The Crown at Bray - Restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 15:32 08 August 2016 | UPDATED: 15:32 08 August 2016
Yes, it’s a gastropub, but be prepared for attractions beyond the juicy summer menu, says Jan Raycroft
Let’s get this straight from the start. The Crown at Bray does not smell. So when informing lunch companion Lucy Golding that the pristine pub “smells old”, I went into burbling brain freeze before eventually conveying that it was something like the over-used words ‘evocative ambience’ I was probably looking for.
We eventually tracked down what I was stumbling over; one clue was right in front of us on the table. Scuff marks on the corners, the ‘wrinkles’ and little chips of well-used old, solid hardwood furniture that’s been banged about a bit over the years as happy, chatty people drag up chairs.
All the signs that this 16th century inn is still a Pub – capital P – are still there. It’s part of the Heston Blumenthal Bray ‘empire’ but stands apart from the cousins down the road, the slightly more upmarket and even older Hinds Head (its magic is to somehow mix traditional British cuisine dining with a relaxed atmosphere) and The Fat Duck, a gastronomic journey where every seat for the minimum four-hour £255 trip is booked until at least the end of August.
Back to those gnarled tables in The Crown, and it’s possible I’ve spotted a secret which separates the place from other cosy low-beamed inns taken over by Big Names. When such ‘gastropub’ revamps are done, the designers usually come in with a lot of faux olde worlde stuff and so lose most of the atmosphere they are attempting to retain or recreate beneath the low ceilings. That’s not the case at The Crown where the furniture has stories to tell and even the curtains are Proper Pub ones.
So on to the food – and we are talking a bit above average price-wise, but the offering is definitely a cut above. Crown head chef Matt Larcombe oversees a delicious menu we have decided to call ‘mouth-wateringly juicy’.
Examples include succulent prawns in a packed cocktail (£7.95), char-grilled Irish Black Angus Bavette Steak (£19.95) or Hereford sirloin (£28.95), either served with marrowbone sauce and fries, my favourite of roast fillet of Stone Bass with spinach, tomato, shallot and rocket (£21.95), and Banana Eton Mess (£7.50).
Five reasons to visit…
1. Not to be missed for gin fans – the range is superb and if pub manager David Ashton Hyde (born in Ascot and his dad ran The Hinds Head some years before Heston took over) is behind the bar he will relish the chance to make recommendations. They also have a Sunday Wine Club.
2. The pub garden and courtyard – a superb spot in summer, the garden is spacious and inviting while the pretty courtyard offers some shade.
3. The Fish & Chips – served with crushed peas and homemade tartar sauce, this feast may be £17.95 but was constantly being praised by the two big chaps at the next table to ours. Other nearby diners were raving over the burgers, their weekly treat on a visit to The Crown.
4. The new summer menu includes mackerel on sourdough toast, vegetarian Piquillo pepper tart with olive tapenade and goats cheese, and Guinness ice cream with chocolate brownie.
5. The Crown was judged Berkshire’s best pub in this year’s National Pub & Bar Awards (The Swan in Milton Keynes Village took the regional title).
The Crown, High Street, Bray, SL6 2AH; 01628 621936 thecrownatbray.com
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