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.

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Eating Around: The Mug House, London Bridge, London

Quintessentially British, The Mug House is a pub restaurant within the popular Davy’s chain that smacks of good old fashioned Englishness from centuries ago whilst also being bang up to date with a gourmet menu of classic dishes. Hidden in the domed alcoves of London Bridge, opposite the tourist-trap of the London Dungeons, this hideaway is a real treasure trove.

Bursting at the seams with character, I adored the atmosphere as soon as I stepped foot in the place. I felt as if I had gone back in time thanks to the classically whitewashed walls, multitude of dark wooden beams clustering the ceiling, and large polished beer barrels acting as quirky drinks tables by the entryway bar area.

Already impressed by The Mug House’s traditional yet polished take on a London ale house, my family and I walked around to the restaurant part of the pub, where we would be enjoying our dinner. Luxury labelled wine bottles sat proudly on each table, white taper candles speared into the makeshift holders and wax decadently dribbling down the side of the bottles. The blush red toned walls were in keeping with the abundance of wooden furniture, while more wine bottles lined shelves along the walls. Due to its location, natural sunlight is a no go; however the candlelight and numerous wall fixture lights maintained a lovely ambience under the rounded ceilings, creating an intimate and cosy vibe. Blackboards listed specials for both food and drink options, adding to the traditional feel of the place. Having a soft spot for this style of décor that has a nod to times gone by meant that my first impressions were gleeful to say the least. Now all that was left was to see whether the food and drink matched the opening standards set by this impressively presented pub.

We ordered the house red to share with our meal and very nice it was too. A deep blood red in colour, it was surprisingly fruity and medium weighted, making it very easy to drink throughout our meal. To start, my husband Dan and I shared, opting for the lemon and herb flavoured hummus, which was served with sliced up and grilled flatbreads. As hummus fans in general, it was great to get such a citrus and fresh twist on a classic, with the lemon adding a vibrant zing to the luxuriously thick and smooth dipping sauce. The flatbread was soft to bite yet held its shape when dunking and catching the hummus, which as we all know, is of vital importance. It was easily enough for one person, but the portion size was still generous enough to accommodate two so that we could have a graze before our main meal to whet the appetite.

For my main course, I decided to have a ploughman’s. I thoroughly enjoy a good British ploughman’s; however they very rarely feature on restaurant menus, despite being a pub classic in my mind. The Mug House’s version however had certainly been given the gastro pub makeover as it was a classy and sophisticated offering, presented on a round wooden cheeseboard. The slices of ham were cut generously thick, the meat both lean and light. Two long triangles of yellow cheddar came up next, balanced on top of each other, while a small pile of salad leaves acted as a bed for a black pudding scotch egg. A recent convert to black pudding, this scotch egg was dreamy. The egg was soft boiled so had that wonderfully opulent gooey and oozy centre that pools everywhere with each bite. The crust of the egg was perfectly cooked for crunch factor, while the black pudding element really enhanced the flavoursome meat within to give a richer and deeper taste. Armed with four decent sized triangles of chargrilled white bread, I tucked in with gusto, making sure to sample the caramelised onion chutney and sunset orange relish that sat in small white ramekins next to my little butter dish. Every component was simple, yet simply delicious, and I could tell the ingredients were of a high quality. Pairing the separate elements together is part of the fun of a ploughman’s, so I wrapped salad in my ham before dunking it in relish, piled the bread with cheese and chutney. Fun food at its finest.

Dessert also left me a happy bunny as I chose the traditional sticky toffee pudding for my afters. Served with a large jug of wonderful custard, there was even enough for me to drench my pudding just how I like it. The sauce had a fiery whiskey kick that was great soaked up into the caramel toned cake, with the dessert being moist, soft and full of flavour all round.

All in all, I was very impressed with The Mug House. Granted we went at a quiet time for our family meal; 5.30pm on a Saturday, so it was a lot quieter and more peaceful than I imagine it would be later on in the evening. I really loved both the décor and the atmosphere, and it presented the perfect environment for us to have a tasty family catch up. Due to its location, it is going to be more costly all round, however the quality of our meals is testament that it was worth every penny, and I would certainly eat there again.