soft, melt-in-the-mouth flavour that was divine. The chicken had a great chargrilled flavour on the outside but was so juicy and succulent on the inside; it was definitely some of the best chicken I have ever eaten due to how juicy it was. The kofte also excelled. The quality of the meat tasted great and I loved the interesting array of herbs and spices used in the mix. They didn’t overpower and they weren’t too pungent or floral, they acted merely to accentuate the meat and showcase its flavour, which I think it did rather well. The salad was tasty too with fresh flavours to throw into the mix as well as a variety of crunchy and soft textures. The rice was interesting, as you don’t normally see bulgar wheat make an appearance in restaurants. It is chunkier and more grainy than typical rice, but I liked this grittier side; it added Chocolate cappuccino dessertsubstance to the dish overall especially where it was lightly spiced to complement the plainer meats. We were also given three colourful dips to have with our meats. This included a mild minty yoghurt concoction, a bright orange chilli dip that was a tad too spicy for my taste, and also a salmon-pink coloured dip. I think this had coriander or cumin or some kind of spice along those lines, and although I wasn’t sure if I would like it, I think this one was actually my favourite, and I double dipped my meat chunks with gusto. My father-in-law ordered some tripe-cooked chunky chips as a side, which came with more of the tomato relish.

We all tucked in and thoroughly enjoyed the meal. The quality of our dishes was really dreamy and we were definitely in meat heaven. Both boys said they would order what I had next time we came. For once, I was the one collecting the food envy rather than having it! Really delicious main courses all round though; even thinking back on it now makes my mouth water!

Lamb shishDespite being stuffed to the rafters, I couldn’t leave the Fat Turk without sampling its chocolate cappuccino dessert. And boy, I’m glad I did; this was one of the most beautiful desserts I have ever seen, its presentation was stunning.  So, the dessert itself was a dark chocolate mousse which sat on top of an almond sponge and was surrounded by delicate splashes of crème anglaise as well as a scoop of cappuccino ice cream. When the dessert arrived at the table, I was literally clapping my hands together with glee. The mousse and sponge combo came as a gloriously shiny log shape, with these gorgeous curls of dark chocolate arching out of the top, a delicate blob of crème anglaise pinned with a yellow and purple pansy at the centre. There was a small meringue star and a sweet crumb either side of the dark chocolate circle the mousse was sat on, which were really nice little added extras. The ice cream was a bit grainy but full of coffee flavour which I loved. Small pansies decorated the whole plate alongside neat circles of the pale yellow crème anglaise and it was simply beautiful. Even better, it tasted amazing. Chocolate cappuccino dessertThe chocolate mousse was rich, but so creamy, soft and smooth, it was orgasmic, while the almond sponge was the perfect base layer. Nice and thick, its subtle chocolate-toned nuttiness was the ideal pairing for the mousse, especially as the textures contrasted so neatly too. This dessert was so stylish and divine to eat, I could daydream about it all day.

All in all, the Fat Turk really impressed us all. The quality of the food is really excellent and was the perfect treat for my hard working husband to celebrate his birthday. The savoury meals were all superb and in particular the meat; it was cooked to perfection to be tender and juicy. The dessert though was a real treat, for both the eyes and mouth. The service was prompt, polite and efficient which gets a thumbs up from me. The only slight wobble would be the price; my main course alone was £25 so an evening at the Fat Turk is not likely to be a cheap one. However, you get what you pay for, as the saying goes, and since we all so thoroughly fell in love with the food delivered at the Fat Turk, we can hardly quibble if we had to splash the cash to get it – especially as my father-in-law paid! I’d highly recommend the Fat Turk, please go if you get the opportunity.

Holiday Munchies: Black Rock, Clacton-On-Sea, Essex

The evening before a half marathon is always slightly trickier when you are staying away from home, and therefore having to negotiate your carb loading with a menu that hasn’t been self-concocted in your kitchen to optimise your performance the following day. Knowing my body and my pre-event food preferences rather well by now, I figured that I would be fine visiting steak restaurant Black Rock the evening before I took on the Clacton Half Marathon. After all, protein is essential for us athletes.

Although Dan and I have been to Clacton before, we did not spot Black Rock, snuggled down a narrow stairwell between two large and imposing outdoor seating terraces of the restaurants either side of it. With an American style black sign signalling steak and an arrow down the stairs, this whet our curiosity to check out the menu, and then to make arrangements to come for dinner in a few hours’ time.

At the bottom of the stairs, Black Rock has a really cool vibe that is centred around home-grown friendship and community. The focal point is undoubtedly the very chunky and long wooden tables, that are set up to accommodate large groups with ease. With such lengthy tables aligned down the centre of the room, it almost gave the restaurant the feel of an old school banqueting hall, with dining chairs tucked neatly under the centrepiece tables. Despite this nod to the communal eating scene of days gone past, Black Rock is actually rather trendy. Mottled wooden flooring that matches the tables is juxtaposed against crisp white walls, small spotlights studding the ceiling to add to the decorative tools of the trade for creating space. The plain walls were the ideal backdrop for kitsch black and white prints of famed actors and actresses, such as Charlie Chaplin and Audrey Hepburn, which gave an almost hipster vibe to the modernly clean-cut space. The atmosphere was relaxed, and since we went early for food, it was still nice and quiet, although the frown when we said we hadn’t booked a table was a wee bit off-putting.

The main reason we wanted to come to Black Rock was to try their specialty steak dish, called ‘Steak on the Stone’. This is basically an impressively sized hunk of 10z of sirloin steak that is served pretty much raw on a sizzling rock plate. Following the trend for cooking at the table, us diners then finish cooking our steak by cutting slices off the main slab of meat and cooking it on the hot black rock embedded in a wooden chopping board style plate in front of us at the table. Having done this type of dish together at Steak and Co in London, and also wanting a lot of protein for my run the next day, this seemed to hit the nail on the head in more than one way.

I ordered a glass of refreshing sauvignon blanc with my meal, while I waited for the steak to arrive. When it came to the table, the edges of the meat had barely brushed the base of a frying pan, patchy very pale grey-brown streaks indicating that it had seen an attempt at searing, however the bulk of the cooking would be left to me at the table. The steak itself looked in good nick; it was very large, rather thick, and I couldn’t see too much fat or grizzle to put me off either. It really was a complete hunk of pure meat. Served alongside it on the rectangular chopping board was a portion of skinny fries on a white rectangular plate next to the hot stone, and then in three little indents at  the back of the chopping board were little white dip dishes, containing garlic oil, peppercorn sauce, and a mushroom sauce. A side salad also shared room with the chips.

I tailored my dish by swapping normal fries for sweet potato fries, however both Dan and I found that our chips were cold anyway, so it didn’t make much difference. Dan attempted to heat his up alongside his steak on the hot plate, but I’m not sure of his success rate there. The generously-sized steak was delicious; you really cannot go wrong when you have a slab of good-quality meat for a beef steak. I was cooking my steak slices to medium-rare pinkness, and I absolutely loved generously dunking my beef into the garlic oil. I am a big garlic fan at the best of times, and I loved how the oil absorbed into the meat to really enhance its succulent flavour with that beautiful garlic warmth and the smoothness of the oil coating the meat and adding to it, rather than drenching it like some thicker sauces. I’m not a mushroom fan, so I avoided that sauce dish, although I did dip in the peppercorn a couple of times too. It was pretty standard in that respect, with a few token peppercorns bobbing around in the coffee coloured, thin-ish sauce, there’s no hiding from the kick and back-of-the-mouth-burn a peppercorn sauce will always bring. The side salad was very simple, just a few dressed leaves and veg really.

With our steak, we ordered a side of onion rings, as Dan loves a decent onion ring. Unfortunately, these did not get the husband’s seal of approval, as they were also pretty cold. The rings were thin and the batter was light, however they came up slightly soggy, and with barely there onion inside and such a thin coating of batter on the outside, they really were pretty non-descript, which is a shame as a gourmet onion ring done well can be a massive win in encouraging return custom. Let’s face it, everyone loves an onion ring. They were served in a napkin laid basket for easy sharing, but flavour and texture wise, they were a let-down.

After polishing off our steaks, we thought we might share a dessert (read: I wanted dessert, we pretended to share). The dessert menu was rather small, so I soon zoned in on the chocolate fudge cake; a very traditional offering that can usually be found on any British menu worth its salt. Served with a simple scoop of vanilla ice cream and a chocolate sauce drizzled wafer, it came to the table quite quickly. There was plenty of dark chocolate sauce drizzled all over which I liked, and the cake slice itself was ok as well; small desserts are life’s biggest disappointments. The cake itself was very chocolately yet not overly heavy, although it did have a slight brownie-like tinge to it in my opinion, where it was very chocolately and a little dense around the ganache frosting sections, which was luxuriously thick and gooey. Certainly a decadent chocolate-overload, it was a simple dessert that ticked the box for something sweet and chocolate to finish the meal.

All in all, I liked Black Rock as a restaurant. The service was ok, if not full of dazzling personality, and I liked the décor and vibe of the place. It has been put together well and presents itself nicely. The steak is undoubtedly their big winner and where they put all their chips behind; it was certainly a lovely piece of meat and we enjoyed the drama of cooking it ourselves at the table. I guess it also saves effort for the chefs too. However, the sides massively let the dish down which is a bit disappointing really, as the potential for them to enhance the meal is huge. Considering the chefs don’t actually have to do anything with the meat – there was no marinades, rubs or salts at all, it was plain meat – you would have thought they could have put a bit more time and effort into delivering sides that are worthy of sitting alongside the steal showpiece. Price wise, it’s not shabby at all being in little old Clacton, and at the end of the day, it was a lovely place to unwind.

Holiday Munchies: The Pantry, Clacton-on-Sea, Essex

Blitzing a cheeky weekend away with the other half, what could be better than breezing around a little seaside town? Clacton may be old-fashioned in terms of its rattling array of arcades and stripped back variety of amusements and rides along the pier; however it still has that classic British charm of longevity and persistence. Plus, nothing beats a hot sugary doughnut with your feet dangling off the side of the prom.

When my husband and I arrived in Clacton after driving for a few hours up the A12, we were decidedly hungry and decided to find a nice spot for lunch. We soon stumbled upon a café called The Pantry, situated in a convenient location between the seafront and the shops, as well as being a stone’s throw from our Premier Inn lodgings.

As we entered, I loved how kitsch it was. The plain white walls were bedecked with tokens of a bygone era, the centrepiece undoubtedly an old bicycle complete with wicker basket on the handlebars mounted on the wall and surrounded by mini chalkboards with friendly messages to the diners. The opposite wall was classic red brick with pale wood paneling on the bottom half. The tables were a shiny dark wood-effect plastic, paired with cream upholstered dining chairs. Although it may sound a hodgepodge of themes and colours, uniquely it worked in that very traditional family-run feel. The décor merely accentuated the fact that this was a small, local business that was most likely family owned and run, and despite not being the classiest joint, when in Clacton, it seems very fitting.

I ordered a cheese and ham ploughmans for my lunch, which I thought came under the baguette category, but turns out it was an entire meal just by itself! When it arrived at the table, I was blown away by how large it was, although my grumbling tummy certainly appreciated the grandeur! I’m afraid my picture doesn’t do the meal justice, as food was layered upon food and it was almost a plate of hidden British foodie treasures. The ham was gloriously thick cut and a really lovely lean cut with none of that annoying gristle or fat running through the middle. It had a great flavour too, and I loved ripping up bits to eat with bites of my pickled onions or rocket. I also received three large slices of the ham, so very generous portion size wise. The cheese was a wonderful brick of cheddar. It was almost the size of a lump you would put on a family cheeseboard, and I was delighted that it was all for me! Paired with the onion toned chutney that was served in a clear dip dish on my plate, it was really delicious, particularly when I then placed both in some of my baguette. The cheddar was nice and mature too so plenty of flavour there to respond to the ham.

Alongside the main elements of cheese and ham, I also had a whole baguette, and a side salad which included rocket, raw onion and tomatoes. I had a couple of quarters of apple, a few large silverskin picked onions for that poignant flavour hit, and as I mentioned earlier, the dish of chutney. Paired with a cuppa served in a typical silver café teapot for one, it was wonderfully British, good quality food, absolutely loading my plate in a mountain of deliciousness. It’s a hands on meal and the best bet is just to get stuck in and enjoy it, which I did. I polished off my plate to a high degree of cleanliness, earning a raised eyebrow from our waitress.

But I didn’t stop there. Using the excuse that I was running a half marathon the next morning, I created a double raised brow when I ordered a cream tea for my dessert. The homemade fruit scone was a lovely size again, and peppered with juicy dried sultanas and raisins; so much better than a plain scone if you ask me. I swiftly dismissed the portions of butter – who uses butter in a cream tea anyway?!? – and went straight in to slather both halves of my cut scone with the pre-packaged portion of strawberry jam I was given. Interestingly, instead of the traditional clotted cream, I was given a clear dip dish of squirty whipped cream instead, you know the stuff you fluff out from a tin. Now it was my turn to raise an eyebrow. I get that this is probably a cheaper option that has a longer shelf life than clotted cream, but to be honest with you, it does look cheap to serve a cream tea with this type of cream. I spread it over my jam regardless.

The scone itself was lovely. A touch warm still, beautiful buttery flavour and the right amount of fruit for my liking. It held together well yet had a nice level of crumble as you bit into each thick half. The jam was just standard pre-bought stuff you’ll see in any breakfast buffet so it was just doing the job of being the fruit layer. The whipped cream was actually ok. Being so much lighter than clotted cream, it wasn’t as heavy to eat as a whole which was actually a good thing after my ploughmans mountain. It added a whole lightness to the cream tea that was rather refreshing.

All in all, I enjoyed my foray into The Pantry for some classic café fodder. It was pay by cash only which is so old school, and you also had to pay at the counter at the back of café at the end of your meal, although a waitress came to take our order and brought our food out. Soon after we arrived, locals started flooding in for their weekend brunches, so it’s always great to stumble upon a favourite of the locals as then you know the food should be pretty pucker. It was a lovely, incredibly filling lunch, with a menu of café classics served large. A proper bit of British grub.

Homeward Bound: The White Napkin, The Kiln Hotel, Brentwood, Essex

The tradition of afternoon tea is steeped in history, and it has long stood the test of time to move from an aristocratic daily regime to a nicety treat for modern day folk. This is exactly what afternoon tea was for me when I attended The White Napkin, The Kiln Hotel’s restaurant, with my sister Jess as we took our grandma out for a lunchtime afternoon tea in our home county of Essex.

A simple 20 minute drive away from our homes in Gidea Park, The Kiln Hotel in Brentwood sits snuggled just off the A127, hidden behind an attractive cluster of trees. Once you turn into the small driveway, you can park in the small gravel-floored car park before heading into the red bricked townhouse and adjoining stable style building. We were shown into a casual bar area while we waited for our table to be ready, the waitress dashing off to pour us chilled fizzy glasses of Prosecco. The bar area had polished wooden floor and plain white walls, leather chairs and sofas in shades of bright green,  musky purple and muted browns for accents of colours. From this simple yet stylish room, we were shown into the main restaurant room for our tea, with the white theme continuing with plain whitewashed walls used to try and enhance the notion of space in the cosy room. Our square table was situated by the window, allowing lots of lovely springtime light to flood the white linen tablecloth, and reflect off the small white vase holding pretty pink flowers.

While enjoying our very refreshing Prosecco, we chose our tea, with Grandma and I both opting for traditional breakfast tea, while Jess went for a fruitier option. When the afternoon tea stand arrived at the table, we all oohed and ahhed appreciatively at the cake-laden three-tiered stand, the pretty white china plates piled with delicious foodie goodies.

The base layer was our sandwiches, with four different sandwich filling flavours. Cut neatly into crust-less finger shapes, we each had one narrow sandwich of each flavour. In white bread, we had egg mayonnaise, which was creamy with soft eggy chunks, and ham and tomato. In brown bread, we had cucumber and cream cheese, while the last filling was tuna. The bread was your typical sandwich loaf so nothing over fancy there, the fillings too just classic combinations that are generally liked by all in order to ensure mass appeal. The finger sandwiches were well filled which is always nice.

The middle layer was our scones, and I was already pleased by the generous portions here. Our jam was served separately to the main stand on a little silver holder that carried numerous miniature jars of Tiptree jam, both strawberry and raspberry flavours. This meant that there was plenty of jam to go around as I think we had about six mini jars between the three of us. On the main scone plate, we had individual clotted cream portions too, presented just in their plastic tubs. With a cream tub each, we were each able to really load our scones to the max and not have to worry about scrimping. With regards to the scones, we had one fruit and one plain scone each; it’s such a bonus to get more than one scone, and especially if one is a fruit scone. Oddly enough, fruit scones seem to be dwindling in afternoon teas which I view as a massive shame, since they are the best in my opinion.  The scones were a decent medium-ish size, rough and rustic around the edges, a golden shade in colour. The inside of the scones were a soft, pale buttery colour, the buttery-ness also translating into the flavour of the scones. The texture on the inside of the scones was crumbly yet firm. The scones topped with their jam and cream was really delicious, and I thoroughly enjoyed them.

I was really impressed by the top cake layer, not just because of the variety of sweet treats available, but also because there was three of everything, which enabled us each to try everything. So many times you go out for afternoon tea and then only get one of each cake, which you then have to attempt to cut into stupid portions just so you can all try some. This was certainly not a problem at The White Napkin, which I was sincerely pleased about.

We had three generous chunks of tall Victoria sponge, which was really lovely. The sponge was sweet and sugary, super soft and moist yet crispier on top. The middle was generously smothered with both jam and cream for extra luxury. We had clear shot glasses too which were filled with a set custard like panna cotta, the white wobbly dessert topped with a decent layer of fruity berry compote. This tart fruit really infiltrated the creamy silkiness of the panna cotta which was a great contrast. In addition, we each had a tall dark chocolate cupcake, with a decorative swirl of chocolate buttercream mounted atop the squidgy sponge. Bakewell tarts had been cut in half to give us half a tart each, which was still a good portion. The shortcrust pastry base was crisp and provided a nice buttery firmness underneath a cherry jammy layer. Topped with traditional sweet marzipan and flaked almonds, the nuttiness was subtle and gentle and really complimented the jam flavours within. We also had a macaroon each; I nabbed the coffee flavoured one, Grandma couldn’t resist the brownie like chocolate macaroon, while Jess enjoyed the passion fruit option.

I have to say, this tea was certainly one of the nicest that I have had. Although the sandwiches were pretty basic and nothing to write home about, they were still nice to eat. However, it was the scones followed by the cake that was the main attraction of this tea. The scones were tasty and such a treat, while I was really impressed and pleased by the wide array of cakes; they literally had every sweet flavour checked off, as well as every texture. Plus, it was really great to have one of each cake too so that we could all have one each. The waiting staff were all friendly, and although they were rushing around due to a busy Saturday service, they did still top up our tea pot, although it did take a lot longer to get service due to the weekend rush. The afternoon tea was very reasonably priced too, I think it was around £15 per person so bargainous too. The food was very tasty, so I’m interested to see what their other menus are like.