Review of Garden Restaurant by Raven Garcia
“As I’m sure most of you are aware, most of the food related articles so far on my website (Ravengarcia.com) are about restaurants I’ve visited in Central London and my experiences dining at them. This is usually because I’ve made plans to go there with friends, so they’re either places I have chosen or ones I’ve been invited to by friends that I have later reviewed. But regardless, I’ve always done a bit of research online beforehand so that I have a rough idea of what to expect.
But today I am going to tell you about something that happened on my ‘day off’, so to speak.
This Sunday just gone I went out with my family as my uncle and aunt were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. They had booked a table for 7pm at Orsett Hall in Essex, so with a couple of hours to kill we drove down the A12 then wandered around Lakeside shopping centre for a bit before going to meet up with them.
So far, I didn’t know anything about the place. All that I knew was that we were going to have dinner and a few drinks at a hotel. I didn’t have my camera on me, and had not planned to do any kind of review. I was just looking forward to spending time with the family, having a few drinks and maybe a bite to eat.
We had a few beers at the bar which was fairly quiet as everyone else was outside enjoying the nice unexpected sunshine we were having. And you couldn’t have asked for better surroundings. The hotel itself was big and spotlessly clean. The decor was really nice, modern but keeping an eye on the past, stylish but not pretentious. The staff were very attentive and the bar was well kept. The gardens and grounds of the hotel were also very well maintained, and gave the place a picturesque backdrop.
The bar was nice and cool, but after a few beers we decided to wander outside and join the rest of the family. A few of the ladies were sipping Pimms. It was Pimms weather.
One of the girls went to see if she could find a menu, so I went with her as I was quite interested to see what was on offer. Our timing was spot on, as the restaurant manager was just putting the new menus up for that evening, so I took the opportunity to ask him for his recommendations. It’s always a good idea to get a bit of inside info whenever possible.
So when we came in and sat down I took Leo’s advice and ordered the gravadlax followed by the pan-fried halibut.
The gravadlax was really good. If you’ve ever ordered this dish and got smoked salmon then you did not eat gravadlax, which literally means “buried salmon”.
Admittedly the taste is fairly similar, however the fish is cured these days using a mixture of sugar and salt rather than by smoking or the traditional Viking method of burying it under the sand near the high tide mark.
This incarnation was rather well presented, and came with a couple of frozen sauces and a light sprinkling of dill. Dill is something you definitely don’t want to overdo as it becomes very overbearing. However they got it just right. In Sweden they seem to put dill on everything. They put it in their salads. They put it on their eggs. You can buy dill flavoured crisps. They even put dill on their dill.
If I had one complaint about the starter it was that there just wasn’t enough of it. However I remembered that it was a starter, and a very nice one at that. I’d much rather have a few bites of something really good than too much of something that isn’t.
Speaking of really good things, my main of pan-fried halibut on a bed of lentils and chorizo arrived shortly afterwards. The lentils with chorizo was a distinct Spanish influence and was beautifully created. So many different layers – initially a subtle tomato taste followed by the smokiness of the chorizo, the earthiness of the lentils themselves and I also detected a suggestion of anise, which Leo informed me was in fact fennel. It was like an orchestra of flavour, a masterpiece for the palate. The way I discovered something new with each bite put me in mind of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures At An Exhibition”. The culinary version.
And I hadn’t even started on the fish yet. A generous slab of halibut cooked with lots of due care and attention. There’s nothing worse than overcooking a really good bit of fish, or masking the taste with too much seasoning or sauce. Those would be examples of the wrong way to treat a good bit of fish.
The halibut was a prime example of exactly the right way to treat a good bit of fish. It was done to perfection. Not too dry, not too moist, and a generous pinch of salt but not so much that it overpowered the taste of the fish. It worked so well with the already impressive duelling flavours of the lentils and chorizo that the three tastes combined in the mouth to create a holy trinity of flavours. By the time I was almost finished I found myself trying to find even the slightest flaw with this dish, but I could find none. Simply a wonderful example of a fish course using a whitefish that is sadly often overlooked.
I was feeling quite full by this point so I skipped dessert, however when I had a taste of somebody else’s white chocolate and raspberry mousse I immediately regretted not having one of my own. When I spoke to Leo at the end of the meal I told him that it was one of the best things I have eaten in quite a long time and I sincerely meant it.
As we were leaving I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the owner of the hotel. Of course I was full of nothing but praise for both the hotel itself and the outstanding quality of food (not to mention the service).
When I looked at the price I was shocked. This was Michelin-star quality food, yet I have had takeaways in the past that were more expensive. Why they weren’t turning people away in their hundreds that night is a mystery to me.
As this was altogether a very different experience for me compared to what I’m usually used to when I eat out up Central London, I’m not going to give this place a rating out of 20 as I would with my regular restaurant reviews. But I will say that if you ever visit Lakeside Thurrock, you fancy eating something a bit special and the food court just isn’t cutting it for you, just jump in your car, drive just about ten minutes down the road, and you’ll find this little gem of a place. I would recommend it without a shadow of a doubt, and you can check out their website for further details.
Reprinted with kind permission.