George Osborne recently tweeted his love of an upmarket burger, a Byron’s, while working late one night in his office.
Locally, Emsworth’s Crown Hotel has its own cunning patty plan: their £11.95 ‘homemade international gourmet burgers’ include the Italian with gorgonzola, a French one with brie and a Mexican one with jalapeños and spicy cheese.
But there are plenty of other choices to choose from in this smart pub (drink at the bar sans nosh) with its three distinctive rooms plus more formal restaurant. A grade II Georgian coaching inn, it has beams and bricks, nooks and crannies with squidgy sofas, upholstered chairs and bookshelves. It all pleases the eye and senses bar the execrable music – 1970s and 1980s disco dance pop.
I chose one of the small adjoining rooms overlooking the terrace, far more cosy and bustling than the restaurant. Remarkably good service is the order of the day here, genial staff with a complete eye on the ball seemingly the norm.
The menu is a tried and tested one. It offers smoked mackerel pâté; goat’s cheese parcel; sweet onion tart; salmon and avocado salad; tuna Nicoise; chicken souvlaki with tzatziki and houmous; several pasta dishes; lamb moussaka (‘served with garden salad’ – where else would it come from?); three shires sausages with red onion gravy and horseradish; salmon trout with spicy pea purée and fish ’n chips and homemade savoury pies.
Prices are middling at £10-£13, a rib eye steak at £15.95. You may also find plaice and other daily specials too.
My steak and Guinness pie (£9.95), had a 1980s look thanks to lashings of shiny, Bisto-like gravy poured over the whole crusty pie. The pastry was rather soggy, but my gripe mostly stops there.
The filling – oodles of tender, well-chosen quality meat in that Guinness – is excellent and moreish. Well-prepared mash was also a hit. The pastry was too thick and solid – a lighter touch needed. Good cabbage and broccoli came with this, both still with a crunch. The beans and carrots were overly cooked.
The small wine list – there are 12 types only – yielded an impressive Shiraz. A glass of water with ice and lemon came as a given, another service plus. The staff service is just as it should be in a pub: informal, friendly yet totally professional.
The dessert list – ‘Crowning Moments’ – include homemade crème brûlée; sticky toffee pudding; daily crumble or cheesecake; banoffee pie or ice creams (£4.95). There is nothing to startle the horses, all dishes continuing firmly in times of yore.
The chef demonstrates his hefty hand too with banoffee bases, a very thick one. However, the ginger base taste was pretty good. The whipped cream topping’s vast thickness was overkill, and the appealing custard covered bananas were clawed out from underneath this carapace.
If a lighter touch was adopted, dishes would appeal to those seeking less heavy food. But, at least, there’s a lot of taste in the cooking without a doubt.
The experience at The Crown was very pleasurable. It just needs to reach a tad more into the millennium in terms of lightness (and music) and it would go a long way. My bill came to just under £20 not including a tip.
The Crown Hotel,
8 High Street, Emsworth, PO10 7AW, (01243) 372806. Open for food from 12–3pm and 6–9pm, Suns 12–4pm.
Disabled access: Wheelchair ramp for bar area.
How to get there: Exit on the A27 going east at Emsworth. Follow the signs to the town centre. The High Street is just off the anchor roundabout and the hotel is on the left. Parking on the street.
Ratings (maximum *****)