Absolutely Essex meets Terence Howard, the owner and chef at The Creek in Great Bentley, to talk spirits, ingredients and experience
For anyone, like the team here at Absolutely Essex, who has enjoyed ‘The Creek’ at, well, The Creek will know what a simple pleasure it is. The take on a banana split – caramelised banana, Norfolk County salted caramel ice cream, Chantilly cream, roasted walnuts and salted butterscotch sauce – has been on every menu at the Great Bentley restaurant since 2014, and there’d be uproar if it ever disappeared. And yet, ‘The Creek’ as we know it may have never existed if it wasn’t for chef/owner Terence Howard and his wife, Caroline, taking over in September 2014.
“It was us who changed the name from The Flag Inn,” Terence picks up about the time when the husband and wife team started to build their vision. “We changed the name upon advice from our designer, Hayley Roy from Harp Interior Design, who is local to the area. The name is taken from Flag Creek, which runs behind the grounds of the restaurant.” And so The Creek was born.
It’s not the only thing Terence and the team have brought to the area. The food is classical British with a European influence and is wonderful, partly the result of Terence’s extensive background in the industry. “I was lucky to work in the establishments I did,” he says, with London stalwarts the Groucho Club, Home House and The Washington Hotel all on the CV. “My last job as executive chef at the Reform Club taught me how to manage and organise a very large operation. But The Savoy, my first job within a kitchen environment, was probably the one I took the most away from. I found it hard, it made me question if a chef’s life was for me, but it toughened me up and set the tone for my career moving forward.” The idea of running his own place was always at the back of his mind. “It was always my ambition to run my own restaurant,” he nods. “I set myself a goal to complete by 35 years of age – I was two years behind at 37.”
Taking over the then named Flag Inn was a bit of coup, as anyone who knows its history would attain to. “It’s a listed 17th century building,” Terence explains. “To the best of our knowledge the building has always been used as an inn/pub/restaurant. Some say it’s haunted, though we have not had any experience of this! We like Great Bentley because of the rural and peaceful surroundings, but we are still easy to find.”
As well as the name change, Terence and Caroline got to work revamping much of the venue. “We changed the colour scheme inside and out, and the kitchen got a major overhaul,” Terence recounts. “The only things that didn’t change were the windows and doors due to this being a listed building, and also the floor and bar structure remained.”
How did he want to approach the menu? “I’m classically trained, so that is very important to me,” he says. “I like keeping things simple, but interesting. I don’t follow trends – I am not trendy, I’m too old for that! Our dishes evolve regularly, so it’s about using certain ingredients we know are popular with our diners. Beef, duck, seabass, prawns, avocado and mushrooms are some of those, to name just a few.”
It goes without saying that the past 18 months have been tough, as it has been for all of Essex’s hospitality industry, but Terence is keen to look forward. The festive season is upon us – “I am looking forward to seeing people being together and enjoying themselves” – and he and Caroline will continue to evolve the offering so many of us love already. “Even though we did a lot of work on the garden during lockdown, we have plans for further improvements ready for next summer. We hope to still be here for another seven years.”
Flag Hill, Great Bentley
Colchester, CO7 8RE
01255 317950 / 01206 586435