Review: Pudding a must at Rose & Crown in Thorpe-le-Soken

The Rose & Crown in Thorpe-le-Soken head chef Tom Hartman.

The Rose & Crown in Thorpe-le-Soken head chef Tom Hartman. - Credit: Su Anderson

When my wife and I pulled up at the Rose and Crown in Thorpe-le-Soken, Essex, we were not sure what to expect behind the heavy wooden door.

Steak and ale pie

Steak and ale pie - Credit: Archant

As the door swung open it revealed a cosy nook complete with armchairs with a nice open plan feeling, leading straight to the bar where we were warmly greeted by manager Sarah Harrison.

Although the cosy area looked a great way to unwind and relax before our meal, our rumbling stomachs convinced us to head straight to the dining area, where we took a seat with a view out towards the village.

We were spoilt for choice from head chef Tom Hartman’s seasonal menu, with the added option of the daily specials board – though we could not be surprised given Tom’s pedigree as Essex food and drink chef of the year 2012.

However after feasting our eyes on the menu I eventually went for the king prawn, watermelon and cashew nut dish, served with spring onions frisee and lime, chilli and mint syrup, while my wife chose the soup of the day – roasted tomato with garlic croutons.

They say opposites attract and that was certainly the case with my starter. The dry nuttiness of the cashews was a perfect match for the juicy king prawns, with the chilli zing which delightfully set my lips tingling, soothed by the fresh watermelon.

My good lady’s soup was thick, a little sweet, with just the right hint of garlic in the croutons – in her words, “perfect”. It was accompanied by warm thick cut farmhouse bread, a slice each of granary and white.

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While we were waiting for our main course we were able to admire the contemporary, modern design of the inside of the restaurant which married up perfectly with the exposed oak beams of the building.

On the walls were a number of old pictures detailing historic Thorpe which were a pleasure to examine.

Buoyed by the tastiness of our first course our second was served soon after, something both my partner and I were pleased about having been made to wait too long between courses at some other restaurants we had been to. Not here, the timing was perfect; an added achievement when we noticed the restaurant and bar had begun to fill up, even on a Tuesday evening. We took this as a sure sign of the quality of the food we were to continue enjoying.

Although all of the food we had was presented beautifully, we were blown away by the visual masterpiece of my wife’s beer battered fish and thick cut chips with minted mushy peas and tartare sauce. It came presented on a slate complete with ‘newspaper’ greaseproof paper underneath, which provided and entertaining read about fish and chips (from what we could tell from the column inches not covered by delicious food).

The batter was amazing, perfectly crispy and peeled back to reveal the melt-in-the-mouth cod underneath. The thick chips were cooked to perfection, and were wonderfully accompanied by the mushy peas and sauce.

However, my wife’s fish was equalled, if not bettered, by my steak and ale pie with puff pastry lid, served with fries and a vegetable selection of carrots, courgettes and mange tout. The beef just fell apart, so beautifully was it cooked, within rich gravy and accompanied by a tasty, flaky pastry lid, while the vegetables were cooked to al dente perfection. The chips were also salted just right, something I find very difficult to achieve.

Despite us both being stuffed we convinced ourselves we simply had to try pudding – and boy did we make the right call.

I chose caramelised pineapple sponge served with crème anglaise. The sponge was light and airy, just what I needed after the richness of the pie, and the sponge soaked up the crème anglaise just so. The caramelised pineapple atop was not something I had tried before, but was so tasty I scoffed the lot.

My wife chose the salted honey fudge and chocolate tart with vanilla ice cream, which again saw a beautiful marriage between the saltiness of the fudge and the sweetness of the ice cream, rounded off with the rich chocolate.

Unfortunately we were unable to stay as we had to relieve the babysitter. However we were pleased to note a children’s menu, plus baby changing facilities in the immaculately clean toilets, showing this restaurant also caters well for families.

Entertainment is also on the menu at the Rose and Crown with music nights on the calendar – something we are sorely tempted to return to, having been teased with by seeing the upright piano in the bar.

Potential visitors need not restrict themselves to an evening visit either, with a lunch menu also available – all using locally sourced produce and cooked with herbs grown in the restaurant garden as are the evening meals.

All in all our impromptu weekday evening meal could not have gone better and was so much more than we could have hoped for. The attention to us as guests was outstanding especially as it filled up through the evening. While our expectations of the food were already high, based on this restaurant’s reputation, they were superceded – and we would heartily recommend everyone to visit.

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