Essex certainly gets a bad old rap doesn't it? Through the Eighties it was seen as home to the nouveau riche; brash and brassy, the epitome of Thatcher's Britain. Then there was Essex Girl, none too bright, dancing round her handbag and giving it all up in the back of a Ford Capri for a bag of chips. Essex Man meanwhile, white socks and Loadsamoney
, latterly turned into Mondeo Man. Courted by Tony Blair, his vote was a deciding factor in New Labour getting into power. More recently, through the mode of augmented reality TV, its image has been rehabilitated to the home of fake tan, fake nails, fake boobs and the vajazzle
Having grown up in the county, I can tell you there is definitely more to it than the Sugar Hut and white stilettos -although styled wisely, a white stiletto really can make an outfit...
A few weekends back we hurtled along the A12 to Chappel, in north Essex. Less built up than the south of the county, the flat land is given over to arable farming and fruit orchards. The sky hangs low taking up most of the horizon, just as in a Constable painting. Nestled in the beautiful Colne Valley, close to the Chappel Viaduct
-a Grade I listed feat of Victorian engineering, is the East Anglian Railway Museum
. By the time we arrived, the museum had all but closed. What we did see of it was a collection of restored railway buildings; signal boxes; a functioning goods and restoration shed and a number of carriages.
Food obsessed, our main reason for the journey was to have tea and cake at Platform 2
, a café in a 1950s railway carriage. Run by Denise and Clare, not only do they cater for the museum visitors, they also lay on brunch and afternoon tea with much passion and enthusiasm.
Spread with a thick white damask tablecloth and set with vintage china, we sat at one of the carriage tables. In my head, this is what I imagine dining cars must have been like during the age of more civilised rail travel.
We started with a plate of crust-less sandwiches made with homemade bread: Essex ham and Suffolk mustard; smoked salmon and a joyous egg mayonnaise that was the antithesis of the tiling grout that often passes for a sandwich filling these days.
A spicy Scotch quail's egg followed and a wonderful bite-sized wild garlic and goat's cheese tartlet.
After a little rest, our pot of tea refreshed, we ate trifle. Squares of Madeira cake set in raspberry jelly, layered with fresh raspberries, vanilla flecked custard, whipped cream and scattered with freshly toasted almond flakes.
Fit to burst, we were presented with a trio of mini cakes: lemon drizzle; carrot and an Eccles cake. Mrs Post's Lemon Drizzle Cake, a recipe by the silver fox of the Great British Bake Off -Paul Hollywood, was the juiciest lemon drizzle I have tasted. I didn't have room for the others, so took them home and, ate them the next day. The Eccles cake was a buttery flaky bite, packed with swollen sticky raisins and the carrot cake, a spicy fragrant mouthful topped with cream cheese icing and a ruffle of candied carrot.
If you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods, do reserve a seat on Platform 2
. For brunch or afternoon tea you must book ahead and, if vintage railways aren't your thing, you can cut a ticket for the café alone and need not take in the museum. Platform 2, Totes Amazeballs!
Labels: Baked Goodness, Beyond Bristol, Essex, Tea and Cake