19 of the best restaurants in Essex

Al fresco dining at Le Talbooth. Photo: Le Talbooth

Al fresco dining at Le Talbooth. Photo: Le Talbooth - Credit: Archant

From Haywards in Epping to Billy Hundreds in Southend-on-Sea and Square 1 in Dunmow - which has a MasterChef winner at the helm, no less - Essex has so many incredible restaurants. Here, Essex Life picks out some of the best...

1. Square 1, Dunmow

When Alex Webb won MasterChef The Professionals in 2020, he brought this Great Dunmow to the attention of foodies across the UK, putting it firmly on the destination dining map. Webb has since moved on to make the most of the doors that the win has opened, and the restaurant's Head Chef & Owner Spencer Hewitt - a mentor to Webb - has a new audience to showcase his passion for locally sourced produce to. The restaurant offers a relaxed yet formal dining experience with an emphasis on modern, fresh, local cooking. If you're looking for an excellent Essex lamb or scallop ceviche, this is your place.

Address: 15 High Street, Great Dunmow, Dunmow CM6 1AB

Website: square1restaurant.co.uk


2. The Coast Inn, Mersea Island

Riverside bar and restaurant The Coast Inn on Mersea Island is the ideal place to kick back and relax when you’ve had a day of exploring Old Mersea. With its traditional wooden floors, squashy leather sofas and roaring log fires in the winter months, enjoy fresh brewed coffee, cream tea, homemade cakes and delicious dishes off their dinner menu such as fresh caught local seafood. They even claim to have the best fish and chips on the island…

Address: 108 Coast Road, West Mersea CO5 8NA

Website: thecoastinn.co.uk


3. Le Talbooth, Dedham

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With an idyllic riverside setting in the heart of the Constable countryside, Le Talbooth can only be described as wonderful. Established in 1952, it has a long history of producing stunning, delicious food for its guests. Serving locally sourced, meticulously prepared dishes such as hand-dived scallops, Thetford forest venison and dry-aged Dedham beef the only thing you’ll enjoy more than the food is its location. Grab a seat on the terrace in view of the River Stour and the restaurant’s beautiful garden, soak up the sun and see why they call this area an artist’s backdrop.

Address: Gun Hill, Dedham, Colchester CO7 6HP

Website: milsomhotels.com


4. Haywards Restaurant, Epping

Haywards is all about quality, where Head Chef Jahdre uses all of his skill to bring to bring together the freshest ingredients to create elegant, delicious dishes right before your eyes. The restaurant’s garden is the lifeblood of the menu growing a large majority of the fruit, vegetables and herbs used in the dishes, they even cultivate their own bee colonies for local honey. Situated on the edge of Epping Forest in the grounds of the Forest Gate Inn next to The Gatehouse Bed & Breakfast it’s the perfect set up for dinner and a night away.

Address: 111 Bell Common, Epping CM16 4DZ

Website: haywardsrestaurant.co.uk


5. Aspera, Benfleet

Treat yourself to the taste of The Mediterranean with a visit to Aspera in Benfleet. Open since 2016 the owners have worked hard to create a space where each guest can feel relaxed and take their time to savour the fantastic dishes inspired by the Med. Using only locally sourced ingredients their menu features a huge mixture of meats, seafood and pasta such as chicken shish, whole sea bass, and seafood gratine. After your food has had time to settle finish your evening in the right way with a few of their signature cocktails from their dazzling cocktail list.

Address: 130 London Road, South Benfleet SS7 5SQ

Website: asperarestaurant.com


6. Olio Restaurant, Chelmsford

Based in Chelmsford, family run Olio is all about bringing the traditional tastes of Italy to the people of Essex. Enjoy dishes prepared with top quality, fresh ingredients for lunch or dinner from an extensive menu of spaghetti, linguine, pizza, risotto, penne and much more. The food is perfectly complemented by Olio’s vast selection of fine wines. 

Address: 37 New London Road, Chelmsford CM2 0ND

Website: oliochelmsford.co.uk


7. Smith’s of Ongar

The ‘famous for fish’ Smith’s restaurants, located in Ongar and Wapping, London, were first established in 1958 and are well-known for their incredible quality. Serving an extensive menu of meat and fish dishes from battered Atlantic cod to lamb cutlets and sea bass fillets there is plenty to choose from. All of their food is sourced sustainably and cooked fresh in house with the fish being delivered daily and prepared by their own master fishmongers. Smith’s have also worked hard to create a wine list that complements all of their dishes exquisitely.

Address: Fyfield Road, Ongar, Essex, CM5 0AL

Website: smithsrestaurants.com


8. The Bull, Brentwood

The Bull in Brentwood is a family-run gastro pub known for serving hearty comfort food. The staff are passionate about using only the finest fresh ingredients, all sourced locally from Calcott Hall Farm and prepared by them in-house. The menus are changed seasonally and are perfectly complemented by the extensive list of fine wines and real ales. 

Address: 13 Brook Street, Brentwood, Essex CM14 5LZ

Website: thebullbrentwood.com


9. Pig & Whistle, Chelmsford

Based in the beautiful Chelmsford countryside, the Pig & Whistle’s 16th century building oozes rustic charm. With its cosy, relaxed atmosphere, time appears to stand still as you sit back and savour a glass of wine on their sun soaked terrace. They serve fantastic home-cooked dishes using the best local ingredients from honey marinated duck breast to sweet potato and peanut curry and lamb rump tagine.

Address: Chignal Road, Chignal Smealey, Chelmsford CM1 4SZ

Website: pigandwhistlechelmsford.uk


10. Billy Hundreds Fish n Tapas, Southend-on-Sea

Billy Hundreds Fish n Tapas in Southend-on-Sea is passionate about cooking mouth-watering fish dishes. Owner and head chef Graham along with his father Gordon, who has been a fishmonger for over 40 years, personally select the fish they serve ensuring they only get the best quality available. The menu has a fantastic variety of fresh seafood served as tapas dishes simply perfect for mixing and matching with family or friends. Treat yourself to chilli prawns, crab tacos, whitebait and some superb crayfish tails. 

Address: Eastern Esplanade, Southend-on-Sea SS1 2YH

Website: billyhundreds.com


11. The Cuckoo, Chelmsford

Based in Radley Green, Chelmsford The Cuckoo is all about rustic country dining, serving hearty but sophisticated dishes from the comfort of its homely pub/ restaurant complete with its cosy wood-burning stove. Ingredients are sourced from local butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers selecting only the best they have to offer. Open for lunch and dinner, the restaurant enjoys a relaxed, unrushed atmosphere allowing guests to take their time and set their own pace. The menu changes with the seasons but keep an eye on the specials board which is altered regularly and full of wonderful, imaginative dishes. 

Address: Radley Green Road, Radley Green, Chelmsford CM4 0LU

Website: cuckooradleygreen.com


12. Thai Up At The Quay, Harwich

**Currently closed for renovations until March 2022** Thai Up At The Quay (pun definitely intended) can be found just off the quay in Old Harwich. They specialise in serving authentic Thai cuisine in a warm and welcoming environment. Set in a lovingly restored Grade II listed building, a lot of its original features are still intact today including the original 16th century timber work with dragon shaped beams. The menu is vast with a hearty selection of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes such as curries, noodles and rice.

Address: 1 Eastgate Street, Harwich CO12 3EZ

Website: thaiupatthequay.com


13. Legend Deli, Southend-on-Sea

Legend Deli in Southend may be small but its passion for food is gigantic. They specialise in creating proper food that’s fresh and affordable for everyone from hot sandwiches of pulled pork and salt beef, to Philadelphia Cheesesteaks, BBQ chicken and wonderful vegan options. The specials change regularly as they are trying and inventing new things. For those who share their passion for food, keep up to date with their Facebook page here

Address: 420 Sutton Road, Southend-on-Sea SS2 5EZ

Website: legenddelikitchen.co.uk


14. Bambu Vietnamese, Colchester

Bambu is a family run Vietnamese restaurant found in The Hythe in Colchester. The food at Bambu is served in the traditional Vietnamese way, simple and unpretentious, harnessing the delightful flavours of street food and humble Vietnamese classics. Tuck into vibrant, flavourful salad bowls, comforting bowls of Pho or one of their many other fantastic dishes available. It’s the ideal location for a family meal or relaxed catch up with friends. 

Address: 95 Quayside Drive, Colchester CO2 8GN

Website: bamburestaurant.co.uk


15. North Hill Noodle Bar, Colchester

North Hill Noodle Bar in Colchester offers diners everything they love about Asian cuisine but in a fast-paced, contemporary environment. The menu features a delicious mix of noodle, rice and soup noodle dishes with sides and extras available. All of the food is cooked to order from fresh right in front of your eyes. The speedy delivery of food and bright vibrant atmosphere make North Hill Noodle Bar the perfect destination for lunch during the week or for a quick bite at weekends. 

Address: 2 North Hill, Colchester CO1 1DZ

Website: northhillnoodlebar.co.uk


16. Love Thy Burger, Colchester & Southend

Love Thy Burger enjoys a casual, rustic environment with scrubbed wooden tables and exposed brickwork making it an excellent place to unwind and enjoy an informal meal with friends. The menu has a selection of burgers that will sate the appetite of even the hungriest diner. Go large with the Greedy Burger, a succulent beef patty with red onion marmalade, cheese, pickle, onion rings, bacon, house slaw and a fried egg. Or try the Scorchio, a juicy beef burger with chilli jam, streaky bacon, cheese, jalapenos and a hefty drizzle of LTB’s spicy sauce.  

Website: 58 High Street, Colchester CO1 1DH & 155 High Street, Southend SS1 1LL

Address: lovethyburger.co.uk


17. Vita Bella, Chelmsford

Found in the heart of East Hanningfield, Vita Bella is an authentic Italian restaurant exuding a traditional, welcoming atmosphere that diners love. All produce is served fresh and when possible sourced locally to create an impressive range of fantastic Italian dishes. Choose from classics such as Lasagne Casareccia, Penne Arrabiata and Risotto al Funghi washed down with a stunning variety of authentic wines. 

Address: The Tye, East Hanningfield, Chelmsford CM3 8AF

Website: vita-bella.co.uk


18. Pasta Pia, Westcliff-on-Sea

Pasta Pia is a haven for Italian street food. A simple and healthier alternative to fast food, guests can enjoy authentic fresh food from high quality pastas and sauce to delicious piadinas (Italian flat breads). Choose from 13 different pastas such as penne, gnocchi, or fusilli and then add your favourite sauce from their menu to finish. Eating in or taking away, service is fast and friendly and all food is made using fresh ingredients. 

Address: 664 London Road, Westcliff-On-Sea SS0 9HQ 

Website: pastapia.co.uk


19. Padrino, Southend-on-Sea

Padrino Ristorante and Pizzeria is a traditional Italian restaurant in Southend-on-Sea overlooking the stunning seafront. The food served takes inspiration from all over Italy using a diverse range of cooking styles and techniques and diners can choose from pasta, pizza and various meat and seafood dishes. They are also well-known in the area for their weekday special of a two course set menu for just £11.95. 

Address: 7 Shorefield Road, Westcliff-on-Sea, Southend-on-Sea SS0 7RH 

Website: padrinosouthend.co.uk


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