A Taste Of Essex Glam For The Slug & Lettuce In Brentwood
With TOWIE back on our screens this weekend for a 22nd season (yep, you read that right), Brentwood, the show’s spirit (ual) homeland will be back in the news too. With a prime location opposite the Sugar Hut on Brentwood High Street, which appears in much of the show, the Slug & Lettuce re-opened last month following a £300,000 transformation. The success of both the show and its cast members past and present whose lives have played out in the now famous Essex club must surely add to the footfall of the ubiquitous high street chain (is there a town in the UK that doesn’t have a Slug & Lettuce?).
The revamped bar now has a VIP area, possibly to accommodate the high-profile local clientele and the VIP launch which included KISS DJs Ricky and Melvin (pictured). I went along a few days later with my daughter, Maya, 13, nephew, Louis, 12, and partner, Ali to try the new menu. Arriving unfashionably early on a severely cold Friday night we went straight upstairs, leaving the downstairs to the adults.
The renovations upstairs include transforming the toilets into part of the new enlarged dining area (tiles on the wall may be a nod to the space’s bathroom era), which is available for private hire. There’s a hot pink neon-signed bar, diner-style booths in one corner, floral vintage-style armchairs in another blending (or not, as the case may be) with tribal style chair and velvet upholstered stools. On-trend glossy chevron tiles and chrome fixtures in the downstairs area added an art deco-ish New York bar style I liked. We sat in the high barstool style seating which proved perfect for looking down on the bar below and keeping a look out for any TOWIE extras (unfortunately we didn’t spot any). Maya loved the mixed up style, and while I'm all for a clash of colour I thought that element was a little too ‘extra,’ as she would say.
My partner was late so we started without him. Faced with a bold, colourful menu with pictures to wet your appetite (genius marketing idea!), Louis wasted no time in ordering the 10oz rump steak and skinny chips, crispy beer-battered onion rings and salad based purely on the picture. When Ali arrived he followed suit and although the meat was a bit overdone (and our family can take it nearly cooked to shoe leather consistency) they had no other complaints. Maya’s a halloumi-obsessed vegetarian, so naturally ordered the battered halloumi and chips with mushy peas. It was a good alternative to fish and chips if lacking the salty taste halloumi is known for. I chose the warming quinoa chilli, a colourful, spicy bowl of black beans, butternut squash, guacamole and tortilla chips on basmati rice, which hit the spot, especially when washed down with a bottle of Sol. I’m not a big burger fan but if you are they offer normally pricey Wagyu for a bargain £11.99. Cheap and cheerful might not be the aim of high-end restaurants but with 70 branches around the country, the Slug & Lettuce offers value for money at a time when most things are rising disproportionately in cost.
Our mains ranged from £8 to just over £12 each and sides start at £2.49. Our starters were almost exactly half the price of our mains and included arancini, a genius Italian staple named after the little oranges these balls of rice, cheese and tomato resemble, but a bit dry here, and southern-fried chicken goujons, which turned out to be the favourite. Juicy and slightly smoky, they were gone in few minutes. A picture on the menu of a sharing board overflowing with every type of snack, from teriyaki chicken skewers to dips and falafel caught our attention but we resisted. Despite being full the kids ordered deserts called Sweet & Petite – elderflower mousse with candy floss was a more delicate end to a large meal and the warm brownie bites with whipped double cream were a big hit (and sorry to bang on about value for money but three for £7 is hard to ignore).
I have to say that the waiter was one of the nicest that I’ve met in 20 years of reviewing, with an easygoing manner and speedy service I couldn’t fault. It suits the fast-food style dishes on offer, which combine with refined pub grub, home-style favourites – there’s a fish finger sandwich on the menu – and Mediterranean elements. While the more successful TOWIE stars can no doubt afford to venture to the posher and pricier Essex and London venues, I’m sure they’ll enjoy the new menu and decor of their local S&L. I’ll certainly look out for it making a guest appearance in TOWIE.
* The Slug & Lettuce, 78–82 High Street, Brentwood, CM14 4AP, 01277 232343, is 15-minutes from Brentwood station; a five-minute drive from the M25/A12 turnoff.