Heston Blumenthal's pub in Bray has stayed true to its roots as a traditional boozer, but with a touch of Fat Duck magic on the menu. Kerstin Kühn reports
When Heston Blumenthal added the Crown in Bray to his burgeoning restaurant portfolio last summer, local residents were not amused. After the Fat Duck and the Hinds Head, the villagers were against the culinary wizard working his magic on their last remaining boozer, turning it into a fine-dining destination.
"Initially they didn't like it," admits Nick Galer, the Crown's head chef. "But all we did was give it a tidy up, improve the staff and run it more professionally."
A year on and the residents have been swayed, not least because the Crown has remained true to its identity. "We are a food-led operation but 50% of our customers still come in just to drink," says Galer.
Housed in a 16th century inn with low-beamed ceilings, the Crown has all the charms of a traditional village pub, while outside there's a courtyard and a massive garden where barbecues are served. Inside, the 60-cover venue is divided into two main areas: the bar and two adjoining dining rooms where 32 seats are available for reservation.
The menu is overseen by Blumenthal and Fat Duck group executive chef Ashley Palmer-Watts but executed by Galer, who joined the team from the Royal Oak in Yattendon, Berkshire.
"All dishes are approved by Heston before they appear on the menu so I have the support of him and the development team," he says.
Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, the Crown offers a menu of typical pub food but one that's been given the Fat Duck treatment. A case in point is a starter of gazpacho served with horseradish crème fraîche (£5.50), which may look and taste like normal gazpacho but involves a lot more than simply blitzing vegetables.
"It's a three-day process," explains Galer. The vegetables - cucumber, tomato, peppers and onions - are macerated with Arbequina olive oil and sealed in a vac pack before resting in the fridge for 24 hours and then being blended in a Thermomix.
The mixture is then passed through a fine mesh sieve and white bread is added. After being rested for two hours, the soup is passed through the sieve again before a mayonnaise is added to thicken it. After resting for another day, the soup is seasoned with flavourings from the Fat Duck development kitchen including tomato emulsion, spicing and sherry vinegar.
Another starter is a trug of baby vegetables with a warm bagna cauda dip (£8.95), which comes in the form of a tiny picnic basket, complete with chequered cloth (pictured). The accompanying, moreish dip is made from garlic that is blanched in milk four times and then puréed with olive oil, lemon juice and anchovies before being mixed with mayonnaise.
Main courses include typical pub fare such as the popular Angus burger (£9.95), served in a brioche bun with fries that are "modelled on Burger King chips" covered in a coating of rice flour, salt, xanthan gum, palm oil, turmeric and paprika to make them extra crispy.
Fish and chips with crushed peas and tartar sauce (£14) is made from codling and battered in the same mix Blumenthal created for the Little Chef chain as part of the Channel 4 series.
"We add raising agent and beer and aim to get the fish to a core temperature of about 42e_SDgrC, which means they all have to be cooked for the perfect amount of time," says Galer.
Puddings feature classics such as sticky toffee pudding (£5.75) and Eton Mess (£5.95) as well as a summery dessert of Pimm's jelly and vanilla ice-cream (£5.75) served in a glass where a bottom layer of Pimm's jelly infused with lemon and lime zest is topped with strawberry, orange, cucumber and mint, all sweetened with fructose, and finished off with whipped vanilla ice-cream.
Offering anything from a pint of lager to a three-course dinner, the Crown continues to serve its community as a loyal village pub. But as far as the food is concerned, it's a pub with a difference.
SAMPLE DISHES FROM THE MENU
London cure smoked salmon, parsley & capers with rye bread £7.25
Brixham mussels in white wine, garlic & parsley £8.50
Potted duck, grilled bread & cornichons £7.75
MAIN COURSES Baked suet, steak and ale pie with creamed potato £14.75
Roasted Loch Duart salmon, crushed Jersey Royals £15.50
Chargrilled sirloin steak with béarnaise sauce & fries £19.50
Vanilla panna cotta, raspberries & raspberry syrup £5.95
Ice cream/sorbet, peanut brittle & caramel sauce £4.50
Selection of British cheeses £8.75
High Street, Bray, Berkshire SL6 2AH
Tel 01628 621936