Editor's note: Tim Allen left The Flitch of Bacon in late 2020.
This pub restaurant is tucked away in the village of Little Dunmow in Essex, a sleepy place with a church and some thatched cottages, and not a great deal else. The Flitch of Bacon is named after a traditional prize of a cured and salted side of pork given in a folk ritual in Dunmow that used to be held every four years and dates back to the 12th century. Since December 2015 the restaurant/pub, part owned by Daniel Clifford of Midsummer House, has been the home of chef Tim Allen. Mr Allen gained a Michelin star at Launceston Place and also at The Wild Rabbit in Oxfordshire. Prior to that he worked at Midsummer House, for seven years at Whatley Manor and for four years with John Burton-Race at both Ortolan and at The Landmark Hotel. The Flitch of Bacon has a cosy dining room and a little garden at the back where you can have a drink in good weather. A few vegetables, such as courgette flowers, are grown out here for use in the kitchen. There are also three bedrooms for those wishing to stay the night.
There was a tasting menu at £70 and a short three-course lunch menu at £32. The wine list had 149 full bottles plus a selection of halves. The median price was £86 and ranged from £21 to £255, and the markup to reail price was precisely three times on average. Sample references included Merlot Reserva De Gras, Colchagua 2017 at £27 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £8, Lionheart Shiraz Dandelion Vineyards 2016 at £42 compared to its retail price of £16, and Wild Sauvignon Blanc Greywacke 2016 at £69 for a wine that will set you back £26 in a shop. At the posh end of the list, Château Nénin 2009 was £145 compared to its retail price of £82, and Krug NV champagne was £255 for a wine whose current market value is £179.
Our meal began with a pair of canapés. A black olive puff was filled with goat cheese foam and black olive tapenade and was very pleasant, the casing delicate and the flavour combination enjoyable. Better still was a tartlet with brown butter chicken, smoked eel and Jersey royal potato with Avruga caviar, brought together with an emulsion of beetroot and smoked eel. This was gorgeous, the eel terrific and combining beautifully with the other elements (average 16/20 nibbles, but more for the tartlet).
Bread was made from scratch on the premises, a choice of excellent seeded focaccia with lovely soft texture, and oatmeal brioche with Iberico lardo (16/20). The first dish of the menu was a dish of Datterini tomatoes from Sicily, with iced basil pesto and green olive granite with smoked Marcona almonds. On the side was “pan tomaca”, a Catalonian breakfast dish of toast topped with tomato, and in this case with Iberico ham. The tomatoes had excellent flavour and the combination with the pesto and olive elements was refreshing and summery. The pan tomaca was lovely, the Iberico ham elevating this simple dish to a higher level (16/20).
This was followed by carrots cooked in chicken fat, accompanied by chicken wings, carrot mousse with goat curd, beurre noisette chicken jus and toasted pine nuts, and a garnish of crisp chicken skin. This was a superb dish, the chicken skin crisp ultra delicate, the carrot and chicken working really well together, the sauce having plenty of flavour (17/20).
A large hand-dived Orkney scallop was carefully cooked and had excellent natural sweetness, served with English peas and a gently spiced vadouvan infusion, which is a French word for a masala spice mix with shallots and garlic. The peas had nice flavour and the fluffed up sauce, with its subtle spices, worked nicely to lift the scallop without overwhelming it (16/20).
Cutlet of Herdwick lamb also came with glazed shoulder of lamb that had been glazed and compressed. This was accompanied by ratatouille with smoked anchovies, courgette flowers and a little cube of crispy polenta. The lamb, especially the shoulder, had very good flavour, and the vegetables were a pleasant accompaniment. This was a nice dish, though for me lacking the star quality of some of the other dishes (14/20).
A pre dessert of iced cucumber came with lime and mint, candied cucumber and compressed apple, with a lime sour emulsion with gin. This was refreshing and pleasant, though for me the cucumber did not add a lot of value (15/20). The first of two dessert courses was strawberries along with lemon verbena sorbet and strawberry gel. There was also a custard coated in white chocolate. This was a nicely balanced dish, the acidity of the fruit cutting through the chocolate, the strawberries having plenty of flavour (16/20).
This was followed by rum baba, a tricky dish to make, or at least to make well. The bread base came with yuzu and apricot juice along with mango, pineapple and passion fruit juice. There was a topping of dark rum, and on the side was Chantilly cream flavoured with coconut. The curse of baba is dryness, and it is a difficult one to avoid. The version here was not overly dry, but not as moist as the ideal. It didn’t quite have the airy lightness of the Alain Ducasse rum baba at Louis XV that for me is the benchmark version of this dish. The cream was fine but perhaps a little over-whipped, which makes me sound very picky, but rum baba is a dish I have eaten a great many versions of, and despite these minor issues this was certainly still enjoyable (14/20). Coffee was a choice of options from a Nespresso machine, including the premium Kilimanjaro blend.
Service was excellent, our waitress friendly and attentive. The bill came to £106 with some wine, and a realistic all-in spend here, assuming that two people sharing a modest bottle of wine, will be about £105. Of course you could pay a lot less with the three-course lunch option. Overall this was an impressive meal. Tim Allen is a fine chef and has created some really lovely dishes. Ingredients are high quality and there is plenty of technical skill on show, but the dishes are appealing and attractive rather than showing off cheffy skills, as happens all too often in London these days. Essex is lucky to have a restaurant of this calibre. I used to live in the county for a time and would have killed for a restaurant of this calibre when I lived here.