Dinner at Judges restaurant, Northaw

21st May 2018

A former pub and gastropub in Northaw village has been relaunched as a smart restaurant, with a growing reputation

If you know the village of Northaw, you might remember the village pub, the Sun, located exactly as it should be on the green in front of the church. If you haven’t been lately, you are in for a surprise. Within recent history, the business went from village pub to gastro-pub, renamed the Sun at Northaw. Now, in its latest transformation, the pub part of the equation has disappeared and Northaw now has Judges, a sparkling new upmarket restaurant which opened in November and whose reputation in its first few months has preceded it.

There are those to whom the loss of any village pub is regrettable and no replacement is ever going to find favour. But there are several other likely-looking inns in the vicinity, and this pub’s replacement is an undoubted asset for an up-and-coming area where good restaurants are in demand. And if this is the way to save a historic building (this one is Grade II listed), so be it. Judges is also at pains to point out that customers can drop in just for a drink in the brasserie, which also has its own menu.

At heart however, this is a restaurant, with 82 covers spread across four dining rooms, thus avoiding the modern day menace of the people at the next table sitting in your lap. It’s clean and bright, with all the right touches – an open fire in the alcove, plus plush padded chairs, black tablecloths and trendy round bowls rather than flat plates.
 Capacity nearly doubles this month with the planned opening of the refurbished garden area with seating for 80 and full-menu service plus the options of barbecues and pizzas.

Backed by an inventive menu and what is best described as a funky décor with cute quotes in frames on the walls (sample: ‘Did I just roll my eyes out loud?’) plus various artworks and artefacts, the formula seems to be working. It’s the brainchild of owners John Lyons and James Cunningham, with general manager Shanie McGowran reporting brisk business since the opening.

My first acquaintance with the food on offer was on the Judges website with an ambitious line-up of 11 starters and eight mains, three steak dishes, six desserts plus ice creams and a cheese plate vying for attention. From the starters, my other half was intrigued by the salmon, avocado and prawn gateaux with citrus dressing (£12.50, bottom right), a classic example of taking familiar ingredients and reassembling them in a different order. Risky, but this turned out to be a safe bet and earned a thumbs-up. Similarly, my buttered chestnut mushrooms (£12.50) were served on toasted ciabatta with chicken liver pâté – a tasty as well as warming dish.

My main course of cornfed chicken (£23.95, right) might sound ordinary, not to mention expensive, but it was the Wellington version, wrapped in a pastry coat, again with a layer of pâté and served with colcannon and peppercorn jus – five separate flavours coming together and just the thing for spring. Across the table, the ever-popular confit Gressingham duck leg (£24.50) with dauphinoise potatoes and redcurrant jus wasn’t quite so inventive but lived up to expectations. A side dish of chanteney carrots, admired because enthusiasts insist they taste like carrots used to taste, rounded off both plates. To finish, and tempted by an unusually-varied dessert menu, we opted to share a toffee apple meringue with butterscotch sauce (£7.95), meringue being one of the tests of a chef’s skills. This passed.

As well as being available for private dining in addition to the main restaurant business, Judges keeps up the momentum with theme nights. Wednesdays feature steak and lobster, Thursdays are for cocktails, and Fizz Fridays offer prosecco at half price. With completion of the garden, a season of special events is also planned, including a summer solstice party from 2pm-11pm on Saturday June 30.

The cost of this dinner for two was £110.05 including two glasses of wine and a 10 per cent service charge, which is added automatically.

This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.

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Judges

1 Judges Hill, Northaw EN6 4NL

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