It’s freezing on the late morning we set off for Hallow. Like teeth chattering cold, the kind of November day that sticks icicles on your testicles. Winter is here in full brutishness, taking away our drive and robbing us of sunlight. Not even the inside of the car can save us, my water starting to transition towards a more solid matter and my girlfriend’s hands too cold to handle my gearstick, or the one on the car. We need the comfort of comfort food. Of slow cooked meats and carbohydrates. I happen to know just the place.
I never saw The Crown Inn prior to the refurb, though I like what I see now. It has a mazy quality that reminds me of the adjoining rooms at The Hand and Flowers, with low wooden beams and walls with the girth of a building built to last. The pub has two wood burning stoves that sit both ends of the room like goals and we are positioned in front of one basking in its heat. I like it here. I also like the menu that speaks in a language I understand. It has a familiarity to it but also the ambition of a head chef that has come from the two star Le Champignon Sauvage. Amongst the pub food is game and souffles. We would order both.
Starters first. A croquette of breaded lamb shoulder is a dense bit of sheep made sprightly by a helping of vibrant salsa verde and a sharp redcurrant dressing. Little cubes of charred feta punch with saltiness, whilst the semi-dried tomato feels superfluous. It is a dish that works for its braveness, a potentially tightrope of various acidity and bold seasoning. It pays off. We mostly like a mammoth scotch egg, yolk just runny, breadcrumb coating crisp and golden. The ham hock filling is nice and piggy, though a little under seasoned and containing a few bits that should never have passed the picking process. Furthermore its too big. Generous to the point that this could easily feed one on its own.
It’s a this point that the cottage pie happens. Another gigantic portion, with braised and shredded beef shin at the core and crowned with potatoes that have had the right amount of fat introduced to them. And when I say the right amount I mean lots. There is a jug of thick gravy that delivers on its promise from the very moment it coats my finger. Carrots cooked in beef fat are the only accompaniment it needs and they too are wondrous things. It is a brilliant rethinking of a classic, pimped up and sent out looking as dandy as it tastes.
Our other main is pheasant. It’s a rustic plate of the good stuff, with roasted breasts just blushing pink positioned on on creamed cabbage, a buttery wedge of potato and onion labelled as a hash brown, and the filthiest of black pudding purèe’s. The dish is completed by black berries and a well sauce that has the back note of acidity needed to counteract the richness. It’s a lot of food for £17 and we tell them so. Apparently, there have been gripes that the portions here are small. I despair at those who clearly don’t know a good thing when it’s hit them in the face. And this pheasant is a very good thing indeed. Of the sides we try, roasted carrots and parsnips are glazed in maple, and potato gratin in gloriously cheesy with a back note of nutmeg. Only the chips could have done with a fraction longer in the fryer.
After a pre-dessert of lemon and mango which has perfectly judged levels of sweetness and acidity, before we share an apple soufflé to finish. The soufflé is textbook, proud in height with good apple flavour. The ice cream may be a little too subtle in salted caramel, but works well when we prise open the top of the soufflé and slide the ice cream in. I can only applaud any pub that not only shows the ambition to put this on the menu, but to also deliver it with aplomb.
There are petit fours but by now we’re both full to the point of bursting – I defy anyone to come here and eat three courses and not feel the same. The team here might be relatively new (the head chef, Chris Monk, has been in place for three months), but they are already showing considerable skill. It’s not perfect yet, though it is somewhere that I’ll be monitoring closely over the next year. It’s my style of food; clean and bold and still familiar. There is a clear market for taking traditional pub food and elevating it above the norm, and The Crown Inn are doing a great job at cracking it.
I was invited to dine at The Crown Inn