Sunday, 2 August 2009

The Headley - Brentwood, Essex.

A fellow Essex based blogger, FoodUrchin mentioned The Headley in Brentwood last week. I'd never heard of it and was intrigued for a couple of reasons. First, The Headley is owned by the Chef Daniel Clifford, a two Michelin starred Chef. (His Michelin starred restaurant is in Cambridge - Midsummer House). And secondly, It's a Gastro Pub where the menu consists of seasonal, Traditional British food - which is exactly what I like to see, in fact you don't see enough of it. I love to see British produce and dishes cooked well.
I just had to sample this, and booked a table the first chance I could.

Last night, my cars headlights briefly lit up the exterior of The Headley through the torrential rain as I pulled into the car park. First thought, It's a pleasant looking pub.

Hurrying inside, to avoid the downpour, the interior was also very nice - battered, comfy leather sofas and tables to the left a Bar ahead, high ceilings, very light and airy, the heavy wooden furniture evident all appearing to have a Chicken motif carved into it - nice touch . After a bit of an initial wait, we were told our table would be five minutes - we were shown to one of the comfy sofas and our drinks order was taken and brought over.

After the briefest of waits we were shown to our table and got our first look at the menu. I went for a starter of Ham Hock Terrine with homemade piccalilli on warm toast. The GF went for North Atlantic Sardines on toast with a rich tomato sauce.

My starter was great, the Ham Hock terrine being a really generous slab, thick and meaty - very tasty. The homemade Piccalilli was a nice touch, and stood head and shoulders above it's shop bought brethren. The only problem with this dish for me is that the toast was barely toasted. Perhaps that's the way it's meant to be? Not entirely sure. Overall the starter was a winner, barely toasted bread or not.

My GF's starter on the other hand, North Atlantic Sardines - stank, but in a good way I'm sure. I'm not a fan of oily fish at all, the smell was incredible but she tucked in with gusto, again I think the toast could have done with being a bit more errr...toasted. Nevertheless, she seemed to enjoy it.

Onto the Mains. I ordered a Steak, Guinness and Onion Pie with a Horseradish crust, with some mashed potato and sauteed spring greens on the side.

The pie was lovely, first rate. To be honest I couldn't taste the horseradish in the crust at all, but it was large, tasty, hot and full of steak in the rich Guinness sauce. So, no complaints here. The side order of Mash on the other hand seemed to have left the kitchen with no seasoning at all. None. I can only surmise it was overlooked as I cant believe they'd send out something so bland.

The GF's main of Beer Battered Cod and Chips with Sauce Tartar and crushed peas was extremely well cooked. The Batter was perfectly crisp, the Fish extremely tasty. The Tartar sauce was obviously homemade and was very good indeed. The chips on the side were also cooked perfectly crisp, very hard to fault this dish. Perfect Pub grub.

Studying the Dessert menu, unable to choose I asked the waitress what her favourite was, "As she'd obviously tried them all". I like to pose this question, it normally pays dividends as the staff have indeed tried them all and 'mostly' steer you towards the better dishes. Occasionally they have no opinion, which I find amazing and is normally just another milestone in a meal with awful service. But on this occasion, I was trumped. It was the friendly Waitresses first night, she hadn't tried any of them but speculated that sticky toffee pudding had appeared to be popular. Seeing as I was leaning towards the sticky toffee pudding option anyway, I didn't need much persuading. (Honestly, If it's got toffee, syrup or treacle in it - I'm ordering it without fail).

And it was good, very light, an unusual spiciness which I think was cumin - the only problem was the miserly amount of toffee sauce offered, and the equally miserly portion of clotted cream. I speculate as it was last knockings, I got what was left. Despite this, it was pretty good - not the best Ive eaten by a long chalk, but competent.

Overall I enjoyed my meal at The Headley, and will visit again. Service was friendly and pretty fast. The prices are extremely reasonable, (Total cost of Meal for two, not including drinks - £40) the Menu extols exactly the traditional British food that I want to see in a Gastro Pub. It's a shame that the small details kind of let the side down, the un-toasted 'toast', completely unseasoned mash, the miserly portions of toffee and clotted cream with the pudding, but these are fairly minor quibbles, maybe they were having a bit of an 'off night' in the kitchen- it didn't really spoil my enjoyment of the meal, being more surprised by the 'misses' as most aspects of the meal were 'hits'. With a bit more attention to detail this place could be incredible.

The Headley

Great Warley, Brentwood.

Essex. CM13 3HS


Dan said...

Bloody hell, the toast Dan, the toast! Well it looks pretty naff! And I recommended this to you in the first place. My credibility is torn to shreds!

Must have been an off night, I had the ham hock terrine the week before and it came with lovely TOASTED sourdough. Also I'm sure my portion of sticky toffee was bigger.


Dan said...

Dan, To be fair - the light was pretty low and I ended up having to user the Flash - which no doubt washed out the anaemic looking toast even more.....but now your telling me you got toasted sourdough....!?!! What the hell?!!
Rest assured, your credibility remains where it was (Where that level actually is - I will not say).

It wasn't that bad, in fact most of it was very good - but niggling errors and lack of attention to detail let it down a bit.
To be fair, I'll have to give it another go - perhaps it really was a one off bad night.

Anonymous said...

This looks lovely, toast or no toast. The pie and the fish and chips look perfect, and funnily enough I did the exact same thing yesterday at the Albion, i.e. ask the waitress for her opinion on the best pudding. She guided me to a sticky toffee sundae that was one of the best things I've eaten all year. Excellent write up, must check this place out next time we're in your neck of the woods!

Dan said...

GG, The Albion - very nice indeed.

I love it when your waiter/waitress has an opinion on the food your ordering, and I hate it when they don't. They see it prepared, they've served it to countless customers, they've seen their reactions upon eating it, and they've no doubt sampled the lot.

No Opinion to me, shows a certain lack of pride and interest.

The Ample Cook said...

Good write up Dan - I fancied this place myself when I'd read Furchin's twitterings and then looked at the website, but I have to say that the presentation of the sardines is a bit lacking to say the least and as you say your toast was a bit er untoasted really. Call me pedantic but I'm afraid I would have sent the toast back.

With regard to the pud, I can never understand the thinking behind being mean with things like cream or another half a scoop of ice cream etc. It costs pence and keeps the customer happy. I of all people know they have margins etc to work within, but applying portion control on these items is counter productive as far as customer satisfaction is concerned.

Sorry to be so negative Dan but this hits a raw nerve with me. As a nation we don't tend to complain in restaurants, we just don't go back, but when they ask "Is everything ok?" We should be honest - but always politely.

Sorry rant over :)

Boo said...

On a more positive note £40 for 3 courses is great value, those main courses (mash aside) look lovely.

I hate stingy portions, gastro pubs can tend to be a bit measley with side portions in my experience, I think honestly is the best policy too, there's no harm in asking for more!

Dan said...

Jan - completely agree with your all of your comments. The Sardines on Toast were £3 so I wasn't expecting too much out of it. (Side note - They bloody stank - urgh - can't stand that uber fishy smell, God knows how the GF ate them!)

Its amazing when you think about it - beautiful tasty Ham Hock Terrine, Home Made Picallili - and then to fail on the most basic of culinary tasks....toasting bread!?!

Funny thing is - my GF had no complaints because she actually likes her toast like that (Takes all sorts I guess), Left me wondering whether it was just me. (obviously not).

As for the portion control on the pudding, completely agree - It was gorgeous, but slightly marred by the lack of toffee and cream.

I did mention this to the waitress politely - but as it was her first night and she was young, I didnt want to turn into shouty troublesome customer and ruin her job just yet.

Like I say - I will go back and try it again - just to see if it was a bad night blip because I'd love it to be a truly decent Gastro Pub serving Trad British food - it's something that Essex as a whole really lacks.

Boo - yep agreed - £40 for 3 courses (well 2 for my GF - she declined dessert!!! what!!?) is pretty good and no complaints on the mains - both very good.
The side portions were £2 each - which is pretty reasonable, but there's no doubt they were portions for one!

Graphic Foodie said...

Perfect rainy weather pub grub - nice!

I get really angry when toast or advertised toasted items aren't toasted enough (one of many, many things that set me off). Every Friday morning we get bagels in at work and we have to pay an EXTRA 40p for toasting. They usually just let the bagels kiss the toaster for mere seconds. 2p's worth of toasting I'd say... grrrr.

Lizzie said...

Is that a massive pie, or a tiny dish of mash?

Dan said...

Graphic Foodie - scary with the toast rant.

Lizzie - hahaha - Both! Massive Pie, small dish of mash (really like those little pots the sides were served in)

Gourmet Chick said...

Massive or not the pie looks great - mmm guinness pie!

Jula Carnell said...

Nice write up. Lots of my friends have been to what we are calling the 'new' headley, with somewhat mixed reviews. Its good to get people's opinions but sometimes its just good to try these places out for yourself. Am not sure about the pic of the sardines ;)

Anonymous said...

This pub, was on the market a couple of months ago. Wondered if it has changed hands as the food looks a little more basic that three years ago when it was still doing locally sourced British food but a bit more interesting.

Dan said...

Annonymous, interesting. Perhaps this is the case and the website hasn't been updated to reflect new ownership.

Dan said...

Based on Annonymous's comment, I emailed Daniel Clifford's restuarant in Cambridge, Midsummer House to find out if he was still the owner of The Headley....
Subject: The Headley - Brentwood Essex.

Quick question, I wondered if you knew if Daniel Clifford still owned The Headley in Brentwood Essex?
I ask, as I write a food blog and in the comments on a recent review of The Headley, someone mentioned that they thought it may be under new ownership.
I just wanted to clarify for my Blog readers.

Essex Eating
From: Midsummer House reservations
Subject: RE: The Headley - Brentwood Essex.

Yes I can confirm that Daniel Clifford is still the owner.

Midsummer House
Midsummer Common

Tel: 01223 369299
Fax: 01223 302672

So that's that settled.

Anonymous said...

Hi Does anyone know when the place is busy? Having eaten there yesterday, with barely a scattering of lunchtime diners, I wondered if there is a peak time to visit and enjoy some atmostphere? Fish pie, enormous but great, Hubby had the burger but I would call it a sloppy joe, very mushy and different taste to it, especially served with an overdone brioche style roll. No smoking shelter either for my Hubby!

Dan said...

Anonymous - I went on a Saturday evening and it was fairly busy then. I think one of the problems it has is it's cavernous. High ceilings massive areas - incredibly hard to create a cosy atmosphere I'd say. So you had a bit of a mixed experience with the food?

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan. Well you seemed to have had a good evening except for a few little things. I just wish I could say the same. We have just come back from a Sunday lunchtime meal at The Headley, by we I mean my wife and my in-laws. The meal was part of the celebrations for my wife's 50th birthday. The restaurant weren't aware of this, had they known then maybe they might have made a bit more of an effort to make our couple of hours spent with them rather a more pleasurable experience. As it was I'm afraid I have to report it was possibly one of the worst experiences I have ever had in a restaurant both by service (or lack of it) and indeed the food! I don't think I want to bore you with all the gory details but suffice to say I will never be going there again and could not possibly recommend anyone else does unless the staff and chefs are better trained!

Well ok then a couple of gory details. We were sitting on a corner table and seemed to be over looked; at times I felt we were invisible! I think it was almost an hour upon sitting there before we were asked if we were ready to order! (At least two tables who came after us had put their order in before us). One of our party didn't order a starter so had to wait another 40 minutes before finally getting something to eat. My wife ordered the Beef Rib-eye asking for it to be 'well done'. When the beef eventually arrived it couldn't have looked redder! She only managed to eat a bit of it, most of it I think would have been inedible even ‘well done’ because of all the fat and gristle on it! My lamb wasn't much better. Also the roast potatoes were rather hard and dry, the whole meal wasn’t very hot either and it gave the impression it had been sitting on the side for ages!

You will be thinking well we should have complained! However in front of the in-laws my wife didn't want to make a scene but complained afterwards when paying as the rest of us had by then left and sat in the car! They did apologise, which was after all the least they could do but also said we should have complained and said something at the time, to which my wife said that not at any time did anyone come over to ask if the meal was ok (they probably realised it wasn’t!) One waitress did come over once but that was just to say, could she ‘nick’ our salt and pepper to put on another table! We left with the dirty dishes still on our table and no one actually spoke to us as we left (and that was before my wife had had a go at them!) I left with the distinct impression that they don’t know the first thing about running a restaurant.

Anonymous said...

I've been to The Headley a few times (8-10 times) over the last six months. It's a local so I am always keen to support local pubs/restaurants. Almost every time there has been a problem. Today though takes the biscuit. I arrived at 3:30'ish was passed a menu and spend a good 15 minutes browsing it at the bar while my son and I had a drink. The barman was great. I go to order and was then told the menu wasn't available until 5:30. Hmm. You know - if a barman spots someone reading a menu that isn't available - it's polite/useful to say so. OK. My mistake. I hold on and have a drink. 4 other guys come in and are seated and served!! what gives? Anyway. I go off and come back at 5:30. Order a steak (£15'd) and a roast for my son. Steak is medium. Guess what - 15 mins later. Steak turns up. It's rare. I send it back. Son's roast is super ordinary. Nothing special at all. Nothing even tasty, but he's getting stuck in so that's fine. Steak comes back. It's almost as rare IF NOT even more rare than before. I push the whole lot to one side. No on checks if it's OK, no one approached table. Eventually. Manager comes and takes plates. Doesn't wonder why whole plate of food is left, doesn't ask..
I am £35 pounds better off and feed completely mugged.
Like I said, I've been a few times. Mostly because it's local, secondarily because it's 'family friendly' and I like the big sofas and the relaxed nature of the place. The staff seem to change from one visit to the next. I can't recommend this place at all. Sorry - I wish I could. I have however made up my mind. Local or not, I won't be going back. Not even for a mineral water. Very disappointed.

Anonymous said...

damn - error.... comment above... £35 WORSE OFF...

Dan said...

Based on the past few comments, although posted anonymously - It certainly seems like The Headley has some issues.

Reading back through my original post, I'm starting to wonder if it was an 'off night' when I visited. I'd be interested to go back and try it again, and see for myself.

BTW - Sorry to hear that you had such a poor meal.

Anonymous said...

give it another go it has changed hands