Restaurant review, The Crown and Castle, Orford: 'Well-cooked classics and inventive food for veggies'
- Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis
Oh the joys of eating out. Or should I say in?
Trundling along the A12, and through the wilderness of Suffolk’s ancient woodlands en route to postcard-perfect Orford, I couldn’t help feel a wash of sunshine come over me – despite the pitiful conditions outside.
I’d been invited to sample the menu at The Crown and Castle, under ownership of The Hotel Folk since I last visited in Ruth Watson’s reign, and with a (relatively) new chef, Jake Lawrence in position.
It felt almost, dare I say it, normal.
OK, so there was still hand sanitiser at the entrance. We, and staff, had to wear masks (except at the table), and seating capacity had been reduced. But, boy, it was great to be inside a restaurant again. It’s the little things I’ve missed. The irresistible scents wafting from the kitchen. The clink of cutlery on china. The dramatic ‘pop’ of a Champagne cork at the bar. Ah yes, the little things.
You may also want to watch:
The Crown and Castle has, rightly, taken social distancing very seriously, with waymarked routes to get in and out of the building, and sign posting for sanitising etc. But this didn’t deter from the charm of the place which is, I feel, at its best in the evening, when candles flicker amongst glassware, and a sense of drama is created by the low lighting and deeply shaded walls.
Chef Jake is raring to go after over a year out of the kitchen (lockdown hit just one year into his stint at the hotel) and is keen to impress with dishes that sing of seasonality, showcasing local produce – some (Pump Street bread and chocolate, Pinneys fish, High House fruit) sourced just moments away from the premises.
- 1 Town's Harper move held up by West Brom uncertainty
- 2 Councils to be given powers to fine drivers £70
- 3 Suffolk school goes viral after teachers post TikTok dance
- 4 Village in uproar as primary school attempts to change historic logo
- 5 A12 underpass closed after car stuck in water
- 6 ‘Exceptional’ country estate with its own airfield hits the market
- 7 Woman in master/slave relationship was asked to supply indecent images
- 8 Historic Walberswick Bell Inn closes for one week
- 9 Citroën driver taken to hospital after car comes off road
- 10 A12 clear after two-car crash at Farnham
It is currently, he says, a concise menu. But actually I found it ample. A set menu and a la carte options fit neatly onto a page (who needs more than that?) and, to the delight of my non-meat-eating friend Rachel, when we enquired about veggie options, a separate, and quite inventive, we thought, vegetarian menu was presented.
Before we got stuck in to the food proper there were hunks of award-winning Pump Street sourdough with a soft quenelle of sage butter for smearing.
I opted to begin with the crispy Blythburgh pork belly with chicory, radish and pumpkin seed granola. It was, if you like, an anti-nourish bowl. What I mean by that is, instead of slices of avocado over the salad leaves (a la Insta trends) it was garnished with cubes of crisp-edge, soft-cantered pork. You could tell the meat was high quality. It was rich with flavour and seasoned well. However, the granola was missing when it arrived which, with just a light splash of oil for dressing, left little to balance the bitterness of the leaves. The niblets were swiftly delivered with an apology though – the combination of pumpkin seed, sugar, fennel seeds and oats bringing in that much-needed balance. I still, however, would like to see a dressing in play here.
Rachel’s wild mushroom polenta was dark as night....and bewitching in flavour. In fact, it was probably the most flavoursome dish of the evening. Polenta can either be soggy or dry as an old flannel. The kitchen team here had got it spot-on, with a crisp, almost potato fondant-like outside, yielding to a melting middle ram-packed with the rambunctious, beefiness of mushroom, and a whisper of truffle. Supporting acts of mushroom ketchup and ricotta bon bons made this a gorgeous plate of food.
In the middle I was recommended the seared scallops with celeriac, apple and pancetta. A classic that’s, let face it, easy to stuff up, because if you leave those dainty pieces of shellfish in the pan a tad too long, the whole thing is ruined.
I’m glad to report these babies (delivered fresh that morning) were wibbly fresh and cooked to soft, plump perfection. Apparently Jake dehydrates the roe (which many people leave on the side of the plate) and uses it as a dust over the shellfish to give more welly to their flavour. The bites of fresh apple and smooth celeriac worked well, as they should. If I could give one critique, it’s that the pancetta wasn’t salty enough. While the crumb was golden crisp, it lacked that meaty, saline bite that’s needed to counter the scallops’ sweetness.
Rachel was onto a winner with her tenderstem broccoli with katsu curry sauce and crispy tofu. It was a generous portion, and heaped flavour upon flavour. The veg were tender and cooked bang-on. The tempura shards of silken tofu just-right. And as for the sauce that brought it all together...excellent with a deep, rich taste. Pops of crunchy chickpea were a nice touch.
On the side we couldn’t help but be tempted by a portion of the Parmesan and truffle fries – an absolute must if you visit.
Jake did joke we could try all the desserts. Having not met me before he obviously didn’t realise I was amply up for the challenge. I've already grown a ‘food baby’ paunch in lockdown...what’s a few more calories?
We hadn’t quite counted on the size of the grande dessert though. What you see in the picture was what we were presented – each!
Lemon posset with poached rhubarb and pistachios – clean-tasting, creamy and sharp, but with the defined taste of the stems shining through. A classic done well.
Elderflower cheesecake- not too sweet, and gorgeously fluffy, with a pleasant hint of mint running through the strawberry garnish. It could have done with a hit more elderflower though.
Coconut and lime parfait – a texture so hard to get right. But they did here. The vegan parfait, made with coconut puree, was light and spoonable after a few minutes at the table, with neither coconut or lime taking over the party. We both liked the flavour of red chilli running through the pineapple and rum salsa on the side.
Chocolate brownie with caramelised hazelnuts and dulce de leche – melting, rich, but not too sweet.
Pump Street chocolate millionaire’s - a playful take on the traybake, which allowed the cocoa notes of the chocolate to shine. You will not want to share this.
If sweets aren’t your thing, try the cheeseboard, which comes with shaved celery, grapes, decent crackers, sourdough crisps and a luxurious little jar of truffle honey. They keep it local here, with Suffolk Gold, Binham Blue and Baron Bigod, all served at just the right temperature for their unique aromas to come through.
Slick and friendly. A bottle of chilled water was brought without us asking, and replenished before even we knew we were low. The gaps between courses were well-judged. And they knew their wines.
The English sparkling wine (from Hampshire’s Coates and Sealy) was hands-down the best English fizz I have ever tried. Lingering somewhere between a Cremant de Limoux and Champagne, it was buttery, toasty, full of juicy raisins and erred on the sweeter side – which I prefer.
The restaurant’s Viognier was a depart from the usual stone-fruit heavy glass, with grassy, herbal, almost minty tinges on the nose, and a bright citrus top note, leading to a nectarine finish.
I enjoyed the sparkling Italian Muscato dessert wine. But the Visciolata (also from Italy) was utterly swoon-worthy. Made with juice drawn from sugar and sun-soaked cherries, it is sweet (not cloyingly so) but has a spice to it as well, bursting with ripe fruit, bubblegum and notable hints of clove and nutmeg. It is going to become a regular in our household with a cheeseboard.
There’s a small car park at the back but it gets busy very quickly. Try and park in the spaces in the village square.
The back entrance is on one level but the restaurant has a raised level so you may want to request the bottom part if you have mobility issues.
Asides from the dessert of course, it has to be the mushroom polenta for the punch it packed.
The set menu is £26 for two courses and £8 for an additional course. Starters are around £7, main courses £17 and desserts £5 to £8.