After a very stressful week it was with great pleasure that Mike and I headed off through the Dartford Tunnel to pay a visit to the newly refurbished Fox and Raven public house and restaurant in Chelmsford. It has been many years indeed since we visited a pub – at least here in the UK – and we were a little apprehensive about doing so on a Saturday evening with the Rugby Six Nations Tournament in full flow. As it turns out, bracing ourselves for what may well have been a noisy evening out was needless and it was a pleasure to discover peaceful evenings and good meals in pubs do still exist.
The Fox and Raven is just one of the Vintage Inns collection of hundreds of country style locations found throughout the UK. Its location provides the best of both worlds with a retail park closeby yet within a rural setting that allows views of the countryside and river from the gardens. The establishment has recently undergone a whopping £240,000 renovation so we were invited along to see its new makeover.
Not being familiar with the area at all, we easily found the Fox and Raven along the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation. Sitting a little way back from the road, it has parking for several vehicles to the side as well as a generous grassed lawn set with patio tables to the front.
We arrived a little early so decided to visit the retail centre nearby for a while. By the time we returned it was getting dusky but it didn’t deter Chris and the team from welcoming us before we had even set foot through the doors…
Externally, everything was presented well. The grounds were well maintained and neat, and the entrance was well lit as customers approached. The building itself was huge and its facelift was evident in its freshly painted facade.
Stepping inside was like stepping into someone’s comfy country living room.
Rather than walking into one large expanse of space the main entrance then led off into several more separate rooms, creating a cosy dining or drinking area within each.
We were greeted by Chris, the manager on duty that evening, and as he welcomed us he showed us through to a corner table in one of the main dining areas. This was a lovely, large room with exposed beams and tall sash windows that offered views of the countryside behind. Unfortunately, the darkness had fallen so we were unable to appreciate the views that evening but I did love the majestic magnolia tree that sat in bloom outside our side window. There’s nothing quite like the flowers of a magnolia tree, is there?
I had already taken a look at the menu before we had arrived but I still hadn’t made my mind up by the time we had to choose. The menu offers such a range of dishes that I was torn between, well, several of them really.
Mike and I decided to opt for the sharing platter to start with, a dish comprised of prawn and lobster cocktail, oven baked garlic and cheese mushroomms and duo pate (one coarse, one smooth) with rustic bread. As we waited for Amanda, who would be serving us for the evening, to bring our starter over, we sat admiring the interior of the room.
The beams were offset by lighting that was dim enough to create a warm, cosy atmosphere yet bright enough that you could clearly see the companions you were dining with and the foods you were dining on. A large open fireplace sat at one side of the room which, Chris informed us, was lit during the colder months but wasn’t needed that evening. I’m not one for wishing for cold weather but on this occasion I would have quite liked it in order to have had the excuse of a roaring open fire. The colour scheme and furnishings both complemented the rustic feel of the design and you could smell the newness of the paintwork, not with an overwhelming, stuck-in-the-back-of-your-throat discomfort but in a far more pleasant, reassuringly fresh and clean kind of way.
It wasn’t a long wait before Amanda cheerfully brought over our starter which we tucked into eagerly. The oven-baked mushrooms were perfectly baked with just enough cheese and sauce for flavour but not so much to overpower the dish, whilst the bread was absolutely delicious, especially when topped with the excellent tasting pate.
So far, the food was good.
For the main course I opted for the 8oz sirloin steak with triple cooked chips and homemade onion rings whilst Mike chose the Cornish kiln-smoked bacon rib with basil mash, tender stem broccoli and whiskey marmalade jus. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
I like my steak rare, which can be a little hit and miss at some places. Here, it was perfectly done. The triple cooked chips were wonderfully crisp on the outside but soft and fluffy on the inside. I couldn’t finish it all, wanting to save room for pudding. The problem was, which pudding to choose?!
Yes, I know! Impossible to choose just one, right?
Wait! What’s this I see?
A pudding platter? I can do that! Not so sure about the sharing though.
It turned out that my eyes were far bigger than my belly and so I allowed Mike a taste of the puddings too. Well, he did have his own crumble dessert to tuck into after all! As it was, I couldn’t finish the lot. It was all delicious and I can’t really choose one dessert over another. If pushed to make a recommendation, I’d say quite simply, go for the platter.
Overall, our experience at The Fox and Raven was extremely positive. The atmosphere was relaxed, with tables spaced far enough away that you didn’t feel your personal space was encroached by anyone sitting too closely, the music was suited to the feel of the place and was played loudly enough to be heard yet softly enough to remain in the background – no shouting over the table required! The staff were welcoming, helpful and polite whilst the ambience was just right, soft lighting and candles made for a relaxing, comfortable evening. We left feeling full and satisfied with delicious food and having wound down from our stressful week and agreed that we would happily make the journey again to visit in the not too far future.
For more information on the menu, location and to book at table, visit The Fox and Raven online through the Vintage Inn website here. You can also keep up with their latest news over on The Fox and Raven Facebook Page.