Holiday Munchies, The Brasshouse, Birmingham

After spending all day cooped up at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena watching the Yonex All England Badminton Championships, my husband Dan and I were pretty cream crackered. I mean, watching all the athletes running around was more tiring than we expected, so rather than head back to the hotel to change and then find somewhere for dinner, we decided to frequent a classic gastro pub on the way back to our room instead, for an artery-clogging meal that would have us licking our lips and our tummies sighing with satisfaction.

With this in mind, Dan found The Brasshouse on Broad Street, near Brindleyplace and next to the canal. It struck the right balance between offering a veneer of red-brick sophistication and old-fashioned charm as well as providing a more casual atmosphere than a formal restaurant. We were also lucky that since it was still quite early in the evening, that it was relatively quiet too, so we could find a dining table with ease that was opposite the bar for speedy ordering purposes.

I actually really liked the interior of The Brasshouse. With smart tartan carpet, cream walls and deep duck egg blue wood panelling, and plenty of red brick for that rustic vibe, the pub had an aura of a manor house about it, which appeals to my whimsical nature. With an array of booths, dining tables and high stool tables, we picked a normal dining table for four and spread ourselves out. I admired the intricate wallpaper in this section of the pub too; it depicted white columned arches that stood out against deep grey alcoves, a selection of brass-coloured monkeys strutting, climbing and causing mischief at random, well-spaced intervals of the classic Roman building work. On top of this fascinating wallpaper were heavy, thick and densely patterned golden frames, which were either mirrors or showed black and white stills of streets, mounted on deep red apertures.

Once we had settled down, I viewed the drinks menu with growing interest. They had a vast gin selection and I was eager to try out a couple of different flavours. I started with Tanqueray No. 10, as I am a Tanqueray fan anyway, and I enjoyed the fresh, citrus tones of this gin. I also sampled Monkey 47, which had telling notes of cranberry. It was great to try some unique gins that you don’t always find on pub menus and I loved that the menu had tasting notes too, which helped me pick what ones I wanted to order. I had my gins with slimline tonic for a refreshing beverage to accompany my meal. Needless to say, I made my way through quite a few…

For starters, we decided to pick a few dishes from the tapas menu and share. Very sociable for date night indeed. My choice was the mozzarella and truffle bon bons, which sounded like they pretty much encompassed all of my favourite flavours in one decadently deep-fried bundle. Truffle-toned and breadcrumb-coated, these balls hid an oozing centre of soft, stringy and addictive melted mozzarella, which was such a texture contrast to the crispy fried breadcrumbs. Super soft yet with a golden exterior, these globules of goodness were served with a tomato salsa that added just the right amount of pick-me-up to avoid too much heaviness, the tomato quite juicy and zingy. Dan’s pick was the chicken wings, which were also fried to a golden perfection, the chicken meat itself slick and tender. Our mutual plate pick was the antipasti, as we do love an antipasti. This one featured a selection of Italian cured meats, mixed olives, slow roasted tomato, focaccio bread and Dolcelatte blue cheese. I loved the range of salamis, which covered different textures and tastes, and in particular I enjoyed wrapping bits of salami around the flavourful and rich tomatoes. In my opinion, tomatoes taste so much better when they are sundried, roasted or sunblushed so this left me happy. I chowed down on the salty olives too as a nice snack and I even tried the blue cheese, despite strongly disliking blue cheese. This one was creamy and soft, almost spreadable, so could be termed bearable, but it was still not a winner for either of us. All in all though, we loved our little pick and mix starter and it certainly set the ball rolling for a very enjoyable meal.

For my main course, I stuck to my cheese-laden guns and opted for the loaded mac and cheese. Naturally, this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill mac and cheese, but instead it featured slow cooked BBQ burnt beef ends, BBQ pulled pork and streaky bacon all sat atop my mound of cheesy pasta, with a slice of garlic focaccia on the side. The mac and cheese was served in a white baking dish rimmed with blue, and looked as if it had come straight from the oven, the top almost set and with a delightful collection of golden burst cheese bubbles brewing on top. Each of the featured meats sat on top in a neat pile, so it wasn’t really mixed in to the mac and cheese; it was probably the standard pre-prepared mac and cheese that just had meat whacked on top. However, this meat was really good. Each component was literally screaming with flavour and the BBQ tones really came through. The burnt beef ends had a satisfying crunch to them, while the pulled pork was shredded beautifully and gooey too. The bacon was a nice thickness with a salty undertone, and a few sprigs of greenery finished off the look. The mac and cheese itself was decadently cheesy and a wonderful yellow colour. It was wonderfully oozy, the small pasta pieces were well cooked and it felt like indulgent home cooking that we simply don’t usually have time for. A very yummy mac and cheese indeed that really hit my spot. I was disappointed with the garlic focaccia however. It was actually a small strip of what I would term ciabatta rather than focaccia with barely a garlic tinge in it. It was nice to have some bread to dunk in all that cheesy and saucy goodness, however a crisp plain ciabatta is very different from a soft, doughy, garlic flavoured focaccia. #justsaying. Dan went for his pub go-to; fish and chips served with mushy peas on brown paper. A sample bite told me the fish was delicious and well cooked so that it flaked apart nicely, and the batter was light and not oily. We were both happy with the main courses.

I decided to have a traditional dessert for my afters, so I ordered the apple crumble with lashings of bright yellow custard. The apple was soft and suprisingly full of flavour. It luckily also retained its chunkiness with regards to the fruit and it wasn’t just a colourless mush of stewed apple. However, for me, the star of the dish was actually the crumble topping, which not only was the right consistency of crumb to add bite and crunch yet avoid being dust, but it also had a great taste. It was flavoured with cinnamon, and I think had an oaty, caramel tone to it too. It was really lovely. I was also grateful for the generous custard pool. The colour suggested packet mix, yet it was nice so I don’t really mind. The apple crumble was a satisfying and hearty dessert.

Dan, on the other hand, went upmarket with mini churros served with a caramel dip. However, these were a bit odd to be honest. They were pretty hollow inside instead of having churros’ usual doughnut fluffiness and were filled with the same caramel sauce that was provided for dunking. This made the churros more like shells, which were a touch too crunchy and thin to be proper churros. Plus, Dan found them really difficult to eat as the sauce inside was absolutely piping hot and we both burnt our tongues trying to eat them. Breaking them open though just spilled the inner sauce and took away the fun of dunking in the dip, which as we all know is the main point of churros. A nice idea but we’re not sure this one really carried off that well. The flavours were nice though. 

All in all, we enjoyed our evening in The Brasshouse. It was all about the proper pub grub, although it certainly gave an upmarket makeover to certain aspects of its menu; namely the tapas starters and the luxury drinks menu. Clearly, artisan drinks menus are becoming the norm as more diners expect to adventure as far with their gin as they do with their dinner. Prices were pretty standard for pub food and I really liked the atmosphere and the decor. I’d definitely pop back in for either drink or food or both and there was enough choice on the menu for me to pick a different meal on another visit. Just don’t expect healthy eating!

 

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Holiday Munchies: The London Inn, St Neot, Cornwall

When visiting my mother-in-law’s tiny rural village in Cornwall, it’s interesting to draw comparisons with my London-based lifestyle. For example, the concept of ‘your local’ is different in the village of St Neot. Unlike my base in Essex, where an abundance of pubs are pound a penny along the majority of hustling streets, The London Inn is the one and only pub-come-restaurant-come-inn situated in the centre of the little community, making it a mini hub of activity in its location next the large church building next door.

On the last day of my husband and I’s last visit to countryside Cornwall, we visited The London Inn as a family for a friendly final meal before hitting the road the next day. It certainly looks the part of a rural pub, with its whitewashed exterior, swinging pub sign above the door, and umbrella shaded picnic benches propped outside next to a wall planted with blooming red flowers. Heading inside, the rural stereotype continues with wonderfully quaint charm; the white ceilings are not only low in true country cottage style, but they also come adorned with black painted wooden beams that also structure the walls too. A sage green colour on the walls lightens the room considerably, while an odd assortment of knick-knacks, such as white china figurines and colourful Chinese patterned tankards cluster across random surfaces for a kitsch and homely feel.

The tables and chairs are all dark and polished wood, reminding you of the universal furniture that all grandparents seemed to have at some point. The natural beams of the cottage seemed to form walls to segregate different sections of the inn, providing plenty of peaceful and not overlooked nooks and grannies where you could sit to eat. We chose a large round table near the main door, the centre of the table decorated with a simple glass jar filled with a pink rose and accompanying white floral as well as a small vegetable box style holder which contained cutlery and condiments. The menus, presented in old school leather bound holders, was a simple A4 printed Word document, with a limited selection of British grub to whet the appetite. Although it was traditional and homely, it was also oddly eclectic, and I rather liked this mish-mash of home comforts.

After ordering a glass of sauvignon blanc at the bar, one of the owners came to the table to take our food order. As I was pretty hungry and the choices were sparse, I opted for the traditional beef burger. I never used to really eat burgers out, but I’ve gotten quite into them of late, and where better to sample a British beefburger than at a classic country pub? When it arrived at the table, I was soon gawking with anticipation, as it looked absolutely epic. The beefburger itself was absolutely huge; you could tell it was a  lovingly prepared handmade job that was made with a great thickness and flavour in mind rather than any notion about fitting into a bun. Stacked on top of this colossal meat patty was grated cheddar and slices of bacon, as well as three squashed together onion rings. A soft white bun top balanced precariously on top, the skewer through the centre of the burger attempting to keep it together mirroring Pisa.

Also on my stylishly rectangular plate was a pile of skin-on fries, a simple salad of leaves, tomatoes and cucumber, as well as a splodge of creamy coleslaw. By this point, my mouth was absolutely watering, and I couldn’t wait to dive in to this vastly satisfying-looking dish. I have to say, it didn’t disappoint in the slightest. The burger itself was delicious and really let the beef sing. It was juicy, succulent and full of flavour; and I also loved the chunky thickness and meaty mouthfuls. Soft and tasty, it paired well with the salty bacon which livened up the beef flavour, as well as the mature cheese, which melted into the hot juices of the burger rather nicely. The onion rings were tasty too, being just the right amount of crispy to add a contrasting texture and crunch alongside the burger, but in no way overshadowing. Plus, onions and beef is probably one of the most well-loved flavour combos too, and it will always taste lovely together. The burger bun suited me too; the soft white roll held together better than I anticipated and was sturdy enough to act as a burger bun but not too crusty, which I liked.

The skin-on fries were very moreish, the salad pretty standard, and the coleslaw a nice creamy addition to provide some silky crunch. Dunking the chips in the coleslaw worked well in my book. All in all, the dish worked well altogether and was really well executed. The burger really was all-singing and all-dancing, proving that all those fancy burger chains in the city sometimes just can’t compete with something a little more rustic and substantial.

Dessert was also a very small choice, so I went for the chocolate fudge cake. It wasn’t the best in the world to be honest, and I imagine desserts are more shop-bought to compensate maybe for the extra TLC that clearly goes into the main courses. The cake itself was a little drier than I would have liked, although getting two scoops of vanilla ice cream instead of the usual one was a nice perk. The chocolate sauce was drizzled in layered circles around the edge of the plate, which looked very nice too. Dessert was just average really.

I enjoyed my evening in The London Inn, and the hospitality is what you would expect from the countryside too, with one of the owners soon divulging in conversation with us while taking our orders. Dogs were roaming in and out as well, which meant it would be a suitable location for any ramblers passing through, and we also had a child in our group, so it was certainly agreeable for a family with mixed age ranges. Although the choice is very limited compared to modern menus, it was a delicious meal and I still daydream about that burger. Although dessert was a little non-plussed, for me the burger can drown out any niggles I might have had by its sheer epic-ness. I also loved the quirky, home-grown décor. Certainly worth popping in if you are passing through.

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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