Restaurant review, Dedham Boathouse: "We think we went on an off-day"
PUBLISHED: 18:08 18 June 2018 | UPDATED: 18:09 18 June 2018
Despite saying I was going to eat here for a long time, the closest I’ve ever gotten is buying ice creams from the boat shed next door with my kids.
But recently the restaurant took the Destination Dining prize in the Eat Essex Food and Drink Awards, so I pencilled in a visit with my friend Jo.
The menu was quite extensive (around 20 main courses if you included summer specials) and seemed to tick the boxes for various intolerances, vegans and veggies.
To nibble on while waiting we ordered the mixed homemade breads. To our surprise, after a bit of a wait, they came out alongside our starters, with a side plate (but no bread knives).
The platter looked amazing. Four mini loaves, basil and plain butter rounds, a truly tasty little pot of red pepper hummus, vinegar and oil. Unfortunately we felt this was a case of style over substance. The bread, to us, was tough as old boots and overly chewy. We were assured they were freshly baked that day, but they were taken away for a new batch.
While waiting for the bread to return we sampled our starters. The ham hock terrine wasn’t too briny, was shredded into tender, well-set flakes, and paired marvellously with the tart pineapple chutney, which had a welcome bite. It even elicited a ‘wow’ from Jo (no easy feat). If only they had dressed the salad leaves…
Tempura prawns with lime and soy dressing were crisp and light but a little bland. The batter needed more seasoning and the dressing was fine but not punchy enough for my tastes. I liked the flavour of the braised bok choi on the plate, but it looked a little sad and limp and was quite rubbery in the eating.
Our bread returned. This time with plastic wrap around one of the butter pats. Again it was sent back but when Jo spotted the server manhandling the butter through the open kitchen door, taking the plastic off, we said we’d decline it thankyou very much.
We shared main courses. Pressed pork belly was a tad bland and, while molten and unctuous underneath, was a bit tough on top. The accompanying pomme puree wasn’t creamy or yielding enough and although seasoned well, was really just mash. Sprouting broccoli was al dente and fresh. And we thought the braised white cabbage in a creamy sauce was a nice touch, but again, it lacked seasoning. Just a pinch more salt and it would have been there. A burnt apple puree buried underneath somewhere brought a pleasant bright zing to the plate, but the star turn was the sticky, glossy sauce Robert, which was knife-coating and fabulously savoury.
The pan-fried cod supreme was rather flat and small for this type of cut and had foppy, limp skin rather than a nice crisp exterior. That said, the flesh of the fish was golden on the outside and sweet and flaky within. The warm spring vegetable salad was actually cold and didn’t seem cooked at all. We’d have preferred the veg sauteed but left with a touch of bite. The best thing on the plate had to be the tagliatelle, dressed in a tasty wild garlic pesto that wasn’t too potent.
The most successful element of our meal was dessert, which we couldn’t fault on either side of the table. My dark chocolate marquise with white chocolate and salted caramel cremeux was exceptional – the marquise element being velvety and rich, the kitchen balancing the salt in the spoon-licking cremeux to perfection, and the praline cream packing a punch with the essence of the nutty sweet, while remaining delicate. I polished it off happily.
Jo’s sticky toffee pudding was on the light side, rather than being a stodgy rib-sticker, but that’s how she likes it. The sponge was made well, and had a pleasant bounce, having not been ‘nuked’ in the microwave to dryness. As the chocolate dessert, the sauce had been balanced well with a touch of salinity cutting through the sweetness.
There was a decent wine list and long selection of soft drinks and spirits. I was looking forward to a glass of vino but the smallest measure was 175ml. Often restaurants and pubs will offer a 125ml or 150ml measure if not on a menu, but on-spec when asked. That wasn’t possible here. A real shame. Jo doesn’t drink, so had an orange and soda and I stuck with a Hartridge’s orange and passionfruit juice which was OK but it would be nice to see a few local juices on the menu – there are some cracking ones in Suffolk and Essex.
The overwhelming smell of cooking oil as we entered the car park was a bit off-putting, but there’s no denying the beyond impressive setting of this restaurant, which is literally smack-bang in the heart of Constable Country, perched on the river overlooking wild meadows and pastureland, with trees dipping into the water. Inside, the restaurant is slick. Sparkling glass. Pressed linen. Heavy blue upholstered chairs.
The ambiance would have been better if it wasn’t so cold. One of the doors was wide open and although staff closed it once for us, it was then left open for the remainder of our meal and I particularly was really uncomfortably cold. Top tip – take a cardi.
Hmm. Honestly? It could have been better in both our opinions. We hadn’t booked and they seemed a little flustered initially which gave us the impression they were full. A table was found easily, but when we left at just gone 9.30pm there were many empty tables – perhaps there was a staffing issue in the kitchen that had limited their capabilities that night?
I’d say, at best, service was functional. Starter plates were looked at at least 15 times by staff after we’d finished. When we enquired with the manager he said he’d asked them to leave the plates while we finished our bread, but by looking at our table and leaving the dishes in situ, all that really did was make us feel neglected as customers.
The manager himself was very polite and professional on the whole. He didn’t quibble with us over the bread, arranging for a replacement straight away, and surprisingly took our desserts off the bill at the end with a heartfelt apology from him and the kitchen. We weren’t expecting that and it was good of him to do so.
There’s a large car park and you won’t struggle.
The initial entrance is flat but to the right hand side of the restaurant there are steps up to the dining area. The left hand conservatory dining space is on one level so book here if you have mobility issues.
With the breads and desserts three courses for two with two soft drinks would have come to just over £70.
The chocolate marquise was a well-executed, flavoursome and luxurious dessert.
I’m not going to lie. We were slightly disappointed. The setting is wonderful and menu promised so much. But there were too many niggles to ignore. That said, other people around us seemed to be mostly enjoying their food. We felt more attention to detail (seasoning and dressing salads, checking the freshness of bread) was needed.
All reviews are based on an indepedent, unsolicited visit and are an honest, fair reflection of the experience as we find it. Where there are negative issues we revisit that establishment at a later date and republish a further review.
The Dedham Boathouse say
As readers can imagine Claire, I and the entire team are very disappointed to have had received such a review and have always strived to achieve consistency since we created the business 17 years ago. We actively encouraged a review from our contacts at the Archant Group and recognise that we had operational issues on the day of the review which has resulted in an account which is not a true representation of one of our businesses employing over 30 people. We have addressed each of the issues highlighted and are confident our customers will experience this on future visits to Dedham Boathouse.
In a society where constant criticism seems to be commonplace, we did expect more support from Archant during a day/evening where events were taken out of our hands resulting in Ms Smith-Jarvis publishing such a negative review.
Cameron Marshall, owner, Dedham Boathouse