So I have a confession to make. It's a big one so you'd better prepare yourselves, deep breath, sit down, stiff drink and all that. OK, ready? Here we go…
James Sommerin took my virginity!
Yes, in a hot, steamy kitchen and with a backing track of roaring gas burners, clanging pans and shouts of "Service!" James Sommerin, in nine relentless, courses took away my cherry but gave me a taste of the stars, Michelin stars!
That was two years ago and as they say, you never forget your first!
In the intervening time I've been fortunate enough to eat at a few more Michelin starred establishments but I've never felt I was able to make any comparisons with The Crown as, for my first time, I'd opted for a bit of extra excitement by going for the blind tasting menu. So I headed back with MrsA to try out the normal a la carte menu.
The Crown is set in a tranquil spot, not quite in the middle of nowhere, but somewhere that feels pretty close. It's a 'restaurant with rooms' and we were indeed booked in for the night. We arrived early enough to chill, rest and shower before we dressed for dinner. The Crown doesn't have a formal dress code but you are likely to see more jackets and ties than in a lot of places and so I felt that it was time to get the cravat out. Sometimes it's just nice to dress up a little.
Having made our way down from our nicely appointed room we sat ourselves down in the lounge. Whilst perusing the menu we were served a little Amuse Bouche of Carrot Velute, Chicken Liver Lollipop, Chopped Tomato Salsa, Baked Parmesan Scone. Just enough to awaken the palate in readiness of what is to come.
Menu studied, questions asked and order taken, we were shown to our table. First up we were served a pre starter of Kipper Benjay & Toast Ice Cream. In interesting combination but this was toast in name only, however it did provide a good balance to offset the salt of the kipper.
For starters MrsA chose Butter poached lobster, ham hock and parsnip whilst I opted for the Red mullet and seared scallop, macaroni, lime, ginger and cocoa. MrsA really like her lobster dish, but I had a few issues with mine. Although the mullet was excellently cooked, I didn't like the contrast of warm mullet and a cold salad. I also felt that the combination of unfamiliar flavours didn't really work well with the mullet. Not a bad start but for me nothing to write home about.
For main I chose Welsh venison loin, spiced carrot, coffee, sorrel and wild mushroom, while MrsA plumped for the Anjou squab pigeon, muscade pumpkin, chilli, ginger, cinnamon. The venison was cooked sous-vide and in a declared homage to the purity of the meat came almost straight from waterbath to plate. Whilst that no doubt ensured that it was as tender and succulent as it was; I really felt that it suffered from not having paid a visit to a hot pan on it's way to my plate. Yes, a touch of caramelisation would have done wonders for it and me! The spiced carrot however was fantastic and a riot on the palate. MrsA, on the other hand, thought the Pigeon was packed with traditional flavours and that the whole dish was just great cooking. All in all two very good dishes with the pigeon just a little more complete than the venison.
We decided that a cheese course was in order before dessert and our slightly sullen waitress brought us what really was a superbly stocked cheese trolley. We chose an interesting selection of Welsh and English cheeses and I was pleased to find a few that were new to me.
After cheese we were delivered a pre-dessert of Summer Pudding, Strawberry Sorbet, Blackcurrant Mousse, Fruit Soup, Lavender Espuma. This did a nice little job of freshening up the palate although it was the ruin of MrsA who decided that there was no way she could manage a dessert proper after it and so would simple share some of mine.
After a quick peruse of the menu I opted for the Agen prune, vanilla, nutmeg and tangarine. After what seemed like an interminably long period of time it arrived and frankly it wasn't worth the wait. When you look at the ingredients on a packet they are always listed in order of most to least and by this rule dessert should have listed the vanilla way up front and in capital letters. This dish really was all about the vanilla, there just wasn't enough prune. I'll say that again, there just wasn't enough prune! As for the freeze dried tangerine, well there was just no point. Disappointing!
We tottered off to the lounge where there was petit four, coffee and truffles awaiting.
All in all I was a touch disappointed by my second visit to The Crown. When the best course is the cheese board then something isn't quite right. MrsA enjoyed her dinner more than I did mine, which isn't to say that anything I had wasn't very good but just that most of it either didn't quite work for me or it lacked a little something that kept it from being perfect. I am being very critical here but hey, it has a star and so I feel I can and should be. I also spend the whole meal with this niggling feeling that our waitress disapproved of us in someway and that certainly affected my enjoyment of the evening and persisted through breakfast the next morning.The Crown, Whitebrook, Nr Monmouth, NP25 4TX. Tel: 01600 860254. http://www.crownatwhitebrook.co.uk/