Lunch at The Stockwell Arms, Colchester
UPDATE : In January 2015 Robert Morgan handed over the premises to head chef Devide Hantonie, and it started trading as ‘La Lounna’, a French restaurant. In June 2015 Robert Morgan died suddenly.
Whilst the timbered building is several hundreds years old, the Stockwell Arms evidently dates back to the mid-1800s, according to Jess Jephcott’s ‘The Inns, Taverns and Pubs of Colchester’. There’s some nice history to the pub in there – especially the story of the landlady showing the door to the darts team who were ‘half-pinters’ and didn’t buy much beer.
The latest edition of Jephcott’s book refers to publicans Brian and Shirley Jerome, who were there for almost three decades, and under whose reign we visited a few times over the years, as it served some decent beer and remained a traditional pub whilst others were going the gastro or lager route. Mind you the inside/outside toilets were a throwback to Dickensian times…
When Brian and Shirley left in 2007 the pub was empty for some time before Robert Morgan took it on and spent quite some time (and quite some money!) renovating the pub. Clearly he was a man who was able to see the potential beyond the somewhat shabby pub, and it’s now a stunning place to visit. The pub has been opened up a lot, both on the ground floor, and vertically, as you can look up from the ground floor to a minstrel’s gallery, and higher still to the roof. There’s a new dining room that goes much further back, alongside the new kitchen that’s been built.
When the work started there were plans for a micro-brewery, but I guess this is off the agenda for the moment (press reports talked about a higher than expected cost of renovation) and it appears that the Real Ale Hall aspect of the pub is back-burnered a bit as evidently beer consumption wasn’t enough to keep the barrels turning over.
And that’s worthy of note, as it’s much more of a restaurant than a pub now. The good news was that there were two real ales on (the ubiquitous Doom Bar, and Woodforde’s Wherry) and the latter was in good form. And the food and the service more than matched the amazing medieval building, timbered beams, hanging tapestries and all.
We opted for some bread and dips, and olives, and these were excellent – top marks for whoever baked the bread! (One tip for the owner : reduce the portion sizes!! as we left a fair number of the big, fat olives in order to leave space for mains).
There were a range of sandwiches available at £5-£6, and some meals at £10-£12, so it wasn’t the cheapest of pub lunches, but the surrounding deserve some quality grub, and the food was well worth it. We had between us a brie and cranberry sandwich on focaccia (rye and white bloomer other bread options), and a steak sandwich (cooked to your taste, and my medium-rare request was honoured perfectly and the steak was melt in the mouth). Sandwiches come with what appeared to be freshly cooked crisps, which were mouth-watering, and salad, served on a square slate.
Service was attentive, and when we asked the staff were happy to show us up the stairs to the separate dining rooms which overlook the main bar area.
So, if not a pub you can drop in for a quick pint, certainly a place to go to for something to eat – it’s certainly quite unique. Check our their website. And here are some pix :