Sublime Dining at the Church Street Tavern, Colchester
I recently reviewed Milsoms, praising its urban vibe in a country setting (and the food too, of course). But sometimes you need a venue you can walk to. Church Street Tavern is in the middle of Colchester, but it performs the same function for me, namely world-class food in an appealing location.
It occupies my favourite part of town where the Mercury Theatre, Colchester Arts Centre housed in St Mary's Church, which has seen everyone from Ronnie Scott to Jack Dee and Coldplay perform, and a few good restaurants and bars snuggle for the position at the foot of Jumbo. Jumbo is the nickname of a derelict 40-metre high Victorian water tower currently used as nothing more than a useful landmark for visitors to the Essex town aside from some local teenage free climbers who recently scaled its heights making it into the Daily Mail.
I’d have given them a meal at the Church Street Tavern, a lovely early Victorian building, formerly a bank, whose logo happens to be an elephant (a reference to Jumbo). Downstairs there's a bar and cafe-area with colourful mix of velvety sofas in jewel-like shades of pink and blue and second-hand books. Given what I consider to be the best table in the top-floor restaurant, a two-seater set by the window overlooking the street below decked out like an Islington townhouse, all curios, art, murals and vintage china plates on the walls. This is either a table for romantics who want to stare into each other's eyes and feed each other or in mine and my partner’s case nose out of the window at the life on the street below.
The menu neatly fits on one side of a sheet of paper. Who wants to plough through a folder of multiple pages? It’s divided into Aperitivo, Bites, Starters, Lights, Main Courses, and a small selection of puddings, so easy to er, digest. Faced with something that doesn’t often happen, a menu where you could happily choose every single dish, from Mersea rock oysters with shallot vinegar, salami and pickles to red gurnard fillet with asparagus velouté (French for sauce), clams, courgettes and pancetta, we narrowed it down.
We chose to accommodate each other's taste e.g. I wanted the Norfolk crab with asparagus mousse, parmesan and radish, £7.50, (pictured, above far left) but also the mackerel croquettes with gooseberry ketchup, yoghurt and pickled cucumber, £7.25. So Ali ordered the crab, which was visually perfect but for him the crab was a touch watery; I was more than happy with my attractive glazed plate artfully arranged with five perfect croquettes (pictured, above left). Soft, crispy and fishy contrasting with the sweet and sour tamarind and yoghurt combo, yummy might not be a sophisticated word but it conveys enough. Mains went in different directions, with Ali choosing Dingley Dell pork belly with beetroot, grelot onions (like French spring onions), watercress and gooseberry relish, £15 (picture, above right). The forkful of meat and accompaniments I tried was so soft you barely needed to chew it.
I wanted it but conversely turned vegetarian ordering a colourful plate of roast baby beetroots and carrots with hazelnut tempura cauliflower and lentils, £12.50 (pictured, above far right). Again, it was delicate but earthy and the tempura was up there with the croquettes. Tiny, crispy morsels that leave you wanting more. A last-minute decision to try the side of Jansson's Temptation revealed a rich blend of potato, cream, cheese and garlic (but nobody knows who Jansson was or is, maybe they just liked rich potato dishes), £3.
Perhaps they should rename it in honour of head chef Ewan Naylon, who surely deserves a nod, as do the young and engaging staff. Owner Piers Baker's empire extends to Dedham where the Sun Inn a gastropub with rooms reopened earlier this year after an extensive makeover. In March Church Street Tavern was awarded Two AA Rosettes for Culinary Excellence, so nod received.
Maybe Baker can open a pop-up restaurant at the top of Jumbo, as a reward for errant climbers, or indeed anyone in need of creative comfort food with a deft touch.
*COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED*
WIN A MEAL FOR TWO AT CHURCH STREET TAVERN
I Love Essex is giving away a meal for two. One winner will be selected at random to win a meal for two, to the value of £100 including all drinks. Sign up to receive email news from Church Street Tavern and you will be automatically entered into the competition which closes on Friday 3 August 2018. The winner will be notified by email on Monday 6 August 2018. There is no cash alternative. The winner must book in advance and this will be subject to availability. The prize must be taken before 31 December 2018.