Southend and around pitstop: the best places to eat and drink in Essex
Often we foodie travellers miss the pubs, tearooms and restaurants that locals love as we whizz past. In this series of dispatches we’ll be putting that right, celebrating the culinary spots worth making a detour to. Next up on our global food trip is Southend, in Essex, and the riversides, beaches and towns that stretch out around this coastal corner of Essex.
The Roslin Beach Hotel, Thorpe Bay
Walk from the beach in Southend on-Sea towards quieter and more affluent Thorpe Bay and you’ll soon find this nautical retreat. It’s home to 59 elegantly decorated bedrooms, all with luxurious Elemis bath products, some with floor-to-ceiling views of the Thames Estuary.
Those views also make an impact at the hotel’s restaurant. Tables are split between two rooms but the best seats in the house are to be found on the terrace, which runs the length of the dining area and overlooks the sea. Eating here is a relaxed but sophisticated experience. Head chef Elton Thompson uses local, seasonal produce (and employs an in-house butcher) to produce dishes such as confit egg and wild mushroom lasagna, pan-roasted hake with quick-braised leeks, truffled potatoes and crispy fried cockles.
You don’t have to be a hotel guest to eat in the restaurant but breakfast is worth staying over for. A help-yourself buffet includes pastries, artisan breads and all the English breakfast essentials but we’re not fans of hot buffets. If you want a hot breakfast, we suggest paying a supplement for one of the hotel’s freshly-cooked options - lobster and scrambled egg, eggs Benedict or a trusty avo on toast with poached eggs.
Cockle Sheds, Old Leigh
Based in the historic fishing village of Old Leigh (also known as the Old Town area of Leigh-on-Sea), Osbourne Bros is a family-run cockle shed that’s been operating since 1880. The main factory is in Cockleshed Row, with boats delivering freshly caught fish from the Thames Estuary – plus shrimp, oysters, shellfish and cockles - every day.
If you want to try its super-fresh seafood on site, the business also includes a café, set in a former stable mews on the seafront. It’s a characterful spot, wrapped with original weatherboard timber and ironwork, and there’s a wide selection to choose from, among them cockles, prawns, mussels and whelks. On a sunny day sit out on the front and enjoy the sea air with a glass of wine or a pint from the adjacent pub and order all the seafood you can eat.
The Anchor Riverside, Hullbridge
Right by the river in the quiet village of Hullbridge, around half an hour’s drive north of Southend, The Anchor Riverside serves classy food at affordable prices (it’s currently the only restaurant in Essex to hold a Michelin Bib Gourmand).
Head chef Daniel Watkins bases his menu on the field-to-plate philosophy, sourcing local, seasonal produce to ensure top-quality ingredients are showcased in the restaurant’s menus. And while the name conjurs up salty old seadogs the décor here is resoundingly modern and pared-back, floor-to-ceiling windows flooding a room filled with modern taupe-coloured seating and button-backed nickel-coloured banquettes (if you’re visiting in summer, make the most of the riverside location and eat on one of the many garden tables).
Watkins puts his own stamp on traditional dishes, elevating a shepherd’s pie with wood-roast lamb shank, but he doesn’t limit himself to British classics – Japanese-inspired flavours shine in dishes such as tempura halibut with a bacon dashi broth and yuzu.
Rossi’s, Southend on-Sea
It’s a rule, isn’t it? You can’t go to the seaside without having an ice cream. And in Southend that means a scoop of Rossi’s original vanilla version – a traditional Italian-inspired recipe made with milk, butter and double cream.
First opened in 1932 by Massimiliano Agostino and his wife Anna Rossi, this family-run ice cream business has been inventing new and exciting recipes ever since. This year the company took inspiration from a New York ice-cream parlour to produce a vanilla ice cream spiked with dye to make it jet black and, less controversially, they created a rhubarb and custard flavour to mark their 80th birthday.
With several wooden stalls along Southend’s seafront and over fifteen varieties of ice cream and sorbet on offer, there’s certainly plenty to choose from. In the winter months pop into the main parlour, on the town’s Western Esplanade, to warm up inside with a French onion soup or a homemade steak and kidney pie – and a cheeky ice-cream to finish.
Bourgee, Southend on-Sea
For a bit of glitz head to Bourgee. Set on Southend’s seafront next to the town’s iconic Kursaal building, a graceful Grade II-listed building that was one of the world’s first purpose-built amusement arcades, it’s the kind of place to enjoy a cocktail or two before settling into the softly lit bling of the dining room for a blowout dinner.
Amid shiny copper pendant lights, uplit brickwork, snakeskin-effect bar stools and circular faux-ponyskin booths the menu focuses on lobster and steaks, cooked almost any way you like them. Choose from a delectable lobster burger with creamy guacamole and hot chilli sauce to a whole split lobster with cheese, shallots and woodland mushrooms, or a Josper-grilled Tomahawk steak, cooked on the bone to share.
Date night is the order of the day here but the restaurant also open for brunch, Sunday roasts and even afternoon tea (don’t expect cucumber sandwiches - lobster bagels, thinly sliced steak buns and mini doughnuts with cinnamon sugar are more likely).
The recipe seems to have worked – a second branch has recently opened in Chelmsford’s new restaurant quarter and a third is about to open in Bury St Edmunds.
Farmers’ Market, Leigh on-Sea
Every third Friday of the month local producers gather for this market, bringing their wares to Leigh Community Centre. Stall-holders must grow or make their goods themselves, and all suppliers operate within a 30-mile radius so it’s a great place to head for if you’re after a local foodie souvenir.
Stock up on runny honey from Ann Cushion’s local hives or pork and bacon from the free-range, rare breed pigs at Rhyne Park Farm. And we challenge you to leave without a fridge full of cheese; the aptly-named Cheese and Pie Man has every base covered, selling a large range of local, British and continental cheeses - local options include Suffolk Gold, Binham Blue and Mrs Hawkstone – as well as a range of artisan pies.
Stop The World Café, Leigh on-Sea
Head inland, away from the seafront, in Leigh-on-Sea and make your way to the Broadway. Among the run of boutique shops, bars and restaurants along this road is this cosy café.
Teas (Irish breakfast, Assam, Egyptian camomile and Jasmine green tea with flowers among them) are loose leaf, served in silver pots and sourced from The Metropolitan Tea Company. Coffee comes from Mac & Me Roasting, a local, small-batch roaster which takes a sustainable approach to sourcing.
Estuary Gourmet Foods, Leigh on-Sea
Part of the Estuary family of businesses, which also includes a restaurant on the Broadway and a café under the famous seafront arches at Westcliff-on-Sea, this delicatessen is a must-visit for foodies. Stock up from a large selection of artisan cheese, charcuterie, freshly baked breads, olives and store cupboard ingredients from around the world.
Takeaway lunches are also available – take your pick from a salad bar, home-made frittatas, scotch-eggs, and award winning pies. If you’re struggling to find the perfect gift for a foodie friend, Estuary Gourmet Foods offers both hampers and a gift-wrapping service.
Delightful Tea Bake School, Great Wakering
It’s been a while since GBBO, but if you’re still suffering withdrawal symptoms then this converted stables should just deliver the fix you need. Now a modern baking studio, Delightful Tea Bake School offers classes ranging from a few hours to a full day in a classically British, semi-rural setting.
Inspired to share their passion for baking, the owners encourage everyone, whatever their ability, to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in. Classes are designed around small groups (up to a maximum of seven), allowing the experts to provide hands-on guidance and creating a more personal experience. If even that sounds intimidating, private tuition can also be arranged.
Current classes range from Italian bread-making to doughnuts and churros, bagels, cupcakes, croissants, teatime treats and pork pies.
Vino Vero, Leigh on-Sea
From the outside Vino Vero looks like your classic wine shop. Step inside, however, and you’ll find a very different story. An independent wine store and tasting room it stocks over 250 wines (plus a small selection of craft beers and artisan spirits), mainly from small, family producers around the world.
Take a seat at one of its tables and try by the glass or bottle. Or order a wine flight and try a selection of three 50ml glasses of wine grouped by theme to form a mini-tasting, complete with complimentary cheese and olives. The menu changes every month and is broken down into categories - perhaps spotlighting a selected country, focusing on whites or reds, premium wines or natural wines.
For non-wine lovers, beers such as Beavertown Neck Oil, Kernal Pale Ale and Cloudwater Pioneer lager are also available. And if you want to socialize as well as sup book in for one of Vino Vero’s Saturday evening masterclasses, which focus on specific styles, regions or grape varieties.
Written by Nicki Smith, December 2016