Eat here: The Crown pub, Bray
Another day, another brilliant place to eat in Bray. Only two to go after The Crown (*dabs mouth with napkin*) – Heston’s The Fat Duck and the Roux brothers’ triple Michelin-starred The Waterside Inn, for when I discover a spare £400 in my purse. In, like, 2034.
But back to The Crown, one of three Heston offerings in the small, picturesque village of Bray, Berkshire along with the aforementioned The Fat Duck and The Hinds Head. I’d probably label The Hinds Head a ‘dining pub’ (see my review here) whereas The Crown feels slightly less formal and more traditionally ‘pubby’. Still, this being a Heston joint, The Crown matches The Hinds Head for stupendously good food.
Whereas the staff in The Hinds Head are incredibly attentive in a restauranty sort of way, The Crown is more relaxed, with a lovely outdoor terrace under vines, plus a lovely walled beer garden for drop-in drinks and emergency boot-the-kids-out-of-the-building moments, a weekly pub quiz, wine nights etc
The building feels Tudor (though that’s total guesswork on my part)with its low ceilings, dark oak beams, higgledy-piggledy flow and open fires. There are several eating ‘areas’ that kind of flow into each other in the pub, keeping the feel intimate and buzzy – a useful set up if business was slow and you needed to create atmosphere in one section, though I’m not sure when that emergency measure will have to be put in place – when I tried it out on a weekday lunch it was virtually full.
The food is Heston-good, and the prices are on the high side of gastro-pubby – you can get a sandwich for between £6.50 to £10.95, starters are £6.95 – £8.95. Only the main courses hint at a proper premium, with the majority of dishes between £18-21, and the chargrilled sirloin steak hoiking you up into £30+ once you’ve added the sides at a steep £3.50 each.
As I am the *cough* perfect daughter, I brought my mum along – she’s woofed down food at so many reviews she’s become a brilliant sounding board. Mum had the ham hock and confit chicken terrine with piccalilli (£7.95) which she totally raved about…
… while I tried crispy broccoli and cauliflower with a bagna cauda dip that I’d never heard of before, but is actually (she says, looking it up frantically) a fondue-style dish from Piedmont made from garlic, anchovies, olive oil and butter. It sounds a bit of a bonkers starter but it was absolutely delicious – I’d go so far as to say sublime. Crispy fried, crunchy veggies, just amazing for £8.95.
Mains was an easy choice for me – fish and chips, with crushed peas and homemade tartar sauce (£17.95). Clearly Heston hasn’t seen me woof fries from my village chippy or he would have tripled the number on my plate, but the ones that were there were perfecto.
I did experiment with the dessert, with an Earl Grey panna cotta with lemon crumble (£6.95), shared with my mother so that I didn’t feel such a cochon. It had more wobble than the Muddy midriff on a vibrating machine.
I had to tank it back for school pick up, but if it’s a lovely day give yourself half an hour to wander around Bray – go down to the lock, shop in the tiny but perfectly formed gift shop Story on the high street or looping around Bray, Maidenhead and Windsor at your leisure.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Families looking for a superior meal out in relaxed surroundings (the Sunday lunches are supposed to be the bees knees); informal business meetings, girly lunches. Those with younger children will appreciate the outdoor space and also the simple kids menu of cheese burger and fries, fish and chips, tomato and bacon pasta etc. Locals wanting a take away – seriously, order the pub staples and eat them at home!
Not for: Super-special occasions – it’s a lovely pub, but pub it is. Anyone on a budget will find their bill getting out of hand if they don’t keep a handle on the extras.
£££: On the expensive side of gastropubby. It’s not an everyday drop in venue for that reason, but would I come back? Most definitely.
High Street, Bray, Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 2AH. Tel: 01628 621936. thecrownatbray.com