I love Watford. Well, I love the mahoosive shopping centre, the Harlequin, in Watford. Apart from that, and considering it’s only 20 minutes from where I live, it’s not anywhere I would consider going in the evening.
Still, when the chaps at Ember Pub & Dining contacted me and asked if we’d like to visit their newly refurbished Essex Arms, just around the corner from The Grove, I could hardly say no. Especially when they’d invited us ‘en famille’.
First impressions were favourable – it was a lovely evening and there were loads of people milling around outside having a drink (and yes, that is the Death Wish Dude mucking about with English Grandma):
And this is the inside. The decor is lovely – a bit quirky and fun, and the tables aren’t set too close to each other, so you’re not constantly earwigging someone else’s conversations ( loved the goat). It was kind of like being in someone’s funky dining room:
A quick shufty showed a nice, creative menu, with care taken with regard to suppliers and ingredients. We nibbled on some fiery wasabi peas while we made our choices. The wine list was varied (and really reasonable – loads of choices under a tenner). We ended up plumping for our favourite Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc.
Starters arrived quickly and were utterly fabulous. The Prof’s crispy beer battered mushrooms were gorgeously crunchy on the outside with a very tasty smoky tomato sauce, and English Dad’s Severn and Wye Valley smoked salmon was delicious. Huge portions again. Grandma English and I shared a plate of antipasti, with the same salmon, Prosciutto, Somerset Brie (an enormous wodge of it), olives, bread and beetroot relish. Delicious.
For mains, Grandma English and I both plumped for specials: lemon sole with king prawns for Grandma (‘yummy!’):
and confit duck for me. Excuse the appalling photography, but my confit duck was amazing – tender and delicious with none of the greasiness sometimes associated with confit – served with a beautiful piquant red cabbage and creamy dauphinoise potatoes (could have done with a bit more of them, to be honest – lush)
The Death Wish Dude went for nice traditional gammon with fried eggs and the Prof plumped for a steak, which was perfectly cooked and really tender. English Dad’s fish pie was to die for, with large chunks of delicate fish in a really creamy sauce.
The dessert menu is incredible, and the portions are huge. Sadly, we were too full to really do our desserts justice, but seek out the treacle tart (amazing pastry – I wonder if Chef Tom would teach me?):
and the beautiful chocolate brownie. I was tempted by the banoffee pie, but my black forest gateau was moist, dense and gorgeous too.
After espressos we were, frankly, groaning, but we all gave it a whopping 9/10. Very rare to please everyone when you’re catering for a family from 13 to erm… retired. Our gripes were tiny – better veg, or maybe a salad, with the fish pie… but honestly, just niggles. We really couldn’t fault it.
You can find the Essex Arms website here. No need to book. Talking to some locals, I hear the Sunday lunch is fabulous too so we’ll definitely be back. Such good value so near to London is to be very much admired. I can see myself and English Grandma popping in for their enormous plate of scampi (under £7.00 – and I love scampi) and a glass of wine on the way home from the shops.
They also have a fixed price menu with a good choice of 4 or 5 each of starters, mains and desserts for just £11.50. Massive thanks to the lovely manager Kelly, who is rightly proud of her team, and who, apparently owes her Chef a drink. I’d buy him two.