Suburban Essex isn’t exactly a hub of fine-dining, but in recent years, the area has seriously upped its game. The Woodford, overseen by wunderkind chef Ben Murphy, was one of 2016’s hottest tickets (Murphy is now at Launceston Place). Indian restaurant Grand Trunk Road has also impressed in E18, and now The Only Way is Essex star Megan McKenna is getting in on the action with her British offering McK Grill. We caught up with her to talk all things food, gluten and TOWIE.  

Megan McKenna Essex McK Grill restaurant

What made you want to open a restaurant?

I never actually wanted to do something like this, but my dad and I were speaking about how there aren’t many places in Essex that serve good British food, but with a fine-dining feel. At McK Grill, there’s chilled house music playing while you eat and it’s somewhere you can get dressed up and have fun.

Which other restaurants in Essex would you recommend to people?

It would definitely be Sheesh. I love them and I’m a massive supporter of them and their food. Obviously it’s totally different to what we do though as it’s Turkish and we’re British fine-dining.

We’ve already seen McK Grill on one episode of TOWIE, will it be a regular hangout on the show?

Yeah, one hundred per cent, it’s going to be the new spot! We have a cocktail bar as well, so it’s somewhere you can go and have a drink too.

McK Grill Woodford Essex restaurant

What is there to drink?

We have all the best cocktails. We have a special Porn Star Martini which I love and we’ve got lots of new things that people won’t have tried before. The drinks come with very pretty floral garnishes too, so they look really nice.

The menu at McK Grill is largely gluten-free. Why was that important to you?

I’m coeliac myself and I have a severe wheat allergy, so when I go out to eat, I struggle. There are a few places that do gluten-free food now but it’s normally very limited. You don’t want just to be offered a salad for dinner, you want to be able to eat everything regardless and you can do that at my restaurant. Ninety per cent of our menu is gluten-free and no one would know, as it tastes so good.

Who’s the biggest foodie on the TOWIE cast?

I don’t really know, but I love to cook so I would say if there was a cooking programme and they had to pick a TOWIE star to be on it, it would definitely be me. I reckon I’m the best cook on the show and obviously I’m the one opening a restaurant!

McK Grill Woodford Essex restaurant

Where do you like to eat when you’re in central London?

It’s got to be Hakkasan. They do a little gluten-free menu and the food is unreal. They make a lobster soup that I literally crave daily and their Wagyu beef is on point, so that’s definitely one of my London favourites.

Essex doesn’t have the best reputation for food, do you think people in the area will welcome a high-end restaurant?

Although Essex has had a bad name in the past, it’s also where all the footballers live and all the glam reality TV girls. We all take pride in our appearance and we want to be able to stay local and get dressed up, without having to travel to London. So I think people in the area will appreciate what we’re doing.

What’s your biggest pet-hate in restaurants?

It has to be if they say they’ll just give me a salad when I mention that I’m gluten intolerant. If I order a steak, I’ll ask if they can make me a red wine reduction sauce, as there’s no wheat in that. They normally say “we can’t do that” and I always think, why can’t you make it from scratch if you’ve got a chef in the kitchen? That’s what my restaurant does.

McK Grill Woodford Essex restaurant

Are there any plans for more McK Grills?

Right now, I want to make it exclusive so that people come to Essex to try it out. You never know though, obviously if it did kick off that would be amazing but I just feel like I want it to be a one-off. On our opening night, we had people who had driven all the way from Leeds and somewhere else up north, so it made me feel good that people had come all that way to check it out.

McK Grill is open now in Woodford.

This article was published on 9 May 2017