The ‘gastropub' – everybody's doing it but Daniel Clifford's doing it in Essex
There's been an embarrassment of riches on the ‘gastropub' scene of late, with Gordon Ramsay's Narrow and Nigel Haworth's Highwayman joining the elite ranks of megachef-owned venues, including Heston Blumenthal's Hinds Head and Claude Bosi's Bell Inn. So when Daniel Clifford's boozer, The Headley, launched officially this month, the hapless double-Michelin-starred chef (of Midsummer House fame) caught us at our most jaded. But stifle those yawns.
Did we mention that this sparkling new ‘driving destination' is in Essex, a county that – fairly or unfairly – hardly has a reputation for the ambition and breadth of its culinary offerings?
The Headley is the fi rst ‘gastropub'
from Midsummer House Restaurants Ltd whose portfolio currently stands at The Headley and Midsummer House in Cambridge, but is set to grow any time soon.
This upscale family pub spells good news for the sleepy village of Great Warley near Brentwood (just half an hour from London) and marks an interesting move for Midsummer, seeing its business interests spreading from Cambridge to Greater London. It's also very different from the current crop of pubs: choosing to go for a rustic farmhouse, almost Shaker look, and offering well-executed dishes that don't rely exclusively on region, history or provenance.
Daniel Clifford is chef-proprietor, as he is at Midsummer House, and is joined in the kitchen by ‘gastropub'
old hand Scott Wade, who made a name for himself at The Gun in London's Docklands. As you'd expect from such culinary credentials, the modern European menu is on the elegant rather than the rustic side. A starter of English Asparagus, Smashed Gull's Egg and Truffl e Vinaigrette is served on a wavy Villeroy & Boch white plate, each spear of asparagus perfectly peeled and cooked, a real restaurant fi nish; while Nettle and Hogweed Soup is only as rustic as it can be on the clean lines of its Ola tableware.
Having said that, the lunch menu (from £5 to approx £22) covers the gamut from ‘Sandwiches & Toast'
(eg Venison ‘Bookmakers' with Pear and Beetroot Chutney or Lincolnshire Poacher Doorstep Sandwich) to bigger plates like Farmer Sharp's Mutton Loin, Toasted Caraway Seeds, Anchovy Crushed Potatoes, or dishes to share, including Provençal Fish Stew, Rouille, Gruyère and Croutons, and Moules Frîtes with Duvel beer on the side. A la carte selections include Bresaola, Rocket and Dittander Salad, Chicken and Morel Cobbler and Hibiscus Poached Pear and Star Anise Syrup.
The wine list is geared towards the high end, style-wise, not price-wise, with most in the £20-35 bracket.
Less usual regions are featured, with the likes of Austria, Slovenia and Hungary getting a look in. No surprise Riedel is the glassware of choice for the venue. It's all very posh: even the loo roll gets the ‘triangular fold' treatment.
The pub seats 180, so it's a big job, and feel some sympathy for Wade who currently only has four in his brigade. He'll be upping it to 12 over time as barbecues, picnics and the vast outdoor space take off. Wade's ready to get cracking, however, as the high-end feel extends to his kit: he's inherited a slew of equipment from Midsummer House, including Pacojets and Water Baths: "The kitchen's a dream," he sighs.
Where? | The Headley, The Common, Great Warley, Brentwood, CM13 3HS, 01277 216104 theheadley.co.uk