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Location: Clavering, in Essex, west of the M11

The waitress is telling us about the day's specials. "The soup of the day is autumn vegetables. The veg is from Jamie's garden." She smiles and leaves us to our decision-making. She knows we're in the know. Does the pub never get people just dropping in inattentively for a meal, without being clued-up? I can't say. We were in the know; the Good Food Guide told us it was Jamie Oliver's parents pub, the one where he grew up. That it was vaguely convenient for a visit afterwards to Fitchingfield and its postmill was an even bigger incentive for going.

The car park was full. The overflow carpark had a few spots remaining. There was a tourist coach parked on the street beside it. And yet, the spacious Cricketers can handle the numbers. It's a slightly ramshackled place, low-ceilinged, bare-beamed amidst white walls decorated in a combination of country rustic and elegance, not quite edging into twee. The rooms go on back, separated by a single step here and there. Out front, there's a patio, for which they don't take reservations, so on a good day, there'll be room even when they're full.

The menu is a fairly large and the list of specials about as long as the menu. They're already sold out of Sunday roast, but that leaves all sorts of enticing options. Good, fresh bread arrives with salty butter. We nibble as we wait for our starters. C. begins with that autumn vegetable soup. It's low key, smooth, but full of nuance. I could taste the carrot, the bell pepper, the potato, the individual flavors each gently asserting themselves. My sweet spinach, stilton, and apple tart was a loose filling on a crumbly, overly-salty base, perched on lightly bitter bed of chicory. That bitter/sweet combination was what made it work, although the surfeit of salt in the pastry was distracting. It could have been better.

Mains were ample. My Priory Farm pork came with plenty of somewhat bland apple sauce, but the roast turnips provided small morsels of bitter to help balance the delicate sweetness. (Do you see a theme in my food?) C.'s half duck was matched with a rich blackberry sauce, the two equal partners in intensity. The chips were quite good, crispy and roughly cut, but not too thick. My side salad was well-composed and nicely dress; C. opted for the roast vegetables instead.

After all that, we were too full for dessert, although it certainly looked tempting on everyone elses's tables. Next time, when we go back, and try other things on the menu - then we'll have dessert.

Cricketers serves well-presented food, the ample menu an intersection of modern British and Italian cuisine, with an emphasis on fresh, local food (such as Sutton Hoo chicken), and minor tie-ins with their own, homegrown celebrity chef (whose cookbooks, autographed, are for sale by the entrance). The food is generally good, occasionally not quite all together, but satisfying enough we're interested in going back for desserts. Cheerful service by relatively young people, a pleasant traditional pub feel with plenty of space (but not so much that it feels industrial), and plenty of parking in a very small village all make this a pub worth returning to.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 18th, 2008 10:37 pm (UTC)
I've played cricket there.
Sep. 19th, 2008 05:08 pm (UTC)
All I can remember of the village is towering walls of hedges.
Sep. 19th, 2008 01:32 am (UTC)
Woah. To think that I possibly passed it, or drove close by it when I was there. Next time I come to England, if I visit the same cousins I visted last time in Essex, I'll make a point of going!
Sep. 19th, 2008 06:36 am (UTC)
I've known the Cricketers for years . Before the makeover, it used to be cheaper to stay in the pub have dinner and get a taxi next morning to Stansted airport than to leave your car in the car park at the airport.

Food has always been nice but I know what you mean about the hit and miss ...
Sep. 19th, 2008 05:09 pm (UTC)
The pub still offers rooms, but they probably cost too much now for that to be a money-saving strategy.
Sep. 21st, 2008 02:58 pm (UTC)
Now I really want to try Sutton Hoo chicken.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )