The initial impression given by the Railway Tavern was not promising. The door from the street opened into a long, dark corridor that smelt definitely of something, and not in a good way. Either stale beer or stale pee. The door to the bar couldn't quite keep the smell out of there, either. I needn't have worried about everybody falling silent at our entrance, since there were only three people in the room and a damp black and white cat. One of the three was a youth with a dramatic floppy hairstyle and very low-slung trousers, who scarcely looked old enough to be in a pub, but turned out to be the barman. The other two, an oldish man in a hat, and a young man, had secured the spot in front of the fire, and were discussing cross channel ferry routes in a leisurely fashion, the young man eventually resorting to looking up prices and sailing times on his mobile phone.
Once they'd gone, that left us and the barman, who resumed his seat by the fireplace, and stated with a polite note of question that we were not local. We told him which village we lived in, but he seemed non-committal about whether living four miles away counted as local or not. He told us that Thursday was always quiet at The Railway, and that Tuesday and Wednesday were busier. People, he added, moved in packs.
The whole bar was incredibly shabby, with ancient paintwork and an assortment of railway posters. The notice board included the reading list for the book club, some of which was quite heavyweight, and vaguely masculine, including The Junior Officer's Reading Club. We noticed a couple of bodrhans stashed away in one corner. Once we were seated on the opposite side of the bar to the door into the corridor, the unfortunate smell was no longer detectable. Two more customers arrived before we left, a tall thin man, and a short stout one with long silver hair, an orange beret and a luminously stripey jumper. The cat left when they came in.
The beer was well kept, so whatever the smell was it wasn't the beer pipes. I don't think I'd risk eating anything in the Railway Tavern, on the other hand, I don't think they do anything to eat, but the beer seems fine. Beer was after all used in the Middle Ages and beyond as a method of making unsafe water drinkable. Some other passing visitors seem to have found their foray into the Railway Tavern more traumatic. It's worth looking at the on-line reviews. There are some cracking ones.
As we walked past one of the other pubs to the Indian restaurant we saw there were only about four people in there, so wherever the folk of Brightlingsea moved in packs on a Thursday it wasn't to The Yachtsman's Arms. However, the pub was beating Kovalam, which had no customers at all. We were shown to a table, and I noticed that they still hadn't had the cracked wall mirror replaced that has been broken for as long as we've been going. Two more eat-in customers arrived, and were rather obscurely shown to a table under the stairs that didn't have full standing headroom above two of the four seats. They were joined by two more, and the six of us were the only diners.
The food was very good. One Tripadvisor reviewer grumbles about stale poppadums, but they must have opened a new box last night. We skipped starters, having not done much all day to work up a huge appetite, so it did feel like quite a long wait until the main courses arrived, but that's partly the point of starters, to distract you while they get the next bit ready. I had an aubergine stew with ginger, which tasted clean and fresh and certainly had strips of proper ginger root in it. The Systems Administrator had a lamb speciality of the house which was pronounced fine. My favourite thing at Kovalam is the bread, because they serve a wonderful wheat based pancake made out of a spiral of batter, which is light, delicious, and unobtainable in other local Indian restaurants. I once saw something similar being made on a Claudia Roden TV programme, years and years ago, and can't remember what country she was visiting at the time. I wish I could do a week's work experience in Kovalam, to learn how they make the bread, and what goes in the aubergine stew. The answer might be a jar of curry sauce from a trading estate in Leicester, but I don't think so.
Driving home we passed The Cherry Tree, which had candles burning in bottles on every table, but no customers that we could see. The moving pack evidently wasn't there either.