Baumann’s Brasserie, 4-6 Stoneham Street, Coggeshall, Essex

For three sweaty hours, we'd been crawling north in bank holiday traffic. Another two hours, at least, lay ahead of us. We would have to break our journey to eat. Once, our only option would have been the nearest service-station cafe. But thankfully we live in the modern world. A quick search on the Blackberry, a phone call and a sat nav-guided escape route later, and we were happily installed in a dreamy little bistro, feasting on braised pork belly and pan-fried brill. Also, this being the modern world, charred antelope steak in goat's cheese sauce, but we'll come on to that later.

We didn't alight on Baumann's completely by chance; the place has been on my To Do list ever since chef/proprietor Mark Baumann was pointed out to me at a food event as Essex's other celebrity chef. His restaurant, in the small market town of Coggeshall, was founded in 1986 as a regional outpost of Langan's Brasserie by the late Peter Langan, with whom Baumann worked as head chef.

Baumann took over after Langan's death, building the brasserie into a local legend: a small-town restaurant with big ideas. And it's clearly hugely popular – the nice lady who took my desperate phone call from the traffic jam initially told me they were fully booked that Friday night, though she managed to squeeze us in.

So it came to pass that four dishevelled travellers, lightly dusted with Hula Hoops, found themselves sitting in a smart room full of immaculately dressed Essex diners. Thankfully, we were able to pass unnoticed, because Baumann's offers so many other visual distractions. If this place had any more personality, it would be John McCririck. There are book-lined corners, and pillars sporting cartoon characters, and paintings covering every available bit of wall-space, from oil portraits to a pastel sketch of Eric Clapton. It sounds awful, I know, but the effect, in an elegantly proportioned room with slatted blinds, mismatched furniture and a golden wooden floor, is actually rather lovely.

Less so, the picture on the floor which you step over on entering, of a prostrate Mark Baumann, passed out, in chef's whites, clutching a bottle of booze. Given the horrible, alcohol-fuelled end of the brasserie's original owner, this seems in dubious taste, and certainly not a decorative touch you can imagine, say, Alain Ducasse being tempted to emulate.

But Baumann is clearly the star of the show here, with one corner of the room devoted to photos and caricatures of him, saturnine and luxuriantly coiffed, posing with his arms round other TV chefs, and generally looking handsome. The only place he wasn't to be glimpsed, it seemed, was in the kitchen.

Like the decor, Baumann's menu is... characterful. Ranging far beyond classic brasserie fare, it includes pan-global novelties such as foie gras crème brulee, and scallop sushi with lemongrass and tahini.

Our meal began on a jokey note, with complimentary smoked salmon "ice creams"; tiny cornets filled with a piped swirl of whipped salmon mousse.

With no time for starters – the table had to be returned in an hour – we needed to try as many main courses as possible, which is how our four-year-old got his first taste of sticky lemon chicken with mustard and marjoram sauce and Asian greens (two sticky thumbs up from him, though it struck more jaded palates as dry and under-sauced). And how Harry ended up being forced to eat charred antelope steak. Why did I make him do it? Why was it even on the menu of a chef who has championed, on his own TV show, the pleasures of eating local produce?

The hunk of meat, dense and chewy in texture, was reminiscent of venison, but overwhelmed by a strident goat's cheese and bacon sauce; herbed spaetzle, nubby little dumplings, completed this pointless Cook's Tour of a dish. The simpler main courses were better, though skimpily sauced; pan-fried brill with sautéed mushrooms and spring greens, and a perfectly cooked slab of braised pork belly, served with slices of herbed dumpling.

The kitchen's predisposition towards novelty went into overdrive for the puddings. Warm marmalade bread and butter pudding came with a shot of chocolate martini, whose Kahlua-like sweetness didn't harmonise naturally with the tang of the marmalade. More successful was the marriage of chocolate mousse with warm baby doughnuts dusted in sugar and cinnamon. "I love everything about this pudding," announced David, who, at eight, was very much in its target market.

Despite the menu's regrettable warning that some dishes, "like this brasserie", may contain nuts, our fellow diners seemed notably well-behaved, though maybe things kicked off after we left. Service goes the extra mile; clearly this is a well-run operation that knows how to keep its regulars happy. Baumann's kitchen may be a little over-excitable, but it sure as hell beats the Little Chef.

Baumann's Brasserie, 4-6 Stoneham Street, Coggeshall, Essex (01376 561453)

Food 3 stars
Ambience 3 stars
Service 4 stars

Around £35 a head for three courses before wine and service

Tipping policy: "No service charge. All tips go to the staff"

Side Orders: Joy of Essex

The Headley

Great Warley, Brentwood (01277 216104)

Starters at this elegant country pub include homemade pork pie with mature cheddar and pickle; or jellied eels with chilli vinegar.

The Company Shed

129 Coast Road, West Mersea (01206 382700)

You won't get fancy airs at this simple restaurant – just fabulous fresh fish and shellfish, caught and delivered daily by local fishermen.

The Sun Inn

High Street, Dedham (01206 323351)

Courgette-flower risotto with chardonnay and parmesan is typical of the Italian-influenced menu at this charming old coaching inn.

Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Day In a Page

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world