Saffron Walden is idyllic on a summer time’s day, like a Ladybird Basic model of how Nice Britain whiles away its balmy weekends: strolling on grassy heaths, looking vintage shops or shopping for small-batch preserves from the jolly market. Clearly, having watched a whole lot of Midsomer Murders, I believe that, behind closed doorways, Saffron Walden is the truth is a virulent mattress of deceit and lethal avarice, however on the floor it’s plain attractive. Simply off the principle procuring space sits Church Avenue, a fairly thoroughfare with but extra vintage showrooms, Grade 1 historic homes and, since late final summer time, Chater’s, an area that does nearly all the things in a low-key however deftly curated method.
It’s a form of fancy cake counter/common retailer that sells beautiful issues reminiscent of bars of Land chocolate, Perelló olives and bottles of their own-label Vault Aperitivo vermouth. It additionally has tables the place you may eat a bakewell tart or an eccles cake and sip on a cortado, or have provolone on focaccia with piquillo peppers for lunch, or, come night time, get correctly caught into their vary of vermouths, in addition to home made pastas and a spread of small plates: burrata with orange zest, steak tartare and chickpeas with paprika, as an example. That’s to not say you may’t drink the vermouth earlier and order the cake nearer bedtime – the temper appears very a lot to say: do what you want, so long as you’re good whilst you’re doing it.
Max and Máire Chater have been across the London hospitality scene for years in lots of guises, making their names within the metropolis’s bars and eating places, distilling their very own gin, main strolling excursions across the most interesting ingesting joints, transferring into vermouth and now, together with Dan Joines, previously of, amongst others, Sorella and Darby’s in south London, combining all their abilities on this fairly, white-brick area in a city that’s the polar reverse of edgy east London. Even so, Chater’s undoubtedly has about it a dose of city industrial stylish – it’s a big, ethereal room with few adornments except for these properly spaced tables, although on a Saturday lunchtime it felt very very similar to a cool oasis of calm.
Don’t search for bells and whistles, although. There aren’t any. It’s all so completely curated that the standard actually does communicate for itself. The menu is an ever-changing single sheet, which after we visited featured recent, heat focaccia with burnt butter that tasted like caramel, posh olives served of their tin with a fork to assist your self, and cubes of pecorino dressed with native honey and floor espresso. Sure, cheese dressed with espresso – and in Saffron Walden, too! – nevertheless it labored, with the bitterness sitting comfortably alongside the sticky milkiness, like a chewable espresso martini, however with much less likelihood of you leaving your bra someplace. There was additionally a home pork terrine with apple, fennel, figs and apricots, plus superb butter beans in an oily, garlicky dressing topped with whiffy but scrumptious Ortiz tinned sardines. The vibe is straightforward, generally laughably simple – and all the time scrumptious.
The menu at dinner will get a little bit extra complicated – that includes the likes of scallops with elderflower and pine, cumberland sausage, leeks French dressing and gilthead bream crudo – however not a lot. If this place was nearer to residence, I’d pop in on a regular basis simply to see what they’d sourced not too long ago and what the hell they’d determined to serve it with, such because the salami from Sunday Charcuterie in Suffolk that comes with sourdough made on the town by the Mini Miss bakery.
One factor Chater’s is superb at, although they don’t make a fuss about it, is home made pasta. Neglect spaghetti, penne or farfalle: right here they make luscious fats worms of bucatini and serve them in a very very first rate cacio e pepe sauce. Plainly nearly everyone seems to be attempting to do cacio e pepe as of late, and it typically tastes like gritty macaroni cheese, however the Chater’s model was the true deal and had a pleasant, peppery kick. We additionally had a bowl of quick, ridged bullets of radiatori in vodka and mascarpone sauce that was the very epitome of consolation meals.
We didn’t really want dessert in any case that, however they’d a bakewell tart, of kinds, which was actually only one huge, thick layer of moist frangipane studded with the odd boozy cherry nearly as an afterthought (ie, the right dimensions for a civil bakewell tart), in addition to an enormous, heat milk-chocolate cookie that was superbly sticky within the center. Charles drank a can of Vault Aperitivo negroni whereas I sipped a blackcurrant-leaf spritz and neatly completed off the bakewell, questioning if I presumably had room for an eccles cake, too, as a result of it got here with Lancashire cheese. Chater’s guarantees little and fully overdelivers. It’s presumably fairly bizarre for Saffron Walden, however I’ll take bizarre over boring or leaving hungry any day.
Grace Dent’s new guide, Consolation Consuming: What We Eat When No One Is Trying, is revealed in October by Guardian Faber at £20. To pre-order a replica for £16, go to guardianbookshop.com