Homeward Bound: Osteria Due Fratelli, Hornchurch, Essex

I’d been meaning to visit Osteria Due Fratelli for quite a while before I finally got around to booking a table. It always looked so welcoming, the family-run restaurant painted an alluringly inviting shade of post box red. As an independent Italian restaurant amidst the sea of nearby chain eateries such as Ask, Wildwood and Prezzo, I was also interested to see what Osteria Due Fratelli could possibly bring to the plate that could successfully hold up against these big, pizza-swinging rivals.

Inside, Osteria Due Fratelli continues the family-run vibe, with the décor reminding me of a country style kitchen. The bold splashes of iconic red were still present and correct, paired with a bright white, and finished with photographs in both black and white as well as colour, the frames eclectic and in different shapes and sizes.  The chairs had a worn and rustic look with a muted whitewash, paired against a hodgepodge of different sized tables in a variety of shapes and wood shades. My friends from my badminton club and I visited on a Saturday evening, so the atmosphere was bustling with the majority of the tables taken, however there wasn’t a rushed feel at all. It had the ambience of enjoyment, of friends relaxing together and revelling in each other’s company, of stretching a meal out because conversation is flowing.

We sat down at a rectangular table for four and ordered a bottle of house red to share. Despite just being the house beverage, it was a lovely red wine with a smooth consistency and a medium body that was fruity and not too heavy to drink. While we were musing the menu, a basket of rustic ciabatta style bread was brought to the table, the loaf cut into medium thick slices. With olive oil and balsamic vinegar already sitting on our table with the other condiments, I saw it as very necessary to pool first the oil and then the vinegar on top on my bread plate, before dunking my slice decadently in the slick on my side plate. This is one of my favourite things to do so having the bread brought to the table without prompting or asking was a nice added extra. The bread itself was very Italian, with a dark, chewy crust and a spongey, hole-filled centre – perfect for absorbing all the lovely oil.

Having loaded up on bread, I decided to skip starter, and focus my attention instead on main courses. Feeling in a pasta mood, I opted for the rigatoni amatriciana, which featured wide, cylindrical white pasta in a tomato, Napoli based sauce, finished off with pancetta, onions, red wine, basil, parmesan and pecorino cheeses.

Firstly I was pleased by the portion size; sometimes pasta plates come up minutely small for a main meal and it can be very frustrating to fish around for your pieces of pasta while your companions are spearing a gutsy steak. So tick there for portion size. Next up, I liked the fact that the pancetta was cut into chunky cube-like strips. Pancetta can be served in niggly little cubes that aren’t worth the chasing in pasta sauces, however the pancetta in this meal was really something you could get your teeth stuck in to and enjoy. It was also nice and lean with a real gammon flavour, so that’s a thumbs up for me. The tomato sauce was pretty standard to be honest with you, and I wouldn’t say it had anything majorly different to traditional tomato sauces from other Italian restaurants. Combined, it was a really lovely pasta dish and I it certainly hit my pasta craving nicely.

Dessert couldn’t be anything else other than tiramisu to be honest with you. As we ordered more red wine, I got stuck in to my large, rectangular portion. Tiramisu is one of those desserts that will be completely different in every, single restaurant that you eat it in, and Osteria Due Fratelli’s version was very cakey, with the creamy mascarpone being quite dense. Sprinkled with cocoa powder and drizzled with a sticky, dark chocolate sauce, this coffee dessert is always a nice conclusion to a meal, especially when you get a generous portion like this one.

Now, since I was out for a birthday meal with friends from my badminton club, we may have been a bit looser with the alcohol than normal. We completely indulged, ordering expresso martinis that arrived in unusually shaped cocktail glasses, the hard-hitting coffee flavoured cocktail delivering on expectations there. Furthermore, we also ordered liquor coffees, the rich black coffee underneath steeped in our alcohol of choice before being topped with a silky, flat layer of cold cream. I continued my coffee theme and opted for Tia Maria in mine. After another round of wine, the restaurant brought us over limoncello shots, this feisty, firepowered lemon flavoured liquor succeeding once more to blow my socks off!

As we continued the evening drinking in the restaurant rather than moving on to a bar, our bill was obviously more expensive as a result. We ended up paying around £45 per person, which I don’t think was too bad in the grand scheme of things bearing in mind how much we had to drink overall! The food itself was very reasonably priced; one member of our group had a ribeye steak main course which was £16. After arriving at 7pm, we were the last to leave the restaurant at nearly midnight, almost being kicked out by staff as they finished stacking seats and taking off aprons. For a relaxed and uncomplicated evening out, give Osteria Due Fratelli a go. The food wasn’t mind-blowing and the service was patchy due to the restaurant being busy, however the food was nice and the atmosphere is really relaxed.

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Homeward Bound: The Ardleigh, Ardleigh Green, Essex

P1040223When my parent’s local pub come restaurant changed hands from an English pub and Thai restaurant cross to a brand new venue on the Ember Inns roster, it was only a matter of time before they were invited my husband and I round to test it out. Having visiting another Ember Inns venue in Hornchurch previously, I thought I knew roughly what to expect, however it’s always interesting to see the new spins different managers can put on to their patch of the chain portfolio.

Upon arriving at the newly named ‘The Ardleigh’, I really loved the relaxed atmosphere – dressed in muted shades of sage green, cream and plenty of natural pale wood, the décor has a definite feel of a country style kitchen; you can just imagine family members clustering together around the table for a Sunday roast. Despite aiming for cosy and comfortable, The Ardleigh is also undoubtedly stylish – you can tell that the presentation has been well thought out and designed, homey basics given a classy makeover for a rather swanky home away from home. Trying to not only be a successful restaurant, but also a local pub, it’s great that The P1040225Ardleigh has an array of different style seating, with a mix of table shapes and sizes, as well as sofa style benches for bigger tables, bucket chairs for intimate smaller groups around circles or more structured dining chairs around square set ups, ready for families of four. Animal based paintings and blackboards grace the walls, whilst dresser style cupboards house additional condiments and menus. Ordering some Sauvignon Blanc at the bar, we picked a table round the corner where I could squidge myself on some sofa seating next to Dan, my parents taking some dining chairs opposite.P1040226

The great thing about the Ember Inns brand is that it is definitely an advocate of traditional British fodder – perfect for fussy eaters (yes hubby, I’m looking at you). With a classic mix of dishes covering everything from pasta and salads to kick ass grills and burgers, there is something for everyone on the menu. Sipping my wine rather merrily, I decided to skip starters, although my mum chose the camembert sharer so I could have a dunk if I wanted. The presentation here was really nice, the wonderfully oozing and molten cheese sitting like a pool of perfection in its wooden box, a ramekin of onion chutney suggestively sidled up next to it. Small slices of toasted ciabatta bread were fanned around the edge, perfect for plucking. The homely feel was emphasised by the fact the food was propped on a sheet of Ember Inn printed newspaper, giving the classic chippie dinner a serious upheaval. Dan opted for something a bit different with his starter, choosing the pulled pork and pancetta croquettes. This is a combo I haven’t heard of before in a breaded croquette bite, so needless to say I swiped a bite. The pulled pork was definitely the predominant flavour, which is never a bad thing, the pancetta being more small morsels scattered occasionally within.P1040227

You can’t get more traditional that a juicy rump steak, and requesting mine medium rare, I thoroughly enjoyed my meat-fest. I tend to prefer a rump steak over sirloin, just because I favour a thicker steak, and the same was true with this meal – I just felt that the flavour came through really nicely, the meat was nice and tender and you could visibly see the juices of the meat, meaning it was deliciously moist and succulent too. Swapping my chips for buttered new potatoes, these were light and fluffy on the inside, the aspiration of any potato worth its salt, the onion rings soft and squidgy on the inside, the batter light and crisp. Palming off my mushrooms on anyone who will have them, the grilled tomato is what it says on the tin really, while the peas I disguised in sauce, as I’m not a fan! I added a sauce to my steak meal, opting for the Béarnaise – this creamy and thick sauce, peppered with hints of herbs, is definitely a treat, with a luxurious silky texture that glides overP1040224 each mouthful of steak tastily. The thicker texture means that it stands up to the steak and the flavour isn’t lost or diminished by the strong meatiness of the meal – it works well to enhance the flavour and offer something a bit different from the traditional peppercorn or Diane options (although you can still order these if you prefer).

The dessert menu had me licking my lips and confirming that I made the right choice avoiding a starter – I think I wanted at least four different items from the menu! In the end, I chose something new to feature on the Ember Inns autumnal menu, praline profiteroles – two words that are amazing alone yet exceptional when paired together. The small batter balls were filled with a pale yellow custard, that was a cross in texture between traditional gloopy custard and pouring cream. The profiterole was encased in a Ferrero Rocher style shell, consisting of chocolate speared with nut chunks. So many of my favourite flavours all in the one dessert! Served with either cream or vanilla ice cream, I P1040228opted for the ice cream just to give yet another texture, the vanilla adding an extra hue to the indulgent flavour too. Also coming with a chocolate dipping sauce, this spot of creativity helps to further make this dish stand out, as you can either dunk your profiteroles, or pour the sauce over, so you can tailor your dessert to your tastes. Despite munching my way through my sweet, I was also able to ‘help’ my mum finish hers as well – the salted caramel cheesecake, complete with toffee sauce and chocolate, a scoop of ice cream again the finishing touch. The caramel flavour was divine, and really came through every aspect and component of the cheesecake. The texture of the cheesecake itself was like a very thick mousse, still having that firmness yet being light to cut and eat. Desserts were definitely a winner.P1040229

I also really enjoyed the wine – I found they offered a good selection, and although they were out of my first choice, after scanning the fridges, I soon spied an Oyster Bay white wine that would more than do the job. After a few glasses, I was definitely feeling more talkative! On the whole, my family and I had a lovely evening at The Ardleigh – the food was delicious with plenty of variety and the occasional twist on the traditional to make our favourites even more delectable. The service was also fine, the waiting team and bar staff all very friendly. I would say that we waited longer than normal for service, and the food took quite a while to come out. On a quiet weekday evening like when we visited, this is not the end of the world, although I imagine it would be a different scenario come the weekend. Prices and portion sizes are also decent. A more grown up venue, I’d visit again with more friends and family in tow.

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Homeward Bound: Chimichanga, Hornchurch

P1030474When my husband revealed that his new favourite cuisine was Mexican fodder, I just knew I had to find him some decent salsa inspired food for his birthday dinner. Looking locally for ease, I found a branch of the popular Chimichanga chain, situated in the town centre of Hornchurch, just off the high street and on the same road as the District line tube stop. Booking a table for eight people, I was looking forward to sharing Dan’s newfound love of all things Mexican with his nearest and dearest to celebrate getting another year older.

When we arrived, we were directed to a table right at the very back of the restaurant, in an extremely secluded alcove over to one side. Although this afforded us more than enough privacy, in my opinion, it had more pitfalls than plus points. Getting the attention of the waiting staff for extra drinks or condiments was quite simply a nightmare, as we weren’t privy to the random check ins the other tables received since we were more out of the way – the staff only headed in our direction when they came bearing food or the P1030478bill. Our table was also directly in the firing line of a huge air conditioning unit. Now, while I get cold at the vaguest puff of autumnal air, my mother in law on the other hand was feeling the heat, so you can see the difficulty here. At any one time, one of our group wasn’t 100% happy with the temperature, so that was an annoyance.

Décor wise, you can’t deny that Chimichanga attempts to bring the sunshine to humble Essex, with vibrant and bold splashes of all things rainbow centric scattered across the whole restaurant, with fun geometric prints and straight lines offering a modern spin on this busy and bright scheme. With a relaxed and holiday like vibe, it was easy to unwind in, and we were soon chatting away as we browsed the menu.P1030479

For me, I instantly honed in on the drinks menu, as it is so rare to find decent sangria out of Spain. Seeing this red wine based beverage as part of the cocktail menu, I promptly ordered it, and I adored it’s flamboyant appearance in a tall hourglass shaped glass, topped with an abundance of apple cubes propped against a couple of colourful straws. Now this is my kind of drink! Being a true sangria lover, I can also vouch for the punchy, boozy flavour – sangria fans will be pleased with Chimichanga’s version of this concoction. I decided not to go for a full starter, but to instead go for more of a grazing option, picking the marinated olives, the glossy, fat green and black balls coated in a delicious mix of chilli, garlic and coriander. Spearing with the provided cocktail sticks, olives have such a distinctive and almost pungent flavour, but they were tasty and really woke up my taste buds, ready for my main meal.

P1030471Although Chimichanga’s menu includes a whole host of moreish sounding grills, burgers and hot dogs, when in Mexico… I decided to go traditional, picking a burrito. This flour tortilla was absolutely rammed with flavourful BBQ pulled pork, combined with tasty peppers, onions, chilli sauce and cheese. Sat on a bed of spicy rice and black beans, generous dollops of guacamole, salsa and sour cream were plonked tantalisingly on top – perfect for dunking my accompaniment of sweet potato fries. I may have also got coleslaw…hey, I was hungry! The sweet potato fries were cut thin and were beautifully crisp to bite in to, with that lovely soft and sweet flavour that I love so much about this veg. The coleslaw in comparison was all about the bite, the cabbage combination added a decent level of crunch, which I rather liked mixed up with the small soft shards of flavoured rice. The black beans added a classic element that matched up particularly well with the burrito itself – a bomb of full on Mexican flavour. The pulled pork was saucy, tasty and shredded up so it combined nicely with the other vegetables. Plus let’s face it – anything featuring melted cheese is instantly ten times more tasty than it was previously. Fact. I may have gone overboard on sides as this portion size came up rather large, but I really enjoyed the complete contrast in textures and flavours, everything being so different yet combining so well to create a really delicious main course. Serious yum.P1030472

We all know by now that dessert is my forte, and that no matter how fully stuffed I may be, dessert will always and forever be on the cards. Although it was just my husband and I chowing down, I simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to tuck in to churros – always such a treat, and especially since you can’t get them in too many places. These wonderfully light doughnut like ovals are made of a batter than it so crisp on the outside, yet have a super squidgy, doughy inside that makes them so moreish and 100% addictive. Dusted with sweet cinnamon sugar for an additional grainy bite, you get a dipping pot of toffee toned dulce de leche, as well as a ramekin of neatly scooped vanilla ice cream – the silky counterpart to the crunchy churros. I absolutely adore churros, and Chimichanga’s version with the caramel sauce is simply amazing, P1030480the flavours working in ideal harmony for one of the best desserts ever. The portion size is also perfect, as you get more than enough churros rings to tackle, and it finished the meal off wonderfully.

With everyone else full, I had to just look longingly at the incredible array of boozy floater coffees, but I did enjoy my Chimichanga meal. The food was spot on and very tasty, the menu definitely improved since my last visit. Despite the food and drink hitting the nail on the head, I would say our restaurant experience was under par, just because of our table location and the problems this afforded us. We were ignored by waiting staff, and the air con played havoc with our comfort levels. For a smaller number on a more regular table, I’m sure it would be spot on.

Homeward Bound: Welcome Inn, Hornchurch, Essex

Starters

Starters

I always find Chinese restaurants, well, a little awkward. If you pile in with a group, I always end up feeling hesitant about how much food I take, and sometimes choosing the dishes can be a nightmare, with the on-going argument of which is really better – opting for a set menu, or selecting lots of different dishes? I normally end up leaving feeling full, but somehow baffled. Eager to change my opinion, I was chuffed when Garner matriarch Jean elected to take the family out for a slap up meal, at a Chinese restaurant I have long had my eye on to sample, after hearing good reports from my parents. Dolled up and ready to go for a Saturday night, my folks and I headed into Hornchurch to hit Welcome Inn, a small restaurant tucked at the quiet end of the high street.

Snuggled down in between an outrageously boisterous Italian restaurant and a loudly talkative Indian eatery, Welcome Inn by contrast seemed almost demure with its dark green signage, the small lettering meekly indicating the venue name in black letters. The darkly tinted windows were uninviting, not allowing us a sneak peek into the atmosphere or layout of the restaurant, so I doubt how much passing trade they get – we all know that we feast as much with our eyes as we do our taste buds. Despite this vaguely unwelcoming aurora, we barged in to be greeted by a thriving hustle and bustle; a complete juxtaposition to the stillness outside.

Duck Course

Duck Course

The restaurant itself is on the small side, but the owners have really packed the tables in, using classic round dark wooden tables for larger groups and rectangular ones for the smaller parties. Upon entering, we all squished in single file, self-consciously taking up the entire aisle until we were seated at one of the circular tables at the rear of the restaurant, directly next to the bar which was handy. The table was dressed simply, with chop sticks encased in the wrapper propped up and ready for use, wine glasses gleaming, although to be honest I was more impressed by the incredibly fancy origami of the rich red fabric napkins. I almost didn’t want to dismantle mine! With dark wooden beams, floors and tables, the atmospheric lighting didn’t really bolster the colours much, so in my opinion it was a bit dim, although still manageable. With the wall behind the bar painted a vibrant blood red, the rest of the walls were encased in cream to help provide some notion of space, a muslin style partition helping to add interest to the poky room.

Despite the unimaginative décor, the atmosphere was electric, and you could instantly tell that the clientele were regulars, which is always an indicator of decent food. With my parents swiftly sweeping up the menus and opting for a set menu option I didn’t even see, I left the food choices in their very capable hands, placing the wine list in my sister’s equally eager grasp. I merely sat and admired my napkin some more. We settled on a sauvignon blanc in the end and it was spectacular. It was sweet and fruity, yet with a richer colour and depth than some whites, meaning it had none of that wishy-washy annoying dryness or bitterness. It was well rounded, the sweet tones almost sparkling and the fruit flavours very refreshing and vibrant. A good choice there.

Main Course Selection

Main Course Selection

Our first round of Chinese was the starters, which included sauce drenched and vaguely battered ribs, triangular and sesame seed dusted prawn toasts, huge slugs of vegetable spring rolls and the best chicken satay sticks ever, bathed in a thick and flavoursome peanut sauce, a pool of crunchy and crispy seaweed loitering in the middle of the sharing platter. After munching my way through far too many prawn crackers (the Chinese equivalent of the bread basket), I was wondering how much of this I would be able to put away, but needless to say I didn’t struggle. My favourite aspect by far was the chicken satay – the chicken was so moist and soft to eat and also infused with the rich nutty tang of the peanuts. The sauce it came with was divine, as it was super buttery with a silky texture, splattered with the odd nut chunk for bite. It worked wonders with the chicken and I may have stolen an extra one. The ribs were also tasty, the meat cooked well enough so it peeled away from the bone beautifully, the sauce with these a typical dark concoction, I’m assuming some style of oyster or hoi sin. Either way, it enriched the flavour and I love a good sauce anyway. The spring rolls were not only mutantly big, but also rammed full of shredded veg so if I didn’t get my five a day from that bad boy then there is no hope for me. The pastry was classically light, crispy and a really lovely crunch before the soft, steaming vegetables. I even tried a prawn toast, despite not liking prawns and it wasn’t too bad. There isn’t much taste to them really, but the interest here is more in the mix of textures, with the soft prawn layer and then the fried crunchy bread like layers. Sprinkling seaweed over everything, I really enjoyed this traditional Chinese starter selection.

Dessert

Dessert

For me, one of the best bits about Chinese food is undoubtedly the duck pancakes – I literally love them. The duck was served on a huge sharing platter for all of us, salad tongs laid against the side of the plate, however we all knew that no one would use them; pancakes is very much a fingers only business. The plate was nicely decorated with a rose formed from carrot which added a bit of glamour, with the duck bones also left on the plate, in case anyone fancied trying to get some more off. The pancakes arrived to the table in a traditional basket steamer, the thin circles peeling away easily from each other. We were also given two more plates, which housed strips of cucumber and spring onion as well as small dishes with the oozing hoi sin sauce that I adore. The hoi sin was actually really thick, almost the consistency of marmite, so that wasn’t great for spreading in your pancake or sharing, as you tended to need a little bit more it than expected. Skipping cucumber since I dislike it, I instead overload on the crunchy onions before diving in to the duck to finish off my pancake. Personally, I like the chunks of shredded meat that are lovely and juicy and thick. I tend to avoid the skin in pancakes as I normally end up choosing the bits that are all skin by accident, making myself a rather fatty pancake but I do appreciate that this offers an extra element of texture. Fully loaded and ready to go, I chowed down eagerly as I really enjoy the gamey, rich taste of duck, especially when paired with the oriental hoi sin – I just think it’s a match made in heaven.

Inside Welcome Inn

Inside Welcome Inn

We polished that off rather nicely and then moved on to our main course where the main surprises for me were since I had no idea what we had ordered. We were offered whether we wanted bowls or plates or both and whether we wanted chop sticks or cutlery, or both, so really every utensil question out there was posed and answered, Welcome Inn considerately trying to cater for all of their audience. Our set menu entitled us to the basic building stones of any Chinese meal – namely egg fried rice, which was sticky yet fluffy at the same time and peppered with clusters of scrambled egg, as well as noodles, which were super fine and laced with a mixture of vegetables and he occasional wayward prawn. There was also the vegetable dish, which is always a bit lacklustre really, as let’s face it, no one ever goes for the veg. The mixture of onions, baby corn, beans, mushrooms and carrots were pooled in a rather unattractive pile in a translucent sauce. A bit bland and basic but you got what it said on the tin.

There was a prawn dish that I didn’t try since I don’t really do shellfish, as well as a chicken dish which was tasty. This had chunky pieces of juicy chicken in a similar sauce to the vegetables, again with more carrots, beans and the like mixed in with the white meat cubes. Amazingly soft and tender the chicken was delish, however it was the red meat dishes that stole the show. Melt in the mouth lamb with a crunchy skin on top came just as it was, so good that it didn’t fancy dressings or sauces. Hearty and meaty this was great, however I think my personal favourite was the beef. Again, nice and juicy strips but these were served in a fantastic sauce with a splattering of onions. The beef was tender and the sauce was just brilliant; it had a warm spice to it with an oriental tang, again some form of oyster sauce base that had been built up creatively. It was by far the punchiest dish we were presented with so this definitely tops the meat selection for me. The portion sizes were also very decent – we were given one plate of most of the meat dishes, two smaller ones I think for the lamb, as well as two bowls to present the rice in. When it came to the table it just looked like mountains of food, and when you’re hungry, there is nothing more you can ask for.

Bar Area

Bar Area

Compared to other Chinese restaurants and takeaways I’ve had, I wouldn’t say the quality of food differed too much, but it was delicious and we were able to polish off the majority of what we had ordered with an enthusiastic gusto typical of us Garners.

When it came to ordering dessert, I didn’t fancy my usual option of fritters. Instead I went for the lighter option of ice cream, choosing a caramel and vanilla dessert on a chocolate base and decorated with little chocolate malt balls. I know this is a brought in dessert and not an original effort or anything, but when you just fancy something sweet after your meal, ice cream is nice and light to devour and hits the spot so beautifully, especially in these toffee toned flavours. Really yummy and very much enjoyed.

We pushed the boat out further and also ordered some coffees, which were pretty standard. What wasn’t standard however, was the service. The service was exceptional. The waiting staff were thoughtful and efficient, our waiter looking after us for example was really diligent. I don’t think my glass ever reached only a quarter full as he was always on hand to top it up, and he also engaged in polite small talk whilst clearing and delivering food. One unique aspect of the service was however that he offered to take a photo of us all – but not on my always-to-hand camera. He snapped some group shots on a posh camera, before presenting us with four copies of it before we left. Sitting with it propped up on my desk now, it is a wonderful reminder of the fantastic night out that we had and how lucky I am to have such a fun family!

My fiance Dan and me

My fiance Dan and me

Homeward Bound: The Harrow, Hornchurch, Essex

Table set up

Table set up

My responsibilities as Wychelm Badminton Club’s captain came in to full force again this month, as I contemplated where to lead the gang for a summer social to try and make the most of the dwindling weather. August is a fabulously chilled out month as the summer gently peters out, so I wanted something just as laid back for our club social. Hitting the nail on the head was the idea of a relaxed pub lunch accompanied by some drinks, and where better to head to than the roomy and refurbished Ember Inn branch The Harrow, based about 10 minutes away from the Hornchurch high street, complete with its own car park and very large beer garden, scattered with dark polished wooden furniture and square sun shade umbrellas.

Attractively welcoming, The Harrow is a very appealing pub, painted a warm shade of sage green complete with golden etched signage. The double door entrance is flung open wide, chalk boards exclaiming greetings, with jars of ketchup sachets and cutlery lining the porch area for those who want to grab condiments before nabbing a table outside. Ducking under thoughtfully composed hanging baskets, I do like the social ambience of The Harrow; casual and cosy I feel I could snuggle down in a quiet corner with a good book just as much as I could meet up with a loud and raucous group of badminton players. Of course, I have only attended The Harrow for lunch, so evenings could pose a very different scene, but I really like the classic British feel of this particular Ember Inn.

BBQ Smothered Chicken

BBQ Smothered Chicken

The interior is really nicely decorated, understatedly swanky it hits just the right note of being well presented without being overboard and making you feel underdressed. The walls were alternating shades of cream, rusty orange red and a pale green wallpaper, accentuated with copper framed round mirrors of rustic country inspired art – the image nearest us was a white canvas featuring a black ewe’s head. The alcoves again added to the home-like charm, the white shelves holding up classic novels, strategically placed lamps and decorative candles. Since there was about eight of us all together, we found a quiet corner where the waiting staff had pushed together three square wooden tables for us. Slap bang in the middle of each table was a wooden tray, bearing silver jars of cutlery and napkins, ketchup and vinegar bottles snuggled in besides, with menus standing tall at the back. We could simply peruse the menu at our leisure, and then order at the bar, quoting our table number that was dangling off a rustic string tied tag attached to the tray.

Cookie and Cream Sundae

Cookie and Cream Sundae

Proudly heralding British pub classics and real ales on the menu, I didn’t really know what I fancied for my lunch. In the end I opted for BBQ Smother Chicken, priced at just under £8. The juicy and plump chicken breast was covered with a slice of bacon, curling deliciously round the edges, acting like a small bowl for the melted Montary Jack cheese that pooled on top of the mini meat pile. The bacon and cheese combo sat slippery on a smothering of deep brown BBQ sauce, the ideal tang of flavour to cut through the goo of cheese and the block of chicken. The chicken was served with a tiny handful of peas which suited me fine since they aren’t really my scene and lovely thick cut chips, which were deliciously squadgy to bite in to, with hot fluffy centres. Another thing I like about The Harrow is that they serve one of my favourite rose wines, Barefoot, which is vibrantly fruity and fresh with a pared back explosion of summer berries. Completely refreshing and a good match for the intensity of my laden chicken. The portion size was also smaller than I was expecting which was ideal for lunch. Chips were a nice neat pile while the peas were barely there. The chicken was decent though as the star of the show. Overall, a really lovely meal, although I was tempted by a few other choices on the menu.

Inside The Harrow

Inside The Harrow

As for dessert, I simply couldn’t resist the Cookies and Cream Sundae which was basically lashings of plain vanilla ice cream, topped with a generous splat of cream and speared shards of chocolate chip cookie sticking out of the top, the whole concoction drizzled with a dark chocolate sauce that pooled luxuriously at the bottom of the sundae glass in one deliciously decadent clump. This really hit the spot for me – the cookie pieces were gooey yet crumbly, so perfect for me, the ice cream encased by the perfect amounts of sauce to keep this sauce addict happy, the chocolate hit enough to satisfy me. The cream was a nice added extra to add volume and opulence, and although there weren’t tons of components, it was still a decent sundae. I think I would have liked maybe one more flavour or texture added to ramp it up to the next level, but as a basic sundae, yes it was yummy.

Country casual

Country casual

Since we arrived at the pub at 12.30pm ish and didn’t leave until 6.45pm, this meant we were there for a rather long time. Long enough for lunch to go down, and the dessert menu to start whimpering my name in a very appealing and siren like manner. I couldn’t help but have my gaze torn away from my animated friends faces and instead have my vision honed in on the Summer Berry Sundae. When an accomplice mentioned second desserts, I toyed with the idea, but it wasn’t until a full mutiny and peer pressure situation arose, that I succumbed to my greed and headed to the bar to make a second dessert order – that sundae was so mine. Incredibly light and refreshing, this sundae contained icy raspberry sorbet, mixed with large chunks of crunchy meringue nests, topped with a gorgeous pile of summer berries, which are my favourite fruit combinations. After a heavier main course and first dessert, the sorbet was so fresh and zingy with fruit flavours, the meringue absolutely ideal and the perfect partner in crime – I so enjoyed being greedy and talented enough to order seconds!

Summer Berry Sundae

Summer Berry Sundae

Another interesting aspect of The Harrow was the fact they offered floater coffees. Rare enough on swish restaurant menus, it was really lovely to spot the dinner party favourite lurking in the hot beverages section. I went for the classic coffee, topped with whipped cream after my meal. The foamy cream topping was light and bubbly, a good mix between cream and milk, although the coffee itself was the colour of a white coffee, although I thought floater coffees used black. Either way, the flavour was punchy yet not too strong and paired with the cream it was delicious. I actually thoroughly enjoyed it and would most definitely order it again as the conclusion of my meal. Especially if I wasn’t driving so I could opt for the boozy version laced with Tia Maria!

Floater Coffee

Floater Coffee

On the whole I can’t really fault The Harrow. Yes the food is basic and simple, serving just British pub food, which you would probably find on many a menu across the country, especially since The Harrow is part of a popular pub chain. Despite this, the food was nicely executed and averagely presented, but to be honest, that was all we wanted. We wanted some yummy tucker to chow down on while we had a chinwag and a drink, so in that respect, it fit the bill perfectly, especially because of the relaxed and nicely decorated atmosphere which I actually find really appealing. I think The Harrow is ideal for large groups, as the menu is basic enough for fussy eaters, yet wide enough to cover all basic food groups and fancies, offering burgers, grills, salads, starters, desserts, fish and the main event – pub classics. The location is perfect, near both bus stops and not a million miles away from Hornchurch station. The car park is also roomy enough so no clustering there. The beer garden gives a decent space to sprawl out into for busy periods, although on the blustery Saturday when we went, it was actually surprisingly quiet for a weekend. The pricing is also very reasonable, with each of my sundaes under a fiver and my main course under £8, so even while I am intensely saving for my wedding, I could still afford two desserts! Chilled, tasty and with a touch of class – The Harrow gets the thumbs up from me.

Nice decor

Nice decor

Homeward Bound: Oh My Cod Restaurant, Hornchurch, Essex

When trying to decide where to take my badminton club for their next club social, I was on the hunt for somewhere new, with a versatile menu that would appeal to our adventurous fine diners as well as our fussy, traditional eaters. When I spied that local chippie Oh My Cod had gone all up market with a second, restaurant only venue, situated only a short walk away from their takeaway joint, I was instantly intrigued.

Outside Oh My Cod

Outside Oh My Cod

From the outside, it sure looked swanky with bold black signage and their modern trademark orange emblazoned in subtle neon across the door. A separated seated patio area outside had the hallmarks of a great sun spot come the summer months, with designated off road parking catering for the drivers of any group turning up to chow down. Through the large glass windows you could peek a glimpse at the stylish interior, fronded potted palms decadently reclining against vibrant orange and muted muddy beige walls; dark and shiny wooden rectangular tables encouraging families and larger groups, such as our table of ten people. The tables were dressed simply with side plates, cutlery, olive oil and vinegar, drinks menus slotted inside leather covers.

The family run establishment had a lovely relaxed atmosphere that clearly catered for friends and tight knit groups – there was a gentle buzz of social chatter yet it wasn’t overpowering or too quiet. Ideal for a Sunday meal out really. Although the takeaway venture focuses on your regular fish and chip fare, the restaurant takes this basic concept, ramps it up and gives it a jazzy Turkish makeover, with a selection of hot and cold starters, options for a variety of kebabs as well as dinky traditional pastries for dessert.

Inside Oh My Cod

Inside Oh My Cod

After nabbing a bottle of rose to split with the girls of the group, the waiters kindly brought over woven baskets lined with paper serviettes, stashed with strips of warmly grilled bread, a bit like pitta bread in thickness, but with a lovely slight springy texture. Pooling some oil on to my side plate, I dunked my bread enthusiastically, enjoying the crispy crunch of the bread, the soft centre, all paired with the slick of traditional oil. A totally tasty way to start the meal. After perusing the starter selection, I opted for the cold saksuka – sautéed aubergine in a tomato, garlic and onion sauce. It was a decent size for a starter, although I think it would have tasted a tad better served warm. It boasted some seriously strong and powerful flavours though, the garlic really coming through the sweeter tomato, the aubergine adding a slightly meaty texture and an added bite to the whole dish. It was presented with a small side salad garnish, which worked well to help mop up the sauce. On the whole, I really enjoyed the flavour combinations, as they all married together beautifully and also created a tasty texture – you would suppose it be rather mushy just by looking at it, but it was chunky and delicious, with a hum of garlic accentuated and enhancing the whole dish.

Lamb Shish with Yoghurt Sauce

Lamb Shish with Yoghurt Sauce

Picking my main course was also a mission for my indecisive brain, but in the end, I went for the lamb shish with yoghurt sauce, swapping the traditional cod and chips plunder for something a smidge more authentic. I also asked for a side of rice in anticipation of needing something to soak up the sauce. When it arrived at the table, it was exactly how I had pictured it, so I was interested to see what it tasted like. The cubes of lamb shish meat were placed on a bed of diced bread, massive pools of natural yoghurt creating a moat either side of the band of meat lying horizontally across my plate. The dish was finished with a tomato tasting Anatolian sauce, also coated with a butter sauce. The chunks of lamb were cooked perfectly, with a natural meaty taste. The sauce was mainly tomato with a bit of kick and an after warmth. After much digging around I found the diced bread, but I was a bit disappointed with how small the cubes were – it appeared to be similar bread to what was in our bread basket earlier, and they were cut much smaller than I anticipated so they didn’t contribute greatly to the meal. It was refreshing to have the yoghurt as it added a zingy slice of gloopy tang to the richer meat, however I feel my plate was laden with too much yoghurt almost – I never thought I would ever say yoghurt was overpowering but that was how it came across when I considered the dish. The rice was lovely and fluffy, just as it should be, strands of noodle laced between the grains in a traditional fashion. It was tasty mixed up with my mass of yoghurt, and I was glad that I had ordered it, as I was unsure if the meat and yoghurt mix along would have been a fulfilling enough portion.

Saksuka

Saksuka

Shared longer side plates of fresh salad were brought to that table so that we could just help ourselves, so I made sure to nab some lettuce, grated carrot and red cabbage. Since the guy sitting next to me couldn’t finish his battered cod and chips, I took the opportunity to sample another dish on the menu. The chips were glorious – a little bit pale colour wise, but wonderfully thick and cuboid with a soft squidgy centre – the epitome of importance for a fish shop chip. The cod was also tasty, the batter light and golden, the fish flaking beautifully as your fork dug in. The fillet of fish was also a very decent size so no qualms there about there being enough food. Unfortunately we did have to send some food back to the kitchen however. One lady in our party had ordered the battered skate and chips, yet when her skate arrived, it hadn’t been cooked properly. After asking for another piece, the second piece also arrived at the table undercooked, so we had one diner who didn’t actually eat a main course. It’s a shame as I felt my two courses were cooked wonderfully, with some really punchy and vibrant flavours, but obviously her experience of Oh My Cod wouldn’t have been as good.

Rose wine

Rose wine

No one fancied dessert so we asked for the bill, and instead of the usual mints that adorn the receipt, we were presented with a couple of plates of Turkish pastries – baklava I recognised although we were also given some small domed puddings to try. With a strict no wastage policy, I had soon taken care of the majority of these sweet treats, and I thoroughly enjoyed them too. The baklavas were deliciously syrupy stacks of filo pastry, with nuts such as pistachios wedged in between the tight knit layers. Soft yet crunchy with a luxurious sweet taste, I found these impeccably moreish. The second nibble was a small sponge pudding, also drenched in sticky syrup that dripped from the cake like morsel as soon as you attempted to pick it up with the provided tooth pick. These were also tasty, but I preferred the baklava as they had more texture and a greater variety of flavours to enjoy.

View out the front of the restaurant

View out the front of the restaurant

Price wise, I can’t complain as I would say that the dishes were pretty reasonable. We banned our dinner-less member from contributing to the cost since she didn’t actually eat, and the rest of us stumped up just over £20 each so not too shabby. The waiting staff were polite and efficient, although they weren’t exactly chatty or particularly warm. I really did enjoy my food although there were a few tweaks I would have recommended, and I think the variety of food provided was ideal for such a mixed group as we were. There was something for the fussy guys, the more adventurous eaters, people who wanted to be healthy and people who wanted to blow out. I liked the décor of the place, as it was tidy and well-presented without being in your face or overdone. In conclusion, we had a lovely evening, and I would like to return at some point to sample my own plate of cod and chips!