All hail The Crown
Hallelujah! A pub menu full of classics done with a wow. Muddy gets stuck in at Heston Blumenthal's award-winning Crown at Bray.
Another day, another brilliant place to eat in Bray (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 virtually full.
Still, this being a Heston joint, The Crown matches The Hinds Head for stupendously good food. Whereas the staff in The Hinds 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, Sunday Supper Club, takeaway fish and chips and there’s a pop up at Tom Kerridge’s Pub In The Park this summer.
Scoff and quaff
The food is Heston-good, and the prices are on the high side of gastro-pubby – you can grab a sarnie (£9.50) or Ploughman’s (£14.95), starters are £7.95 – £9.95. Only the main courses hint at a proper premium, with the majority of dishes between £18-22, and the chargrilled sirloin steak hoiking you up into £29+ once you’ve added the sides at a steep £3.95 each
As I am the *cough* perfect wife, I brought Mr Muddy along – he’s woofed down food at so many reviews he’s become a brilliant sounding board. Mr M had potato and smoked haddock soup (£8.95) which he totally raved about…
… while I 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, just amazing for £8.95.
Mains was an easy choice for me – The Crown Burger, all day long. You could argue it’s the magnolia of pub dishes, but I often find pubs neglect to serve an cracking burger, or it’s there and lacks love. The Crown’s signature dish is blissfully straightforward but made with the very best ingredients – Hereford beef burger, cheese, lettuce, onion, tomato, pickles and burder sauce and fries. At £17.50, it’s on the upper end of gastropub prices but it is epic.
Mr Muddy was also a little unoriginal, ordering a flatiron steak with marrowbone sauce and fries, £21.50. It’s all about maxing out on flavour and there was not a scrap left on the plate. We shared a green salad, which was simply dressed but a little oily for my taste. But, to be fair, I’m not the biggest salad dressing fan. I know, weird.
Pud, can only be described as better than sex – blackcurrant sorbet with nut brittle (£4.75). The sorbet was one of the most phenomenal things I have tasted of late. It was so simple but the flavour was mind blowing. The nut brittle was made that morning and I could’ve eaten a whole tray and collapsed in a sugar coma.
I had to tank it back for school pick up, but if it’s a lovely day give yourself half an hour to wander around Bray – go down to the lock, shop in the tiny but perfectly formed gift shop Story on the high street or looping around Bray, Maidenhead and Windsor at your leisure.
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 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.