With renowned Essex wine merchant Lay & Wheeler as its owner, the oenophile pedigree of this 15th-century coaching inn is top notch. The wine list might not be huge, but with an impressive by-the-glass range & well-sourced bottles, the quality is unquestionable. Add to that the lovely coastal setting – the Strood across to Mersea Island is an appetite-stimulating hike away – and there’s little to fault. The food is pan-global in outlook, a typical lengthy gastropub-style selection, but with a nod towards seasonal ingredients. At its simplest, it offers fish dishes such as skate wing or deep-fried cod with chips & salad, moving to the more heavyweight Balmoral Estate venison & wild mushroom sausages on caramelised red onion mash & Guinness gravy, or salmon, tuna & prawn kebabs with lemon & herb couscous & a pesto dressing.