We’ve become addicted to Diana Henry’s Gastro Pub Cookbook, not for its recipes, but instead for the way it recommends the best pubs to visit all over the country. So when we were looking for an Easter Saturday excursion from Bedford, reached for her book, like a heroin addict grappling for their syringe.
Nestled in a small village, a cricket ball’s throw from Huntingdon is The Crown Inn, in Broughton. It is an attractive pub that overlooks a handsome church. Several years ago the pub went bust and was bought by a consortium of locals. Having been put back on an even keel, it has never looked back and has recently been taken on by a private individual. It’s a fairytale ending for this village pub, that will make many other villages feel jealous.
Whilst it definitely is not a drinking pub, it still has a bar area to nurse a pint and put the day’s troubles to bed. We enjoyed a pre-meal drink in this homely space whilst visually devouring the menu and engrossing ourselves in their collection of cooking and guide books.
We needn’t have been kept waiting for our table because it was empty. But we’ll let them off this indiscretion because they only had a skeleton staff and we were happy having a drink. Throughout the pub you encounter stylish touches that elevate it above the average boozer.If you were to conjugate their style you might come up with a wanky mantra such as “contemporary style with a rustic jus”. For instance linen napkins are tied into a scroll with rough gardening string. The same approach translates to their cooking.
Our starters were a collective success. The safe option of smoked salmon was adjudged “very good” by my Grandfather who has had as many smoked salmons as he has hot dinners. Char grilled King Scallops with sweet chilli sauce and crème fraiche was far better than we had dared to hope. The chilli sauce had genuine warmth and the scallops was discerningly charred. My pork belly with sesame, ginger and a Thai dipping sauce made me sit forward abruptly and grin with heady glee. Not only was the pork belly so soft I was able to tease it apart,like Matilda using only telepathy, but the oriental sauce which I was dubious about, in an English country pub, was a the real deal.
Act 2 wasn’t bad either. The fish and chips showed us that the kitchen can do “pub grub” as well as any. But a mushy pea connoisseur may have questioned the “neither one thing nor the other” pea puree perhaps. Chips were good too, but too prolific. Medallions of Aberdeen Angus beef were pink, soft and doused in a deep, savoury gravy that met with grumblings of approval and a refusal to share which is a sure sign of success. My roast rump of lamb, marinated in rosemary, garlic, thyme and lemon with gnocchi was good without being enough to warrant a “great”. The meat was beautifully rare and the Mediterranean vegetables and the gnocchi were a delight. But the marinade-cum-gravy was a touch bitter which held back this dish’s zing factor. Whilst none of the actors botched their lines, they didn’t quite have us queueing at the stage door with our autograph books out.
Some of the greedier members of the Brown family couldn’t resist pudding. AKA the misters. Three generations of Brown men tucked into a faultless pannacotta, a text book steamed syrup pudding and a decadent chocolate tart that saw the girls having to sit on their hands to resist.
The atmosphere was warm, the service was slick and the food was some of the best in the area. It’s a pub well worth an hour’s drive for a family visit for lunch. Once again Diana Henry has come up trumps.
All images are from The Crown Inn website.