Harrisons Restaurant in Hockley, Essex – the next town over from Rayleigh, where we were staying with our friends, the Oakleys – is the sort of small town restaurant that is created and endures as much despite its ambitions as because of them.
Our meal began with an amuse bouche: a tomato soup that was redolent of a gazpacho kissed by the flame and spiked with little chunks of Spanish chorizo. It worked well both on the palette and as an introduction to the Iberian influences to be found throughout Harrison’s menu.
My starter was a Pressed Game Terrine with Dressed Leaves, Croutes and Homemade Piccalilli. Pressed Duck is a classic French dish that involves squeezing a partially roasted duck carcass (minus the breasts and thighs which are roasted separately) with a mince of the duck’s liver so as to maximize the retention and use of the duck’s blood – it is called Canard au Sange (Duck in its Blood) in French. According to our waiter, the Harrisons version used both duck and chicken. I did not taste any chicken in the dish I ate; I suspect it was duck and venison (which appears elsewhere on the Harrison’s menu). Regardless, it was spectacular. The terrine was rich, savory and exotic and was perfectly balanced with the salty croutes and the pickle. It is a treat we do not get often in the States but one that is a bit of a tradition in Essex, having long been featured at Masion Renouf in nearby Rochford. I would definitely order it again.
Not all of the starters were as successful. The soup of the day, a Potage Parmentier (warm leek and potato soup) was overly rich. As a pureed soup containing potato, the cream was not really needed for its texture, and given the quantities used, its flavor simply took over the dish.
The story was somewhat the same on the risotto main course. The flavor profile of the dish — called Acquerello Super Fine Risotto with Fresh Broad Beans, Fresh Peas, Mint, Rosemary Oil and Poached Free Range Egg – was wonderful. The fava beans and fresh peas – and especially the pea shoots – wonderfully set off the richness of the risotto, and the poached egg was a wonderful touch. But the creaminess of a risotto should come from technique…not cream. And the richness of the cream was unnecessarily duplicative of the contribution of the egg yolk. It was a well conceived dish that was less than perfectly executed.
The story on the Lamb main course was almost exactly the opposite. The dish – called Roast 10 oz Dengi Salt Marsh Lamb Rump with Cannellini Bean Stew, Joselito Grand Reserva Chorizo Sausage, Char Grilled Courgettes, Smoked Aubergine Caviar and Crispy Sage Leaves – was almost two dishes in one. First, there was a lamb dish consisting of the perfectly roasted lamb rump sitting over thinly sliced char grilled courgettes (zucchini) with smoked aubergine (eggplant) on top. Second, there was what almost amounted to a Spanish version of a Cassoulet, a tomatoey cannellini and chorizo stew garnished with deep fried sage leaves. It was all executed very, very well. But, sadly, the two dishes did not play well in the sandbox together. They had nothing to say to each other. It was almost as if they were talking past each other. The execution of each of the components of the dish made it enjoyable, but not as much as it might have been had the entire thing been better conceived.
The menu at Harrisons is ambitious and deep. Sitting down to choose one is spoilt for choice. I would have loved to try the duck confit entrée, the venison dish or the Herb Crusted Poached Wild Halibut fillet. If I get the chance to return – and I will if I can – I would not hesitate to try any of them. The restaurant has survived three years despite its location – and, it must be said, despite its ambitions. But if you are in Essex, or wiling to drive from London, you could do much worse and could, quite likely, scarcely do better.
- 32 Main Road
- Hockley, Essex, UK
— Michael A. Gardiner