Dinner at The Orange Tree, Sawbridgeworth
- Credit: Archant
The warm weather lures food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne up-country for a not-so-traditional Sunday lunch
Once upon a time, chefs hated Sunday lunch. There’s not much you can do with the old roast-and-two-veg combo to demonstrate any sort of flair. At least there wasn’t. How times change. The combination of growing demand for what is possibly the most popular eating-out experience, customers who know a lot more about food than they used to and the arrival of a new generation of kitchen professionals with access to better and different ingredients has ushered in a revolution.
With such thoughts in mind and not having had Sunday lunch other than at home recently, I followed a friend’s recommendation, the fact it was a bright sunny day and a tempting website, and headed to Sawbridgeworth and the Orange Tree pub. Of the three factors, it was the website that swung it with its talk of a foodies club, regular chef guest nights – the most recent featured Masterchef semi-finalist Saira Hamilton – and enthusiasm for fresh and seasonal ingredients. The online menu also promised rather more than roast and two veg, although they were there too. The overall message was that this was somewhere serious about food.
From the outside, the Orange Tree, run by Tom and Sam Perry, looks like your average village pub, albeit a very smart and freshly-painted one. It is down a country lane, there is a large garden with umbrellas and tables and the basic architecture of the building is reassuringly familiar. Inside, following the lead given by the modern sign, all is bright and cheerful. The large bar has been retained and with it several proper ales as well as guest beers, but the interior is done out in pale colours set off by proper lighting and, in summer anyway, lots of flowers.
Then there’s the food. If the heart sank on seeing among the seven starters the dread words ‘prawns in Marie Rose sauce’, it resurfaced rapidly as we read on and discovered they were served in a tortilla basket with Lollo Rosso and cucumber. Rather more exotic was ‘cheeky squid’, otherwise cods’ cheeks with squid pieces in cracked black pepper breadcrumbs with salt, thyme, chilli and lemon. In the event and spoiled for choice, we opted for home-smoked chicken (£7) with chargrilled corn on the cob, chorizo and chilli salsa; and mushroom on toast (left, £7), a baked field mushroom filled with artichoke pesto and topped with a poached free-range egg. Again, it was the clever mix of ingredients that did it in both cases, the smoky chicken enlivened by the spicy chorizo and chilli and the earthy mushroom given a charge by the zingy basil in the pesto.
For her main course, my friend across the table couldn’t resist the traditional path and seized upon the roast beef (£13), complete like all the roasts with duck-fat roasties, a large Yorkshire pud, vegetables and what was described as rich reduction gravy. She couldn’t detect any variance from normal gravy but the meal passed the ultimate accolade in that she said it was ‘just like home-made’. My eyes meanwhile had been taken by the guinea fowl three ways (top right, £16), featuring pan-roasted breast, poached thigh and confit leg served with smoked bacon, rainbow chard, dauphinoise potatoes and a pan reduction sauce. Good roast beef (as that across the table was) requires skill, of course, but this needs more; suffice to say the Orange Tree rose to the challenge, producing a satisfying and filling plateful presented like the other dishes in full designer-chef mode, twirls and all.
This being Sunday, we treated ourselves to traditional desserts (£6 each) in the form of a warm chocolate fondant with stewed strawberries, vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce (guess where that went), and the fruit crumble of the day, which turned out to be rhubarb, served with home-made vanilla-pod custard. There was no reason to complain about either, so we won’t.
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It’s worth noting that the Orange Tree boasts that everything on the menu is cooked in-house ‘from the home-made focaccia to the coffee biscuits’. That and an obviously enthusiastic following might be part of the reason for the award to the pub this year for the third year running of online ratings company TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence. It puts the Orange Tree in the top-performing 10 per cent of all businesses worldwide on TripAdvisor and is given to businesses that consistently earn high ratings from contributors to the agency’s website. Enough said.
The cost of this Sunday lunch for two was £66.50, including two pints of beer and a small bottle of Prosecco. Service is extra.
This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
BOOK A TABLE
The Orange Tree
166 West Road
Sawbridgeworth CM21 0BP