The Headley is now closed and has been replaced by an Indian restaurant. The notes below are of historical interest only.
The Headley is a sister of the 2 Michelin star Midsummer House in Cambridge, and the level of interest in cooking elevates it a long way above the usual pub fare in Essex. The pub interior itself, with a mix of exposed brickwork and white walls with a few prints hanging, is not particularly atmospheric, but at least the tables are large. The menu has plenty of crowd-pleasers, and is tolerably priced, with starters mostly £4.50 - £6.50, mains £11.50 - £17, vegetables £2.50 and desserts mostly £5.50. It did seem rather mean to charge £2.50 separately for bread; indeed I had not noticed this on the menu (though it was clearly marked), and waited and waited for bread to appear, eventually giving up.
The 4 page wine list has plenty of sensible New World choices, such as Coopers Creek Pinot Noir 2008 at £28 for a wine that is about £9 in the shops, Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 for £59 (£20 retail) and more modest selections like Opal Ridge Shiraz at £16 for a wine that costs about £5 in the supermarket.
A fish soup to share was served in a very generous tureen. I think fish soup is a good test of a restaurant; often it can be watery and insipid if the kitchen decides to keep costs down by being mean with the fish. No such stinginess here, with chunks of salmon and prawns and a quite rich, well flavoured stock, along with the traditional croutons and aioli. Seasoning was good, and this was a fine, hearty fish soup (comfortably 14/20). Also sampled was a well made pumpkin soup (14/20).
For the main course I had excellent loin of venison with fine flavour and nicely cooked, served with creamy Savoy cabbage, roast chestnuts and a slightly thin thyme jus (15/20). Fish and chips had a decent beet batter and very good crushed peas (14/20). A side of order of chips are in fact triple cooked, which to me is the best way of making chips. They had the proper crisp outside which you get from this method, but for me they were cut a little too large; I find when I make these at home a thinner cut produces really excellent chips; a little salt would not have gone amiss either. So the chips at the Hinds Head still win by a large margin, but these are still far better chips than you will usually see in a pub (14/20).
Tarte tatin had decent pastry but was a little overcooked for me, though the apples were good, as was the vanilla ice cream (still at least 13/20). Espresso had strong taste and was served in a decent measure (14/20). Overall this is a real find in a county not exactly over-burdened by good restaurants.