By James W Phillips
The problem with eating Sunday lunch at most restaurants is that they tend to apply a formulaic approach to both food preparation and deliver anodyne levels of service.
After all, the roast dinner is often the meal we see as our own signature dish, and our homes are never more comfortable than on a Sunday before we head back to work.
So to some extent, even though I was here to write an independent review, featuring a restaurant selected by my food and wine editor, my guard was up.
Under the guidance of head chef Dan Pitts (PICTURED) , Channels Bar & Brasserie promises the very finest locally-sourced produce crafted into impressive ‘rustic fine dining’. The eaterie was extensively refurbished three years ago, and finalists in the Essex Life Food & Drink Awards in 2017 and 2018 in the Destination Dining and Customer Service categories. Since then it has become a magnet for gourmands and earned number one spot on TripAdvisor for fine dining in Essex.
So high time for my visit, although the restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
Restaurateur Katie Squire and her restaurant manager Zoe Strong (PICTURED) have transformed this 15thCentury former golf clubhouse into a beautiful 80 cover restaurant and I was certainly not disappointed by the ambience and charming décor. Upon entry I passed cosy lounge areas, a contemporary bar, a live entertainment area, private dining rooms, whilst outside the extensive landscaped gardens provided al fresco dining potential, but not unfortunately for me as it is after all, January.
The smart and contemporary interior with its grey, black and red décor, has been transformed into a smart, fine dining restaurant while being sympathetic to its heritage. My guest and I were greeted warmly and led to our table. As it was located near the live music area, we were asked if the sound level was okay with us. There were plenty of families dining there too, but the restaurant manager seemed to cleverly put them together and the couples were seated around a quieter corner which was very much appreciated.
The barman had shown me their selection of craft beers, real ales, Tiptree Gins and fine wines from the restaurant’s cellar, suitably inspired, I chose a glass of the Chateau Haut-Mayne Graves, Moelleux 2016/17 – with its honeyed sweetness I could taste ripe peaches.
Warm rolls topped with poppy seeds arrived shortly after our drinks. When our starters arrived I had bowl envy – beautiful hand thrown and colourful – but as I was there to review the food rather than the crockery I concentrated on my truffled cauliflower soup with two slices of grilled sourdough bread, while my guest enjoyed the spectacular and apparently delicious beetroot cured salmon. (PICTURED)
There are plenty of interesting features to check out while dining, we observed that part of the restaurant welcomed dogs, in fact the ‘Doggy Dining’ experience was strongly marketed, my only regret was that my one-year-old Sproodle ‘Nellie’ had been left at home. She would have loved her menu, and indeed revelled in a post meal walkie around the Channels Estate with the cold dip in the beautiful pond.
The waiter told me that Channels Bar & Brasserie hosts numerous special culinary events, and that regular loyal customers love their afternoon teas and breakfasts as much as their full calendar of live music and entertainment.
As it was Sunday, they offered a ‘plated’ carvery. For me, an extremely generous roast chicken breast served with sage and onion stuffing and a pig in blanket with a Yorkshire pudding which was about a third of the size of the plate! Roast potatoes and plenty of fresh seasonal vegetables and rich gravy completed my meal. I was informed that many of the ingredients had been grown on site: herbs, fruits and vegetables harvested from the vast Chef’s Garden providing the freshest, most nutritious daily harvest. However, I must comment on the quality of the a la carte menu in general and one particular dish that a fellow diner was tucking into – the Beef Onglet (PICTURED), it was so beautifully cooked and presented that I almost regretted my choice.
My guest chose treacle cured beef served with fresh hot horseradish sauce. Considering we booked a late lunch (2pm) the meat was as fresh and succulent as you might expect straight from the oven. Both portions were extremely generous and even the vegetables were carefully prepared including proper cauliflower cheese, broccoli, fine beans, baked carrots and parsnips.
Dessert was impossible for us to contemplate after two sizeable portions, but the sweet toothed should definitely try Dan Pitts’ magnificent creations such as the carrot cake (PICTURED). Happily sated, my guest and I agreed that the combination of décor, efficient service and sheer deliciousness of all elements of our meal would lead to another visit to the Bar & Brasserie very soon… but next time with Nellie!
PS The bill was a pleasant surprise at less than £50 for 2 courses and drinks.