A SMALL family restaurant tucked down a small side street has been crowned best restaurant in Essex.

Thai up at the Quay, in Eastgate Street, Harwich, was announced as the winner of the award at a ceremony in London.

The family-run restaurant was nominated and voted for by the public to become the winner out of 11 finalists.

Andy Mear, who runs the Thai up at the Quay with wife, Pom, and son, Pat, said: “Three weeks ago we were told we had been nominated for the British Restaurant Awards in the best in Essex category.

“I check out the other nominees, which were all good restaurants in Essex.

“We didn’t expect to win, we thought we would go along for the evening. Then we won it.

“They read the nominees out and then said ‘the winner is...’. We were blown away and so chuffed.

“I had half thought about something to say but you just blurb something out on the stage on the day.”

The couple, who used to live in Singapore, moved to Harwich in 2007.

They opened Thai up at the Quay the following year in the Grade II listed building which was previously occupied by the Half Moon pub.

The pub, which dated back to 1753, closed its doors in the 1970s before becoming Half Moon Antiques.

Mr Mear added: “We like to think of ourselves as a community restaurant and 90 per cent of our customers are local.

“I joke with people who get lost and thank them for finding us.

“The first few years after opening was a challenge like a lot of little businesses, but the community has been amazing.

“We wanted to open a little family business and this is a team effort here.”

Mr and Mrs Mear said they have no idea who nominated them for the award but said the response on Facebook has been overwhelming.

Andy added: “We put it on social media and a lot of our regulars voted for us, we are really chuffed.”