All hail The Crown at Bray
Hallelujah! Outdoor dining is go and we've found a pub menu full of classics with a wow at The Crown at Bray in Berkshire. Read the Muddy review.
Hallelujah! Pubs and gardens have reopened and the stampede for a table was like the first day of the Harrods sale. Having been cooped up for months, like the rest of you I’m excited to be out out. So I bring you my first pub review for months. I visited The Crown at Bray’s Garden at the beginning of December – just two days before we did not pass go, or collect £200 and went from Tier two to four in less than 24 hours. But now is the time to unleash the Muddy verdict. Roomy pants on (have you even taken them off yet), let’s tuck in.
Chocolate box good looks and seven Michelin stars twinkling like Orion’s Belt, Bray is a Berkshire foodie hotspot that would entice the most hardened critic out of the London – and it’s pretty darn good for the locals too (*dabs mouth with a napkin*). While it’s the swanky fine dining grabs all the headlines, this pretty riverside village also boasts an understated gastropub with a reputation for great food that’s a little easier on the arteries and your bank balance. Say hello to The Crown at Bray.
The building feels Tudor (though that’s total guesswork) with white render and black wooden external beams). Apparently King Charles II used to stop in for a beer while he was galloping off to see his mistress Nell Gwyn. For such a small village, it’s had a pretty saucy history with the royals.
Deliberately traditional on the inside. The Crown isn’t too try-hard with the decor. In fact, it’s deliciously ‘pubby’– low ceilings, oak beams, higgledy-piggledy flow and open fires.
The garden? Well, that’s a different story. Pre-Covid it had undergone quite the transformation – with outdoor bar and kitchen. In the summer it is an oasis for eat, drinking and loafing on repeat. Now, with the help of a rather fabulous marquee and its own entrance, it’s an outdoor dining area that feels very much like a restaurant. Albeit one with artificial grass. There’s always been a casual coolness to the bit of the pub and nothing has changed. It’s intimate, buzzy and toasty warm – so you wont need to sit in your coat.
There’s also another section of the garden that has less coverage for drop-in drinkies. Great if you happen to be in the are and fancy popping in. These tables don’t need to be booked, but obviously first come first served.
Scoff and quaff
The menu comes on a Covid-safe QR, which you zap with your smartphone camera and magically pops up the screen. It’s the future, go with it – just make sure your phone is charged. The menus change regularly to make use of the freshest ingredients, but the menu always features Crown classics, and you can’t go wrong with the prawn cocktail, burger or fish and chips. I’ve tried them all and they’re delicious.
The food and the prices are gastro-pubby. Starters are either side of £10, the mains are between £18-23, with the ribeye steak hoiking you up into £32+ once sides come in at £4.75 each. They offer a simple kids menu too – and they know their audience. Mac n cheese, cheese burger. Nothing faffy to cause a mini meltdown.
Parched? Well, there’s a large number of beers and lagers available on tap, including the much raved about Rebellion Brewery, based in nearby Marlow and a good selection of wines including a selection from the legendary Fat Duck Cellar.
Tuck in your napkin, let’s dive in. First up on the culinary conveyor belt, the Gin Cured Salmon, Treacle Bread and Cucumber starter. It’s a fresh and surprisingly light dish – even with that wedge of treacle bread. The salmon’s gin flavour gives it a kick and the bread a comforting hug. The pickled cucumber cuts through the rich flavours. A little plats of sunshine.
Next up? Venison. The Crown sources its game from Windsor Great Park, so in terms of food miles, you couldn’t get lower. The loin of venison, braised haunch, quince, chestnut sauce. with lashing of game gravy was stunning. Cooked to perfection and seasonal. The meaty bon bon was a belter.
Room for a pud? Oh go on then. Who could possibly resist a dark chocolate parfait with hazlenut ice cream? Not me. Chocolate desserts can lurch towards sickly. This even doubles up with a chocolate crumb, or is it more cheffy to say soil? I don’t know. Anyway, if it wasn’t for the nuts, we could have veered into the territory of toothache. But I don’t have the sweetest tooth.
The Crown also offers a Lower Garden Menu of small plates and Crown classics. It’s a more informal, drop in vibe. No booking required. So if you’re passing by and your tummy’s rumbling, pop in.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: If you’re after an excellent pub food in a place that feels like a treat, you can’t go wrong here. It’s outdoor dining but with the service and quality you’d expect from a gastropub. The laidback vibe and simple kids menu is perfect for families.
Not for: Super-special occasions – it’s a lovely pub, but a pub it is. Anyone on a budget will find their bill getting out of hand if they don’t keep a handle on the extras.
£££: On the upper end of gastropubby, but your can always drop in for a drink and a snack. Would I come back? Most definitely.
The Crown at Bray, High Street, Bray, Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 2AH. Tel: 01628 621936.