The Cross Keys, Gt Miss
Looking for a warm, welcoming pub after a trip to the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden? I have just the thing.
The Cross Keys pub must have the BFG to thank for a fair amount of its custom. Perched at one end of Great Missenden’s diminutive high street, it forms a neat triangle between the resident Roald Dahl Museum and the village car park behind it: everyone who visits the museum has to walk past the pub twice, dreaming of frothy pints of frobscottle or other such Marvellous Medicine. But it wears other hats, too: a local’s local, family Sunday roast haunt, and, increasingly, an all-out foodie destination in its own right, Roald Dahl or no Roald Dahl.
I’ve visited the Cross Keys twice in the past few months, once on my own with a laptop, needing to (Esio) trot out a few emails while Grandad Muddy took my son around the museum – and now again with the kids for half-term lunch. Both times, the joint was jumping (do book in advance) and deftly accommodating everyone from real-ale drinkers, to bar snackers to three-course diners. It’s not a large space but it’s flexible, comprising informal bar dining at the front (the little table by the bay window’s nice in the warmer months), a small beer garden and a larger side dining room. Decor won’t win any design awards but it’s cosy, clean, neutral and nice, in the leather chairs and wooden tables vein. Service is efficient and friendly and kids warmly welcomed, but (thankfully) the Cross Keys is no post-museum creche: it’s good to see the management resisting the urge to turn the place into a Roald Dahl theme park and instead remaining true to the Crosskeys’s village boozer roots.
SCOFF & QUAFF
And the same goes for the food. It would have been easy for the management to rest on their laurels here, relying on the inevitable passing museum footfall and generally lacking imagination. Instead – three cheers – we luckies get a long and wide-ranging menu which changes with the seasons, incorporating all the pub classics done well without unwanted faffery but also, if we want them, more ambitious dishes. In the Classics Done Well camp, you can opt for f&c, pies, local sausages and mash, burgers and much more besides.
Want to change things up? How does cauliflower and butternut squash samosa sound with spiced puy lentils, coriander creme fraiche and chargrilled flatbread? This was my main on the day I visited with the kids and really very decent it was too, plated up on a nice earthy green plate with just the right level of spice, seasoning and love afforded it. I also tried a nicely crisp bubble and squeak cake stacked up with smoky bacon, a perfectly poached egg and pleasingly tart hollandaise. Vegetarian dishes at the Cross Keys are given due diligence and never an after-thought; I had lovage arancini as a bar snack on my initial visit and could have been tempted by a red onion and goat’s cheese tart tatin or wild mushroom and chive gnocchi on my second.
Little Muddys have a separate choice of food which doesn’t shoot for the stars in the same way as the main menu. That’s a pity; the kids liked their chipolatas and pizzas but preferred my chargrilled flatbread, so it would be great to see some of that offered up to them, too, with a bit of chicken and chargrilled veggies or humous, say. Kids menus needn’t always just have nuggets on them. Full marks though, for including elderflower and blood orange sorbet for littlies alongside the anticipated ice cream.
My dessert was warm treacle tart with a scoop of salted caramel ice cream – a comforting cuddle of a pudding for an autumn afternoon. And the added sweetener at the meal’s end? Knowing that the same team are set to transfer the menu at The Crown in Cuddington, too. If the Cross Keys is anything to go by, Cuddington will soon boast its own Big Friendly Giant of a menu, too.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Visiting families, Sunday lunchers, casual bar drinkers. Relaxed groups welcome but do book ahead.
Not for: Fine dining or formality. The Cross Keys is knocking out some confident cooking made with quality ingredients but at its heart it’s still very much a pub.
££: Small plates and starters in the £5.25-£7.50 range. Big plates start at £12.50 for sausage and mash, rising to £12.75 for my samosa on lentils, £15.25 for sea bream with noodle stir fry or £21 for a sirloin. Burgers and pizzas are around the £12 mark. Kids’ choices are around £6.
The Cross Keys, 40 High St, Great Missenden, Bucks, HP16 0AU. Tel: 01494 865 373.