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BEING a stone’s throw from the Echo office in Southend, the Mews has long been the reporters’ bar of choice for after-work drinks.

Often, as I climbed the stairs to the gents’ toilets, I would peek through the glass at the restaurant on the first floor and stare at the other-worldy serenity of the candle-lit diners behind their glazed bubble.

While the exposed brick, stainless steel and expensive shirts below undoubtedly had class, the dining room was another level – metaphorically as well as literally. So when a classy young ladymore used to the Ivy than the Slug and Lettuce paid me a visit from London, I thought now’smy chance to break through that glass ceiling.

Delicate jazz and the warm, soft light of the candles gave the restaurant a subtle intimate feel, without being overly romantic.

Our excellent waiter waited patiently as we put off ordering and fell into conversation, but eventually we had to commit.

Both being seafood lovers, we decided to share the crab toasties as a starter.

The spiced potted crab meat was blended with cream cheese and chilli to formasmooth paste, almost like a dip, and came with dry, crisp breads and a few dressed leaves.

I’d been hoping for a little more obvious flesh, but the sweet tanginess of the chillis and tomatoes in the paste perked up my spirits immediately.

We perhaps should have ordered a second dish, as sharing meant the topped crisp breads felt more like an amuse-bouche than a starter, but our mouths were very amused and ready for the main courses.

Her chicken breast was lovingly wrapped in a smoky jacket of Parma ham stuffed with pork, spinach and goats’ cheese, and protruded from a soup-like spinach “veloute” sauce.

The tangygoats’ cheese was softened by the porkand the sauce was velvety, as its French named suggested.

My catfish, on the other hand, looked overcooked – until I broke through its Cajun-seasoned crust to the luscious flesh underneath.

The fish, which was exquisitely brought alive by the fiery chargrilled spices, was served on a tumbling mountain of voluptuous green-lipped mussels.

We selected a chocolate brownie and chocolate icecream from the dessert menu. I’m not a sweet man, so perhaps not the best judge, but the cake wasn’t the greatest I’ve eaten. I prefer my brownies a little gooey inside.

The waiter assured us the ice-cream was Rossi, but it seemed a little grainy and cheap-tasting to me.

Needless to say, the slightly disappointing ending couldn’t spoil the spectacular main event.