Does a good restaurant in Essex actually exist?
This is the question that has been swirling in my head for the past 6 years I have been living in this county. Southend-on-Sea is a complete wasteland. For reasons unbeknown to me, Southend’s only proper restaurant, Fleur de Provence, shut its doors a while back. Oh well, the snotty waiters definitely won’t be missed but the food will!
On a rare occasion, I have enjoyed a pub meal at The Pheasant (Keyston). Unfortunately, the two in my village are horrendous and you can actually see how they stuff your food in the microwave and nuke it to death. Argh. A few other Essex pubs I’ve been to also suck and since then I refuse to spend my hard-earned money on any more Essex establishments and flee to London instead.
A while back, my friend discovered a first-class restaurant, called The Magic Mushroom, close to where she lives, in Billericay. As an Essex native it is her mission to change my belief about Essex eateries. Suspicious yet open-minded I was game. At 8 months pregnant, I waddled and heaved myself onto the train and within 15 minutes from Hockley station I was there. Well almost, plus a short car journey.
This was early May 2010 and I’ll try my best to remember the details, so here goes.
Calamari is a tricky thing to cook and unfortunately these came out rubbery and bland, which is a shame because the asian-inspired, sweet chilli sauce was to die for. Shame there wasn’t anything to mop it up with. All things considered, a curious dish but kudos to the chef for attempting to be different from the goat’cheese-and-balsamic-onions rest.
The apple mash paired well with the melt-in-the-mouth pork belly, served here with asparagus and a cream sauce. If you looked up “crackling” in the food dictionary, this is the picture you will see. All moisture has left the fat and is the crunchiest crunch I’ve had in a long time. My only criticism is that it was difficult to cut through and a little help from the kitchen would have been appreciated by cutting it into more manageable pieces.
Now doesn’t the fillet steak look majestic balancing on that divine piece of fondant potato? Rare, like I asked for, I couldn’t be happier with it, dunking it in red wine jus with onion and mushroom nibbles on the side.
Classic sweet and sour red cabbage was ordered as a side dish which matched the pork and beef beautifully.
Doh! Little did I know that seasonal vegetables are served with all main dishes. The cabbage was unnecessary. I like this place more and more.
Sometimes you just can’t decide what to order and most of the desserts looked delectable. The beautiful solution the The Magic Mushroom gives is serving a dessert platter – a little bit of each for us to taste. Doesn’t it look gorgeous?
There is a downside though. Not all puddings are created equal. For example the vanilla sponge pudding tasted as if it has been forgotten at the back of the freezer six months past its expiry date and the chocolate Bailey’s cheesecake left much to be desired. The flavour of the Pimm’s panna cotta was superb but the weird addition of small cucumber pieces was its downfall.
The two that left an impression were the silky smooth yet not overly sweet lemon tart and crème brûlée with orange liqueur. The latter’s sweetness and orange tang were well balanced with the liqueur not overpowering the other ingredients in the dish.
If you refer to their menus you will notice that these items don’t feature at the moment. That’s because the items change as the seasons progress which shows adaptability and creativity from the chef, hence eating at The Magic Mushroom never gets boring!
8/10: Some dishes are better than others and overall the quality is quite good.
9/10: Although the food are prices are upper-class, the portions are generous. No haute cuisine being served here!
8/10: Friendly and helpful staff.
8/10: Clean and in working order.
7/10: Clean and modern style of decoration. Because of the tiled floor the music echoed a bit.
8/10: The answer to my first question is a big resounding YES. My view has now changed – good Essex restaurants are few and far between. So if you live in the sticks but in the vicinity, I wholeheartedly recommend you try The Magic Mushroom.
What is your Essex favourite restaurant? Recommendations, please!
The Magic Mushroom