Was the Crown Inn just suffering from a post-Christmas dip? Elaine Lemm hopes so.
January is the most difficult month for restaurants. Diners are scarce thanks to a post-Christmas spending moratorium; many are closed for much-needed holidays or run with a skeleton staff. Seasonal food is not exactly zinging with inspiration.
A chef-friend told me recently: “January should be a time for renewal and really getting to know your guests along with inspiring your team. Alas, it seems just too much trouble for some.” Wise words.
For me, no matter the time of year, if the restaurant door is open for business there is a responsibility to deliver. When customers are willing to part with their hard-earned cash, whatever is happening in the background is not their problem. Nor is it grounds for giving less than the best.
The doors were well and truly open at the Crown Inn, Great Ouseburn, on a rather grim January night. The warmth of the welcome from a young waitress was only surpassed by the two roaring fires, candlelit tables (albeit fake candles) and a cluster of locals supping at the bar. A lack of diners was noticeable but hey ho; it was only 7pm, maybe more would come?
Settled by the fire all attention was lavished on us, drinks, menus, water, bread… she couldn’t do enough. Between times, she nipped behind the bar, served drinks, chatted with locals and never took her eye off the ball once. Impressive in someone so young.
A trim menu offers an albeit-limited choice of what is best described as classic pub food. There are seven starters and mains on the à la carte and a blackboard of tapas dishes.
The Crown boasts of “some of the very finest ingredients Yorkshire has available”. If this is the case, there is no evidence of provenance on the menu, which I feel is a missed opportunity.
A few tapas to nibble on seemed like a good idea and at £2.95 a plate (or four for a tenner) reasonable. Vegetable parcels and salt and pepper squid duly arrived, and I will admit to being a little surprised by their almost mechanical neatness. The filo money-bag shaped parcels were strangely identical, and each tied neatly with a minuscule strip of Pandan leaf. I have never seen a squid cut so precisely nor such a regular coating of batter, even in the hands of the most talented chef. Mmm? The taste was nothing to get too excited about and nothing to criticise either.
A black pudding and bacon salad fared so much better, with the freshness of the ingredients being more than apparent. The salad leaves glistened and came covered with a slice of thick, very tasty, bacon. There was a generous serving of spicy, fruity pudding, with the dish topped off by a perfectly poached hen’s egg. Lovely.
A goats’ cheese and caramelised tart was ordered after resisting chicken liver parfait and brioche, ham hock or smoked salmon – we have had more than our fair share of this staple festive fare recently. Twenty years on and goats’ cheese tart continues to pop up on menus. This is not surprising as when done well it’s a delight but sadly, I have eaten far too many poor ones to any longer get excited about it. This one, I am delighted to say, did not disappoint. Great pastry was filled with a decent balance of sweet onion to the light acidity of the cheese.
An appealing sounding pork loin steak is described on the menu as coming with potato hash, Brussels sprouts, bacon, and a cider cream sauce.
Had it come with the oomph of the two previous dishes, would have been delightful. Instead it was a chore to even contemplate eating the two lumps of tough pork, sliced sprouts, lukewarm hash, and a slightly sour, cloying cider sauce. A brave attempt was made but after ploughing through more than half of it, became too much.
What the pork dish did manage though, was to make the lack-lustre fish and chips across the table look very alluring.
An hour and a half had passed and we were still the only diners so chef clearly wasn’t being overworked. Surely it wasn’t too much to expect a little more attention to the cooking?
Could two classic puddings compensate for our increasing sense of disappointment? I am pleased to say a sticky toffee pudding tried very hard and almost managed it. Had the jam roly poly been treated with the same respect, rather than too long in the microwave (turning it solid and inedible), I may have been more forgiving in my thoughts. Instead I felt very cross.
When I asked what chef had said to us returning the barely touched pud, the waitress (still smiling and trying very hard to mask her embarrassment) told us he had left. Okay, we’ll not have an apology then, never mind a replacement.
The owners of the Crown took over what was an award-winning pub just last year. They have everything going for them, it is picture perfect with a lovely atmosphere and the young waitress one of the best. Hopefully, this was a one-off slip up and they are not already falling into the trap of using January as an excuse. I certainly hope not.
The Crown Inn, Main Street, Great Ouseburn, YO26 9RF. 01423 330013. Open: Monday to Saturday, lunch: 12-2.30pm, early bird menu: 4.30-7pm, à la carte: 4.30- 9.30pm. Sunday, food served: 12-8pm.