“ Address: Arkesden / Essex CB11 4EX England / Telephone: 1799 550272 „
Have to say was disappointed, had expected much better. The service was poor and one guest had to send food back as inedible. Great shame as it came highly recommended and I am not one to complain needlessly.
During our recent stay in Essex we spent quite a bit of time sourcing local pubs in which to eat our lunches or evening meals. It was quite by accident we came across The Axe and Compasses which is in Arkesden, near Saffron Walden - we'd been out on a random drive and just happened to spot this quaint looking little pub, a pub which doesn't actually look like a pub from the outside! The exterior is gorgeous. The greenery and plant life which is carefully arranged to go up the walls outside makes it look more like a country cottage than a pub restaurant, while the beautiful thatched roof you can see from the picture above looks even nicer in the flesh. As soon as we walked in to the Axe and Compasses I was hit by how warm and cosy it is. We sat in the lounge, as near to the open fire as possible, and I immediately sank into one of the plush sofas and had a look around. The furniture in here is lovely; very olde worlde with lots of sturdy looking wooden tables and chairs, brass fittings and wall units in which to display a variety of classy and interesting nick nacks. I love the look of this place as it just looks welcoming from the minute you step in the door. The menu is hand written on several large blackboards with each dish having a basic description of the main ingredients alongside the name and price, I much prefer printed menu's as it's easier to make a decision on what to eat but the blackboards do make the place seem more homely and exclusive. The food is split up into 'Restaurant' quality food and 'Bar Food', although if the bar food is meant to be inferior in some way it wasn't obviously so judging by the names of the dishes and the ingredients used. We both ate from the Restaurant Menu as we fancied some high quality and unusual food, and I can honestly say from start to finish the meals were both absolutely wonderful. You can choose from a very good selection of starters, a huge main course menu and a small range of gooey and delicious sounding desserts. Prices are kinda hefty compared to most pub restaurants I've visited in the area but, hey, it's the Valentines period so when better to treat ourselves to some posh nosh?! We ordered two starters and shared them as they were of the 'finger food' variety. The Seafood Platter was amazing value for £6.75 and contained smoked salmon, large prawns, mussels and smoked mackerel. All the fish was beautifully cooked and tasted extremely fresh and of obviously high quality; the 1000-Isle dressing which was served with the platter was delicious, thick and creamy with a wonderful lemon aftertaste. The other starter we chose was Deep Fried Brie Wedges and these were sooooo good that I could have eaten my fingers after touching them! The brie wedges were lightly breaded and deep fried just long enough to make the enclosed cheese almost runny - oh my god it was delicious, especially when dipped into the redcurrant jelly which was served with it. It literally took me half an hour plus four trips back to the blackboard menu to finally decide what main course to have. In the finish I plumped for the same meal as Mark, Sirloin Steak in a Drambuie and Horseradish Mushroom Sauce. Wow. When the meals were brought to our table I was astounded by how massive the portions were; each meal cost a whopping £17.50 and usually I find in these kind of pubs the higher the price, the smaller the meal will be when it's brought to you. Not so in the Axe and Compasses. Our large dinner plates were piled high with food that both looked and smelled wonderful. The Sirloin Steak was cooked to perfection and when we'd ordered Mark was asked how we'd like the steak cooked. I had mine well done while Mark asked for his medium rare. The steak was fabulous; moist and ultra meaty with absolutely no fat or gristle to spoil the neatness of the steak. It was infused with a subtle flavour of Drambuie which worked to make the steak taste even more meaty and flavoursome. The sauce was better than any steak sauce I've ever tasted; it was rich and tangy with a definite taste of both mushrooms and horseradish - surprisingly the horseradish and large amount of Drambuie used to make the sauce didn't mask the flavour of the fresh mushrooms at all, and all the different ingredients came together to make a delicious meal. This was served with small boiled potatoes in their skins, green beans, carrots and sweetcorn. All the veg was cooked beautifully and really came into their own when dipped in the steak sauce. I ate every single morsel on my plate, which is somewhat of a miracle for me as I usually try and save a bit of room for dessert! BUT... I still had room for dessert! Mark didn't, and I was quite surprised about this as I can rarely out-eat him! After much deliberation I opted for a piece of Strawberry Cheesecake and it was, quite simply, divine. Huge chunks of strawberry were placed on top and the biscuit base was crunchy, sweet and delicious - after checking no-one was looking I actually wiped my finger along the plate when I'd finished to pick up the last few crumbs and smears of strawberry! The bar in the Axe and Compasses is extremely well stocked. The usual lagers, ciders and beers are available in both draught and bottled form and Mark was really impressed by the sheer variety of real ales and almost drunk the Speckled Hen pump dry - luckily it was my turn to drive that day... All the top brand spirits are available, as well as some more exotic bottles which I've never seen before in other pubs. The Axe and Compasses has a comprehensive wine menu which is available both in the restaurant and in the bar area, with good quality bottles of wine ranging in price from £12 to upwards of 30 quid. I had a glass of excellent Italian wine with my meal and heard a lady at the next table saying it was one of the best wine menu's she's ever seen - and she had the look of someone used to fine wines, if you know what I mean! We spent around three hours in the Axe and Compasses and this cost us around £90, which is more than we'd usually spend on a meal and drinks but the quality of the food and the general atmosphere of the place made this money well spent. I thoroughly enjoyed every single aspect of our visit from the open fire right down to the friendly and helpful staff who work here. Talking of the staff, I did have cause to complain during our visit when I was given a fork which hadn't been washed properly. The girl I complained to was completely mortified and apologised profusely before returning with a complete set of clean cutlery and a free liqueur coffee for me to enjoy with my meal. This was true of all members of staff we came across; they were all really helpful and knew everything there was to know about the choice of food on the menu. Disabled access is fine. The doorways both outside and within the Axe and Compasses are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, plus there is plenty of room to manoeuvre between the tables in the restaurant and bar area. There are no steps for you to navigate and chairs can easily be moved around in the restaurant to allow you to get your wheelchair nearer to your table. The Axe and Compasses is in Arkesden, which is a few miles West of Newport. We were travelling from Saffron Walden and we got to the place within around 20 minutes by following the B1052 London Road and then the B1038 from Newport to Arkesden. At the end of the B1038 simply make the first right turn and then the first left turn you come to the pub. Easy. If you fancy visiting from a bit further away then Arkesden is located a couple of miles away from the M11, so is easily accessible from most directions. The Axe and Compasses Arkesden Nr Saffron Walden Essex CB11 4EX Tel: 01799 550272
National Winner Best Food Pub 2007