47 The Street has an excellent pedigree, being the sibling of La Piazza in Braintree. Perhaps 47 is the more feminine of the two, made over to present a fresher, more Modern European face, though showing its Italian heritage at the roots, so into the Italian pigeonhole it shall go.
Not that that is a bad thing at all, but it competes rather more in the mid-range bistro market rather than the “traditional” Italian market. Since a few of my friends rave over 47, the buzz would suggest the management have their market if not nailed then certainly coming back for more, and when you run a fresh food restaurant repeat business is name of the game. Where La Piazza is bang in the centre of Braintree, 47’s location in the nearby village of Rayne is just sufficiently distant that diners must be attracted to make a special visit, and do so repeatedly.
On this occasion, the visit was undoubtedly special: a friend I have seen rarely in recent years offered to take me to 47, where she has been on many occasions, as a birthday treat. As I’ve said many times, when you’re with good company, the measure of a restaurant is whether you can enjoy the ambience and the company to have a brilliant time, using the food and drink as punctuation.
You might remark on how good a course was, but if you have cause to complain then the magic can disappear in a trice. You and the restaurant would both sooner remember the company and the occasion than be reminded by how tough the steak was or the soggy veg. That said, good service, usually discreet and timely, can turn around a bad course by being there to make amends before the bad feeling has time to ferment. My companion, herself a keen critic who has requested me to write letters of complaint on many an occasion when bad food was compounded by bad service, had just such an occasion to relate in the course of conversation.
Happily there was neither bad food nor service at 47, certainly nothing to warrant any form of complaint – though a couple of things could have been done better. I hope the restaurant will forgive me a little constructive criticism on what was otherwise a splendid evening, just a few touches that could have been improved.
None relate to the service, which was both discreet and charming throughout, never found wanting but then with only about 10 covers in you would hope that to be the case. Indeed, this being a Tuesday evening the restaurant was quiet, but somehow you felt that they would not have turned a hair had the place been full, and on weekends it almost certainly is packed to the proverbial rafters.
47 occupies a former pub, a pleasant room with period touches such as delightful old beams that remind me of my own cottage. Perhaps the furniture is a tad Habitat and not in total harmony with its environment, but with sympathetic lighting the atmosphere is certainly conducive to dining – albeit missing a nice log fire, perhaps.
The mood music was however entirely the wrong mood for the restaurant and the occasion, consisting largely of 60s pop songs. Perhaps a touch of cool jazz or carefully chosen classics would have worked better, so it was not surprising the running soundtrack in my head was playing Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue throughout the evening. Now that would have been spot on!
Meanwhile, the menu errs just slightly on the safe side of Home Counties dining and is a tad too long, particularly when you take into account the specials board. Nothing wrong with playing safe if you are sure of your audience, though it would be good to see the kitchen go further beyond its comfort zone every now and again, and certainly focus effort on perfecting half a dozen dishes than offering 18 to cater for all possible tastes – and stick to seasonal ingredients too. Alas, fresh peaches and asparagus are not seasonal in November, more’s the pity.
However, a few chords were struck among the specials, notably the ubiquitous scallops (of which more anon) and a veal Cordon Bleu, though not employing that name. The dish, as I’m sure you knew all along, consists of veal escalopes stuffed with ham and fontina cheese, coated in egg and breadcrumbs then fried in similar fashion to a chicken Kiev. My memory was prodded by the V word, having once eaten an excellent veal t-bone at La Piazza. Frankly we don’t eat enough rosy veal, though if the thought of young calves going to slaughter is what puts us off then the same logic should stop us eating lamb and other meats, but I’ll argue that case another day.
For the purposes of this meal, we both chose the scallop starter, my companion the sea bass in lemon butter for a main, while I plumped for good old fashioned rib eye steak with brandy, mushroom and cream sauce – a well-known combination, though not quite a classic French sauce. To accompany our dishes, we both chose sympathetic wines, she a glass of Prosecco and I a meaty Argentinian Malbec, currently all the rage among New World wines and with good reason.
To begin at the beginning, the scallops turned out to be Queens, cooked to sweet and tender perfection. The accompanying tomato and chilli sauce was also excellent in its own right, but alas the two did not belong on the same plate. Rather than a harmonic (that word again) composition, the sharp tang of chilli drowned out the delicate flavour of scallops, so I would earnestly ask the chef at 47 to keep the sauce for an Arrabbiata but to pair juicy scallops with a more sympathetic lemon and garlic sauce, say, or a herb butter, but certainly to tone down the chilli a touch if this dish reappears.
My companion’s sea bass had her purring in delight. I never tried any of it, but she assured me it was perfect in every way, and certainly it looked the part. To give credit where credit it due, my steak was everything a rib eye should be and cooked exactly to my orders, which is to say very rare. My fries were a tad anonymous but I do approve of courgette fritters, and these were masterpieces of the art.
The saucing again leads me to a quandary though, not that there was anything wrong with the demi-glace sauce – it proved exactly what a good fresh-made sauce should look like in terms of consistency and flavour. However, I’ve complained in the past when the odd splodge of sauce is deposited on the plate like oil paint on a palette – if you can’t taste the sauce, it goes to waste. Surely there is a happy medium, maybe a small puddle to one side, or even the old trick of using a tiny gravy boat so you can please yourself? In this case the steak was bathed in sauce, perhaps slightly to excess. A little less might have been more and allowed greater focus to have rested on the quality of rib eye – just a thought.
By dessert time we were both purring, in her case to a lemon and meringue semifreddo and in mine to a nigh on perfect vanilla bean crème brûlée – proper vanilla and proper custard being two of my personal weaknesses. Coffees and limoncellos (the perfect liqueur) saw off a perfectly delightful evening.
I’m pleased to say the conversation ranged across many topics but did not linger on the very small failings we encountered along the way, so I am happy to recommend 47 to anyone down Essex way who fancies a good dinner in a well-run restaurant. And thank you to my friend for an excellent birthday treat :).