The Crown at Bray | Bray (UK)

I’m afraid The Crown at Bray doesn’t deliver on the promise.
This is a pub trying to find it’s food identity and decisions need to be made.

When Heston Blumenthal decided to open his third restaurant in the village of Bray (UK) in 2010, some of the local villagers. were afraid he was taking over the whole village! I’m not sure about that, but it is a fact that the village has become one of the UK’s most celebrated foodie hubs.

Fifteen year earlier, Heston purchased The Ringers pub and turned it into The Fat Duck, which has since gained three Michelin-stars. It is the centre of Heston’s idiosyncratic approach to food and molecular gastronomy. Next, Blumenthal acquired The Hind’s Head. More accessible than The Fat Duck, the 15th century gastro pub offers the chef’s take on British pub food. The pub has held its Michelin star since 2013.
Along with the Roux brothers’ triple star The Waterside Inn, Bray’s restaurant scene now has a total of seven Michelin-stars. That’s an average of more than one per restaurant operating within the village! 

Upon visiting The Crown at Bray though, it’s clear that this addition to Heston’s Bray empire is a far-cry from The Fat Duck or The Hind’s Head, even though both restaurants are within sight of the front door. Inside, the space is so traditional in keeping with the quintessentially British pub, that upon entering you feel as though having stepped back in time. The dining space is a traditional wood-beamed pub interior with open fires, but does not show much imagination or flair.

Head Chef Matt Larcombe was born in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. At the age of sixteen, he started his career as a kitchen porter after doing work experience from school in a local hotel in Worksop. Following his growing passion for cooking, Matt joined the Royal Navy for two years as a training chef. On his return to the UK, he worked in several kitchens from Michelin star restaurants to pubs.
In January 2011, Matt joined the team at The Crown at Bray as Sous Chef and accepted the Head Chef position three years later.

The Crown at Bray is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner. On Friday to Saturday, there is also Garden BBQ food served, beside the normal pub menu. The menu offers 6 Starters (at £7.95-£12), 10 Mains (at £17.50-£35), 6 Sides (at £4.50), 4 Desserts (at £7.95-£9.95) and a Cheeseboard (at £12.50).

We had lunch on a Monday three weeks ago and made our chooses from the pub menu.

Lemon Cured Salmon, Caper Berries, Croutons, Dill Oil
Lemon Cured Salmon, Caper Berries, Croutons, Dill Oil (£12)

Fresh salmon, nicely cured with lemon, a few capers and some red onion. The croutons were a bit chewy and not nice to eat. Toast would have been better I think. Quite rustic plating, but I guess that how they want to emphasise the pub feel.

Cauliflower Soup, Cheese Crumble
Cauliflower Soup, Cheese Crumble (£7.95)

The cauliflower soup tasted quite milky and had a watery consistency. Eaten together with the cheese crumble made it better. A more distinct cauliflower taste and some creaminess would improve this dish a lot.

Treacle & Ale Cured Bacon Burger, Smoked Cheddar, Burger Sauce, Fries
Treacle & Ale Cured Bacon Burger, Smoked Cheddar, Burger Sauce, Fries (£23.50)

A very nice burger made with quality meat, which was treated well. The bacon was quite charred, which kind of overruled any taste of the treacle and ale and also the smokiness of the cheddar. It is a very nice burger, but nothing more than that. There is also a Crown’ Burger on the menu for £17.50. Not sure what that looks like, but that price would have been more enough for this one!

The fries that came with the burger (see below) were kind of disappointing as we saw some triple cooked chips being served with the fish and chips on another table. Strangely enough the menu only offers fries and no triple cooked chips as a side.

Hispi Cabbage & Bacon
Hispi Cabbage & Bacon (£4.50)

We ordered an extra side of hispi cabbage and bacon. Quite disappointing how this arrived at the table. I can only describe it as watery cabbage with underdone bacon bits. Not good.

Whole Roasted Plaice, Shrimps, Burnt Butter
Whole Roasted Plaice, Shrimps, Burnt Butter £23.50)

The plaice was nicely cooked, although it could have done with a bit of a crust or a golden side. Overall quite salty and lacking other seasoning like pepper. The grey shrimps didn’t add much unfortunately as there were enough of them! Not really exciting and overpriced as well. We’ve had better.

Passion Fruit & Strawberry Eton Mess
Passion Fruit & Strawberry Eton Mess (£9.95)

The eton mess was as you would expect. Sweetness, creaminess and crunchy meringue. Particularly liked the passionfruit and fresh basil in there, lifting up the flavour. A good and tasty dessert.

This lunch left us rather unsatisfied and the waiting service didn’t help either. Service was quite mixed. On the one hand we had the pub manager offering the right level of service you would expect. Friendly, hospitable and very accommodating. On the other hand there was a younger guy, who wasn’t enjoying his job and it showed. Delivering plates without a word. And after the mains when we were waiting for dessert, he snatched our napkins from the table. When I asked him to bring us new ones when he served the dessert, he acted really annoyed and reluctantly came back with new napkins 5 minutes later, without saying a word still. This guy doesn’t understand hospitality.

I’m afraid The Crown at Bray doesn’t deliver on the promise to serves simple yet perfectly executed traditional pub food. Quite honestly, the food is very disappointing. Some dishes may be better better than standard pub fare, but this lunch was certainly not up to “Gastro-pub” standards.
Our expectations may have been set too high, because of it being a Heston Blumenthal’s pub. But the prices on the menu encourage those expectations.

This is a pub trying to find it’s food identity and decisions need to be made on what they want The Crown to be.
Is it a country pub that the locals are proud to welcome all and so creating a local hub and community (as mentioned on the website)? Then lower the prices and offer proper pub food.
Or is it a gastro pub offering well executed dishes that stand out and can compete with the likes of The Greene Oak in Oakley Green, The Beehive in White Waltham or The Coach in Marlow (just to name a few)? Than raise the bar on the food and service!