You may poo-hoo Valentines Day as a commercially led day of forced romanticism… Well let’s face it, Mothers day, Fathers day, your Birthday, Christmas Day, they’re all commercial, yet a time for celebration, and why not? If you want to make your loved one feel special, to set aside a night of dining and, well, romanticism, here are some suggestions for local restaurants with rooms, after all, if you’re going to do something, you may as well do it well…
The Bell Inn – Horndon on the Hill
The first benchmark ‘gastro pub’ in Essex, The Bell has character, history, and it’s a classic. Based in the small Essex village of Horndon, The Bell is a get away from it all destination, it’s like going back in time, a big sigh of stress release. Think open fires, original well worn timber structures, warmth and hospitality, in keeping with its 18th century history.
The dishes here are comforting, yet refined; they sit pretty on the plate. The menu is classically inspired and draws influence from French, and Italian cuisines, with just a hint of Japanese and Indian, as well as, and not least, the best of British. Changes are made to the menu daily, although you can of course see today’s menu (pdf) on their website.
The rooms have individual character, all comfortable and colourful, with some well thought out surprises – whatever you fancy – from 2 floors where you can lounge, before climbing the spiral staircase to sprawl; a room with a pretty four-poster bed and an amazing view of the distant fields; a crackling open fire, or a free-standing roll top bath, just waiting to be filled.
Le Bouchon – Heybridge,Maldon
A grade II listed building, recently modernised and refurbished into a ‘boutique’ hotel and brasserie. The executive head chef, Jonathan Brown, has won many local accolades, including ‘Essex Chef of the Year’ in his former residence as chef/patron of the Ducane Arms in Great Braxted. This is a place to relax and unwind, eat well and chat intimately in the spacious restaurant area without fear of being overheard.
As you would expect from a brasserie, the menu draws upon classic French dishes, adding just a few modern twists of flavour and technique, whilst respecting what is good. Jonathan is an ingredients man, so you can expect full flavoured cuts of local meat, game and poultry, and beautifully fresh fish and seafood. Check out their menu here.
The rooms are modern, comfortable, and femininely attractive, with hints of French regency in the furniture. Flock wallpaper, rustic open timber, rich coloured cushions and satin throws, and even showers big enough for two…
1935 Rooftop Restaurant & Bar & Holiday Inn(!) – Southend Airport
This completely sound proofed hotel and rooftop restaurant opened in October 2012, following a £10 million build. With views over the surrounding airport, you can watch the planes land and depart into the night sky. Still a reasonably quiet airport, the panoramic views at night are quite beautiful. It’s just a quick stroll from the railway station too, so one for the non-drivers, or those that like a champagne breakfast.
The head chef, Kieron Moore was classically trained under Marco Pierre White, and brings with him a wealth of experience. The simple seasonal menu features a number of traditional Brit dishes – taken up a notch, well aged steaks, and some wonderful slow cooked and braised warmers. Fish and seafood lovers may be a little disappointed in the choice available, which is a shame, as there is so much local seafood available in the area. You can check out their menu on this page (pdf).
For a Holiday Inn, the rooms shift away from the typical hamster cage feel, and offer warmth and modern comfort. Of course, they are designed for work, rest and play, although if you want a little more luxury, upgrade to a ‘king superior’ room and leave the work behind. This Holiday Inn is also dog friendly, if you want to treat your pooch to a night away from it all… This excites me; it shouldn’t, though it does!
The Mistley Thorn – Mistley, near Manningtree
The coastal village of Mistley is charming, peaceful and very pretty. Perched on the River Stour Estuary, the architecture is rich in Georgian and Victorian style. It’s the kind of place that you would want to stay overnight and book the next day off to walk around the quay, surrounding woodlands, independent cafes and shops, and of course, the swan fountain, which happens to be just opposite the warm and inviting Mistley Thorn.
The Thorn was the first Essex restaurant to receive the bib gourmand Michelin accolade for good cuisine at a reasonable price. As a coastal restaurant, the menu specialises in fantastic local fresh fish, simple dishes with an emphasis on flavour. If you want to get your teeth into something meatier, the steaks are from Red Poll beef – nice. Online sample menu is here (pdf).
The rooms offer classic comfort and scenic views. Large baths and power showers, king size and super king beds; the Thorn provides understated luxury in a beautiful setting. They take breakfast seriously too, which is always a welcome bonus.
The Bull & Willow Room – Great Totham
This restored 16th century Inn, surrounded by rural views, offers both relaxed informal dining in the pub area, and finer dining in the restaurant area, where you can don your glad rags and bathe under the soft light of the candelabras. Dean Ager will be making an appearance on Valentine’s evening with his crooning Rat Pack show.
The menu celebrates the best cuts of meat, prime seafood and interesting twists on flavour. The ingredients are sourced from some of the best local farms and suppliers. You can view their valentines menu here (pdf).
The rooms are housed in a renovated cottage on the grounds. They are comfortable, individually styled, finished with simple and contemporary furnishings, and offer great views over the surrounding countryside. A decent breakfast is served in the ‘gastro’ bar, come the morning, I wonder how much you have to tip to get room service?