The Willow Room restaurant at The Bull, Great Totham - Restaurant Review
The Willow Room restaurant at The Bull, Great Totham
I was keen to meet the head chef at The Bull after I read the Scottish Rising Star Chef of the Year for 2010 had been tempted across the border – I guessed it had to be for a very special reason. Craig Ferguson, along with his wife Susan and their dog Stanley, arrived in Essex in the summer of 2010. He had previously been working just outside Glasgow in East Kilbride and been head-hunted by the owners of The Bull, David & Mandy Milne.
‘David got in contact with a consultant who happened to know me and so he suggested we met up,’ Craig explains. ‘After David came to Scotland to try my dishes he offered me the role of head chef and my wife Susan the role of general manager.’
The couple brought reinforcements in the shape of friends Angus and Julie who now also work at The Bull. The whole place has only been open since the beginning of July last year and there’s a clever contrast between the traditional pub areas, with their recognisable snugs and cosy corners, and the Willow Room Restaurant.
Named after the ancient willow tree just outside the restaurant windows, it offers exceptional fine dining against a dramatic, contemporary backdrop. The restaurant has two grand silver chandeliers, precise white shuttered windows and a dark wood bar which takes centre stage. The menu matches its surroundings with a stylish selection of choices.
British influencesAs I waited for Craig to join us I marvelled at the starters which take you on a journey to both tips of Britain; haggis, neeps and tatties ‘Craig’s way’ and Cornish crab tart with a water melon salad and sumac nage foam. For main course you’re brought right back home with a duo of local Wicks Manor pork, pan-fried tenderloin with hazelnut crusted cheek on a quince puree with saffron braised salsify, courgette pulp and Madeira jus.The desserts looked equally enchanting with steamed golden syrup pudding with custard and clotted cream ice cream sure to score a hit with most in these chilly months.
Our starters were served; gratin of smoked salmon and crab with red pepper and tomato salsa. The layers of taste matched the strength of colour in the dish, it was served with some freshly-picked salad leaves. Craig is a great advocate of local produce.
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‘The Essex larder is brilliant! When I have time, I like to go foraging myself for fresh ingredients in the hedgerows and fields.’ He also admits to spending his days off eating elsewhere in the county. ‘Well, you’ve got to keep a handle on what’s trending food wise.’
Magnificently presented on a black slate platter were our mains of pan-seared calves liver, served on top of a puff pastry croute, with kale, pancetta and morel cream. The liver was oh so tender surrounded by a rich, sticky morel sauce ideal for soaking your pastry.
To complete our very enjoyable lunch was a sumptuous chocolate torte with mint and cherry caviar crafted with a sugar roll. the presentation was simply a work of art and all handmade by Craig. The combination of textures, creamy torte meeting with tiny balls of green and red homemade sweet caviar accompanied by the crisp, crunch of spun sugar were especially enjoyable.
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The Bull & Willow Room2 Maldon RoadGreat TothamMaldonCM9 8NH01621 894020