The Crown at Bray – gastropub heaven
It’s just across the road from one of the world’s temples of gastronomy, Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck. The Crown is the Fat Duck lite. Any chance a diner has of not making the connection to one of the English-speaking world’s most famous chefs is easily dispelled – one of the menu items is Heston’s cookbook.
In a very pretty little village, with more Michelin stars per square metre than, probably, anywhere else in the world, the Crown at Bray is a 14th century inn that needs to live up to a serious foodie pedigree. Gluttonous husband can certainly attest to the authenticity of the building, not being able to stand up straight because of the heavy beamed, low ceilings. There is, however, a concession to modernity – the original windows are backed (on the inside) by aluminium-framed sliding versions. It looks, quite frankly, very odd.
But Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband aren’t there for the architecture, no matter how odd or quaint. It’s time for the food. Having escaped the clutches of Heathrow Airport, virtually unscathed, after a dash from Milano, both of us were hanging out for a decent feed. It was also time to revisit some outrageously sweet desserts after a few days of restraint on that matter, viz, this amazing chocolate concoction, but more on that later.
This isn’t haute cuisine, after all, the Crown is a pub. Still, there’s enough variation in the small dinner menu to appeal to a wide audience.
We decided to start with a crab salad. The menu promised avocado and grapefruit but it was absolutely dominated by green leaves (various varieties thereof) and mayonnaise. Having said that, it was still possible to taste the crab. There appeared to be one piece of avocado (which had been grilled – very interesting) as well as some dots of fresh tomato and radish. A fresh and enjoyable, if unspectacular, start.
Gluttonous husband was in the mood for a burger. Greedy Girl encouraged him to order another dish so we could share. He went for the hake, served as a roasted fillet with crispy skin. This was topped with a lemony tomato garnish and served on smashed peas and a pea puree. While very tasty, the star of the dish was the fish cake served on the side, where the hake was combined with mashed potato, crumbed and deep fried.
Greedy Girl took the burger with cheese (optional), a yummy tomato mayonnaise and, of course, fries (pictured at the top of this post). This was a burger far beyond the mundane. Sandwiched in a housemade bun, the Hereford beef was grilled expertly (just a little under medium) and served with fresh tomato, a light cheese and some leaves. The tomato mayo was divine and eminently spreadable on the pattie and for dipping the chips.
But a separate word about the chips – well, three words actually. Crispy golden perfection. This guy knows what to do with the humble spud. They were reminiscent of his triple-cooked chips Greedy Girl tucked into last year at Dinner in London (and plans to do again shortly with a return visit). Sheer delight.
And so to dessert. The menu description was succinct – it was called Crown cranachan. With a name like that it’s not surprising to discover it’s a classic Scottish pudding – and what a pudding. Chocolate mousse is spooned into the dessert glass, topped with real honeycomb and a confection of berries, oats and whiskey-laced cream. This is topped with more berries and ‘chocolate spaghetti’.
The key was to eat the spaghetti first – mixed in with the other elements it was lost and it was too good on its own to deserve that fate. The rest of the dessert had great texture and flavours and is undoubtedly sponsored by the local dental practice. Greedy Girl’s teeth are aching at its memory. This is sweet, sweeter, sweetest – a perfect dessert to share lest one need three new fillings and a coronary artery bypass by finishing the whole thing.
A note about the service – the menu advises a 12.5 percent service charge will be added to the bill. Rarely in many years of dining (fine and otherwise) has Greedy Girl enjoyed such attentive and obliging service – and this was in a pub. When it came to selecting an ale for the early part of proceedings, tastes were offered for us to choose our preference. There was also obvious knowledge about the food on display. It’s rare, unfortunately, that a service charge results in good service but this was worth every penny.
The Fat Duck is across the road in a (relatively speaking) more modern and low key building. While its delights still remain elusive, Greedy Girl continues to enjoy every exposure to Heston Blumenthal’s gastronomic philosophy.