I saw in my 30th birthday in June last year in my favourite Seinfeld-inspired lobster t-shirt, tucking into a bit fat claret crustacean at a relatively new offering in Southend-on-Sea, Essex – Bourgee.
Founded by sometime TV chef Marc Baumann, who made the rather risky move of selling up his renowned Baumann’s Brasserie in the north of the county, the venue is something of an oddity on Southend’s seafront – surrounded by chippies, arcades, and one of south Essex’s many Wimpys, it certainly offers something different.
This, and the fact the restaurant was somewhat off the beaten track, meant trade was initially slow following the Laurent-Perrier soaked opening party in autumn 2014 – worryingly so, in fact, to those of us who were excited about Baumann leading a gastronomic revolution in this kiss-me-quick seaside town.
Like anything different, though, Bourgee simply took time to take – and it’s not difficult to understand why the restaurant now regularly manages to fill at least half its covers even on a Monday night.
The atmosphere of the place is serene. The lighting is perfect, the décor is the right kind of modern, and the staff are smiley, helpful, and quite pretty, too. In line with the ‘affordable luxury’ theme, you won’t be breaking the bank, either.
There isn’t a steak on the menu above £30 – which seriously undervalues the quality of the meat and its preparation – and a whole lobster won’t cost you any more, either, whether you want it traditionally prepared or the Bourgee version of a Thermidor.
Baumann made much of the restaurant’s Josper grill and Galician beef – the flavour of which he puts down to the Spanish region’s rainy climate – and you can see the results of this in the review below, which was a taster preview I was treated to ahead of the restaurant’s opening in September 2014.
Due it’s terrific transport links, Southend is just over an hour outside central London on the train, and Bourgee is more than worth the trip. To book a table, visit bourgeerestaurants.com
Following my tomato and chorizo gazpacho shot, which was a beautifully fresh and
clean palate primer, out comes the lobster.
This small, but perfectly formed starter, is a combination of Colchester lobster tail reclining on a bed chow chow (chayote) shoots in sumptuous lobster bisque.
The “Bang Bang” bit is the cheeky addition of a mystery ingredient which, when scattered over the dish, crackles like popping candy. Bisque is one of my favourite dishes and it doesn’t disappoint; there was just the right amount of sweetness in the lobster and the crunchy texture of the chow chow really made eating it a great tactile experience. If you like your seafood, this one is a must.
I’ve been slightly greedy and had two starters. But, if the idea of a cucumber sorbet puts you off, all I can say is conquer your fears by giving it a go because it really is a revelation.
Think the slice of cucumber you get in your gin and tonic, and you’ll get the idea. It is slightly sweet but, most of all, it’s highly refreshing and is the perfect accompaniment to the mackerel, which is itself an excellent catch, and comes with a smattering of pesto.
Now for the big deal: A mouthwatering lump of 20-day aged Galician steak, accompanied by an indulgently stodgy tower of dauphinoise potatoes.
The first thing you notice with this dish is the smell – it’s heavenly. It’s unlike any aroma I’ve experienced from steak, which backs up the restaurant’s claim that its meat is unlike any you’re ever likely to taste. When it comes to the eating, it really is divine.
The naturally deep, earthy flavour of the meat, cooked medium rare, is complemented by the charcoal of the grilling and finished perfectly by rocks of Himalayan mountain salt.
The texture, too, is soft enough to make it an easy chew, while still giving your teeth something to do. The dauphinoise side is a rich, creamy, buttery, citadel of delight, with a cheesy crust and is pure comfort food. I’m quite sure it’s no good for me, but it sure feels so darn good.
As a palate-cleanser, a handsome selection of ice cream appears, each in its own little square dish with a tiny cone and chocolate flake poking out.
The flavours were toffee popcorn, dolce de leche and an obscure fruit sorbet I can’t remember. Needless to say, however, they were all delicious.
The popcorn one I couldn’t place at first but, once you know what flavour it is, it becomes strikingly obvious. The dolce de leche was a soft, sticky heaven, while the sorbet nicely washed away the excess of the previous flavours.
CHOCOLATE FONDANT WITH CREME ANGLAIS, VANILLA MADAGASCAR ICE CREAM AND RASPBERRY JUS
I love chocolate almost as much as I love seafood, so this little number didn’t stand a chance.
You really can’t ask for much more from a dessert; a soft barbican of chocolate sponge surrounded by a delightful custard moat and capped with a creamy castle of ice cream.
Break into the fondant fortification and it is soon swimming in a pool of its own gooey, chocolately innards; by far the most delicious siege I’ve mounted
Parts of this article appeared in the Essex Echo newspaper with photographs by Al Underwood.