Restaurant review: The Crown at BrayBy Tom Fahey
June 22, 2011
There’s a Berkshire chef – I don’t know if you’ve heard of him – Heston something-or-other.
He owns a few restaurants but you hardly ever see him in the local news.
Anyway, he’s been trying so hard to come up with a restaurant that’ll impress us Berkshire diners and get him on the food map, but so far he’s not had a lot of luck.
His first effort was quite posh and didn’t go down too well. Snail porridge or Mad Hatter Tea anyone? No, me neither. So that was a non-starter for us locals.
But God loves a tryer, so he bought a pub. The chips might have been bang on, but with guinea fowl in the pies, foie gras in the terrines, venison in the burgers and a Harvester only 10 minutes away in Maidenhead, he didn’t stand a chance, and the place ended up packed with Londoners on a jolly.
So at this point, he gave up the ghost and went to London.
Once there, he opened up in a posh hotel, served mandarins with chicken liver in them, and well, the capital went mad for them. Which must have revitalised him because he’s having one last crack at Berkshire.
He’s snapped up the village inn, The Crown at Bray and it’s a lovely old building – been here since the 1500s and does the whole white-on-black outside, low ceilings and beams inside thing very well. But that’s no surprise. Everything else, though; well I think he might have finally cracked it.
He’s got three real ales on, and they all foam. The Doom Bar goes down a treat – much better than that hot and ice tea thing he tried over the road. The space is split between a dining room and a pub complete with locals drinking beer, playing dominoes, chatting and pub quizzing, plus there’s a big, grassy garden out the back.
Now in the past, pricing’s been a big issue, but this time someone’s done the market research.
Mushroom soup and bread is £5.50, Angus burgers with chips are £10.95, sausage and mash is £11.50, and salmon with new potatoes clocks in at £15.50.
On paper, it’s a difficult proposition to argue with, but can this bloke actually cook?
A trug of baby vegetables might sound a bit out-there but it’s just a picnic basket of raw veggies with a warm garlic, olive oil and anchovy dip.
I’ve got to tell you, he’s done a very good job hiding those anchovies – this stuff’s savoury x11 and you just can’t stop eating it.
Potted duck comes with little gherkins and toast and it’s not half bad for £7.25, but more surprising is the pie.
It’s no nonsense – suet crust that flakes then rib-sticks crammed with melting nuggets of beef in ale-heavy gravy, and served with a splodge of buttery mash. Spot on for £14.75.
What our local boy has really got right, though, is his steak. It’s from a butcher he met in London, Jack O’Shea, and my goodness is it good.
A dry-aged, char-gilled sirloin from a Hereford cow, smothered in gooey bone marrow and a pungently tangy, meaty sauce, along with a side of fries for £19.50. Try finding a decent sirloin for that money anywhere else in Berkshire – you’ll struggle.
Desserts, and he’s almost managed to reign in the whole over-creative problem with a £6.25 tiramisu. It’s distinguished by shards of chocolate layered between mousse (but what a mousse) and boozy biscuits.
Then there’s a panna cotta immersed in syrup made from those mandarins that did him proud in London.
So after 10 years, this Heston character’s finally got it right – a lovely old pub, quality drinking options, an affordable menu, no shockers, surprises or mucking about, and food that eats superbly.
See – it’s not rocket science catering to us Berkshire diners. Mark my words – this guy’s going places.
- Telephone: 01628 621936
- Website: www.thecrownatbray.com
- Address: The Crown
High Street, Bray,
Maidenhead Sl6 2AH