I HAVE had people tell me that I was “born 20 years too late”.

I am sure it’s meant kindly and, based on my passion for the past, I think I understand what they mean.

An earlier birth by 20 years, however, would only put me in my 80s and my date of birth back to the 1940s.

Two centuries might be a better option, but I must admit I do like looking at some of those quirky adverts from the 1940s, 50s and early 60s.

They seem to somehow have a touch of old-world charm about them that harks back to an even earlier era – a time of expected politeness, of places where a collar and tie were compulsory to gain admission and when social media (even IT come to that) and mobile phones were nothing more than an imagined, futuristic concept.

A quick skim through old editions of Essex Countryside magazine (which was launched in the autumn of 1952 with a picture of Maldon on the cover) will give you an idea of what I mean.

I particularly like the adverts for “fine dining”. The Maldon restaurants that appear are usually the Blue Boar and King’s Head.

Those two are also in local directories and guides from the time, but other eating establishments are also occasionally mentioned.

The 1950-51 edition of Maldon and the beautiful Blackwater Estuary – official guide to Town and District includes a full page spread on the Blue Boar Hotel.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

An 1950s advert for the Blue Boar Hotel

There is a picture of the dining room with period furniture and crisp white tablecloths.

It was a Trust House in those days and boasted; “first class accommodation and catering”.

The King’s Head Hotel, on the other hand, offered catering for “yachting parties” and “luncheons, teas and dinners open to all”.

Dear old Tommy Harries was the proprietor then.

In addition to those two, the Ship Hotel, on Market Hill, (where my uncle and aunt were once landlord and landlady) “catered for parties”.

Five years on, the revised edition of the guide once again included the Blue Boar (still a Trust House) which continued to be known for its first class catering with “table reservations for luncheon and dinner” welcomed. Likewise the King’s Head promoted its “excellent catering”.

By 1960 there was a veritable plethora of restaurants and cafes – in addition to the old faithfuls were the Cosy Restaurant in Church Street, D & G Copsey (actually a fish and chip shop at 199 High Street, which also had a dining room), the Quarterdeck Café at Heybridge Basin for “coffee, luncheons, teas and ices”, the Railway Bell in Station Road, with seating for 50 and “luncheons to order”, the Singing Kettle on the Causeway, with “cakes and pastries made fresh daily by the chef from fresh eggs”, and Wilesmith’s, “opposite Marine Parade”, with “luncheons, teas, suppers and special quotations for party outings”.

The food was still influenced by a 14-year period of rationing during and after the Second World War, but by the 1960s the menus typically included roasts (chicken, beef, pork and lamb), pork chops, shepherd’s and cottage pies, steak and kidney pie, beef stew, chicken casserole and various fish dishes.

But it wasn’t all traditional fare – Elizabeth David had profoundly changed English cooking with her 1950 A Book of Mediterranean Food and, nearer to home, Christina Foyle, of Beeleigh Abbey, released her Party Book and suggested foods for cocktail, patio, buffet, luncheon, dinner, and children’s and wine and cheese parties.

I particularly like the sound of her “roast duck with sauce champignons” with ingredients of duck, brandy, mushrooms, apple pulp, consommé, Italian vermouth and bay leaves.

Someone who was renowned for her cooking was the late Mrs. Winifred Mary Hone of the Soc’n Sail social and sailing club (now the Coast Inn) at nearby Mersea Island.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

Christina Foyle of Beeleigh Abbey published her Party Book

She served dishes to the rich and famous, including (it is alleged) the greatest of Englishmen, Sir Winston Churchill.

Her specialities included things like hare soup, creamed oysters and roast goose – garnished with grilled tomatoes, crisp fried potatoes, boiled samphire and giblet gravy.

As well as being a necessity of survival, eating (particularly artistically produced cuisine) continues to be one of life’s pleasures, well evidenced by the viewing figures of BBC’s MasterChef.

In Maldon we are still really spoilt for choice as far as places to dine are concerned.

Like you, I am sure, I have my own favourites – The Swan, Il Camino, Dante’s, the Queen Victoria, Luigi’s Al fresco, Sark, our selection of Indian restaurants and Le Bouchon (in Heybridge) among them.

On my last birthday our lovely daughter treated us to an evening at Le Talbooth, beside the River Stour, at Dedham.

This iconic restaurant was founded back in 1952, by the late Gerald Milsom. Several years later, in 1969, Gerald bought Maison Talbooth and established it as a luxury hotel.

He regularly advertised in Essex Countryside, but I don’t suppose my Maldon grandparents or even parents ever dreamt of eating there.

It certainly isn’t cheap, but my goodness it is a real quality dining experience. Fine wine and good food are the order of the day and, in the words of one Essex author, if it is done right, fine dining now (as in the 50s) can really be; “the keys to Heaven”.

May I wish you all a Happy New Year and I hope that all your dining experiences during 2022 will be good ones!