Dining out at Smiths of Ongar
PUBLISHED: 15:36 13 March 2017
Smiths of Ongar has for many years been a popular place for diners looking for the freshest fish dishes. Reviewed by Stephanie Mackentyre
Visiting one Friday lunchtime to try their set menu, just £21.50 for two courses and £26.50 for three, we arrived just after noon. We found we had to wait in the car park as the doors don’t open until 12.30pm. It would have been nice to sit inside for drinks before our lunch perhaps; however, we were in good company, as other diners were also sitting patiently in their cars. Once inside, we were greeted by plenty of efficient staff and a roaring log fire, which was a very welcome sight.
Despite an influx of diners, we were shown to our table immediately and drinks arrived just as swiftly. The waitress recommended a glass of Grenache Blanc, Saturnin from France for me – a floral noted wine with a golden yellow glow which complemented my seafood lunch well.
Because of it’s mainly seafood menu, many of the dishes are also gluten free. Had either of us needed the GF option, there were no less than three GF starters to choose from, including steamed Shetland mussels with white, cream and garlic. I opted to try the deep fried tiger prawns in panko breadcrumbs with sweet chilli dipping sauce.
It was out of the kitchen in an instant and I was soon tucking into a pile of freshly deep fried prawns served with salad leaves and a small bowl of orange sticky chilli sauce. My dining partner ordered the chicken liver pate with caramelised red onion and toasted rustic bread. We also enjoyed bread rolls, brought to our table the moment we sat down. For the main course there were a further three GF options, including asiette of grilled Billingsgate Market fish with herb aioli. Smiths also boasts an entirely GF a la carte menu too.
My guest chose the line-caught Guernsey skate on the bone, battered with chunky chips and a side of buttered peas. I went with the grilled fillet of seabass served with a couple of tiger prawns with seafood butter and a side of seasonal vegetables. The fillet was delicious and cooked so that the succulent white flakes fell onto my fork. If you’re looking for meat rather than fish, you could chose pan fried Dutch calves liver or perhaps the loin of pork with scallops.
Despite it being a set lunch menu, for desserts you can choose from the main menu and the portions looked generous, so together we shared a Bakewell tart and custard. The restaurant is smart and stylish yet comfortable too with a layout of banquette seating and curved, low back black leather armchairs. Each table is smartly dressed with white linen and the restaurant, though bustling, wasn’t overly noisy. We ordered rich filter coffee before we left, which was also served in a flash.
Useful to know:
The total bill came to £69.40 for two courses for two people, a shared dessert with drinks and coffees.
This is an independent review, featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by the food and wine editor.
The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
Table Talk with diners Michelle Heart and her family:
Where do you live and what do you do? I’m a housewife as my ill health means I’m unable to work and we live in Harlow.
What did you choose from the menu? Prawn cocktail to start with and I had a wing of skate with butter and capers, which was really lovely.
Why were you at Smiths of Ongar? We were celebrating my mother-in-law’s 87th birthday.
Describe your dining experience in a phrase: The ambiance is lovely and the service is so good. I’ve never had a bad meal, it’s always spot on. Especially for birthdays and anniversaries you can guarantee the food is going to be excellent.
How would you rate the value for money? I think its good value for money, especially the new lunchtime set menu. That’s really good.
Worth visiting again? Yes, we’ve been there many times.
What was the best part of your visit? Us all being together and the tables look really nice. The chairs are comfortable and it’s not a noisy restaurant like some of the newer ones these days.
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Side Orders:Three more restaurants also offering gluten free options
1. The Creek
We say: This restaurant just outside Colchester has GF options including rump of lamb with fondant potato or why not round it off with the intriguingly described Mama’s 1978 sugar glazed rice pudding and poached black cherries which is served with vanilla ice cream and is also gluten free.
2. Wivenhoe House
We say: For those with a penchant for something sweet, Wivenhoe House has a GF Afternoon Tea menu.
We say: 90% of the dishes here are GF and if you mention at the time of booking you need some GF options, they will be able to tell you which ones aren’t suitable.