When it comes to food, Essex is a gourmet’s dream. And by that I don’t mean Googling the best restaurants in Essex to book a birthday dinner for you. You only have to look at the variety of natural landscapes to realise that Essex has seriously become one of the UK’s most underrated foodie destinations. It’s acres of farmland, lush orchards and 350 miles of sunny coastline with salt marshes, oyster beds and seafood galore. The best restaurants in Essex rely on local produce, a passionate farm-to-table approach and a bit of south-eastern saturation for a good portion.

Whether you’re looking for fine dining, an exciting dining experience or just something different, the Michelin Guide has some great restaurants in Essex (although not all of them are on this list…). After a year of pandemonium, eating out is hipper than ever, and here are the top 20 restaurants in Essex where everyone is trying to get a table:

(Image: Theo Crazzolara)

Essex fine dining restaurants

Delicious local food (Image: Ralph Daly)

1. Site 1 at Great Dunmow

If you’re a fan of Masterchef: Pros, you’ll see 27-year-old chef Alex Webb will be the youngest winner in December 2020. Alex, a born and bred boy from Essex, got his first job in this posh little restaurant that had nothing to do with the place. After his newfound fame, Alex left his position at the restaurant, but his legacy remained and the food was as spectacular as ever.

The menu features gourmet dishes based on fresh, local ingredients, served with a touch of cheekiness. Think: gin-smoked salmon with pickled cucumber, dill cream on rye bread, and slowly braised pork cheeks. The tasting menu is an excellent offering (it used to be called the Masterchef menu). Five course dinner: £50 per person.

Reservation required. square1restaurant.de

2. Harwich Wharf

Fresh fish in the open air (Image: milsomhotels.com)

A modern restaurant in a nice location right on Harwich Harbour. The restaurant, which is also part of the stylish hotel, makes the most of its privileged location with floor-to-ceiling windows and a wrought-iron balcony, allowing guests to make the most of the views. The menu is excellent. Duck tacos with toasted sesame seeds, followed by shrimp pâté and scallops (with fresh fish caught outside in the water). Save room for the seasonal Alaska baked blackberries, served with pistaccio and lemon curd, it’s a triumph.

Reservations are recommended. milsomhotels.com/the-pier

3. Haywards Restaurant, Epping

Small menu, big taste (Image: https://haywardsrestaurant.co.uk/)

This discreet and fantastic find is run by a pair of chefs in a small converted barn. Both chefs have worked in some of the best kitchens in the world and Essex now benefits from their modern and tasty creations. The menu is small and changes daily, but you know everything is locally sourced. The restaurant grows its own fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers in the backyard, and you can taste the freshness in every meal. The beekeepers also provide the restaurant with a fantastic source of local honey.

You can dine à la carte or try a four or six course menu. Try the crab tortellini with langoustine and Jerusalem artichoke puree, and for meat lovers the chicken and ham terrine with roasted hazelnuts. They also make a great Sunday dinner. One of our favourite restaurants in Essex!

Reservations are required for lunch and dinner at weekends. haywardsrestaurant.co.uk

4. Delhi Legend in Southend

Think of the big picture: Legend Deli)

This small independent eatery is an institution in Southend. This informal restaurant serves perfectly prepared dishes made with top quality local ingredients at affordable prices. Citizens are something everyone is looking for. Made with beef brisket and pancetta and stuffed with cheese, pickles and everything else, they are a real taste sensation. We also can’t resist the tender, crispy chicken tenders. Oh, and you can bring your own alcohol! Period. Located in the market square, close to Southend Wharf, walk along the promenade.

Reservations are not needed. legenddelikitchen.co.uk

5.Eat by John Lawson Leigh on Sea

The well cooked welfare (Image: food by john lawson)

This trendy spot in Leigh-on-Sea is focused on wellness and sustainability. The goal is to produce no waste and use only seasonal ingredients produced near the restaurant. It’s a restaurant without a menu with tastings that change every day. The food is excellent. The dishes are simple and of high quality. Imagine a 12-hour slow-cooked Western Mercy lamb sliding off your fork. Organic, natural.

The restaurant itself is light and relaxed and feels more like a modern museum café than a sophisticated restaurant, but the food speaks for itself.

Reservations are usually required. foodbyjohnlawson.com.

6. Bacon splatters

Probably the most famous restaurant in Essex. The curiously named Flitch of Bacon Restaurant and Hotel is housed in a 16th century listed building on the banks of the River Helmer. Flitch, currently the only restaurant in Essex with a Michelin star, offers almost medieval recipes with a modern twist. Especially the great pomegranate bacon with crispy Brussels sprouts, Morteau sausage and potatoes definitely has that 12th century feel. They also serve a house specialty (called Flitch Bacon), which is a unique combination of creamy cauliflower, maple bacon glaze and Granny Smith apples …

The restaurant also offers an interesting tasting menu and organizes special events such as a garden party during the day and evening in summer. Dinner and overnight packages are also available.

Reservations must be made at least one month in advance. flitchofbacon.co.uk

7. Eat 17 in Bishop’s Spar Stortford

Naanzerotto (Image: naughtynaans.co.uk)

The hipsters moved out of Walthamstow and brought with them this hip shopping concept – a mini-market with independent street food shops on the site of a Spar supermarket. It’s a strange addition to the list, isn’t it? But once you set your sights on the calzone naan curry bread (from Naughty Naans) and the jasmine peanut curry and berry rice varieties (from Yaay Yaay), you’ll understand why foodies come from far and wide to fill their pockets.

Reservations are not needed. eat17.co.uk

8. Indian Ocean Teidon Bua

Local hero (Image : SteFou)

If you tell anyone in Essex that you will be within five miles of Tydon Bois, they will say: Get the curry! There are actually two great Indian restaurants in town, but the one everyone knows is Indian Ocean, often featured on the TV show TOWIE. This unpretentious curry restaurant is usually filled wall-to-wall with busy diners, all enjoying the fantastic food and atmosphere. The food is an average British-Indian meal, but filled with delicious spices and quality ingredients. This glass-enclosed restaurant overlooks the famous village of Teydon.

Booking is required on Friday and Saturday evenings. indianoceantheydon.co.uk

9. Aburi in Colchester

Best sushi in essex (Image: Yuchinlo Chiya ★★★★)

Juicy sashimi, spicy and delicious sushi rolls, well, everything actually. If you want authentic Japanese food, you won’t be disappointed in this busy little dining room. And, no, it’s not all raw fish….. The name literally means grilled flame, and one of the delicious dishes on the menu is grilled mackerel with sea salt (Sabo Sio), and the Domburi rice bowls are also excellent. The sashimi is fresh, refreshing and not incredibly expensive. You can never have enough!

aburicolchester.com

10. Aurum on the seventh

Aurum, the restaurant at boutique hotel Seven, is a sexy waterfront bistro. The fish dishes are a highlight, and they are remarkably inventive. Seasonal and local dishes include Colchester oysters with pine and sorrel, scallops with pickled apple. This spot for cocktails and heels is in the south end of town, but chic. It’s a great place for date night, but it’s also a gin bar with 30 varieties, so a good choice for a night out with the girls.

Booking recommended in summer. aurumsouthend.co.uk

11. Sun Inn, Dedham.

Mix a traditional British pub with an innovative Italian chef and the result is a fave dish over an open fire and good conversation with a stranger at the bar. The Sun Inn is located in scenic Dedham Hale, or Constable country for those who love classical art. The kitchen doesn’t shy away from making bold choices with seasonal options like venison ragout and squid risotto with Maldon white crab. Cafe-style dining, however, means that the dishes don’t command a high price for each bite, but are well worth every penny. You can also order a degustation menu at a very interesting price…. if you can come in!

Reservations required.
thesuninndedham.com

Warm, comfortable and welcoming (Picture: Sunny hotel)

12. Nebula of the Thorn.

Taste of essex (Image: Thorn of Mistletoe)

Mistley Thorn is situated in the heart of the picturesque coastal town of Mistley on the River Stour. The kitchen, built in 1723 as a post office, is now under the watchful eye of American Sherry Singleton, who focuses entirely on high-quality seasonal produce. The menu (which changes constantly) is simple but perfect. Start with rock oysters from the nearby Mersey – with English sparkling wine, of course. The next highlight was an appetizer of pumpkin and arancini with scromosa, followed by tree-roasted fish and Tucson beans.

Reservations recommended. mistleythorn.co.uk

13. West Mercy Oyster Bar

from sea to table (Photo: Stijn Nieuwendijk)

We talk about the West Mersea Bar in our post about the best things to do in Essex, because devouring freshly harvested oysters with a pint is the best way to get them. The world famous Colchester Rock and the local oysters were discovered by the Romans, who are said to have dragged them to Italy in nets behind their ships. However, most of the awards given here are not consumed in Essex, but their popularity is undiminished. The menu features the best places, including London’s Borough Market, where up to 10,000 are sold every five days – Harrods, Billingsgate Market, Chiltern Firehouse – and restaurants in London and Europe.

Two types of oysters live in these waters: the Colchester rock oyster (available year-round and naturally occurring on the ocean floor) and the more specialized (and more expensive) native Colchester oyster, which is harvested from September to May at Mercy Island. West Mercey’s Oyster Bar is the place to be. A casual beach bar that also sells classic fish and chips that you can eat outside on the beach.

westmerseaoysterbar.co.uk

14. Mushroom in Billericay

Title: Magic mushroom

This restaurant in Billericay is located in a converted barn that is part of the Barleylands complex. The food is excellent and the atmosphere is relaxed. It has a great menu and everything looks so delicious, it’s hard to choose! Duck breast glazed in duck fat
, potato terrine, roasted cabbage, rutabaga and elderflower juice or pork belly stewed in cider, burnt apples, bacon jam and mash: what would you choose?

Reservations are required for the weekend. Magnetic Mushroom Restaurant.co.uk

15.Thai by the water.

This restaurant in Harwich opened in 2008 and is so popular that visitors come from all over Essex to sample the delicious Thai cuisine. The menu is not exceptional, it includes all the Thai classics like Pad Thai, green curry and crispy squid, but there are also some interesting and lesser known options. Phad Prik Geang is a fireworks show if you can make it.

Reservations are only required for Friday and Saturday.

16. Blueberries in Hatfield Perel

essex favorite (Image: @EdwardTerry)

This charming restaurant was on our list of the best things to do in Essex. Known for its silky, crumbly cheesecakes, this is another hot spot in Hatfield, right on the river.

The menu is not extravagant, but the quality of the ingredients and the simple variations on the classics make the food special.

Booking is necessary. bluestrawberrybistro.co.uk

17. The Talbooth

Probably the most famous restaurant in Essex on the list, so we couldn’t skip the wonderful The Talbooth! It’s a good restaurant on the other side of the Thur. The open patio is beautiful, especially in the summer when you can watch people paddle and kayak down the river daily.

Exceptional gastronomic cuisine. Sesame yellowfin tuna with squid chips and pickled radish, Dedham Vale beef fillet and glazed short rib with bone marrow and rainbow chard will be a hit. This is one of the most beautiful places on the list and a *place* to visit for a special occasion.

le-talbooth.com.

Helen Wright was born and lives in Essex.

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