SW Essex Pub Quest: The Four Seasons in Laindon

I live in a cultural and culinary desert. At least that is the sentiment I got used to expressing whenever the subject of the area I settled in was brought up in the context of food, pubs, social life, entertainment. There are no good restaurants, no decent pubs within miles of my humble abode. I developed this preconceptions shortly after moving to south-west Essex, and have held it for well over a dozen years. Truth be told, I never put any effort to find out what the local scene really is like, and just a look at a map reveals there is well over a hundred pubs within 15 mile radius. Time to go and explore.

I am hoping this can develop into a series that could be a guide to the world of south-west Essex pubs. The selection criteria was as follows: any place that serves food and drink and looks to me like a pub, that is within 15 miles from my house (as the crow flies), outside of M25, north of the Thames. Without prejudice for chains (Weatherspoons, Greene King, Harvester), seedy locations, unpromising external appearance or websites. We have to start somewhere – why not in Laindon?

The Four Seasons in Laindon is part of Hungry Horse chain – one I have no knowledge or experience of. It is located in an extensive, free-standing building between a residential area that appears if not poor, then definitely not very wealthy, and an industrial estate. Surrounded by lawns and trees, the location is quite attractive. So is the building, with a two storey-high central section housing the bar, topped by a spire made mostly of glass and letting in a lot of light. Surrounding this is the “restaurant area”, a few dozen tables decently spaced out. Wednesday at 7 PM turned out to be reasonably busy, with only a few tables free, but not noisy at all. Some music was playing in the background, but at comfortable volume that did not disrupt a conversation. Only around 8 PM the volume was turned up and the weekly pub quiz was about to start – but by then, we were ready to leave.

Drinks are nothing to write home about. Just three ales: Abbot, Landlord and Greene King IPA, none of them good from what I recall (I’ve had Abbot this time); otherwise just lagers. But it is cheap – £3 a pint, cocktails £4, premium cocktails (think double vodka and Red Bull) £4.50. Cheap is the name of the game here. The clientele comprised mostly couples in their fifties and sixties having dinners, a friendly, talkative regular at the bar, and a few builders recovering after hard day’s work over a pint and a fag (outside).

Burger would be my default pub order, but the price tag of £5.99 makes me feel uncomfortable, so I look instead for something where I can be reasonably certain what went into it. Thankfully for a tenner you can have a sizzler skillet of your choice with sauce and two sides, so I go for a salmon with piri-piri sauce, corn on the cob and mexican rice. The salmon comes on a bed of onions and peppers partially burned to charcoal and stuck to the surface of skillet, but the fish itself is quite edible, especially when drowned in the abundance of spicy piri-piri sauce. The sauce comes in a separate cup, so can be entirely avoided if desired. Corn was completely soaked in water, so every bite sent sprays of liquid flying around. The rice was okay, slightly spicy, with a few beans here and there. Meanwhile, the other side of the table is happy that there is a vegan option. The Asian veggie burger was just a bun, a lentil patty with chinese spices, and a few bits of spring onion as a an excuse for the promised tomato and lettuce, but hey, no animals were harmed.

All in all, it was better than I anticipated. Do not expect centuries of history, refinement, choice of drinks or food quality. Not for this price, not in this location. In terms of food and entourage it resembles US diners, and if you treat that as your point of reference, the Four Seasons can be a relatively pleasant place to have a mid-week dinner.

01/05/2019