Please note! As of August 2016 The Compasses at Pattiswick is no longer classified as a pub, so I’ve now categorised it as a modern English restaurant.
When I think of the very many charmless if not depressing makeovers of glorious country pubs inflicted by breweries and developers over the past 50 years or so, The Compasses at Pattiswick, a remote corner of Essex off the A120 between Braintree and Colchester, comes as a pleasant surprise. The Compasses is part of The Great Pub Company, a very small chain indeed, one that cares enough not to ruin the heritage of the buildings in which they trade. Indeed, this trikes you as a sympathetic conversion, focusing on quality of decor, ambience and hospitality. As the website puts it:
Originally built as two estate workers cottages, The Compasses hides neatly away in the beautiful North Essex countryside of Pattiswick. This is truly a destination pub, the perfect rural retreat for those seeking good food and good company in stunning surroundings. Seemingly miles from any populated areas, the Compasses at Pattiswick is only 20 minutes from both Chelmsford and Colchester.
We pride ourselves in retaining our individual character whilst being passionate about our warmth, hospitality and attention to detail. Whether you are simply passing through and in need of a pub lunch, meeting with business colleagues in private or planning a special night out with friends and family, the Compasses at Pattiswick is the perfect choice.
This is actually my second visit to the place, the first being about 8 years ago and therefore too long ago in the memory for comparison though I do remember the appearance of the two rooms in this compact venue (it has a separate function room): stripped brickwork enhanced by the odd old map and funky light fittings, wooden floors, scrubbed wooden tables and open fires go a long way to winning over newcomers, though the expensive cars in the car park also tell you this is a place which pays strong attention to food, drink and service at prices aimed at the well-to-do of Essex society. Worth repeating the website quotes on their suppliers and food, which speak volumes for the standards set:
At the Compasses at Pattiswick we are passionate about simple, uncomplicated food! All of our dishes are freshly prepared and our menus are based around the best available seasonal produce. We are also aware of the issues surrounding ‘food miles’ and the impact such food miles have on our environment. And as such, place great importance in our support for local producers.
Great lengths are taken to source as much local produce as possible and we are always keen to hear of new local suppliers. Our Head Chef prides himself on his excellent relationship with our suppliers – having built this rapport he can always be assured of the best quality produce available.
If you would like any further information about the ingredients we use or details of our suppliers please ask a member of staff or call us on 01376 561322.
And of the dishes:
The essence of our menus is buried deep in our passion for good food. As a country pub we strive to offer simple hearty rural dishes. Sticking to uncomplicated cooking processes and developing a relaxed and informal approach to our menus allows the quality of our ingredients to shine through.
With a little of something for everyone; a four course dinner, a sandwich in the bar, a salad on the patio or a meal with the kids after school – nothing is too much effort for our crew in the kitchens. Our Head Chef prides himself on his ability to be flexible and his crew’s determination to produce only the best.
Our menus are jammed packed with local produce and the surrounding Holifield Estate produces a rich selection of game including venison from the woods behind the Compasses along with Pheasant and Partridge from the shoot.
Speaking as a foodie, this is the kind of language I want to hear from all pubs, restaurants and eating establishments, though the proof is of course in the pudding, not to mention starter and main course. A good proportion fail to live up to their own puffs, so it is always wonderful to find a gastropub that under-promises and over-delivers, especially one that treats quality ingredients with the dignity and respect they deserve.
That the management of The Compasses makes a point of stating such a philosophy is however a strong and positive sign, to be applauded. It shows they do care and are not there to make money the easy way by buying in bulk from Brakes Bros and heating food in the microwave at large mark-ups. To aspire to proper food is a lot of work, but the results are infinitely more rewarding and to be encouraged every time.
At a sample lunch with a friend, we avoided the temptations of the à la carte, specials and a notable wine list, instead plumping for two variants: my friend went for two courses from the fixed price menu (a bargain £9.75), smoked haddock chowder and apple and ginger crumble, while I went for the soup of the day and a steak sandwich, washed down with a well-kept pint of Adnams Lighthouse and a further taste of Suffolk in the form of Aspall’s cider – of which more would have been sampled but for the curse of driving to remote pubs.
The soup came first, and was a masterpiece of its kind, being white onion and goats cheese flavour and served with a floury bap but no butter (small black mark there.) The texture was spot on, by which I mean relatively smooth but slightly coarser than velvet. The flavour warm and subtle, carefully avoiding any comparison with soups from a packet. An impressive start to any meal, and at £3.95 better value than most substances labouring under the title of soup.
My friend’s chowder was chunky with a hint of soupiness in the form of saffron yellow creamy stock, but neither was it indelicate – indeed it hit the right balance between robustness and subtlety. She declared it to be excellent and left nothing but an empty plate.
The steak sandwich came deconstructed: a perfectly decent sliced rare steak with wholegrain mustard on one slightly toasted slice of crusty white bread, caramelised onions and a perfect fried egg on the matching slice. Good chips came in a bowl and a salad garnish filled the other corner of the chic slate platter. At £10.95 perhaps toppish, but a dish well-made from good ingredients, to be sure.
A crumble arrived in a dainty pot with cream on the side, again well-cooked but as blackberry and apple rather than the advertised ginger. A tart and old-fashioned flavour is worthy of praise in itself, avoiding the temptations to over-sweeten in deference to modern tastes.
On its own the meal would have been pleasant and warranted a dinner on a future occasion, though the pièce de résistance came in the form of service that was warm, unobtrusive but there when required, polite and helpful throughout, and a welcome antidote to the “have a nice day” insincerity so common in chains and, apparently, restaurants; American imperialism has much to answer for.
My friend and I will be glad to return to The Compasses, and suggest other pubs in the area take note of the approach taken, which in my opinion justifies the premium charged. An early start on the gastropubs in 2014, but a marker for the standards others have to beat.
PS. Reply from the Compasses:
Many thanks firstly, for visiting the Compasses and secondly for the review. We are delighted that you enjoyed your meal. We were particularly thrilled to receive such a positive review on one of our very rare ‘days off’! We are passionate about our business and we are proud of our crew, it is very reassuring to know that they are performing as we would hope even when we are not there!
I have forwarded your review to them all as I know they will be very chuffed to read it!
We do hope you will visit us again soon, we are always delighted to meet fellow foodies!
catering seasoned with a hint of passion
THE GREAT PUB COMPANY
THE COMPASSES at pattiswick Essex Restaurant and Gastro Pub of the Year 2011
tel: 01376 561322
tel: 01376 562866