Review: Desserts to die for at The Bildeston Crown
- Credit: Archant
With the kids packed off to grandma’s and the prospect of no cooking, washing up or other annoying chores to attend to, we arrived at The Bildeston Crown last week relaxed and ready to enjoy a romantic evening for two – after several days of frazzling half term parental entertainment.
The inn, which recently welcomed back top chef Chris Lee and wife Hayley (who now run the business), has been renovated in the past year and, with Hayley’s finishing touches now has a really chilled, lovely vibe about it.
Glass of Prosecco in hand, in the glow of the bar’s fire, it didn’t take us long to slip into ‘holiday’ mode.
We’d just checked into our room, number 6, a huge timber-framed space with understated country chic décor, mountains of fluffy pillows atop an enormous bed, thick, sun-blocking drapes (essential for that day after the night before lay-in) and a generous bathroom. What more could we want?
After dousing ourselves in bubbles at the bar, it was time to move into the restaurant area of the labyrinthine inn which, like the rest of the building has a slick look, softened by lighting and rural décor.
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We were both starving and couldn’t wait to get cracking on the food. But there was so much choice. Both a Classics and Select menu to pick from.
So, of course, we had to start with a couple of bits from the ‘nibbles’ menu while we made our minds up.
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We shared mini hash browns with mushroom ketchup (cute little potato bon bons with a savoury dark sauce) and tranches of fried bread topped with salty Serrano ham and a thick tomato sauce, reminiscent of Maltese conserva I had on a trip away earlier in the year. So far so good.
We hadn’t realised though, that a ‘chopping board’ of bread was on its way over. Whoops. Cue the beginning of a slippery slope that led to us feeling so full by the end of the night I practically needed a crane to lift me upstairs to bed.
The miniature breads, six of them, included a Parma ham croissant, tomato infused swirl and various white and seeded rolls. Each of them was fluffy, yeasty and crisp and, smothered in a knifeful of salted butter, took us to dough heaven.
Starters across the two menus included smoked haddock and hen’s egg fishcakes with chive cream and spinach, lobster Caesar salad and seared duck liver with confit leg and pineapple.
To pair with my glass of lively, buttery Viognier I chose the langoustine gnocchi with baby vegetables and endive. It was spectacular. The plump, Roman cut gnocchi were just the right texture and the sweet, succulent flavour of the shellfish was complemented by earthy notes of truffle. The baby fennel and tiny pencil leeks and slight bitterness from the endive added a bit of bite for a truly well-rounded and well-executed plate of food.
With his Albarino, recommended by our friendly, very knowledgeable Spanish wine waiter, Jarv went straight in for Chris’ ‘all day breakfast’ which knocks the socks of anything you’d get in the average roadside greasy spoon.
There was a smooth chicken liver sausage, black pudding, miniature hash brown, salty bacon jam, truffled beans, mini toast. Every element on the plate was spot on and each bite was a pleasure thanks to the different flavours and textures used.
Now to the main courses, where diners can either be adventurous with something from the Select menu, or stick to what they know from the Classics – think cheese burger or fish goujons.
Jarv found it hard to resist the sound of the deluxe Red Poll burger from the Classics menu, which was served with foie gras and truffle mayo. It beat, he said, his favourite burger (from Meat Market in London) hands down. The dense, very well seasoned meat was still juicy when it arrived at the table. The chips and onion rings were amazing. And the shredded Mexican salad, with red cabbage, radishes and other delights gave cool respite between the meaty bites.
To drink, Jarv had the recommended Spanish Shiraz, which had butterscotch and caramel notes on the nose, leading to a rich, plum taste that was ideal with the burger.
My middle course was roast guinea fowl. I really think this game bird is one of the most underrated. It is very lean, easy to cook, and isn’t as ‘gamey’ as, say, pheasant or partridge. In fact, I’d liken the flavour to roast turkey!
To serve, the tasty bird came with all manner of scrummy accompaniments.
There was tender spiced pear, nuggets of stuffing, a mini pie filled with deliciously herby giblets, charred onions, spring onions, pear puree. I loved every single bite. Nothing could have been cooked better.
To finish I tucked into perhaps one of the biggest pieces of lemon tart I have ever tackled. The long, slender tart was smooth, fresh and slightly wibbly with a crackle glaze top – lovely.
Also on the plate was a sour crème fraiche sorbet, shreds of lemon drizzle cake, blackberries, blackberry gel, orange jellies, micro lemon balm and strips of candied orange peel. Needless to say I could not finish it (and that really is saying something) but if the option was there I would have quite happily taken the rest up to bed to nibble as a midnight snack.
Often restaurants chuck a load of stuff on a plate to make it look ‘cheffy’ but here, each little morsel had a part to play. From the heady lemon bursts from the balm, to the bitter crisp of the glaze and orange peel, and the contrasting flavour of the blackberries. One of the best lemon tarts I’ve eaten.
With it I had a glass of Sauternes. I always enjoy this dessert wine – a viscous nectar dripping with the scent of honey and ripe peaches.
Jarv had a glass of raisin and rose scented Elysium with his naughty chocolate fondant pudding. The melted middle was present and correct, and the accompanying arctic roll-style peanut parfait, chocolate and peanut rubble and white chocolate ice cream all combined to make this wickedly good.
We rolled up to bed after coffee, fuller than full and ever so slightly sozzled, for a really good night’s sleep followed by a hearty breakfast and left refreshed and already plotting another return. After all, the Crown is only 10 minutes’ drive from home and it would be rude not to go back, wouldn’t it?
With some of the best food around, good vibes and genuine hospitality from lovely Hayley and the front of house team, it truly is a special place.