The Crown Inn, Weston
This rejuvenated historic coaching inn is a foodie’s dream, hidden away in a secret corner of the shire. Shhh. Don't tell anyone.
Having previously visited The Crown just twice before, once passing a summer’s evening in the sun-soaked courtyard with parents and kids in tow, and again on a gin-thirsty girls’ night that I’m sure started off being quite sophisticated, I was looking forward to discovering what gourmet delights were on offer in the cosy and impeccably styled restaurant.
Dating from the reign of Elizabeth I, The Crown is truly tucked away in the depths of the Northamptonshire countryside and, from the outside, this pretty ironstone coaching inn would almost seem to have slipped back in time a few hundred years, were it not for the telltale row of super-slick vehicles parked outside. Just over the road lives food critic and Masterchef judge, William Sitwell, who is a regular here, high praise indeed.
There is a warm and relaxed welcome as you step through the door into this bijou yet immaculate pub, with it’s low oak beams, painted fresh white, original quarry-tiled floors and roaring log fires. On our arrival landlord Mikey pops out from the kitchen to chat with diners, making sure everyone is enjoying their meals. The staff at The Crown take pride in this place and it shows in the diversity of the clientele. There are stylish couples enjoying a romantic meal, ladies who lunch having coffee by the fire in one of the enveloping armchairs, business meetings are underway and the occasional flat-capped local pops in for a lunchtime pint with a terrier or lurcher in tow.
What is really unusual about The Crown is that it feels almost French, not just the gorgeous bistro style cane-seated chairs, or the quietly-perfect service, but the fact that here, quite in the middle of nowhere, is a sophisticated yet affordable place to enjoy great food and wine, quite a rare treat.
The Crown is so delightfully hidden way, that if you are traveling a fair distance to get here (and believe me you really should) an overnight stay will give you the time to soak in the surroundings and enjoy this pretty part of the county.
The five cosy rooms all echo the clean, country chic hues of the downstairs dining rooms, with crisp white linen, faux fur throws and a laid back mix of vintage and contemporary styling. A breakfast box is delivered to your door and a set of indulgent toiletries from The White Company means you can stay happily ensconced in the deep roll-top bath, taking in the gorgeous village views of thatched stone cottages, grand Georgian farmhouses and the rolling Northamptonshire countryside, perfect for a weekend away from it all surrounded by gorgeous walks. Don’t forget your wellies!
SCOFF AND QUAFF
The food here is by far the best for miles around (apart from my Mum’s lasagne, of course Mum) thanks both to chef Andy Lipp’s award-winning skills and the help of Mikey, the congenial landlord who regularly dons his chef’s hat to get stuck in. Whilst it is possible to pop along for a rare roast beef and horseradish sandwich or, if you’re feeling extra hungry, the pie of the day, it is virtually impossible not to want to while away several hours on course after course of cuisine that simply gets it right every time.
Dinner kicked off with a selection of warm breads with salted butter and dipping oil, which went down well with a glass of Chilean Merlot (me) and a pint of locally brewed Hook Norton ale (my husband). I chose to eat from the a la carte menu, starting with a sumptuously melt-in-the-mouth twice baked cheddar and leek soufflé with gruyère cheese sauce and chive oil (£9.50), so perfectly light and velvety that I had to stop myself from licking the plate afterwards. I somehow managed to control myself, knowing that I still had my sun-blushed tomato and basil spaghetti with chilli, parmesan and basil pesto (£15) to hoover up, to which I also added some king prawns for an extra fiver. The warmth of the chilli was not overpowering, allowing the fragrant basil to shine alongside the richly softened tomatoes, transforming what might otherwise have been a light meditaranean-flavoured dish into hearty winter fare.
The portion size was something to be reckoned with, but I had planned this all so well: the kids were both going to parties that evening, so I knew I didn’t need to cook supper and I could simply get stuck in and enjoy a day off from the kitchen to relish my enormous lunch. Cue: a chocolate and salt caramel tart with salt caramel ice cream (£7.45), all crumbly base, oozing salty caramel sauce and dark chocolate bitterness.
Husband opted for the set lunch menu, which always remind of Parisian bistros rather than English inns, and this is where The Crown excels where other pubs can often be quite unambitious: simple, brilliantly presented, gourmet food is the bottom line here, as though it’s normal, though sadly it’s a rarity. Perhaps this ethos is what has kept The Crown going for half a millennium? Included in the set menu is a glass of house wine, starter, main course, cheese plate and dessert.
Soup of the day, a hearty tomato and paprika accompanied by a freshly baked bread roll and butter, was followed by beer battered haddock fillet, mushy peas, tartare sauce and fat home cut chips. We shared the cheese plate, as I obviously hadn’t eaten very much… a wedge of camembert with biscuits, grapes and celery, and for dessert a pair of profiteroles smothered in chocolate sauce. All of this for £15 and I squirmed as a realised my main course alone had cost more than my husband’s entire meal, but I reasoned that it was all in the name of research.
OUT & ABOUT
Opposite the pub is Weston Hall, the family home of the literary Sitwell family, which is open to the public most weekends by appointment and is well worth visiting to have a peek at poet Dame Edith’s elegant and eccentric costumes and to explore the charming grounds. A bit of good planning might see you in the village at the right time to attend the acclaimed Weston Supper Club.
Nearby Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of George Washington, is open from April to September and is great for families, horticulturalists, history buffs and anyone who loves tea and cake. Admission is £8 for adults and £3.60 for children.
Silverstone Circuit is close by, with loads of events, track days, racing and a fab new interactive museum, The Silverstone Experience, so why not tie in your visit to The Crown with a weekend at the British Grand Prix, or test your skills on the track with one of their driving experiences?
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Pop in for a lunch-time gourmet fish finger sandwich, while away a Sunday afternoon with friends and family, enjoy a romantic escape, or celebrate a family gathering in the Coach House function room, with its vaulted ceilings: The Crown has something for everyone. There is a children’s menu offering the staple chicken goujons, bangers and mash etc, though anything on the menu can be prepared for smaller tummies on request.
Not for: Outside space is pretty but limited to a few tables, so not one for those in search of a beer garden or lots of outside space for kids to run around in.
The damage: Double rooms start from £95 a night. Three courses a la carte is around £40 a head or £15 for the set menu. Hot lunches from the bar menu including the legendary Crown burger and pie of the day are £10, with gourmet sandwiches £8. Wines from £20 a bottle.
The Crown Inn, 2 Helmdon Road, Weston, Northamptonshire, NN12 8PX. Tel: 01295 760310.