The Crown revisted
Hallelujah! A pub menu full of classics done with a wow. Muddy gets stuck in at Heston's award-winning gastropub The Crown.
I love my job and get to eat out at the finest foodie destinations in Berkshire, but for fear of looking as stuffed as my turkey on Christmas Day, I dispatched my Muddy mucker, Chantal, to The Crown at Bray for a pre-Crimbo nosh up.
Chocolate box good looks and a cluster of sensational places to eat, Bray is a Berkshire hot spot that would entice the most hardened food critic out of the London – and it’s pretty darn good for those of us who are already in the ‘hood (dabs mouth with a napkin*). One of the prettiest riverside villages in Berkshire and it just so happens to have 7, yes SEVEN, Michelin stars twinkling like Orion’s Belt.
The roux Brothers’ The Waterside Inn and Heston’s Fat Duck are both triple starred and his dining pub The Hind’s Head has one. Impressive. But back to The Crown – Heston’s multi-award-winning gastropub that recently took its place in the UK’s Top 50 Gastropubs.
The building feels Tudor (though that’s total guesswork on my part) 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. Heston’s resisted the urge to refurbish and kept it deliciously ‘pubby’ – low ceilings, dark oak beams, higgledy-piggledy flow and open fires. There are several eating ‘areas’ that kind of flow into each other in the pub, keeping the feel intimate and buzzy – a useful set up if business was slow and you needed to create atmosphere in one section, though I’m not sure when that emergency measure will have to be put in place – when I tried it out on a weekday lunch it was very very busy
Still, this being a Heston joint, The Crown matches The Hind’s Head for stupendously good food. Whereas the staff in The Hind’s Head are incredibly attentive in a restauranty sort of way, The Crown is more relaxed, with a lovely garden for drop-in drinks, lazy afternoons in the sunshine and emergency boot-the-kids-out-of-the-building moments, a weekly pub quiz, superb Sunday Supper Club (£16.95 for a main and pud), and they usually pop up at Tom Kerridge’s Pub In The Park during the summer.
Scoff and quaff
The food is Heston-good, and the prices are on the high side of gastro-pubby, Only the main courses hint at a proper premium, with the majority of dishes between £18-23, and the chargrilled sirloin steak hoiking you up into £29+ once you’ve added the sides at a steep £3.95 each
There are a large number of beers and lagers available on tap, including the much raved about Rebellion Brewery, based in nearby Marlow. There are also shelves filled with wines and, of course, gins a plenty! I tried the Horse Guards gin, recommended by Kieran the restaurant manager, which is also from a local distillery in Taplow. I should also note that it had a paper straw. It always gives me warm fuzzies to know I’m at an establishment that cares.
The other half took a trip down Seventies lane with a king prawn cocktail and rye bread. Now, prawn cocktail can be over sauced, under prawned and a bit bleugh – but this was all shoes of yum, I’d go so far as to say sublime. Big, fat, sweet prawn, crispy salad, perfect sauce, but then I would expect it to be at £10.50.
I tucked into the Bergamot Cured Salmon, which was melt in the mouth fantastic.
For mains my husband had the Whole Roasted Plaice (£22.95) and because I am a gannet, I stole a mouthful. It was packed with flavour and enhanced by the burnt butter with brown shrimp and capers. It doesn’t come with any sides so we had the new potatoes and broccoli.
It was all very generous – no skinny-minis here! However if you want something on the lighter side then I did overhear another table asking for a starter as a main and they were more than happy to accommodate.
Of course I didn’t do that, I had the Confit Duck Leg (£21.95) which was absolutely perfect. It comes with mash and braised red cabbage and a blackberry sauce – which was lip smackingly good. I especially liked the crispy skin.
We weren’t going to have a third course because I was getting that food-induced lethargy, but then they showed me the menu. Hubby had the British Cheese Board (£11) with quince chutney, crackers and caraway and sultana bread. I had a coffee and mince pie (£5) – my first of the season.
I’m partial to cheese so I helped myself (I’m sure there was something in my vows about sharing cheese boards) and I especially loved the Mrs Bells Blue and the Isle of Mull Cheddar – sublime. My mince pie was clearly made on site (note the cute icing sugar crown) and the pastry was buttery and crisp (I’ve gone all Mary Berry). It was just like my mother’s own mince pies of old and I actually felt a little festive for the first time this year.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Families looking for a superior meal out in relaxed surroundings (the Sunday lunches are supposed to be the bees knees); informal business meetings, girly lunches. Those with younger children will appreciate the outdoor space and also the simple kids menu of cheese burger and fries, fish and chips, tomato and bacon pasta etc. Locals wanting a take away – seriously, order this fish and chips and eat them at home!
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 expensive side of gastropubby. It’s not an everyday drop in venue for that reason, but would I come back? Most definitely.
The Crown at Bray, High Street, Bray, Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 2AH. Tel: 01628 621936.
Words: Chantal Farqhar