“Why The Red Dog Cafe?”
Inspired by a real incident, Red Dog is the most popular Australian movie of the past year. Told in flashback as the eponymous pooch lies sick in the back room of a remote pub in Western Australia, a variety of tough guys relate how the Red Dog became a local legend around the remote coastal town of Dampier and brought together a community of lonely working men. Red Dog is played in the film by an Australian breed of sheepdog known as a red cloud kelpie, and there’s now a bronze statue of him in the area.
A strange sight for Western Australia to emerge in rural Essex? Maybe, but read on…
Just like the film, The Red Dog Cafe at Inworth along the Kelvedon Road aims to bring together the local community in the rustic surrounds of what were the Prince of Wales Public House and the attached Inworth Barn. The rustic charms of Australia add to the ambience of this historic barn, with its vaulted ceilings and exposed beams. Add to this a nutty sense of interior design that creates something very different.
The barn has been transformed into a funky yet rustic cafe by day and sophisticated wine bar/restaurant by night.
As yet I have not tried the “sophisticated wine bar/restaurant” now open in what had been the main restaurant, but as a starter for ten a friend and I tried the cafe in the old barn for breakfast. The cafe menu, reprinted below in full, indicates a fresh and imaginative approach, sensible given the fact that local competition includes a fair sprinkling of excellent places to nibble from breakfast onwards.
All day breakfast menu:
Full breakfast – Bacon, sausage, egg, mushrooms, roasted tomatoes and beans served with 2 slices of toast or bread £7.50
Full monty breakfast pizza £7.50
Bacon roll £2.95
Sausage roll £2.95
Bacon & egg served with spicy tomato sauce £5.95
Poached egg on ciabatta with rosemary roasted tomato £5.95
Chilli scrambled egg on toasted bread £4.50
Sautéed forest mushrooms on toasted brioche, with avocado £7.50
Selection of toasts and fruit bread served with jam, see display £3.50
French toast served with bacon and maple syrup £4.50
Ricotta pancakes with fruit compote £4.50
Fresh fruit salad served with minted yoghurt £3.50All day snacks:
Club sandwich – Chicken, bacon, eggs, tomato, mayonnaise and rocket salad £6.50
Wood fired sourdough – served with vine ripened tomatoes and goat’s cheese, drizzled with basil & olive oil £7.50
Veal sandwich served with sun blushed tomatoes and rocket £7.50
Burger served with salad and homemade relish (see today’s burger choices) from £8.95
Pizza of the day slice served with salad (see today’s yummo toppings) from £7.95
Chicken Milanese sandwich with avocado and tomato £6.50
Selection of freshly prepared sandwiches (choose at display counter) from £5.50
Cheese platter, selection of 3 cheeses, bread and homemade relish £5.50
Freshly made salads available daily (see display counter for daily salads) from £4.50
Mezze plate for two, parma ham, roasted peppers, sun roasted tomatoes, courgettes and pickled veg, with beetroot flavoured hummus dip £10.00
Homemade lasagne baked with cheese and a rich Bolognese salsa £7.95
Parmigana, oven baked aubergine with fresh tomatoes and basil, with layers of the best buffalo mozzarella cheese £7.95
Selection of cakes and sweet breads (choose at display counter) from £2.50
What I like about the menu is the inclusion of quality ingredients and attention to detail. Wood-fired sourdough is a welcome inclusion, and veal sandwich almost unique in this context. There is a good selection, possibly too great when a shorter menu might have helped contain costs and focus effort on doing a few things really well, but there is definitely something to please everyone. It also looks pretty fair value for money, not something you can say of every eating establishment.
But the key test is whether the ambience of the cafe and implementation of dishes match the promise of the menu. On a Tuesday morning we were the only people in the barn, a pleasant wooden building lined on the inside with beams and rafters, but still, as cafés go, quite intimate. At one end is a counter with glass cases for the cakes, a coffee machine and a wall of wine bottles for the evening wine bar incarnation of RDC. The place was manned by a friendly and efficient waitress, though in the course of our stay we met both owners, Charlotte and Chris White, the latter being an Aussie (unsurprising given the story above) who told us the full rationale for the business – appealing to the local community where pub landlords had repeatedly failed. Chris told us that in the lunchtimes and evenings the barn is full to overflowing, though he was breaking in the restaurant gently, so I will pay another visit in due course.
The full breakfast looked the business and proved tasty. Personally I would have chosen local smoked streaky bacon over the back rashers, though many would disagree with me. Small gripe with the sausage – they should have gone to Millins in Tiptree for a higher quality pork bangers – but the egg was of excellent quality, and the roasted tomato, a failing in many lesser establishments, cooked to perfection. Maybe for £2.40 the Americano could have been presented in a larger mug, but it was the sourdough toast that won me over. Why do we Brits put up with inferior sliced bread when we could demand top class sourdough? It beggars belief that we accept fourth rate products so easily.
So then, a welcome addition on my own doorstep. I wish Charlotte and Chris well, and hope interest is sustained in this fickle part of Essex. To succeed they need to make this venture a venue for the community, somewhere people choose to meet for a warm and friendly greeting, a few drinks and an amiable conversation, much as cafés on the continent are open all day for whatever people want to order. Whether we in Essex can gather round the RDC as Aussies did around the film remains to be seen, but there seems initial promise. I for one will return.
PS. Lunch of veal sandwich from RDC