Next door to a well-stocked farm shop, get here early or late for a chance of a table such is the popularity for the simple good value country cooking, using great local ingredients such as the farm's beef, lamb and potatoes.
The Alma Inn Harwich, Essex, CO12 3EE
The personal touch
Fed up with city life and fuelled with the desire to be close to a beach, Nick May escaped London with his family for the Essex coast in 2010 and hasn’t looked back. An experienced publican, having run the Dartmouth Arms in Highgate for a decade, he snapped up the near-derelict Alma Inn and set about restoring the 15th-century Merchants House back to its former glory. A pub and the hub of Harwich life since the 1850s, it has served ale to citizens, sailors, soldiers and farmers of the wind over the intervening year and, thanks to Nick, the rejuvenated Alma continues to draw all-comers and now thrives as an inn offering six quirky rooms and modern British food with the emphasis on fresh fish and seafood landed yards away on the Quay. The timeless bar remains delightfully rustic, with bare boards, panelled walls, simple wooden tables topped with wax-encrusted bottles, a blazing winter wood-burner, and cracking bar dispensing a raft of local beers and ciders. Old floorboards from the bar have been recycled to create the huge table in the rear dining room, and the neat little courtyard provides welcome extra space in the summer. Look out for the corridor bar, the Cobbold etched glass windows in the Smoke Room and the plaque showing the level the water reached during the North Sea flood in 1953.
Children are welcome in the pub; smaller portions are served and families can book the top floor family suite for £150 (double room and twin room).
Dogs are allowed in the bar and courtyard garden and all the rooms (extra £10).
Tiny sun-trap courtyard with rambling vine for shade, a few raised flowerbeds and rustic tables and benches. It’s a cracking spot for a pint of Mauldons and a plate of fish and chips when the sun shines.
The Alma Inn Harwich, Essex, CO12 3EE
Do not disturb
The Alma Inn Harwich, Essex, CO12 3EE
Mastering the menu
(Starters: £4.25-£12; Main Courses: £10.95-£25; Desserts £4-£5)
Look to the chalkboards for seasonal game and squeaky fresh fish and seafood landed yards away on the Quay and delivered to the kitchen door by the fishermen. Tuck into dressed Harwich crab or grilled lobster, sold by weight and served with garlic butter, chips and salad, or order a plate of Mersea Island rock oysters grilled with tarragon and garlic butter. If you fancy fish, then the day’s catch may yield Dover sole, flounder, luss or skate, the latter served with caper butter and new potatoes. Lunch specials may include lamb and mint sandwich and fish finger sandwich with tartare sauce. Main menu dishes range from starters of Serrano ham with capers, or smoked mackerel pate to seafood and Spanish sharing platters, and beer battered fish and chips, crab linguini with chilli, and excellent Essex farm-reared steaks (sold by weight) with peppercorn sauce and chips. Winter months sees wildfowl, pheasant and venison on the menu. The bar is chock-full of local ales (Mauldons & Adnams), Aspalls cider on tap and scrumpy ciders on the bar, some interesting bottled beers, and Reliquum plum gin, grown and distilled 5 miles away in Great Oakley.
Time to Eat
Time at the bar
Take it back home
Tour the brewery that brewed your favourite pint, visit the shop on the farm that reared your delicious Sunday roast beef, and seek out the roadside stalls selling the local crab and samphire on the inn’s menu, the Food Trail features the local artisan producers and suppliers where you can buy to enjoy at home.
Change of scenery
Looking for a pub for lunch following a country walk, a different venue for dinner, or a good café for coffee, light lunch or afternoon tea, then the best in the area are listed below. If you find a new and exciting eatery in the area that’s worthy of a mention on the Food Trail, then please to do let us know – firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Inn Location - The Alma Inn
As well as having a popular cosmopolitan restaurant and cafe, here you can hire wooden boats from April to October and row down the Stour to Flatford.
An excellent food lovers' emporium on a real working farm stocking fine produce such as East Anglian cheese, bread from their bakery, charcuterie as well as their own reared rare breed meat, Suffolk coast fish and locally-grown vegetables. They have a smart rustic restaurant with outstanding views of the River Orwell and the iconic road bridge.
One of a small group owned by famed jam-makers Wilkins of Tiptree, the 16th century Essex Rose has been a must for a stylish afternoon tea on Dedham High Street for over five decades.
The Dedham Vale Estate is managed by Carters Vineyards and run by the Bunting family. Wine maker Ben Bunting and son Tom are building on the early success of the vineyard, originally planted by International Wine Judge and renowned viticulturist, Mary Mudd, in producing fine still and sparkling wines.
A good pit stop if walking along the river Stour or boating; the Swan's beer garden has its own landing stage. An excellent range of craft beers and real ales put together by beer guru Mark Dorber. An experimental micro-brewery is now installed, to take advantage of their own garden hops. Local, seasonal, interesting food is served and their mean sausage rolls, always on the bar, are a must.
The Sun's sister establishment, opened in 2014, has a ground floor bar and lounge plus first floor dining room for quirky, smart, local and seasonal cooking. Combine it with a visit to Colchester Castle, Firstsite Contemporary Arts Gallery or some retail shopping!
While Jamie Oliver's mate Jimmy Doherty is a familiar face on TV, his farm, just off the A14 near Ipswich is a delight. There is simply plenty for families to do - nature trails, feeding rare breed pigs, sheep and cattle, butterfly tents, field kitchens and food festivals. In addition there is a restaurant, farm shop selling their meat and numerous retail outlets such as Joules.
1 Inn Location - The Alma Inn
Fabulous rural crafts tuition centre in an old watermill with over 50 different subjects being tutored in. Learn about growing your own or harvesting wild foods. Lovely home-made lunches part of the appeal.
Run by Amanda Woodcraft, this charming cookery school sits on the same Mersea Island location as Ben's Fish. Not only do you see the fish coming in from the day boats, you get to use them. Amanda attracts tops London chefs such as Chris Gillard (Head Chef of St John's Restaurant).
Enjoy a guided trip in a Canadian canoe along the navigable stretches of the River Stour, heading downstream from Sudbury through Dedham Vale and Constable Country. There’s plenty of wildlife to see en route, and you might even spot an otter. The trips run between April and September.
Located in a picturesque valley setting in Kersey, near Ipswich, Kersey Pottery has a comprehensive collection of handmade tableware, individually decorated bowls and plates and stoneware with distinctive glazes.
Based at Polstead, north of Colchester, Dylan Pym makes handcrafted high quality furniture from solid English hardwood. He takes commissions, too, and encourages customer input.
Located in the heart of Constable Country, on the Essex/Suffolk border, the Dedham Art & Craft Centre is housed on three floors in a converted church. With the work of over 60 artisans on display, this is just the place for the casual browser and dedicated shopper. There’s also a welcome tea room; when the weather is fine, pick up a picnic basket and relax by the river.
Established in 1999, and overlooking the estuary of the River Stour at Manningtree, North House Gallery hosts regular exhibitions of paintings, drawings, sculpture and original prints by contemporary local artists. The gallery is open on Saturdays and by appointment at any other time.
Ambiance is a ladies' boutique where the stock ranges from feminine outfits and accessories for special occasions to hats and fascinators.
Shopping in East Anglia's historic waterfront town offers a multiple choice of global brands, independent retailers and small shops. Queen Street is the place to make for to hunt out something a bit different.
Places to visit
With its ancient timbers and crooked lines, Lavenham Guildhall is one of many notable buildings in this picturesque medieval village. Inside, you'll find a museum devoted to the history of Lavenham, with fascinating displays depicting 500 years of farming and industry.
Flatford Mill at East Bergholt is managed by the National Trust. Stand in the same spot as Constable and enjoy a view he would recognize - the scene here is featured in his most famous painting, The Hay Wain. Nearby is Bridge Cottage, which includes a small exhibition providing a fascinating insight into the artist and his work.
Located near Colchester, Coggeshall Grange Barn is one of the largest medieval timber-framed buildings in Europe. Inside, oak timbers reach up into a magnificent cathedral-like roof. It's an architectural gem and a rare relic dating back eight centuries.
The Munnings Collection at Castle Hill in Dedham was home of artist Sir Alfred Munnings. His desire to make his paintings accessible to the public after his death was made possible in 1961, when his widow opened the house for the first time.
Located at Elmstead Market near Colchester, the Beth Chatto Gardens are a perfect example of how an overgrown wasteland can be transformed into a horticultural work of art that is an inspiration to all who visit. There is also a welcome tearoom within the site.
Devastated by fire in 1942, this Tudor mansion at Long Melford was later restored by the Hyde Parker family in whose possession it remains to this day. Their cousin, Beatrix Potter, was a regular visitor here.
Essex may not be the most obvious destination for countryside and coastal walking, but within its boundaries is a surprising choice of varied routes – from gentle farmland strolls to hikes along lonely marshes and beside meandering river estuaries. The only way to really appreciate unspoiled Essex is on foot. Constable Country is one of the best areas for exploring and in this vast patchwork of fields and hedgerows, you can imagine the artist John Constable seeking inspiration. On a sunny day in summer, the experience of walking from East Bergholt to Flatford Mill is hard to beat. Equally memorable is a stroll across the picturesque water meadows at Sudbury.
There’s plenty of choice for cycling in this part of Essex. Discover a rich assortment of villages and explore many of the locations used in the much-loved BBC television series Lovejoy. To the west of Dedham is Finchingfield, sometimes described as the most photographed village in England.
The Essex events diary brims with fairs and festivals, concert and theatre dates. There are air shows, sporting events, water festivals and walk tours. Among the many fixtures is the Essex Poetry Festival, a month of poetry readings, workshops and open-mic events.
Location, Location, Location
By Road: Follow the A120 from Colchester to Harwich, following signs to the Town Centre to reach The Quay, Kings Heads Street is the third street on the right. There are free parking spaces along the street, or park on The Quay or the town car park nearby (both pay & display)
By Rail: Harwich station is a 5-minute walk away from The Alma
By Ferry: Take the foot ferry (space for bikes too) across the Stour estuary from Shotley peninsula to Harwich Quay
25 King's Head Street, Harwich, Essex, CO12 3EE