In my time in England, the country was in the midst of Olympic preparation (and in my bad timing my visa ran out right before the Olympics were due to begin, so home I went). I was living near the site of the Downhill Mountain Biking venue at Hadleigh Castle. It is about 1 hour east of London, sitting on the coastline of the Thames estuary – the entrance of London’s famous river.
For a quiet country village – Hadleigh and its surrounds were buzzing with construction and anticipation in the long preparation for this weekend’s event. Of course, there was a fair share of local complaints over event ticketing confusion and traffic concerns in the true spirit of English miserableness. But in spite of that, they erected a neat little statue in Hadleigh High Street to celebrate the event and welcome its new international visitors. The English can be a pretty enthusiastic bunch after all!
So, for all those visiting a part of England that usually wouldn’t be on the top of an “England – Must See” list – what’s there to eat? It took me a good 6 months of painstaking eating to come up with this list, as the reputation holds true – there is a lot of crappy food to be found in England. But when it’s good, it’s absolutely delicious – showing off its high quality produce, melding the incredible innovation in British history with modern diversity, its cuisine is super exciting when it’s done with a bit of heart and passion.
With Hadleigh sitting on the coast, it exhibits a great array of fresh seafood and its position in the proud county of Essex gives it easy access to exclusive Essex-made microbrewery beers, jams, chutneys and other gourmet goodies. So here’s how to eat your way around Hadleigh if you’re lucky enough to be visiting for the Downhill Cycling this weekend! (Of if you are just visiting in the future!) All these places are next door to Hadleigh in Leigh-On-Sea, an easy bus ride down to the neighbouring town – or a nice walk through Hadleigh Castle and along the coast!
1. Osbourne Bros
Osborne Bros, Billet Wharf
High Street, Leigh-on-Sea
Essex. SS9 2ER
A simple kiosk with platters upon platters of fresh seafood. Point to select from a classic English seafood range of jellied eels, smoked mackerel, cockles, rolls mops (pickled herring fillets, rolled around sliced pickled onion) and a seasonal variety of fresh prawns and mussels. Everything’s served on a takeaway tray, remember to pick up a bottle of vinegar and tabasco on your way out to find a seat in the outdoor dining area. Grab a beer from the surrounding pubs, and take it out with you to enjoy alongside your seafood! It is always completely packed and buzzing on a sunny day – everyone enjoying a bite to eat and a quenching drink while overlooking the tranquil Thames estuary.
2. The Estuary
45, The Broadway, Leigh-on-Sea SS9 1PA
The Estuary consists of a restaurant, and two doors down a gourmet grocery store. While I wasn’t lucky enough to go to the restaurant (which always looks delicious when I look enviously at the diners enjoying their meals) I loved visiting the grocery shop. It doubles up as a deli and cafe as well, with seats upstairs for you to enjoy your quick purchases of delicious cakes, pies, hams, icecream, chutneys, olives and other locally sourced gourmet goodies. It’s also a fantastic pitstop if you’re in a bit of a rush as they can heat up the food for you to take away. Here you can sample a great British tradition – the humble Scotch Egg. It is simply a hard boiled egg, enclosed in a layer of mince (usually pork), then crumbed a few times and deep fried. Painfully simple – but ohmygod it is so tasty – especially here at the Estuary. While you’re at it, sample a few of their pies too – you’ll then understand the painful simplicity that should be so incredible in English cuisine (that is forgotten through convenience foods and fat people…).
3. Rossi Icecream
You can get Rossi icecream anywhere in these necks of the woods. Corner stores, cafes, restaurants – anything that displays the blue and white Rossi sign. The best icecream on earth is quintessential on your visit into Essex. Order a vanilla soft serve on your choice of cone size, choose with or without a chocolate flake. My love for Rossi icecream is covered in this blog entry here.
4. Leigh Bagel Bar
117, The Broadway SS9 1PG
Pretty self explanatory – it’s a bagel bar in Leigh Broadway. They make their own bagels fresh everyday, as well as all their delicious fillings. In fact, they constantly run out of food – which at times is annoying, but is really testament to the quality and freshness of their bagels. My favourite is the salt beef bagel – I’ve even waited an hour for them to finish cooking the salt beef to enjoy this bagel!
(cover image courtesy of http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/hadleigh-castle/)