The Times Online – June 2 2010.
8 perfect country pubs near London
These traditional Essex pubs serve good food and real ale, and are less than an hour from London. Time to ditch the white stilettos and don your wellies, says Ginny Light
“I tell my friends I run a pub in Essex, and they imagine some alcopop-serving den in a shabby town,” one publican told me.
We were leaning on the bar of her pub in a pretty village in postcard English countryside. The church spire poked above a thatched roof opposite, cow parsley swayed in the breeze on the roadside and a fat, happy labrador wagged its tail at our feet. “And no, I don’t do alcopops,” she said.
To anyone for whom the white stiletto is the only association they can pin to Essex, it’s time to don your wellies and see the rest of the county.
Every large market town in the country has its share of insalubrious nightlife, underage drinking and fashion victims in gauche footwear, and Essex is no exception, but the entire county still carries the burden of this misperception.
Between Epping Forest in the south-west and Harwich in the north-east, there’s an area of land 1,000 miles squared, and much of it is arcadian countryside. Wonky cottages with thatched roofs, village greens populated by waddling ducks, brooks in the shade of weeping willows, and more pubs than you could shake a pointy shoe at.
The village pub may be a dying breed, but in Essex the fittest have survived. These are pubs whose bread and butter are the local communities, whether they serve foccacia and olive oil or white sliced and Lurpack. A couple of these pubs are“gastropubs”, the rest would recoil at the thought of bearing that label. All of them serve real ale and good quality food in traditional surroundings.
They offer a perfect weekend lunch spot, a little over 30 minutes by train from London or car from the M25. There’s more than 3,500 miles of public byways for walking, cycling and horse-riding if you feel inclined to earn your lunch, or just sit back and enjoy having your eyes opened to the hidden gem on your doorstep.
The Fleur de Lys, Widdington
It’s not just the rich terracotta red exterior that makes the Fleur de Lys stand out. Its management are a young couple who are new to the pub trade and have a refreshing approach to running a village local. Ellie and Chris Rossetto know it’s important to look after their regular customers. As such, they took Champagne off the menu after it didn’t sell, and have just eight wine choices – the discernment is saved for the beer – something Chris is passionate about.
When they took over the Fleur de Lys, they asked the regulars what ales they’d like to drink, and consequently have the popular IPA among more unusual choices from breweries all over the country – the pump badges adorning the ceiling are a testament to their experimentation.
The bar area is informal and characterful, with a huge fireplace and low timbered ceiling. There’s quirky furniture including a pew, and a bench with a well-worn hole in it with a drawer underneath, used for a game called “penny pitching” where coins are tossed into the hole from a distance. There’s also a games room with the more conventional darts,pool and table football, plus a huge, quiet pub garden and a dining room with waitress service.
The pub is between chefs at the moment but Chris has ably taken on the cooking role for now, producing a simple menu of quality food including fish and chips, moules, rib of beef and stick toffee pudding, with a roast on Sundays. His tripled cooked chips, hand-cut and with the skin on, are the best chips I’ve tasted. “We’re somewhere between chicken in a basket and a gastropub,” Ellie modestly told me.
Prices: Mains: £5-11;
See more reviews about The Fleur.
By Ginny Light, June 2 2010.
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