reasonable distance of Brentwood. Mindful of the age-old idiom "one man’s meat is another man’s poison" and because opinions are by their nature very personal, only positive comments are published. If you have enjoyed a lunch or dinner why not put together a brief report of the visit and email it to

Cucina (Italian) Restaurant High Ongar 01277 369999 January 2015
Members may be more familiar with the locality of Cucina, in The Street, High Ongar, because of "The Shoes", a traditional English restaurant (now Thai), that was for years a favourite of many. Just along the road was a public house that I don't believe did very well, which has now been completely refurbished and turned into a very smart Italian restaurant. All of the items on the menu have Italian titles accompanied by English translations. The decor and quality of the furnishings was of a very high standard, and the use of linen tablecloths and napkins created a good impression. The food didn't disappoint and the service was excellent. There is a huge choice of meals with the price of nearly all the starters being £5.95, while the main courses range from £10.95 to £18.95. There is little doubt that the proprietor and his staff go out of their way to make the customers feel welcome and  the whole evening was a very pleasant experience. (Brian Leith)
Bartellas Restaurant Furze Hill 01277 355021 October 2014

It was April 2011 that I reviewed this restaurant and was impressed with the whole experience of an evening out. The restaurant has relocated to less than 50 yards away to a custom-built building that has now become a truly intimate restaurant, compared with the "ample" proportions of the original site. I was impressed with the decor and the use of subdued lighting to give a subtle effect that was bright enough for comfortable dining, yet not so bright that the atmosphere was affected. The staff were, as has always been the case, helpful, willing and very hard working, where nothing was too much trouble. There was a great warm welcome on entering the restaurant and a comfortable area in which to enjoy a pre-priandle drink while choosing from the very comprehensive menu. I believe the restaurant is a great improvement on the original building retaining the quality of the food and service, in a very comfortable environment.  (Brian Leith)

Lawrie's Brasserie (Prince Albert) The Green, Blackmore 01277 821705 April 2014
For some years the Prince Albert in Blackmore had not been high on the list of popular places to go for a meal, but a change of ownership and a "conversion" from a pub to a restaurant has resulted in one of those places that once visited will become top of the list of restaurants in the area. Members of the family own and run the business, always a good sign, and from the friendly welcome to the cheery goodbye, I could not find anything that needed improving. Tables were set with red linen tablecloths and contrasting linen napkins and the food was beautifully presented on hot plates. The menu is governed by in-season produce and is subject to change. Our dinner for four included to start (on special), a rabbit terrine with apricot and mustard jus which we shared while main courses consisted of roast fillet of salmon on a bed of soft stalk broccoli with new potatoes; rump of lamb with fondant potatoes and parsnip puree; and fried plaice fillets with triple-cooked chips. The desserts chosen were three-fruit sorbet; a selection of ice creams; lemon posset with shortbread; and chocolate bavarois with honeycomb cream. An added touch was that the desserts were served with a spun sugar decoration. All the food was freshly prepared and cooked and was absolutely delicious. Including ample wine the cost per person was in the region of £30. (Brian Leith)
The Plough Roman Road, Mountnessing 01277 352026 August 2013
I was rather surprised, on doing a quick scan of previous restaurant reviews, to find that I had never covered The Plough at Mountnessing, a place that had never disappointed. My recent visit was on one of those really lovely summer evenings, where having preprandial drinks outside was a real pleasure. Unfortunately the A12 had been closed and there was a constant stream of traffic which at times made conversation difficult. This did not detract from the quality of the food and the service which were, as usual, first class. A good selection of starters included a smoked salmon plate with capers and a shallot dressing; home made duck liver parfait with gooseberries and chilli chutney accompanied by toasted walnut bread; and tempura prawns with a sweet chilli dip. Main courses included pan fried skate wing with new potatoes and spinach; fillet of pork wrapped in Parma ham with mustard mash, savoy cabbage and sautéed carrots and beetroot cider jus; and pan roasted duck breast served with fondant potatoes and spinach, peppernade and raspberry jus. These were just a few of the very interesting items on offer and the spend per person, including drinks was around £40. (Brian Leith)
The Rose & Crown Thai Restaurant Ongar Road, Pilgrims Hatch 01277 699083 April 2013

Theatre Group Three recently held their annual dinner here (though much later than intended because of the rotten weather that we had experienced during the early part of the year). All 18 members were sat around a large table, making communication much easier than if we had been sat nine each side of a long table. A set menu for £20.95 was chosen by the group and this proved to be sufficient and was greatly varied with the dishes being brought out throughout the whole of the evening. Everybody was very pleased with the food and the service, and nobody thought it was too spicy. A nice setting with service being provided by two friendly Thai girls. (Brian Leith)

The Cuckoo Radley Green 01245 248946 April 2013

This is one of those gems that in spite of being "off the beaten track" is well known by those who like their food freshly cooked to order. On a recent visit we were slightly alarmed to discover that there was a group of 11 diners who were celebrating the 80th birthday of one of their relatives. My first thought on arriving was that this was not going to be the sort of evening that may be expected at this little restaurant - the usual great service in pleasant and relative quiet surroundings. But I needn't have worried - the service which was first class was no different from any other evening and to their credit the birthday celebrants far from distracting the other diners, actually contributed to the evening. The food, as ever was excellent with a basket of warm herb bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar appetiser; while starters included chicken liver paté with butter and walnut coating and saffron and pear chutney; sweet cured herrings with pickled samphire; warm sweet onion and spinach goat's-cheese tart; seared scallops with bacon, guacamole and lime; and of course Brendon's famous salmon fish cakes. Main courses on offer included baked fillet of Aldeburgh cod, cheesy bacon crust mash and sprouting broccoli; smoked haddock (not dyed) with poached egg and hollandaise sauce; roast rump of Essex lamb; slow roast belly of pork; grilled rib eye steak; crispy duck confit; and Thai red grilled chicken (breast) curry with baby corn, mange tout and kaffir lime, with steamed jasmine rice. When it came to dessert it was difficult to choose from the tasty dishes on offer such as a light raspberry crème brulee with shortbread biscuits; brown sugar meringue, whipped coffee cream, banana and toffee pecan sauce; cherry Bakewell tart with a scoop of black cherry sorbert. In all the times that I have eaten at The Cuckoo, I have never been disappointed - maximum points on every front - ambience, service, food, and all this without   ripping a whole in the wallet.  (Brian Leith)

The Queen's Head Fyfield 01277 899231 January 2013

A little pub with a surprisingly high standard of cuisine that for many years has been a favourite of discerning people, is The Queen’s Head, Fyfield. On entering, one is faced with a lovely traditional interior, but somehow there is more to it than that. There is a feel about the pub that people of a certain age are inclined to wax lyrical about - no fruit machines, no music, a meeting place where one can enjoy a drink and a chat - reminiscent of the days when such things were regarded as important. The food is cooked on the premises and there is a notice chalked up indicating that because of this, it is likely to take a little longer to serve. The menu offered such delights as, to start: ham hock with a crispy duck egg yolk; chicken liver parfait with melba toast; and seared scallops of crispy pork belly with apple matchstick salad. For the main course: soy glazed salmon and spiced crab linguine; fillet of beef thyme rosti with wild mushrooms, sautéed spinach and split truffle jus with or without seared foie gras; and braised pork belly with wild mushroom ravioli. All agreed that the food was excellent with some unusual and delicious flavours. The final bill for two courses including wine and a tip ran out at £38 a head. I can thoroughly recommend the Queens Head for a great dining experience - a special meal for a special occasion. Though it was not a cheap evening, there is a "set price" menu for around £13.95 for two courses, and £17.50 for three. Footnote: With my main course (seared salmon), I had something on my plate that looked very much like quarters of tangerine. I couldn’t identify the taste which was not like the fruit it resembled, nor could anybody else in the party. I had to ask the waitress, who revealed that it was yellow beetroot, and that it had been deliberately sliced to look like something it really wasn’t. Great food in a great atmosphere. (Brian Leith)

The Black Horse Pilgrims Hatch 01277 374946 November 2012

For many years The Black Horse has been a popular eating place, most evenings, and indeed lunch times, the car park is busy. It was closed recently for a few days for redecorating and some minor alterations were undertaken. Most of the furniture has been replaced and new carpets have been laid. There is always a pleasant ambience and we were warmly welcomed by a member of the staff who showed us to our table which we had booked in advance (this is recommended for the particularly busy Friday and Saturday evenings as well as Sunday lunch times). There was no noticeable waiting for our food once we had ordered and the waiter was very attentive to our specific needs. The bill for four us was a modest £90 for two courses including wine. The Black Horse is a cut above "pub grub" with such items on the menu as seared salmon served on a leek, cabbage, broad bean and mash cake; beef and merlot pie, with slow-cooked beef, red onion and shallots in merlot red wine gravy; handmade haddock and wholegrain mustard fishcakes; Scottish venison medallions and slow-cooked venison cottage pie. A pleasant and inexpensive evening. (Brian Leith)

The White Napkin Great Warley 01277 217107 August 2012

It was gratifying to discover that members of the Evening Dining Group, on a recent visit to this restaurant, wished to register their complete agreement with my earlier report of a visit that I made to this "little gem" a year ago.

Loch Fyne Chelmsford 01245 293620 August 2012

For anybody who may not be too familiar with the Loch Fyne chain of restaurants (there are 42 outlets thoughout the country), a huge variety of excellent fish dishes is their speciality. There is a large car park at the restaurant, but be warned, there is a timed parking charge and wardens are known to prowl the area. On entering the restaurant, there is a comfortable bar area and it is noticeable by the appetising smells that you are in a fish restaurant. A big glass-fronted display cabinet offers an extensive range of fresh fish (ingredients), and I believe that and any of the items may be purchased to cook and eat at home. The restaurant was full which didn't impact on the service, that was excellent, A range of tasty starters included oysters, which may be purchased as a platter of six or 12, or individually, tempura battered squid, moules marinières, pan-fried chilli and garlic king prawns, duck liver; main courses included poached Loch Fyne smoked haddock, a choice of filleted fish (salmon, hake, bream), which may be pan-fried, grilled, or steamed, whole-baked Canadian lobster, whole grilled South Coast Plaice, and a choice of sharing shellfish platters. There are also two or three meat dishes (Aberdeen Angus burger, rib-eye steak), as well as pan-fried breast of Gressingham duck. A good range of reasonably-priced wines contributed to a very enjoyable evening. (Brian Leith)

Red Frog 108 High Street, Brentwood 01277 699228 June 2012

From the cheeriest of welcomes to the final "goodnight, thank you" the evening was perfect. The staff were attentive, and very efficient and conveyed the feeling, that we were rather special. After many years of dining out, I found the food refreshingly different. To start an interesting dish: asparagus and poached egg, served in a pastry basket with saffron butter. This was Lbeautifully presented and a clean plate was evidence of how tasty it was. For the main course: twice-cooked pork belly, with cauliflower puree, caramelised apple and apple cider jue, was served rolled - again, something unusual, but it was delicious and cooked to perfection. For me, a good house wine is essential (it is, after all, supposed to be recommended by the "house"), and the Merlot was quite acceptable, as was the sauvignon blanc, and both were good value for the money. Other interesting dishes on the menu included to start: escargot, mussels (marinaire or traditional), toasted goats cheese salad and salmon risotto; main courses included: fillet of seabass, beef bourguignon, duck parmentier, duck parmentier and sirloin steak. A good range of desserts included: cream brulee, crepe suzette, toffee Crepes, strawberry chantilly tart, cheese board, and a choice of ice creams. (Brian Leith)

Cliffs Pavillion Westcliff-on-Sea 01702 351135 April 2012

Some while ago, it was considered by some that the overall experience of eating at the Cliffs Pavilion Restaurant, Westcliff, was not the best place to eat, but a dozen members of Theatre Group Three unanimously agreed that their pre-theatre dinner was excellent. For a start it was a bright, sunny evening and the view across the estuary added to the overall pleasing first impression on entering the restaurant. Bright, linen-laid tables and sparkling glassware added to the general feeling of quality. A very reasonable two-course menu for £16.50 (or £20.50 for three courses) offered a variety of interesting food, among which to start was flame-grilled Cornish mackerel with lime and chilli dressing; garlic field mushrooms in a creamy white wine sauce served in a cheese pastry basket; duo of melon infused with fresh mint and pomegranate. Main course selection included baked fisherman's pie with parmesan crust dill sauce and steamed baby leeks; braised shank of Welsh lamb in minted gravy with mash and seasonal vegetables; slow roasted belly of pork with caramelised apples and onions, cider gravy, mash and seasonal vegetables. Desserts included mango ice cream sundae; chocolate trellis with blood orange mousse; home-made spotted dick; and home-made cheesecake. There was a good selection of reasonably priced wine, starting at £14.50, a bottle with a large glass of merlot or chardonnay being £5. Such was the experience in the Pavilion Restaurant, I would consider dining there even if I wasn't going on to see a show in the theatre - though granted it is a bit of a drive. (Brian Leith)

The Shepherd and Dog Harold Hill 01708 377717 April 2012

I will start this review by suggesting that dinner in this restaurant would be for an occasion (birthday, anniversary, etc), rather than just for an impromptu evening out. It was a Thursday evening and the whole place was full, with the possibility that there would be a second sitting. We were booked in for 7.00 pm and our table was required at 9.00 pm, which actually gave us plenty of time. The food was excellent and the service was very good in spite of all the tables in the restaurant being full. A good selection of starters (very generous portions) included prawn cocktail; king prawns in garlic; pork crackling salad with caramelised grapes and apples; potted crab and shrimp, all of which were around £6 and £7. The main courses ranged in price from £11.50 for sausage bubble and squeak, to sirloin steak at £19.50. The food was nicely cooked and came to the table piping hot. Among the other choices were pan fried pollock served with crushed epicure potatoes, roasted fennel and sauce vierge; honey-glazed rump of lamb with maris piper mash and potted root vegetables; pork belly with apple pie and whole grain mustard mash; and smoked haddock and salmon fish pie served with a medley of green vegetables and pickled sweet red peppers. Desserts included baked yoghurt with brandy snap cone and peach sorbet; orange and lemon curd tart with chocolate and orange sauce; three cube mousse - green apple, passion fruit and rhubarb; fig tart with salty caramel ice cream; and a rather interesting sorbet and ice cream tasting plate, a selection served in six dolly’s tea cups (with saucers!). Prices ranged from £5.80 to £6.90. The menu was varied with some unusual dishes. Our choices were perfectly cooked and extremely tasty. The bill for four people, excluding wine, was just under £120 including service. A great atmosphere with good service - a successful evening. (Brian Leith)

The Blue Bridge Writtle 01245 422891 December 2011

Eleven members of the Evening Dining Group had a splendid meal at this quite up market restaurant in Writtle. For those that know their Writtle this is the old Cock & Bell pub extended and brought right into the 21st century. An extensive al-a-carte menu is available with starters from £6.25, main courses from £15.95 and desserts from £6.75, but we were all more than happy with the two-course set menu at £22.95 (normally £18.95, but it was the special Xmas menu). There was a selection of five starters, six main courses and six desserts; a third course could be added for £5. The wine list is impressive with wine by the glass reasonably priced and the range of prices per bottle starting at around £15 and going up to Dom Perignon Rose 2000 at £399. The food was piping hot, superbly cooked and presented and even with a packed restaurant the service by a mainly young and enthusiastic staff first rate. This is a deceptively large restaurant with a number of different areas where you can sit and our beautifully decorated round table was in its own slightly set aside area with plenty of room. A word of warning however, the set menu is not available on Saturdays!  (Peter Ely)

The White Napkin Great Warley 01277 217107 August 2011

On its web site the Kilns Hotel declares that it is "Brentwood's Best Kept Secret" and it is somewhat true that residents of Brentwood (who may not have much need for a hotel), may well be unaware of this little gem. It is also possible that the restaurant, "The White Napkin" within the hotel could be equally unfamiliar. The restaurant is not very big and has an intimate feel to it - also its should be pointed out that the tables are laid up with "white napkins." There is an instant appeal on entering the hotel not least of which may be attributed to the very pleasant greeting from Rachel whose warm and friendly welcome made a good start to the evening. Throughout I was impressed with the general attitude of the very efficient staff, and I got the impression that nothing was too much trouble. An interesting menu included such starters as grilled asparagus on a bed of mixed leaves and topped with a soft duck egg and sun-dried tomatoes, a platter of mixed shellfish in a garlic and herb butter, beetroot-cured salmon with a smooth horseradish cream sauce, Parma ham cannelloni, duck liver and port parfait, and parsnip and coriander soup. Main courses included five fish dishes including a whole lobster; a wild mushroom risotto, pork fillet served on a garlic and apple mash, and rib eye or filet steaks, and to follow a varied selection of deserts. All food was beautifully cooked and presented, and the bill for four including drinks and a tip was just under £100.  (Brian Leith) 

The Tower Arms South Weald 01277 210266   May 2011
A few years ago a somewhat neglected Tower Arms in South Weald, changed hands and the new owner spent a small fortune on refurbishment, and another on redesigning the gardens and upgrading the car park. For some reason all these improvements didn't improve its popularity. It has since been sold again and a new chef and staff installed. In the past, the restaurant had mixed reviews, but our recent dining experience ticked all the boxes - good food, keen attentive staff who tended to our every need, and pleasant surroundings. A selection of starters included ham hock terrine, corned beef hash, soup of the day, and chicken livers, while the main courses included chicken supreme on a sweet pea risotto, sea bass, stuffed lemon sole, duck confit with goats cheese gnocchi, fillet steak, and chateaubriand for two to share. The bill for four, including preprandial drinks, wine and a 10 per cent tip, came to just under £120, which was not considered unreasonable.  (Brian Leith) 
Bartellas Restaurant Furze Hill 01277 355021 April 2011

Over the past month or so we have made a couple of visits to this restaurant, the latter in the company of ten members of the Evening Dining Group. On both occasions we were surprised to find that the very reasonable price for a two-course meal (£16.95) and three courses (£19.95), included a glass of wine or a soft drink and tea or coffee. The restaurant is large, but on both evenings most tables were occupied. One of the benefits of Bartellas is that they have several round tables, always a plus, especially when a large party is dining together. The service was very efficient, though there didn't seem to be a great many members of staff. It was good to discover that members of the Dining Group seemed to be in total accord when voicing their enjoyment of both the food and the evening overall. Typical menu items included, to start: Ham hock terrine with piccalilli, toasts and baby leaves, Bruschetta of tomatoes, olives and feta cheese; mains: Grilled calves liver with baby pearl onions, lardons and creamed potatoes, Seafood linguine with garlic, chilli and tomato. Portions were generous, and some items had a supplement. (Brian Leith) 

The White Hart Margaretting Tye 01277 840478 March 2011

The White Hart has long been a favourite of mine which accounts for why I managed to go there three times in two days, but that is another story! This is quite a large pub and has probably 100 covers; it can be very busy at lunchtime and at weekends, but quieter in the evening during the week. The main area is said to date back to the 17th Century, but there is a large bright and airy conservatory. The standard menu includes most of the favourites that make up good "pub grub", but there is always a number of interesting "specials". The food is well cooked and the helpings generous. There is a reasonable wine list, but the White Hart is a renowned real ale pub with a wide selection of beers, including guest beers, all kept perfectly in the tap room; from the barrel not the pump. Margaretting Tye is no more than a hamlet so all their clientele have to make a specific journey to eat there. The service is friendly, attentive and they always make you feel that you are welcome. The cost? The most expensive item on the menu when last I dined there was £16.95 for sirloin steak and certainly you could expect to pay no more than £20 for two courses and a drink. (Peter Ely) 

 The Queens Head  Fyfield 01277 899231 January 2011

The Queens Head still retains its rustic charm and the restaurant, now extended upstairs is tastefully decorated. We had a warm welcome and were attended by very pleasant staff. The menu is quite comprehensive and should appeal to all tastes. The food and ambience were very good although some may consider that the bill for the four of us (we each had three courses), at £160 including tip plus drinks, was not cheap. However, we all thought it was well worth the money and would certainly go again. All in all a very pleasant evening. (Owen and June Randall)

The Bell Horndon on the Hill 01375 642463 December 2010

The first attempt to go to The Bell at Horndon on the Hill, was thwarted by heavy snow that had created dangerous driving conditions on some roads. After a couple of weeks the snow had disappeared and another date was arranged for what our friends promised would be an evening to remember. Incredibly, there was another heavy fall of snow and it looked as though this, too, would have to be cancelled. But with four-wheel-drive confidence we arrived without incident. We were amazed at how busy the place was, with all the tables in the bar area fully occupied and many more people standing around talking and drinking, the whole place had a very lively and friendly atmosphere. The restaurant, too, was extremely busy, but with six or seven waiters and waitresses (several from Eastern Europe), there was no delay in being served. Between the four of us we had three starters: Roast duck breast with a spicy, crispy crust; Gravlax marinated in mustard, sugar and gin, with beetroot jus; and pan-fried scallops with lime and coriander. For our main courses we had a delicious belly of pork; calves liver; wing of skate; and Thai fishcakes; two deserts followed - fruit brûlée (layered on crème brûlée); and sticky toffee pudding. The food was absolutely brilliant with the ordinary-sounding choices being far from ordinary. Setting it apart was the way it was cooked and presented, and particularly appealing was the size of the portions, which were adequate and not as in some restaurants, with plates piled high with food. With drinks at the bar, a bottle of white wine and a large glass of red wine at the table, the total bill including the tip came to £140 (£35 per head). Some may consider this expensive, but taking into account the service, the food and the atmosphere, it was well worth it - and indeed it was an evening to remember. (Owen and June Randall)

The Black Bull Margaretting 01277 353141   October 2010

The first thing to comment on is the very cheery welcome that greets you when you enter the pub. For years the Black Bull has been known for its fish dishes and in particular the fried fish, but a range of tasty meals is also on offer with a "specials" board occasionally offering steak and ale or steak and kidney puddings (a speciality of the chef). Service was good and the food, having been freshly cooked, was piping hot. A real plus is that as far as I could see there were mainly round tables. These were of various sizes seating from four, to the largest which could accommodate parties of up to eight, or ten if prepared to squeeze together. I enjoyed a chicken liver starter, followed by grilled skate wing served with a butter and capers, while Yvonne was very pleased with her choice of prawns and avocado with lemon sole to follow. With drinks and a bottle of wine the bill came to just over £50.  (Brian Leith)

The Dove and Rainbow Hastingwood Road, Harlow 01279 415419   September 2010

This small traditional pub is not the sort of place diners would normally come across. It is tucked out the way on a road that is not likely to be used by most travellers. The pub is not very big and has a small section designated to diners and the whole place is typical of a quaint country pub. Four of us enjoyed a fine meal and came away with change from £70 that included pre dinner drinks, four starters, four main meals and a bottle of wine. A small menu was supplemented by a "specials" board and the choice of starters included deep fried brie, prawn cocktail, and main courses ranged from steaks and fish to spaghetti bolognaise, etc. The service was good and the home-cooked meals arrived together within only a short time of ordering. Surprisingly, there was a good selection of wines, and the friendly service combined with the "intimate" atmosphere resulted in a very pleasant and successful evening. (Brian Leith)

Monrow's Restaurant & Bar 64 High Street, Brentwood 01277 848883   September 2010


This is a small restaurant, owned by working directors Susan Lake and Gary Shall (avid fans of Marilyn Monroe), and though not themed to her they couldn’t resist strategically placing a few photographs in the restaurant. The couple are friendly and very helpful and it could be said that they tend to focus on steak (their claim is "The finest steak house in Brentwood"), but there is also a varied choice of fish, chicken and salads, and where possible they will happily amend the menu to suit the customers’ preferences. To start, my wife had a small portion of baby back ribs which she said were delicious, I had crispy breaded mushrooms with a garlic mayo dip. My main course was an 8oz sirloin steak which as medium/rare was perfectly cooked, while Yvonne had a 4oz sirloin. The size of this, she maintained was just big enough for her and was cooked just the way she likes. Both main courses came with a salad garnish, but be aware that side orders at £2.00 each are extra. It was evident that one portion of French fries or sauté potatoes was sufficient for two to share (this fact was prompted by Gary). Wines from the list start at £15.50 though there is always a recommended special that is around a couple of pounds cheaper. The total bill came in at just under £50 for the two of us - starters (£10.40), main courses (£21.75), and a bottle of wine (£16.50). The service was very good and at no time were we kept waiting. (Brian Leith)



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