Last Friday Matt & I decided to take the day off work and go and have a nice romantic lunch together. We hadn’t done anything on Valentine’s day, so we decided to treat ourselves and try out Haywards Restaurant in Epping. The plan was to drive there…but the car decided it too was having Friday off, and with no time to get a jump we had to quickly hop into a taxi to make our reservation.
Haywards is run by husband and wife duo Jahdre and Amanda, who run the kitchen and front of house incredibly well, so well in fact that the restaurant is well on it’s way to getting a Michelin star!
We arrived for our lunch and were very easily persuaded into starting with bubbles. We opted for the english sparkling wine having heard how impressive it can now be on our recent wine tasting course. We drank Nyetimber which I would definitely recommend as it tasted divine! Not too sweet and not too bubbly – it was just right, and perfectly set the tone for the afternoon.
Having perused the menu we decided to go for the à la carte option. We had thought we’d go for the lunchtime offer but à la carte had a couple of dishes that neither of us could resist! One thing to note about the menu is that not all the ingredients are listed, so there’ll be a few extras on your plate – which is something I was totally ok with!
After we’d ordered we nibbled on warm onion and stilton rolls before being pleasantly surprised by the arrival of an amuse-bouche.
In the first bowl we had mushroom arancini with taramasalata on squid ink crackers to share…
…accompanied by individual bowls of creamed pearl barley with mushroom and basil oil. The pearl barley was like a hug in a bowl, it was so creamy and comforting I wish I could have this whenever I come home tired in the evening!
It was then time for starters. (And another helping of the bread because it was so tasty!)
I had the quail breast and confit leg with smashed swede and creamy leeks. It also came with the addition of a soft boiled quails egg. I couldn’t help but dip my roll into the yolk – it was the fanciest dippy egg and soldiers I’m ever going to have!
Matt went for the rabbit lasagne which was enveloped in a thyme foam. Although I wasn’t given the chance to taste it he said it was lovely and gamey, and perfectly complimented by the earthy flavours in the mushrooms.
As we came by taxi we decided to make the most of both of us being able to drink and plumped for 2 large glasses of wine to go with our mains. Here Amanda helped us pair our wine with our dishes and our wine preferences. For example, I was having the venison so wanted a red wine, but nothing too smoky. I was presented a glass of Australian red and my gosh was it tasty!
Now, onto the mains!
I went for the venison loin with fermented cabbage, pear, and a lovely parsnip puree — the extras being a scrummy little venison sausage and some winter veg. They also grated 70% dark chocolate over the dish once served to bring out the flavour. I have to say I did think I was going to end up with chocolatey meat but as it was just a light sprinkling it didn’t overwhelm the dish. The only part of the dish I wasn’t 100% struck with was the cabbage, which was served cold and while it was executed well it just wasn’t really my thing.
However, it must be said that this venison was the most tender I’ve ever had, it was so good I would implore you to get this for your main when you go!
Matt went for the John Dory with cauliflower puree and a shrimp emulsion. No surprise that this also went down a treat! Matt loved the buttery, melt in your mouth texture of the dish – so much so that I wasn’t even allowed to try a mouthful…noticing a trend here?!
We also got the sides of buttered baby new potatoes, glazed carrots and broccoli, all were lovely and fresh and can be seen in the background of Matt’s main. I would say that 1 side would be ample, and two is good if you’re going for a full on feast. By the time we finished our mains it’s fair to say the belt had to be loosened!
After a leisurely afternoon of indulgence we decided to finish with a good old cup of tea. Matt went for peppermint and I stuck with the traditional english breakfast. As these were served we were surprised again! This time with petit fours, which of course we managed to find a place in our tums for. We had warm peach madeleines and dark chocolate truffles with a caramel centre – delicious! So delicious that I didn’t manage to get a snap of them before we’d scoffed them, luckily the restaurant shared one on their Instagram that I managed to poach for this post!
Now if this post hasn’t got your tummy rumbling I don’t know what will! My little tip for when you go would be to make sure you have a peep into the kitchen through the window near the entrance – it’s great to watch the food being prepared!
Which of these dishes would you most like to try?