The Old Crown looks like it has no place on Digbeth High Street. It sits between the handsome façade of the Custard Factory and a less than desirable row of shops, its monochrome timber exterior wonkily perched roadside, with small leaded windows that look too small for its wide face. There is history here; six hundred and fifty years of drunks passing through the doors, its shell created in the midst of the Hundred Year War. I wonder if used to be called The Crown. Inside it wears the age proudly: low beams, flag stones, and heavy wooden bars. Back in the days of farcical facial hair and baggy trousers tapered at the ankle I used to drink here frequently and wonder what went on between these walls. Two world wars and one world cup, probably. It appears to be the only way we can define ourselves as a nation.
The history of the building was in full force on the day we lunch, with the start of a Peaky Blinders tour occurring in the space to the side of our table in the back of the pub. I instantly like the place on account of them listing a kilo of meat under ‘light snacks’. We don’t order it. What we do have is cod cheeks and prawns in a greaseless panko crumb, and a sausage roll that is heavy on both sausage meat and black pepper. There is nothing light about the roll, it is a big portion of something filling for not a lot of money which we take pride in finishing. The mango chutney and chipotle mayo it comes with are sucessful at introducing heat and acidity in an unusual way.
Now if someone had told me that one of the most enjoyable things I’d eaten so far this year would be in a six-hundred-year-old pub in Digbeth I would have laughed. If they had told me it would be vegan I may have passed out. The Trinidadian curry was just that; a spicy whack of blackbeans and pumpkin stewed down so that the flavours merge into one of the best Caribbean plates of food I can recall eating outside of the Carribean. Even the roti was a cut above the norm. Given the choice I’d take this over the chicken burger that failed to deliver on the double-dipped coating it promised. The chicken was good – brined, by the look of it – accurately cooked and a hefty piece for the tenner it is. The rest of the burger more than competent; lightly pickled onions, jalepenos, a guacomole which was a little too smooth for my liking, but it didn’t excite me in the way the curry did. A steak and ale pie is delivered to the next table along which draws groans. I’ll order that next time.
Portions this size leave no room for dessert, leaving us to finish up the drinks and head next door to Clean Kilo for the most ethical of shops. I can own up to being naive about The Old Crown – I’d partied here without ever considering food as an option; it was Claire that got us here, having eaten the food and enjoyed it BC (before Carlo). She was right, it really is an option, delivering honest food in a comfortable environment with very little priced at over a tenner. This building started off as coach house, where people passing through would come to be fed, watered, and bed. Remarkably for a world that has changed so much, that has stayed a constant for over six centuries. Long may that tradition continue.
A2B is my horse and carriage of choice.