Foodie Rich Reviews: The Royal Hotel

December 22, 2016 by Foodie Rich

Gosh, it’s been a little while hasn't it, and I apologise! Yeah I know, I scarpered a few months back without so much as a toodle pip, au revoir, adios, auf wiedesehen, arrivederci, or vaarwel; bet you didn't know I was fluent in 6 languages. I’m not going to explain where the hell I’ve been for the past six months, it’ll bore the hell out of you, but what’s important is IM BACK! And just in time for Christmas too, my favourite foodie time of the year, well sort of! You may recall last year I wrote a scathing feature about the dreaded work’s Christmas do! I’m no Scrooge, far from it. I love Christmas, after all it’s that time of year when no one judges you for eating and drinking far too much, we all do it. And what’s better, it’s perfectly legal to drink at 10am? But back to that office Christmas party. The food always seems to consist of, un-inventive mass produced, previously frozen, badly cooked crap. To add insult to injury, you have to pay extortionate prices for the privilege of eating this sorry excuse for a Christmas dinner with ‘all the trimmings’. Thankfully, this year, my Christmas party was in a curry house. And a buffet at that! No problems there, as much as you can eat curry, right up my alley!

Well anyway, that's enough about crap food, let’s talk great food! Just last weekend, Lou and I where long overdue a catch up with some good friends, Jamie and Rebecca, we hadn’t seen them in months. Initially, this was just to be one or two cold drinks around town, whilst jostling with the Christmas jumper clad office parties, pushing our way through the 10 deep at the bar, struggling to get served, I think you get the picture. The closest I was expecting to food that evening was a mystery meat doner kebab on the way home! I must add, there is nothing wrong with that at all! It’s as much a British tradition as fish and chips or curry in my view; I love a doner after few cold ones! I was looking forward to it, and getting in to the Christmas spirit and all that. However, earlier in the week we received a text, our good friends had only managed to secure a table in one of Southend’s premier eating and drinking establishments; The Royal Hotel! The other end of the spectrum altogether. I will not be dining on a dirty, greasy kebab after all! Between me and you, I was a little disappointed!!

The Royal Hotel has got to be one of Southends most iconic buildings. Built back in 1791 and now listed, back in the day it was a regular haunt for Royalty and other notoriety. Sadly, that all changed. In more recent years the venue was allowed to become a little run down to say the least, a far cry from the splendour and opulence of bygone years. But, panic ye not people! After a little TLC and a careful refurb, the Royal has been restored in to its former glory! I’ve had a few drinkies at the bar many times, and I love it! Not only do they mix up killer cocktails, but the they have a beer list, which I would say is probably the best in Southend, and I love my craft beer! Oh, they also serve up English Fizz! Why oh why don't more restaurants celebrate our home grown English sparkling wine, its lovely! If you haven’t sampled the delights of our very own Effervescence I urge you to give it a go, it makes a great alternative to champagne on Christmas morning, trust me you won’t be disappointed!

Anyway, last Friday evening was packed in the Royal. We managed to down a couple at the bar before heading up to the restaurant. I must say, the restaurant has been refurbished to an impeccable standard, it looked amazing! However, I had one concern, it was busy; very busy! Service is king. No matter what the restaurant, fine dining or burger joint, if the service isn’t up to scratch the whole experience will be let down. Just looking around the dining room, there was not a spare table to be had. The waiting staff and chefs needed to play their ‘A’ game tonight. And they did! Just as soon as we sat down, our drinks order was taken. A small detail, but one so many restaurants get wrong. I do like to sip on a glass whilst perusing the menu, but more importantly, the restaurant sells more drinks; it makes perfect sense! So, the menu. We chose not to order from the Ballroom menu, which did sound wonderful, we chose the festive 4 course Christmas menu. At £36.50 for all four courses, not too bad at all. To start I went ‘old skool’ that good old 70’s dinner party classic; Prawn Cocktail! Yeah, I know, not too adventurous, when I could’ve ordered scallops with black pudding hash, or beef carpaccio with quail egg, but I was in a festive kind‘a mood, and the good old faithful prawn cocktail has kicked off many a Christmas dinner in years gone by. It didn't disappoint; prawns, marie rose sauce, crunchy lettuce and a crisp, thin crostini; it did exactly what it said on the tin. Lou went for the beef carpaccio. I loved this dish. Generous to the max, the thinly carved beef was piled high with parmesan and music bread; what’s music bread I hear you cry? Well, it's an Italian style bread, which is paper thin. To be true music bread it is said you should be able to read sheet music through it! Unfortunately, I didn't have any sheet music to hand, but I can vouch the bread did look pretty thin. Served with capers and a boiled quail egg, it was a great starter. The main dishes all sounded wonderfully creative and tasty. I could’ve of chose cod with sweet onion jus, creamed potato and peas a la francaise. Or how about The Royal’s classic and extravagant surf and turf? A succulent steak and half a lobster thermidor, don’t they sound great? But no, I went for turkey! Love it or hate it, for me Christmas isn’t Christmas without this gorgeous bird; yeah I love Turkey, I eat it all year round (weird I know!). But this was no ordinary turkey dinner, oh no. Yes, a few slices of juicy breast, but served with confit thigh and wild boar stuffing wrapped in Parma ham, boulanger potatoes and sautéed chestnut brussels. It was bloody good. My only complaint; no pigs in blankets! You can’t have a Christmas dinner without this mandatory accompaniment! I guess I’ll just have to wait till Christmas day (when I will eat my entire body weight of these porky delights). Lou went for the sticky braised Hereford beef open wellington, and I’m glad she did! it was fooking lovely. A hunk of ‘eat with a spoon’ sticky beefy goodness, served on flaky puff pastry, mushroom duxelle, boulanger potatoes and chestnut sautéed brussels. Lou didn't say much, she didn't have to, I just gauged from the noises permeating from her side of the table, this was a sumptuous dish! To finish this Christmas celebration, we ordered cheese for the table, which we all tucked in to, whilst polishing off the wine, which by that time, we’d drank far too much of!

Well, that was my first dining experience in the Royal Hotel, and it was long overdue. I’m sure many of you, as I do, have memories of years gone by in the Royal. Raves in the basement and fighting at the bar, but forget all that. Not that I remember the original glory days of this iconic Southend venue, but I’m pretty sure the loving care which has gone in to the refurbishment, has restored much of its original charm. There’s not many places in Southend where you can be truly spoilt in decedent surroundings, but you can in the Royal Hotel. So if you’re just after a cocktail or a glass of fizz at the bar, or maybe an indulgent fine dining experience, The Royal is surely the only venue in Southend which can take care of your every need! Oh and by the way, don't be fooled, it’s not actually a hotel, so don't go expecting to a get a bed for the night!