Review: The Crown at Bray
"The menu steers clear of wild experimentation"
Bray is rather fortunate when it comes to restaurants, as I’m sure you’re already aware. Undoubtedly holding the title for most Michelin stars per capita of any otherwise unremarkable suburban village, residents and visitors to Bray are a discerning bunch, and quite rightly so. Situated only a stone’s throw from The Fat Duck, and The Hind’s Head, The Crown is Heston Blumenthal’s attempt at a traditional pub. Everyone’s favourite oddball chef acquired The Crown back in 2010, in a controversial takeover. So, the man can do snail porridge and bacon and egg ice cream, but what happens when he tries his hand at pub food and a good pint of beer?
From the exterior, The Crown looks fairly similar to any other village pub – tasteful white paint job, hanging baskets, familiar-looking signage out the front. Indoors it’s much the same, with open fireplaces, wooden chairs and low ceilings reinforcing the warm rural familiarity. The bar and waiting staff seem genuinely happy to be there, brimming with good humour and product knowledge, and the locals enjoying a pint at the bar prove that Blumenthal hasn’t lost the home crowd to overambitious tinkering with the pub formula, which can only be a good thing.
But, what of the food? The menu steers clear of wild experimentation, preferring instead to offer British pub staples embellished with a touch of culinary flair. Naturally, however, there are a few ambitious touches that lift The Crown’s menu out from the crowd. One of the best starters is remarkably simple: bagna cauda (a deliciously moreish, Italian anchovy and garlic dip) and a colourful selection of vegetable dipping instruments with which to dredge through the warm, oily sauce. For something a little more earthy and meaty, The Crown’s potted rabbit is hard to beat – liberally spiced and with a wonderfully smooth texture.
Main courses follow a similarly underpromised and overdelivered formula. Macaroni cheese is lent some personality and variety of flavour by sharp pickled mushrooms, charred spring onions, rich black truffle and a colourful scattering of radishes and rocket leaves.
To the surprise of nobody, The Crown’s burger is absolutely delicious: topped with juicy pastrami and peppery smoked cheese, this is a true delight. The bun is soft and yielding and the chips are good, if not triple-cooked, in what is surely a very obvious trick to miss in a Blumenthal establishment.
Desserts continue the theme – a chocolatelaced cranachan topped with chewy honeycomb, raspberries and creamy chocolate pieces is the most outlandish. Sticky toffee pudding takes a more conventional route, but that’s far from a criticism; a simple recipe done well is perhaps the greatest joy in food, as exemplified by this glorious, indulgent sponge.
This is not a cheap place – fairly simple starters reach the £10 mark, and £19.50 for a burger is a lot by anyone’s standards. But, not just in the excellent food, but also in the service and general atmosphere of contentment that exists beneath the low ceiling, The Crown is absolutely worth the few extra pounds.
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