Water Lilies, Lifehouse Spa, Frinton Road Thorpe-le-Soken Essex CO16 0JD
My only experience of spa food was at The Sanctuary, and I wasn’t very impressed. All I can recall is eating a plain piece of fish.
The Water Lilies restaurant at the Lifehouse Spa has one of the best menus I’ve seen in a long time. Luckily we were there overnight so we managed to try almost everything we fancied. Headed up by Paul Boorman, who has won a multitude of awards, including Essex Chef of the year, and Colchester Chef of the year for four years running. He is inspired by England’s ‘natural larder’.
LUNCH: Starting off was Wild mushrooms, lambs lettuce, toasted pumpkin seeds, mixed sprouts and sherry vinaigrette for me, and sardines on toast for Ade.
Next was pan roast sea bass, new potatoes, baby fennel, tomato consommé, lemon crisp for me, with a naughty side of chips in the coolest mini chip pan! Ade had free range chicken caeser salad with crisp Parma ham, flaked parmesan, and marinated white anchovies.
It being our first day in the spa, and a treatment lined up, we opted for one glass of the house red in a lovely huge glass. I don’t know what it is, but I love drinking wine out of a huge glass.
DINNER: Firstly, I was really looking forward to eating my dinner wearing our gowns, but Ade insisted we would look like freaks as no one else would be wearing theirs. I ordered him downstairs just before dinner to check the situation, only two people in the already full restaurant were in gowns. We hastily changed and I lost that spa feeling.
I was so hungry, what with the Iconic Massage I’d had earlier, and spending time in the Thermal Spa, but I was a bit unlucky with my portion sizes. I started with the Carpaccio of cured Telmara duck breast, crisp fried watercress, scratchings, orange, hazelnut and sherry vinaigrette which was lovely, but tiny, meanwhile Ade’s Pan-seared scallops, cauliflower puree and froth, bacon crumbs looked ginormous in comparison. I was jealous of his bacon crumbs.
Next was the best thing I ate all weekend, Heron’s Farm Old Spot Pork Belly and Cheeks, Parsnip Puree, Cockles, girolle mushrooms. I hadn’t had pork cheeks before, but had tried beef cheeks at The Table. It was perfect, I tried to make it last for as long as I could. Ade opted for poached and roasted chicken, baby turnips, black pudding, potato cake and smoked bacon veloute. We were tipped off about ordering bread by a therapist, it’s not on the menu, but you can ask for it, the same for the chips, like a guilty secret. Ade looked ashamed of me as I scoffed the entire bread board, the onion bread was delicious, they should make a big deal of their bread, not hide it.
I have since cooked pork cheeks at home, and pork belly for the first time. I even made parsnip puree, it was no way near as good as Lifehouse, but still not bad for a first attempt. I was disappointed I couldn’t buy pork cheeks from my local butchers, but they advised me to head down to Borough Market, where I bought some from the Ginger Pig on the way to work. Thank you @thegrubworm, @aforkful, @lennienash, @foodstories, @RosieFoodie for the pork tips. And a special thank you to @Happy_Appetite and his specially blogged pulled pork recipe for me http://itinerantappetite.blogspot.com/2011/02/pulled-pork.html.
Next for dessert, I chose the Hot mochaccino mousse, malted vanilla foam, toasted coconut mallows, and Ade went for the caramelised rice pudding with strawberry sorbet. Unfortunately, I was still starving and my dessert was tiny, but gorgeous, Ade’s was big enough to share, and I was surprised at how much I liked it. I have awful memories of rice pudding at school, but this was gorgeous. Ade said it was one of the best desserts he’d ever had in his life, now there’s praise for you! Then it was back to the room for copious amounts of Emeyu green tea, with sencha, genmaicha, cranberries, rose buds, rose petals, chrysanthemum, yum. We have since bought a shed load since we got back, Ade surprised me by becoming addicted to it.
BREAKFAST: After a really bad night’s sleep in one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in (I think I was enjoying the cosiness of it too much to nod off), I finally get to dine in my dressing gown!
Breakfast at Lifehouse Spa was a bit chaotic, and we were in a hurry as we had our Oriental Bathing Experience booked in for 10am, which felt like the crack of dawn to me. We both opted for the full breakfast, and there was a huge array of breakfast items on the buffet table, the freshly made croissants were gorgeous. Shame I’m not much of a breakfast person, or I’d have eaten more.
LUNCH: Sadly, it was time for our final meal after our amazing Oriental Bathing Experience, which was utterly brilliant, if only I could have one every Sunday morning, it was such a special and unique treatment. Words could never do it justice, you have to try it for yourself. Highly recommended for a bit of bonding time with your partner, and at only £120, it’s a bargain.
Anyway, back to the food. We were both totally spaced out for our treatment, I couldn’t even think. Perhaps that’s why we both chose the same dish: Dedham Vale beef with roast cherry tomatoes and chips, any excuse to have the mini chip basket again. Lovely piece of meat, perfect size, and left us feeling alive again.
Off I went for one last treatment, whilst Ade hung around the Library, and I’m ashamed to admit, went on Facebook. I didn’t want to leave without having afternoon tea, at the grand age of 31, I have never experienced it. So, despite being full, and Ade wondering why I was insisting upon it, we went for sandwiches, tea and cake. Lovely. Although I was a bit disappointed at the tea arriving 15 minutes before the food, and there only being enough tea in the pot for one and a bit cups of tea.
I hope next time* we visit they’re still doing the Dedham vale pave steak and blade, winter vegetables, fondant potatoes, beef tea. Beef tea! In a tiny glass teapot, so cute. *Hint for anyone that fancies treating us for our upcoming wedding!
We definitely want to return, not just for the food, but for the brilliant spa, everyone should experience the Oriental Bathing Experience before they die.
Telephone: 01255 860050