When Craig Dunn was told at his interview for the head chef position at the Crown in Southwold, Suffolk, that the restaurant was as busy as any in London, he didn't believe it. But in the past four months he has changed his mind.
Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, the Crown serves about 94 covers a day in the bar and 35 in the restaurant. On a busy bank holiday weekend the two outlets can turn out as many as 600 meals. Diners are predominantly Southwold locals during the week, augmented by weekend visitors from London and the surrounding areas.
The locals favour dishes such as venison sausages with spring onion mash and crisp onion rings, or grilled calf's liver and bacon with herb mash - both £8 and on the à la carte bar menu, where the average spend on food is about £8.75.
Average food spend in the restaurant, at £15.50, is almost double that of the bar. Two- and three-course set price menus are the order of the day, both at lunchtime (£14 or £17) and in the evening (£19 or £23).
Game dishes are always popular, for example, roast partridge with glazed baby vegetables and rich game sauce. "Whatever game I've got on will sell out in two days, but trying to get the locals interested in different dishes is a challenge for me," says Dunn.
It's a challenge he rises to with relish. Recently he tried his customers with roasted scallops with a minted butter sauce, squid ink linguine and crisp aubergine - it sold out.
Saddle of rabbit was another of last month's best-sellers - rabbit loins are stuffed with pigeon and rabbit trimmings, juniper berries, orange zest and a little cream, all bound together by egg, before being wrapped in Parma ham. It's then cooked whole and served with a confit of rabbit leg and glazed baby vegetables.
The weekly changing menu currently has five starters, six main courses - three fish dishes, two meat and one vegetarian - and five desserts. Dunn tweaks it each day according to produce availability or when his nine-strong brigade gets tired of cooking a particular dish.
Dessert menus at the Crown always include traditional staples such as hot sticky pudding and bakewell tart, as well as Dunn's own favourite, lemon tart served with clotted cream or crème fraîche. "If you want something light to finish, nothing else will top that," he asserts.
The Crown, 90 The High Street, Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6DP. Tel: 01502 722275