Thursday, April 7, 2011
When I first moved to London I was really good about taking day trips to the many English towns and cities that were easy to reach by train. Everywhere from nearby St Albans to historic Stonehenge to distant York was covered, and I was enamored with how easy it was to hop on a train and have a day out.
In the past year I have gotten busy with international travel, and have had less time for day trips from London. With the exception of visits to Newcastle and Blenheim Palace, I haven’t done a day trip in nearly a year.
Thankfully I had an excuse to change that last weekend when the Rose & Crown pub in Great Horkesley invited me to come for lunch. I bought two tickets for the train to Colchester, invited a friend, and got ready for a day out from London.
On Saturday we met at Liverpool Street station, hopped on an almost empty train, and alighted less than 45 minutes later in Essex. A friendly staff member gave us directions to our bus stop, and in no time we were off to the Rose & Crown in Great Horkesley.
The bus ride took less than 15 minutes, and along the way we passed a number of historic pubs with classically English thatched roofs. It was lovely.
The driver dropped us off less than a minute’s walk from the Rose & Crown. We strolled along a grassy embankment next to the road, enjoying some early spring sunshine as we savored the views of the green fields and pretty daffodils that lined the way.
Opening the door, we found ourselves in a classic country pub with low ceilings and exposed timber beams. The decor was all contemporary, though, which gave the space a great blend of the modern and the traditional.
We were seated at a table in the split-level dining room where sunshine streamed in through the thick glass windows. Perusing the menu, we saw that the a la carte selections had suggestions for wines by the glass listed next to each item. There was also a full page with steak offerings and a traditional pub menu.
We both chose to start with the scallops and the suggested white Burgundy. I was a bit nervous about drinking Chardonnay given that I don’t usually care for the grape, but I wanted to try the pairing to see how the wine complimented the food.
The service was attentive, and our Burgundy and starters arrived in good time. The scallops were excellent. They were smaller than most, but had an incredibly smooth, rich flavor. They were served on top of a creamy risotto that was so good that when I finished mine, I cajoled my friend into switching plates so as to make it easier to steal almost half of his.
The Chardonnay went well with the scallops, complimenting it without being too weak or strong. When we finished, we moved onto our mains. They came in the form of a steak with peppercorn sauce and a large side of vegetables, as well as a baked mushroom and chestnut wellington.
My dish was as good as my starter had been. The flaky pastry crust of the wellington was just thick enough to have substance without being too chewy, and the filling was perfectly moist and flavorful. The accompanying honey roasted parsnips and polenta chips were excellent.
The wellington was paired with a Pinot Noir. It had a very strong flavor that reminded me of port. I wasn’t sure I loved it, but the food more than made up for it.
Despite being full from our first two courses, we couldn’t help taking a look at the dessert menu. While we did, the chef came out to say hello and introduce himself. As we talked, he told us he was busy with preparations for the following day’s Mother’s Day meals, for which the pub had taken a record number of bookings.
After talking with him, we ordered our dessert. I had the sticky toffee pudding, and my friend had the chocolate fondant. Mine was flavorful, and while I didn’t have the nerve to steal his after having usurped his starter, I was assured that it was equally good.
In indulging, we had missed our bus back to the station. Our server called a taxi for us when we were finished with our meal, which gave us time to see the outside of the pub and say hello to a chicken that was rummaging around in the bushes. We weren’t sure if it was a pet or an extremely free-range bird that would later show up on a plate, but either way, it amused us for a few minutes while we waited for our ride.
Back on the road, we passed by the other pretty pubs and several fields full of sheep before arriving at the Colchester railway station to catch our train back to London. As we passed by houses and towns, we were peacefully lulled into a post-lunch nap. It was a great way to indulge our food comas after an excellent meal at the Rose & Crown pub in Great Horkesley.
When we arrived at Liverpool Street station, I couldn’t help but think about how easy it had been to get out of the Big Smoke for the afternoon. I vowed to get back in the habit of taking my beloved day trips from London. The only thing left to do was to come up with some ideas for where to go. Any suggestions?