As we were listening to our Christmas playlist and “A Winter’s Tale” started to sing out of the speakers, we thought now would be the perfect time to celebrate a few of our favourite places to eat in Essex (that and the fact that our Essex Food & Drink Guide 2019-2020 is now available to read online).

With the new year rapidly approaching and Christmas just one week away, you’ll no doubt be spending a considerable time over the next few weeks meeting mates in bar and pubs, joining colleagues for work Christmas dinners, and stopping off in coffee shops while you hectically scour the shops on Boxing Day looking for the best post-Christmas deals. But with so many brilliant options to choose from, finding the ideal spot for a light lunch or elegant evening meal can be a stress – and who needs any more stress at Christmas time?

To make your life that much easier this year, we’ve rounded up five of our favourite places in Essex for you to check out. Whether you’re searching for an award-winning British restaurant, a lively tapas bar, one of the county’s best gastropubs, or a cosy and stylish coffee shop, there’s something for everyone on this list.

The Creek – CO7 8RE

Taking its name from the nearby stunning Flag Creek and housed in a beautiful Grade II listed 17th-century building, you’re always assured the warmest of welcomes at The Creek in Great Bentley, Essex. Known for offering simple yet perfectly prepared cuisine in comfortable surroundings, head chef Terence Howard brings the very best out of locally sourced produce to deliver indescribably dishes you won’t be able to not rave about to all your family and friends.

Having worked at landmarks such as the Savoy, as well as a number of other premier London hotels, The Creek’s exquisite menu celebrates classic combinations and age-old British favourites. Under Terence Howard’s skilful guidance, The Creek was even awarded Restaurant Of The Year in 2017 by Essex Life. Start with the likes of the indulgent grilled asparagus served with mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, pistachio, raspberry vinaigrette and yoghurt before moving onto mains like the beautifully presented calf’s liver with grain mustard and roast potatoes, and duck breast with cauliflower cheese and crispy leeks. Alternatively, the lemon couscous with tenderstem broccoli, Gorgonzola and olive tapenade makes a delicious vegetarian option, while The Creek’s own Creek Split; caramelised banana enhanced by salted caramel ice cream, walnuts and crème Chantilly provides the perfect finish.

We recommend visiting on Sunday, where you can choose to carve your own roast and enjoy family-dining from the main restaurant. As host, you can carve your own meat and, just like at home, choose who gets the biggest portion. The host will be supplied with a branded Creek apron, chef’s hat, carving knife, fork, carving block and gloves, to serve the grand feast in style. Suitable for parties of six to 12, starters and mains are included, and a three-course meal ranges from £28.95 to £30.95 per person.

The Bull & Willow – CM9 8NH

With its well-earned reputation for outstanding food and unrivalled service, if you’re searching for an exceptional dining experience in the historic town of Maldon in Essex, The Bull & Willow deserves to be at the top of your must-visit list. As soon as you enter this rare gem of a gastropub, you’ll be charmed by the sleek and comfortable furniture, featuring a tranquil blue floral print, ornate chandelier which floods the interior with a warming glow, and elegant dark oak touches that always ensures eating out at this 16th-century gem is a delight.

But it’s not the interiors that will have you returning to this venue time and time again – the food here is truly a treat for the senses. Exquisitely presented and crafted using the finest local ingredients, start with the likes of sautéed mushrooms with tarragon cream on toast before moving onto mains such as oven-baked hake served on a chorizo and bean stew, or the 10oz rib-eye steak cooked perfectly to your liking.

Samuel Pepys Wine Bar & Restaurant – CO12 3EA

Situated in the old part of Harwich close to the harbour, Samuel Pepys Wine Bar & Restaurant is a charming 16th-century hostelry which remains a welcoming establishment where guests travel from far and wide to dig into good old-fashioned pub grub and fantastic wine.

With a comprehensive menu which boasts plenty of delicious fish dishes using fresh seafood sourced daily from local fisherman, when we visited this brilliant bar and restaurant, we were impressed by our smoked fish platter to start, which comprised of trout, salmon, mackerel, pate, plump prawns and a warm baguette. Our main course of succulent lamb shank served on a bed of bubble and squeak was exactly what we needed to lift our spirits, while the trio of ice creams that followed made the perfect finish to what was undoubtedly one of the finest pub dinners we’d sampled in a while. With its infectious atmosphere, we couldn’t resist but to stay at Samuel Pepys Wine Bar & Restaurant after our review was over to soak up the warm ambience.

Marco’s Tapas Bar – SS6 7JQ

A vibrant and remarkable Spanish restaurant set in the heart of Rayleigh and boasting a beautiful suntrap garden and buzzing wine bar, the family-run Marco’s Tapas Bar has been going strong for over 16 years thanks to its wide selection of flavoursome, authentic tapas dishes and lively ambience. With a menu that boasts the likes of wild black boar cheeks, butterfly king prawns sautéed with chilli, honey and garlic, and traditional paella cooked with ‘Arroz Redondo A.T D.O Valencia’, it’s no wonder the team at Marco’s Tapas Bar has received Trip Advisor’s Certificate of Excellence for the past 7 years and has recently been awarded a Certificate on their Hall of Fame.

Sourcing most of their ingredients directly from Spain, such as the cured Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, and chorizo sausage, there’s always a varied selection of authentic tapas treats to choose from at Marco’s Tapas Bar. As well as all the traditional imported meats, the bar also offers a beautiful selection of hand-picked wines from Spain. We recommend visiting on a Friday or Saturday evening when the venue truly comes alive with the sound of talented DJs and live singers.

Beaumont Coffee Club – SS2 6EB

Forget your famous coffeehouse chains, fans of the brew that have yet to visit Beaumont Coffee Club in Southend-on-Sea don’t know what they’re missing out on. With its warm and welcoming interiors boasting stylish seating, trendy light fittings, and touches of colour and life throughout, there’s no finer place to unwind with a coffee made from locally roasted, freshly ground beans than at this independent coffee shop situated right in the centre of a newly developed community hub in this seaside town.

Sit back and relax with a warming coffee and peruse the tempting menu which consists of light and healthy breakfasts, smoothies, sandwiches, and milkshakes, as well as an extensive selection of delicious homemade cakes and pastries. There’s also a tempting range of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free dishes to choose from. On special live music evenings, guests even get the chance to feast on the famous Beaumont burger or homemade pizzas, which are perfectly paired with bottled beer and cider or something a little stronger than coffee from the substantial wine list.

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