A statuette of a ruby lion protrudes from the façade of a brasserie in East Bergholt. It strides in place majestically, forever in pursuit of something out of reach.

The Lion Brasserie won the Taste of East of England Award, sponsored by Adnams, at the East of England Tourism Awards 2021-2022 – despite only opening its doors in September 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The brasserie made a name for itself during lockdown with its takeaway services, including Sunday roasts, pizzas and even signature dishes like prepared lobsters and steaks with cooking instructions to reheat at home.

Once restrictions were eased, a Mediterranean-themed tent with olive trees and orange trees next to each table was set up in the garden. Now, The Lion Brasserie is at full throttle – offering customers a first-class dining experience in the heart of Constable Country.

“We believe in serving great food in a relaxed atmosphere,” says general manager James Barber. “Whatever we do, we do it well. To be recognised for believing in ourselves is an amazing feeling.

“We use fresh, local produce and we're passionate about supporting our local suppliers,” James explains. The Lion Brasserie buys from a butcher based in Colchester, a grocer in Lawford and a local wine merchant.

The Lion has built a reputation for excellent seafood dishes. “We sell a lot of skate, which is very popular here,” head chef Ashley says. “Customers also love the mussels in the classic French style with white wine, garlic and cream.”

A favourite dish with the customers is carpaccio of beef served with a baby radish, apple, carrot and coriander salad.

The interior design of the mid 18th century building showcases the building’s original features, with some tasteful new additions, including a beautiful bar made from an elm tree felled in Chelmsford in the 1987 storm.

“People are often amazed when they come in and see how beautiful it is inside,” James says.

Construction work is underway on a selection of high-spec bedrooms for visitors to spend the night in peaceful surroundings.

James, 42, has worked in a kitchen for 25 years. He has used his experience to instil a culture of first-class customer service, ensuring staff are well trained and literate with the evolving menu and dietary requirements.

“We spend a lot of time explaining to staff about allergens and how the food is prepared,” he says. “We also have a 15-minute ‘toolbox training’ before service to discuss a certain wine or upsell for the day. This empowers the team with the knowledge to be able to serve the customer and enjoy what they do.

“All of our staff are local,” James says. “The ambience here is brilliant. We look after our people. The team keep their tips and are paid above minimum wage. We believe that when staff enjoy what they do, it shows in the customer’s experience.

“If it's coming from the heart, passion will make it work.”

James and the team were overjoyed to be nominated at this year’s East of England Tourism Awards but never expected to win.

“It was incredible, really,” James says. “We were just bowled over. We genuinely hadn't prepared anything to say at the ceremony because we were just so thrilled to be nominated. But it was truly humbling to win.

“Thank you to everybody that has supported us. We're looking forward to a bright 2022 after such a tough start during the pandemic!”

After such success so early in the history of The Lion Brasserie, the team are not getting ahead of themselves and are focused on prioritising customer service.

“We had a quiet moment between us where we all patted each other on the back and then it was very much business as usual,” says James. “There's an old saying in hospitality that you're only as good as your last service. Rather than resting on our laurels, we're of the mindset that we need to carry on in the same vein – and be relentless in our pursuit of excellence! If people are reading that we've won the Taste of East of England, they're going to want that same service, if not better.

“We’ll never achieve perfection, but we're always striving for it.”

For more information, please visit www.thelioneastbergholt.co.uk

Archant organise and host the annual East of England Tourism Awards to recognise and celebrate those businesses and individuals that contribute to the regional visitor economy. To register for more information on the 2022/23 competition visit www.tourismawards.co.uk