The Stoke by Nayland Crown
Review date: December 2013
When none less than the Editor of Michelin Guide chooses your restaurant as the venue for his own retirement gathering you’d be forgiven for crowing (repeatedly - and probably from the highest available tower) but that’s not really their style at the Crown, Stoke by Nayland. Lesley Rawlinson discovers more
Even without knowing of that rather auspicious accolade I’d been eagerly anticipating this visit. Just 16 miles from Ipswich and only 9 miles from Sudbury and Colchester alike, the village overlooks parts of the very pretty Stour Valley and as the seasons change so do the breath-taking views. Winding along the A134 Suffolk’s famed broad landscape disappears as the contours of Constable Country come to the fore.
It happens to be ten years since owner Richard Sunderland took on The Crown, a pub he’d passed daily for many years without ever imagining that it could be the very property he was looking for. “I had a vision of creating a place that offered the food people want to eat but in relaxed surroundings and, to be honest, better than what was on offer back then” says Richard. “Even when we bought the place we hadn’t appreciated exactly what we had to offer but by getting rid of a single storey extension at the back and some enormous conifers we’ve opened up the views. Sitting on the terrace in the summer is just beautiful but even at this time of year the countryside can be appreciated through the patio doors”.
Richard’s right – it’s hard to imagine how a building could have inhabited such a beautiful spot without taking advantage of the location. Five years ago they added 11 bedrooms in an annex overlooking the valley and I’m pushed to think of many better situated hotel rooms in Suffolk. From the moment you walk through the doors, all adorned with Jim Lawrence ironwork handles – a hallmark at The Crown, there’s a comfort and a homeliness that begs you to settle and stay. It’s not just the door furniture that’s been sourced from local handcrafted home furnishing specialist Jim Lawrence; accessories from the collection including lamps and mirrors combine to reinforce the ease and comfort of the surroundings alongside works from local artists. Richard continued “I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t mind having this décor in my own home, it’s a homely but smart feel and every room has its own identity. The area we’re sitting in [with open fire and views across the terrace] is a bit more rustic, down past the bar it’s a bit more contemporary and at the far end we almost have a tea room feel which means that each visitor can sit where they feel most comfortable.”
Wandering through the bar to our table it’s difficult not to notice the rather impressive wine cellar. Richard’s background in wine has hugely influenced the direction The Crown has taken and aside from the very prominent stocks of wines from around the world – which incidentally can be taken away as well enjoyed ‘in ’(with or without food) and include Magnums of Chateau Talbot, Henschke’s Hill of Grace, a plethora of Red and White Burgundies – Leflaive, Sauzet, Lafon to name but a few, the menu has been cleverly constructed to include suggestions of more than 30 wines
that are available by the glass. “It all goes back to that gaping hole I could see ten or so years ago” Richard says, “You couldn’t find a big, well selected list by the glass and a good local beer element that complements the food in the kind of surroundings you want to spend time in and that was true value for money, so we created it.”
Comfortably installed at our table it was time to make menu choices. My husband had already spotted the bread choices (that he noted could also be a perfect snack accompaniment to a lunch time pint) so decided to sample the Stilton and bacon bread while he made up his mind. I was interested to see that there were some ‘mini’ starter options (available as a trio or individually) great for the smaller appetite, as well as a good selection of full starter sized dishes with wild mushroom pâté with sour dough toast jumping straight out of the page and to the top of my list of preferences. Pear and Stilton salad, beer battered scampi and flash fried salmon and celeriac cake were all in the running but couldn’t quite nudge the pâté off pole position. I was rather relieved too that on tasting the mushrooms had been allowed to remain as the heroes of the dish, subtly partnered and not overpowered with herbs and wonderfully chunky. Adrian was rather unsurprisingly wooed by the rather manly sounding Black pudding Scotch egg which was, in his opinion, enhanced by the blend of sausage meat added to the Black pudding, ensuring that as a starter the richness was kept reasonably in check.
Rather than a specials board The Crown offers a daily fish menu as the offering will entirely depend on what is freshly available and my main course choice of roasted whole rainbow trout, crispy Parma ham, grilled cherry tomatoes, citrus mayonnaise and French fries was sublime. We noticed that the table next door had ordered from the ‘Catch of the Day’ menu too with a number of portions of haddock and chips, one of the Crowns best- selling dishes, and I’d guess they’re still there now making their way through the giant portions, very impressive! Across the table, having weighed up the enticing options and so nearly ordering venison haunch steak with wilted spinach, the roasted whole partridge with cavolo nero in red wine sauce arrived, accompanied by a glass of the recommended wine choice – Italian Valpolicella. Declared as perfect partners the spiced flavours combined for a textbook winter pairing.
We were satisfyingly full but with mini desserts on offer as well as their fully sized siblings how could we not partake in a homemade fig tart with our coffee? It’s these touches from Head Chef, Dan Hibble and his team, that leave you wanting more. As we chatted Richard added that at the heart of the decisions he makes with the kitchen team is the need to be sure that the ideas stay fresh but reliable; “We like to think that while our customers will also, and quite rightly want too, visit other pubs and restaurants from time to time it’s the atmosphere here that keeps pulling them back to us. Our engaging staff are part of that and help to make sure The Crown is a place where you want to relax, take time, breath, and with the menu changing every four to five weeks our patrons won’t be bored by the same repeated offering”.
The Crown, Stoke By Nayland, Suffolk, CO6 4SE.
T: (01206) 262001