Val and I visit the Miller and Carter restaurants in both Chelmsford and Eastwood occasionally, although to be honest, not frequently. They offer a very good two course bar meal that we sometimes indulge in after shopping in Chelmsford City Centre.
But hey, it was Valentine’s Day so steak it was to be.
The Chelmsford Miller & Carter occupies an old barn opposite the Chelmer Village shopping park.
As such it’s only a few minutes away from Chelmsford City Centre, although once you’ve driven past the shopping park, round the roundabout and doubled back, it’s easy to miss the turning left into the Miller and Carter and end up in the car park of ‘Fox & Raven’ next door.
As I recall, the Miller & Carter (hereafter the M&C) used to be a ‘Harvester’ (The Barnes Farm?) in a previous incarnation.
There’s a sensible sized car-park behind the M&C, and on leaving one’s car there’s often a pleasant smell of grilling steaks. There are a few seats and tables outside, primarily for smokers, but the view of traffic queuing to get in and out of the aforementioned shopping park is less than inspiring.
The bar is pleasant enough, with a comfortable seating area around an open fire. It’s nice enough for a pub lunch, or while waiting for a table, if a bit ‘cocktail bar’ in its styling. There’s a reasonable range of beers and lagers, but nothing to write home about.
The main restaurant occupies the shell of the old barn, with large old beams support the high roof. There’s a mezzanine area in the eaves and since a refurb last year the booths and banquettes are – rather appropriately – leather covered, the old red velvet seats were a bit ‘Vegas’, and somewhat incongruous in a rustic Essex barn.
I’d pre-booked a table online the day before; we arrived a quarter of an hour early and with much “I’ll see if there’s a table free” (although no evidence of checking against her reservations list) we were shown to our table. Which frankly looked a bit small and occupied half a booth, another couple were already sat at the other table so there was little opportunity for quiet words of intimacy. Had the restaurant been rammed full I might have been more sympathetic to the management, but on looking round I would guess the venue to be between 30% and 40% full. There was nobody upstairs on the mezzanine, I felt this seating arrangement to be both sloppy and unnecessary.
A waitress came swiftly to take our drinks order, and by the time those were brought we were ready to order our food. The order was taken efficiently with a PDA. My wife ordered a scallop starter, while I ordered chicken wings with a smoked chipotle (is there any other kind?) and honey glaze. Well, the ‘smoked chipotle’ was sadly missing in the glaze, which was bland and cloying – I found myself wishing for a bottle of Tabasco to give these babies some kick.
The scallops Val had ordered were tepid and, while she ate and enjoyed them, she mentioned the lack of heat to the waitress who cleared our plates. The duty manager duly apologised and offered to strike them from our bill.
Next we were served the iceberg lettuce quarters, which were fresh and crisp, mine enjoyed a delicious blue cheese dressing that, sadly, was one of the highlights of my meal.
The smallness of our ‘half booth’ table became apparent when the waitress arrived with our main courses. It was a real struggle to fit two square steak plates, two drinks, two lettuce bowls, two metal pots of fries and a side order of ‘Lobster Mac & Cheese’ onto our tiny table.
I don’t know if the two small tables were an attempt to meet an expected Valentine’s Day increase in trade. Frankly, I doubt it, they hadn’t staffed for increased business, but the small tables don’t work guys – if they’re a permanent feature, then lose them! And don’t force couples to sit close to total strangers when the restaurant is less than half full!
As to the main courses?
Our fillet steaks were fine, juicy, tasty and well cooked. The accompanying ‘onion loaf’ was on the claggy and soggy side, and we barely touched the fries. The ‘Lobster Mac & Cheese’ was okay, but there was precious little evidence of Lobster, the slice of lemon was, I guess, a clue to expect something sea-foody, but I cannot imagine ever wishing to squeeze lemon onto Mac & Cheese.
By now our glasses were in need of replenishing, but there was no sign of our waitress. I finally caught her eye as she was taking payment from the couple at our adjoining mini table and I asked her to ‘pop over’ when she was free. The duty manager – clearly rattled by our complaining about the scallop starter – scuttled over to see what was wrong.
Nothing – with the food – we just wanted some service!
You know how it is? Whenever you eat out, you’re half-way through your starter or main course, and you’ve taken a mouthful of food, when the waitress comes by and asks if everything is okay? This normally necessitates some embarrassed nodding and mumbling. Well at the M&C this didn’t happen once.
And in the past we have received ‘how did we do’ cards when we received our bill (about eighty quid for two starters, two fillet steaks, the Mac & Cheese, and two drinks each). We didn’t this time, so either M&C have stopped distributing these and don’t care about customer service, or the management were attempting to manipulate their feedback scores. Yeah, like that’s going to stop me!
So, in summary, the Chelmer Village Miller and Carter serve good steaks, but it’s let down by poor management. I suspect that they were running with fewer waiting staff than was needed for a busy Valentine’s Day lunchtime, and it showed.
Of late, Chelmsford has seen the opening of a couple of new ‘speciality’ steak restaurants (such as The Rare Cow at Writtle), and there’s a new ‘restaurant quarter’ under construction in the City Centre. This Miller and Carter needs to raise its game or it will struggle to survive against the increased competition.
Frankly, on the the basis of our Valentine’s lunch, it doesn’t deserve to survive.
It’ll be a long time before we go back.
Update – a week later and despite making my comments on both TripAdvisor and on the M&C Feedback site, I’ve had no response from them.
I have received an email offering special “Mother’s Day” deals, but that’s not going to happen.
Update – I received a call on March 2nd – that’s two weeks later – apologising for our disappointing experience, and offering some vouchers to encourage us to try again.
I’m not one to bear a grudge, or to refuse a lunch, so watch this space. Oh, and the two small tables were a ‘special’ for Valentine’s day, and the person I spoke to suggested it’s an experiment they won’t be repeating.
A few days later I received an e-voucher for forty quid, so let’s see how it goes.