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.

Homeward Bound: Beefeater Liberty Bell, Romford, Essex

The Liberty Bell has always been a reliable source of British pub grub, a mere 15 minute walk from my flat, making it an ideal date night location where both my husband and I can enjoy a few drinks yet still get home with ease. Partnered with Romford’s Premier Inn, the gastro pub used to be part of the Table Table chain, yet a recent renovation has seen it transform into a Beefeater. Although I know the differences are probably quite subtle and more nuanced – after all, it still serves British pub fodder – I was still keen to see what they had done to the place.

As you walk in, the most striking difference is the new décor. Beefeater have really overhauled and updated the interior to give the restaurant a really open feel, featuring plenty of large rectangular and circular tables, large mustard or coffee coloured leather sofa style seating, and quirky red or brown upholstered dining chairs. Wood panelling provides a barn-like vibe. Fun cow-related sayings perch on the walls, as well as other themed art, such as a multi-coloured cow cut out labelling the relevant joints of meat. It’s a light, bright space, and it has a really fun and casual atmosphere; perfect for kicking back after a long week at work. The nooks and grannies that previously hid seating when Table Table was in management have all disappeared, and Beefeater has embraced a much more homely yet classy vibe.

My husband and I were sat on an end table by the wall, providing an element of privacy. I nabbed the dining chair as Dan slid onto the mustard sofa opposite me, behind our wooden, square table. As he ordered a berry flavoured cider, I checked out the wine menu. I decided to try something a little different – my usual favourites are also naturally the most expensive on most menus, so I was trying to be savvy too! One of the cheaper white wines, it was pale in colour and vaguely fruity. It didn’t pack the fruity punch I was expecting and while it was delicate and light, it wasn’t the best wine in the world. Kudos for trying something new though, right?

As Dan enjoys a starter, I was cohered into sharing some garlic flatbread strips. This came up a lot bigger than either of us expected, despite it being on the sharer menu. So many starters are designed to share yet they come up minuscule, so this was incredibly refreshing. The large flatbread was cut into three vertical strips and served with a little ramekin of melted garlic butter for us to dunk the bread in. It was an ideal thickness, with a soft and plump edge, yet a crisp and crunchy garlic infused centre with a thin base. We dove in with a rip and pull tactic to divide the bread as we chatted.

For my main course, I looked to the seasonal menu. I wanted to try the beef rib wellington, however this happened to be the one and only dish that the restaurant had run out of! Cursing my bad luck, I scanned the menu and ordered my second choice, also on the seasonal menu. I ordered the beef fillet stack, naturally medium rare. The 8oz steak would be topped with a slice of streaky bacon, a slice of Somerset brie and a slow roasted tomato. Sides wise, the dish came with creamed spinach and crispy potato slices. I love a good steak, and at a venue called Beefeater, you kind of expect the beef to be pretty top notch.

I wasn’t wrong. The steak was perfectly cooked, and although I have had more tender steaks in fancier restaurants, there was nothing wrong with this piece of meat. It was just the right level of pinkness and it cut very easily, with a great, slightly chargrilled flavour. Lovely and thick, it was a tasty chunk of meat. I also liked the fact that the toppings provided me with enough juicy options to eat with my steak, so Dan watched in horror as my tomato ketchup dish remained largely untouched. Granted, the brie came up as a rather shrivelled and small slice, although it was nicely melted over the meat. The bacon was the smallest and skinniest slice I have ever had the misfortune to glance upon, however as a component of the whole dish, it was still ok. The tomato was nice and big, the roasting process really drawing out the flavour and giving it a lovely soft texture too. Each element worked really nicely together. If the dish had had less components, then I would have been disappointed, however all together, it was very nice indeed. The crispy potato slices were thin and rather nice. The creamed spinach was more like a sauce than a vegetable in my opinion as it was so liquid. I’m not sure that is entirely a good thing, however it tasted nice and I was able to use it to dunk my potatoes in so it wasn’t too shabby. Although the dish wasn’t entirely perfect, or as I expected, weirdly, it still worked, and I still enjoyed it.

Dan ordered a mixed grill and then promptly got the meat sweats. Each piece of meat on his plate was very generously sized and of good quality, leading him to say it was one of the best mixed grills that he had ever had. He struggled to finish, yet he still delivered a clean plate to earn a thumbs up.

For dessert, I went back to the seasonal menu to order a gin and tonic lemon trifle. I love trifle and I love gin and tonic, so this was very much a must-try for me. Served in glass straight-sided dessert bowl, the base of the trifle was very much like a sponge pudding with the gin and tonic soaked sponge fingers at the bottom. The gin was a main flavour which was great, as so often the alcohol can get hidden among other ingredients. The lemon curd that was meant to top the sponge was rather non-existent, however there was more than enough of the light and silky whipped cream on top to compensate, so pairing this with the moreish sponge was really lovely. It was a nice sized dessert and not too heavy after my main meal, so I’m really glad I got to try this one.

I couldn’t leave without ordering a Bailey’s milkshake too. Served in a traditional tall glass and garnished with chocolate shavings, it was basically a vanilla based ice cream, blended with Bailey’s. As with the gin, the Bailey’s was certainly present and correct, although not dominant throughout the whole drink so I’m not sure what the balance of the blend was exactly. It was creamy, cool and very nice indeed. An extra treat!

The Beefeater menu has a great choice and range to pick from, and we both enjoyed our meal there. Oddly enough, although I had little niggles about a couple of the dishes, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the food, and I’m still pleased with the food choices I made. I’ve even picked out a few dishes I’d like to try from the seasonal menu for next time! The portion sizes are really good, which is definitely something I value, and the waiting staff were chatty and polite. We spent just over £60 on our meal which is pretty much par for the course, so I’m happy with the price range too. All in all, we had a lovely date night, and I’m looking forward to going to my new Beefeater again soon!

Holiday Munchies: The Poacher’s Pocket, Bacton, Norfolk

p1050795Every decent girls weekend away has a good alcohol-related story, and for a group of girlfriends and myself, a recent weekend away in the little village of Bacton saw us spend our Saturday hiding from the rain in this quaint local pub. For six odd hours. Yes, six.

Arriving at around 4pm to shelter from the coastal downpour, we started sipping chilled glasses of a deliciously light and fruity sauvignon blanc and ended by leaving gone 9pm, full to the brim with a two course dinner served in their upstairs restaurant. All in all, I felt it was a productive afternoon!

Sitting between the road into the Bacton and the sandy route down to the beach, the Poacher’s Pocket is the perfect local. The staff were incredibly warm and efficient down in the bar area, instantly directing us to a table near the window where we could have a few drinks before the evening dinner rush. The pub had a very traditional feel, with the classic dark wooden beams lined against the whitewashed walls. With a darkly patterned carpet, glossy wooden bar and TV blasting out football, it had a really homely and cosy feel, with regulars bringing their dogs in to sit by their tables, some groups playing cards casually. There was even advertisements for a singing act due to be on that evening, so they even put on entertainment which I thought was something a bit different for a country pub.

p1050800Although you could sit and eat dinner at the larger tables and chairs by the bar, the Poacher’s Pocket also had an upstairs dining area that was quieter and more sparsely populated with white linen clad tables and dining chairs. Settling down at a table for four, my friends and I refilled our very enjoyable white wine and perused the menu. Since by this point I had consumed more than the average amount of wine for a Saturday afternoon, I had the fancies for something large, unhealthy and tasty. The menu was full to the rafters of classic pub grub, so when I spotted the battered cod and chips, I knew that would hit the nail on the head, especially as it was served with a generous side of chips.

The fish itself was absolutely huge, I mean massive. It filled one whole side of my large, round plate, the batter beautifully golden with a lovely crunchy sheen encasing the beautifully delicate and well cooked, flaky cod fillet. The batter was just the right amount of crispiness and was also a generous layer too – I thoroughly enjoyed it. The fish was also lovely, as you would expect when near the seaside! The chips were as expected, and since I don’t have chips often, it was a real treat to munch on them. They were a little thicker than skinny fries which I liked, as well as being nice and fluffy. They didn’t have much crisp or colour to them, but to honest that doesn’t bother me. I might have left my peas, but that fish was a thing of beauty!p1050802

For dessert, I went for the very traditional bread and butter pudding, served with warm custard. It was really lovely, being incredibly soft and bouncy with lashings of sultanas and currents smuggled between the layers of bread. One thing I did notice was the heavy cinnamon flavour, which must be a trademark of the dish here as it really was a prominent flavour in the dessert, which isn’t that common for bread and butter pudding. It was a decent size too which I loved, as there is nothing more disappointing than a tiny dessert. A spoonful of my friend’s rich and decadent chocolate brownie also proved that all the desserts were a winner.

p1050789As well as being impressed by the food, I was also impressed by the price. I knew I wasn’t in London anymore when we paid £30 per person, when the four of us had consumed a bottle of wine and two course meal each. It was a complete steal, especially considering the high quality of the food and also that the wine was really lovely – no bitter house white for us.

If anyone happens to be holidaying in north Norfolk, I would definitely recommend this lovely pub. Simple pub classics are executed brilliantly for full on flavour, great textures and brilliant portion sizes that don’t leave you hungry. Although some of the restaurant staff were a bit snotty, the bar staff were chatty and helpful, instantly making us feel at home in their local. And for those kinds of prices, you really can’t go wrong.

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: 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: Ardleigh and Dragon, Ardleigh Green, Essex

Tiger Starter Platter

Tiger Starter Platter

Outside The Ardleigh and Dragon

Outside The Ardleigh and Dragon

When it was finally time for my sister to graduate after six years of medical study, choosing someplace swanky, unique and deliciously decadent was most definitely on the cards for a celebratory dinner. A five minute walk from my parents’ home in Ardleigh Green, we settled on the Ardleigh and Dragon – an intriguing juxtaposition of a British pub and bar matched with an oriental fine dining Thai restaurant. Eyebrows cocked with curiosity, we headed to the pub.

Muted and rustic, ‘the Ardleigh’ as it is affectionately known by locals, has an understated yet regal exterior, painted a pared down sage green in fitting with the location, the signage done in black and majestic gold to stand out, the only nod to Eastern influences noticed by a swirling dragon logo on the front wall. Walking through the roomy car park out front, I liked how neat and presentable the pub was – it had a quaint sophistication that was irresistible and drew you in. Upon entering through a side door, a faint ‘ooh’ of surprise and pleasure will escape you. Straight ahead is a decently decked out, highly polished wooden bar. The front of house is clearly the pub / bar section, offering small circular tables surrounded by blue, orange and white barrel chairs to enclose you comfily and provide a posh perch for your beverage. Trying not to slip on the gleaming wooden floor, to the left and passing more seating was an exit to the spacious beer garden, whilst to the right there was more seating up to the bay window at the front. It felt incredibly roomy with plenty of standing space by the bar, considerately thinking of the weekend punters wanting their nightcaps.

Luxurious interior

Luxurious interior

Behind the clusters of social seating was a modern striped partition, which acted as a divide between the bar and restaurant sections. Whilst being shown to our table, we passed a dazzling silver wallpapered wall with large lotus flower motifs, a firm stamp of the South East Asian influence that is imprinted across the menu and décor. Turquoise and duck egg blue create a really calming and zen like atmosphere, although you can’t help but feel you are in a very exclusive restaurant – they have really hit the nail on the head on creating an intensely glamorous yet not overwhelming venue; a place that promptly puts you at ease, yet also makes you feel like a VIP – perfect for Jess’s special day. We were seated at a large round table in the bay window, the hard back chairs embedded with turquoise cushions, delicate pink orchids in a rectangular vase swimming in space in the centre of the table. Presented with black leather embossed menus, I couldn’t wait to see what treats were within.

Crackers and Dip

Crackers and Dip

As most meals start, we began with the wine menu, deciding to hit the white wine, focusing on sauvignon blanc. Whilst menu perusing, we sipped a South African effort that was refreshing and full of flavour, whilst when we got down to the business of food, we swapped over to a New Zealand Tokamaru Bay one. Since Jess’s adventures in New Zealand, any wine from the region has become an instant must have, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the intensely tropical tastes of this full bodied wine; it’s fruity tones perfect with the fragrant Thai food. Instead of the British bread basket, we were presented with the Thai equivalent – a woven basket full of slightly spiced prawn crackers, dip dishes holding pools of sweet chilli sauce to dunk the curled and crispy crackers. Incredibly moreish and tasty, needless to say, these didn’t last long.

Duck Pancakes

Duck Pancakes

When presented with such an array of dishes, sometimes it is easier to opt for a set menu, like we did. For £20.95 a head, we selected the Tuk Tuk menu, also adding a new bits and pieces on to personalise it for the group. To kick things off, we had sharing starter platters, with two pairs sharing one plate each and then the remaining three of us sharing a larger plate. My favourite item was the sticky glazed spare rib, with sesame seeds scattered on top. Not usually a fan of ribs, these had a gorgeous gooey flavour and simply fell of the bone since the meat was so tender. Also on the platter was a chicken satay each and a beef satay too, both with nice chunks of meat ideal for plonking in one of the two dip ramekins – one holding the translucent yet speckled sweet chilli sauce, the other containing the distinctive nutty satay sauce. Completing the starter selection was a duck spring roll, the meat within steaming hot and full of lovely deep duck flavours encased in the gorgeously crunchy shell. You only received one of each item to munch on so you felt more like you were grazing than eating a meal. We soon had our platter plates polished off, ready for the next round.

Tuk Tuk

Tuk Tuk

Steering off the set Tuk Tuk course, we inserted a duck pancake round because of our mutual love for the tasty game birds. Shredded and succulent, we were once again given shared plates with a mound of juicy duck pieces, surrounded by straight cut piles of spring onion one side and cucumber the other, for added zest and crunch with the soft meat. Dip dishes held brown hoi sin sauce to smother inside the filo thin pancakes, presented in a traditional woven basket style container. Lifting the lid, I dove straight in, peeling back a pancake before slapping it satisfactorily on to my clean plate. Nabbing a heaped teaspoon or two of the sauce, I swirled this on to my pancake before loading up with tender duck pieces down the centre of the pancake in a vertical line. Garnishing with the pale green spring onions, I then wrapped up my concoction before taking a hearty bite out of one end – simply delicious.

Crispy Red Snapper

Crispy Red Snapper

After clearing the pancakes with a ready gusto, we were back with the Tuk Tuk and the main courses. We were given stir fried pork, sitting on a bed of damp lettuce, infused with garlic, coriander and black pepper. To be honest I couldn’t really taste the additional flavours here, maybe it was just too subtle for my palette, but the pork was nice. We were also given stir fried beef, with broccoli, ginger and mushrooms, which had a bit more about it but was still a tad bland in my opinion and similar to the pork. However, the third and final main meat of the menu was a complete star for me, and stole the main course entirely – the Thai red curry. The chicken was swimming in a sunset coloured sauce creamy with coconut milk and zesty with lime leaf, peppers and huge pineapple chunks lacing the loveliness. I absolutely adored this and could not get enough of it. I drenched my side dishes in the medium consistency sauce, thoroughly enjoying the fresh yet warmly musky flavour. Brilliant. We made another addition to our main by plonking in some crispy red snapper and I actually liked this alot too despite not really being a fish eater. The coating was a light batter and the fish chunks were big and a lovely texture. A very pleasant surprise.

Banana Fritters and Ice Cream

Banana Fritters and Ice Cream

Our side dishes consisted of a vegetable dish of stir fried broccoli, green beans, carrots and mangetout, the quick cooking process meaning they were still crunchy, vibrant and colourful. They included some of my favourite vegetables as well so I happy to tuck into these. The steamed rice was wonderfully fluffy and fragrant, sticking together in tasty clumps especially after I added the addictive Thai red curry sauce! The noodles were also particularly good, being lovely and soft and not chewy in the slightest. Everything seemed to combine and work really well together on the plate which I enjoyed.

Jess's cheesecake

Jess’s cheesecake

Of course a bang up meal wouldn’t be complete without dessert, and I couldn’t resist going for the traditional banana fritters. No word of a lie, these were the best fritters I have ever had. Firstly, they were huge – long logs of squidgy and oozy banana, encased in a fantastically fried homemade batter that was exceedingly crunchy and crispy and the perfect opposite to the steaming fruity innards. The batter had a hint of oiliness to it, but oddly it enhanced the flavour instead of took away from the dish and I adored the contrasting composition of the textures. Again mixing up the temperatures, my hot fritters were served with a scoop of ice cream, and I requested to swap the normal vanilla for the more tasty sounding butterscotch. Creamy, caramel drenched with the odd butterscotch bite, the ice cream was fantastic and the perfect accompaniment for the banana fritters. An absolutely opulent afters that was really filling even for me!

Majestic and regal

Majestic and regal

For a Monday night, the restaurant was full, which alone is testament to the brilliant quality of the food and the level of service you can expect at the Ardleigh and Dragon. The staff were pleasant and polite, not really engaging too much in conversation, but flitting here and there doing their jobs well. Luckily for me I didn’t go near the bill, as the menu does have the reputation of being eye watering but once you have sampled the food, you can see why. Unfortunately there are rumours that this wonderfully unique venue is being sold and is going to return to yet another pub grub vendor, so I strongly urge anyone who hasn’t been to go and sample the food while you can, as it is truly excellent.

Bar / pub area

Bar / pub area