REVIEWED: The King’s Head, Ongar

I can only begin to imagine what type of images you conjure in your mind when people say “Essex” to you. As a county, we don’t do ourselves many favours with how we let ourselves get represented in the TV and media. But take it from someone who lives here, it isn’t all Sugar Hut and tans, tits, and teeth. One thing Essex tends to do incredibly well is village/country pub-vibe restaurants that produce excellent dishes with local produce. The closest and highest quality restaurant of this type to me is The Duke’s Head, in Little Burstead, which never fails to disappoint. We often visit on Boxing Day for our “Christmas” dinner, as we volunteer on Christmas Day itself. Even if I don’t go out to seek little locations like this, I always seem to manage to find them. The most recent find came off of the back of one of my good friend’s shop opening in Ongar. If you know me or follow me on social media at all, you’ll know that tying in some form of getting food with any event or social occasion is a way to guarantee me going, so my Mum and I decided to “make a night of it” and booked a table at The Kings Head in Ongar. 

We arrived, expecting from the pictures, a pub-restaurant nestled in some trees or at least a field being visible around it, but it was plonked between two shops on the high street, which initially disappointed me. However, if you ever get taught a lesson not to judge a restaurant by its cover, you’ll get taught it at The King’s Head. There’s a “courtyard” between the pub and the restaurant, and the restaurant has a large outdoor seating area that backs onto the aforementioned field I was so keen to see. We didn’t sit outside, but we sat next to the back wall which is essentially a concertina door and a whole wall of windows around it, so it gives the impression of being outside, without the need to freeze your tits off, which is always a benefit. 

After having been mistakenly told I was coeliac for 8 months and corrected during my hospital experience and Crohn’s diagnosis, I’ve taken every opportunity possible to eat bread, which is funny because I never really liked it before, but have bread taken away from you unnecessarily for that long and you’d be obsessed as well, so it stood to reason the starter I got was the bread and olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I mean, yeah, bread is bread and also see olive oil and vinegar, pretty standard fare and hard to get wrong (although I do wish someone would tell me the trick to getting any balsamic vinegar on the bread). 

It was the main courses that I was looking forward to the most, specifically the pork belly, which I had decided I was having before I even arrived. The “Porchetta” at The King’s Head is pork belly roasted with fennel, rosemary, and sea salt. To me, perfect pork belly is melt-in-your-mouth tender, but also has a little bit of edible crackling. The King’s Head has seasonal menus and uses British meat, the quality of which shines through in dishes like the pork belly. Fennel can be a bit overused in dishes if you ask me (aware no one did), so I was pleased to note only a subtle fennel flavour complimenting the quality of the meat and the gravy, which was homemade and tasted very fresh. The meat was soft and buttery, which always serves well for someone like myself who can wolf down a meal in 2 minutes flat, however, I was slightly disappointed that the crackling was like trying to saw off a tree branch with a plastic kid’s knife. Admittedly, I have never got crackling to the perfect consistency myself, however, I have eaten it in places like La Sala in Marbella where they are well-versed in being able to create crackling that is crispy but won’t break your tooth. A little highlight on the sides was the thyme roasted carrots, especially as in the whole of my life in my carrot roasting career I’ve only ever thought to roast them in things like garlic and honey because I am basic. 

Another thing Essex can do well when it comes to locally sourced produce is fish, yes guys, we do have a coastline, and while some of it I wouldn’t quite trust to be clean enough to source fish that don’t have three eyes and radioactive gills, some places in Essex supply delicious fresh fish that was only caught a few miles away from where you were eating it. My Mum had such a fish, and as well as being tasty it was also huge. There’s a lot of noise on social media at the moment about restaurant prices and closures, and how expensive things are. The King’s Head is about “mid” price. The Porchetta was £19 and £19 well spent in my opinion as even with a couple of things on the dish I couldn’t eat, I was still full up with excellent quality food (please don’t read this as The King’s Head not catering for certain dietary requirements, sometimes I just cannot be bothered with the faff of asking for changes if there is only something small on there like stuffing I cannot have because I usually give it to whoever I am dining with).

I also think there is a lot to be said about having a meal in a genuinely nice environment. There is a reason some places are cheap, and that reason is that eating in them is like eating in a staff canteen. If you are ever in Ongar this is well worth a trip and well worth the price, and seeing as it is just across the road you might as well also visit Ava Grace in Ongar too. 

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