From its widespread farmland and unspoilt villages, to the luscious Stour river and Colne valleys, Essex county boasts a lot more than its notable cities. The rural landscape and extended coastline of this county are just a part of its huge geographical diversity, distinguishing it from the built-up landscape of neighbouring London. The diversity of Essex spills into its culture and economy, and inevitably, an incredible wealth of restaurants waiting to be discovered.
The East Anglia Pub Company is leading the way in providing a winning combination of delectable food, comfortable surroundings and a touch of character at each of its venues. With five venues spread across the Thames Estuary, the company has found solid success and a loyal following of satisfied diners.
The Peterboat and The Bellhouse are two esteemed venues that boast a special quality and personality of their own, each serving a unique menu of modern British fare. We were lucky enough to uncover the energy and passion that goes into running some of the best British pubs in the South East of England, and spoke to head chefs Arnold Nobrega and Jonathon Sisto about their part in the success.
Located along the historic cobbled High Street of Leigh-on-Sea, a charming old town with a great choice of gastronomic delights, is The Peterboat. This traditional pub is named after a Thames fishing boat and boasts a stunning waterside setting. The surrounding landscape and intriguing past associations with smugglers continue to define its character, with the occasional shantysinging evening providing unforgettable entertainment.
Since joining the pub, Arnold Nobrega has brought his inspiration and understanding of quality, home-cooked food to the Peterboat kitchen. Though he starting out from humble of beginnings, he has honed his cheffing skills to reach his current position, having originally trained in the family-owned restaurant. His passion for traditional family recipes and using the best fresh ingredients has been part and parcel in creating today’s fantastic Peterboat menu.
Arnold advocates the company philosophy of using interesting ingredients without overcomplicating classic dishes. Under his guidance, the team makes use of the bounty of quality produce from local, natural resources. Arnold is particularly proud of using fresh fish from the surrounding area; skate is caught directly from the local Thames Estuary and served in traditional batter, or grilled simply in delicious caper butter.
Depending on the season, choices may include starters of flavoursome spinach and asparagus soup and peppered mushrooms served on toasted brioche with creamy and savoury peppercorn sauce. The mains on offer feature much of the country’s favourites, such as fish pie enhanced by accompaniments of cheesy mash and seasonal vegetables with a gorgeous white wine sauce, or a refreshing choice inspired by the continent such as a grilled goat’s cheese salad with pine nuts, mixed leaves and redcurrant jelly – a hearty and winning vegetarian-friendly choice. We recommend you sample the wealth of Arnold and the team’s expertise by completing your visit with a classic dessert such as vanilla crème brûlée served with homemade shortcake biscuits.
This wonderful family-run free house is proof of how Essex can get it so right. The great guest ales, extensive biannual ale festivals and summertime music festivals evoke the pub spirit and tradition. Having recently undergone a fantastic refurbishment, The Peterboat proves cosy in the winter thanks to the open fires. In the summer, diners gather on the outdoor patio terrace to watch beautiful sunsets over panoramic views of the Thames.
Travel just a touch inland along the estuary, and you will arrive at The Bellhouse, a former hunting lodge frequented by Henry VIII and a notable addition to the area’s rich history. While its open beam partitions and cosy, county atmosphere are still intact, today the rustic charm is combined with a modern menu of high-quality exquisite cuisine.
The kitchen is run by Jonathan Sisto, born, bread and trained in Essex. Jonathon is well acquainted with the Essex food scene, having trained at the Colchester Institute, and is passionate about sourcing produce from the local area where possible. Passionate about uncomplicated yet creative cooking, he honours British heritage whilst acknowledging current culinary trends. A typical three course dinner might see you start with a heritage tomato salad with buffalo mozzarella, sliced avocado and sweet balsamic vinegar, or a plate of locally sourced whitebait with house tartare and chunky brown bread. You would do well to follow on with a heartwarming dish such as goat’s cheese fusilli enriched in a pesto of sweet cherry tomatoes and tangy cheese, or a traditional plate of sausage and mash doused in rich onion gravy.
Alternative and unusual dishes on the menu reveal the influence of Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay on Jonathon Sisto’s cooking style. Though he favours familiar ingredients used throughout British culinary history, he transforms the taste with modern flavour combinations. Innovative side dishes such as buttered samphire, sweet potato fries and crackling twigs with apple purée are just some of the delectable selection revealing his playful approach to food.
As with The Peterboat, the service is consistently excellent at The Bellhouse, while the food is affordable, freshly prepared and always a delight. The East Anglia Pub Company is paving the way for the resurgence of the traditional British pub in Essex, and is well-deserving of its flourishing success.