What do Julian Dicks, Mel Giedroyc and an Essex village have in common?
The Shepherd is a good looking, creeper-covered pub in the small village of Langham, four miles north of Colchester. Former West Ham and Liverpool hard man, manager and player Julian Dicks used to run the Shepherd and Dog, as it was known back then and by all accounts, he did it very well. Since then it has had a few transfers (the football-related comments stop now, don’t worry), and currently rests with Richard and Esther Brunning (Esther trained at Leith's School of Food and Wine) who previously ran the popular Mistley Quay Cafe. Ex-Great British Bake Off host Mel Giedroyc had lunch here on Boxing Day with her in-laws (it's unknown if she judged the puddings).
Built in 1928, the pub is the only remaining one in the village which straddles the Essex/Suffolk border. Its position would be hard to beat, set on the convergence of three roads, where dog walkers and families on bike rides will naturally want to stop (local bike hire Coolpedals gives a discount to diners at the Shepherd). Inside the Brunning’s have softened and updated the traditional pub look, choosing pastoral wallpaper and leather sofas in one dining area and soft sage and natural tones elsewhere. Framed black and white photographs featuring sheep set the rural tone, as well as nodding to the pub’s name. These are actually striking photographs, creating the effect of a mini gallery and if they were for sale, I’d have bought one.
Beer drinkers should be happy with the Adnams and Woodforde ales served at the bar, alongside enough good wines by the glass or bottle for non-beer drinkers. The ale makes its way into the steak and Adnams Ale pie on the menu, which balances pub classics with lighter Mediterranean-style starters, such as Shepherd Salad (natch), a mix of salads topped with sunflower & pumpkin seeds, £9. Lunching with my mum and sister, we all chose the roasted honey-beetroot, goats' cheese and caramelised Walnut salad, £6.75, which was generous in size with perhaps a little undercooked with too much sweet dressing.
The blackboard offered specials such as moussaka with lentils, a potentially healthy and hearty option which was rendered less so by being hidden under a large cloak of cheese. The children’s menu - Little Lambs - includes thoughtful options such as mini fish and chips with peas and a children’s nibble plate with carrot sticks, cucumber, cheese, bread and crisps.
For us, the best was saved for last. A generous wedge of orange and almond cake with Greek yoghurt and honey, £6, pictured above, was the highlight of our meal, as puddings often are. Not too sweet but with a hint of citrus, it did the trick. But whatever elements of the food are lacking, the decor and ambience certainly make up for. The staff at the Shepherd are a genial bunch who just need a steady chef to lead the flock when it comes to the kitchen.