An Inn for all seasons
26th November 2015
Adrian Rawlinson from visits The Westleton Crown and speaks to Head Chef, James Finch
September and October have been very kind to us with regard to the weather – an Indian summer some may say – so it was quite ironic that on the evening we headed to Westleton autumn arrived with a vengeance. As we drove up the A12 my windscreen wipers were doing ten to the dozen, leaves were blowing across the road and a deep almost impenetrable darkness had descended, putting an instant end to last vestiges of the warm late summer evening light we had been enjoying just days earlier. The irony is that this always seems to happen when we head to The Westleton Crown to sample their autumn menu, it was also perfect because I knew that I would be greeted with an open fire and a relaxed cosiness that The Crown slips effortlessly into as the seasons change. I wasn’t disappointed.
The Westleton Crown is a favoured destination for the Rawlinson household throughout the year. In the summer the garden room opens to the courtyard creating a truly special space to enjoy dining, and the terraced garden beyond creates an ever changing but tranquil spot to relax whatever the season. Autumn and winter however, as I know I have shared before, is my favourite time to visit, dine or even stay at this particular venue. It is a place that invites you to hunker down. The reason for our visit on this occasion was to meet up with Head Chef James Finch, and see what he is planning to bring to The Westleton Crown. Regular readers of Essential Suffolk will be familiar with James’ name, and hopefully his cooking, as he has spent the last four years at the award winning Sibton White Horse. However his move back to The Crown, earlier this year was really a home coming for him as he had previously spent, he tells us, “a very enjoyable six and a half years” there working up from a Commis Chef to Sous Chef.
James describes his cooking as “traditional, where quality local ingredients are always at the front of the queue “however traditional doesn’t mean that James doesn’t love to innovate – he does – and again describes his food as “classic flavours with a modern influence”. Regular visitors to The Crown needn’t worry though as James is not planning a revolution. He told us “The Crown has an excellent reputation and I aim to build on that. I am fortunate to have built great relationships with local suppliers and, because in returning to The Crown I have only moved a few miles, I am able to retain those relationships”. James sees his relationship with suppliers as key as his menus and in particular specials will be driven in a great part by the local ingredients that they can supply. James explained “the menu will change quite regularly and will reflect the season but I’m not into having a set four or five menus a year, I think a fluid menu that can change whenever something unexpected or extra special comes in is the way forward. Specials, especially in the case of fish, really are determined by what is in the back of the van on the day, using Simpers to do this works really well. Normally on the specials menu I will look to offer two starters, two to three mains and a dessert, but this is not cast in stone – flexibility to offer the best for our diners is key. I am passionate about Suffolk food and am really looking forward to sharing that enthusiasm with visitors to The Westleton Crown”.
As I wanted to take some photographs of our dishes on this visit we chose not to sit in the main garden room dining area but instead in the ‘Parlour’ beyond the main bar area. That, again, is one of the things that I like about The Crown with three distinct – and different – areas to dine the experience can change depending on where you sit. Always relaxed but you can feel comfortable whether arriving straight from a bracing dog walk or ready for an elegant more ‘formal’ meal.
The menu, as James had promised, was very recognisable and packed with local ingredients. For our starters we opted for one from the specials menu – a homemade Scotch egg with pear and celeriac slaw and honey mustard dressing, and one from the main menu – crab linguini, spring onion, lemon and crème fraîche. Both dishes were excellent however the choice wasn’t easy as the roast garlic king prawns, slow cooked pork shoulder terrine and vodka curd gravlax were all options that nearly made the cut. My wife often plays the ‘answer in a sealed envelope’ game with me as she is very good at guessing what I am likely to favour on a menu. I don’t like to think it is about being predictable or set in my ways but instead an appreciation of great ingredients and taking advantage of them when the opportunity arises. Whatever the reason she was spot on once again as no other option stood a chance once I spotted the roasted tenderloin and slow cooked cheek of Blythburgh pork, fondant potato, celeriac purée, savoy cabbage and Aspall Cyder jus. Lesley took longer to ponder. Grilled fillet of sea bass and honey glazed pork sausages were the specials offering, Adnams Ghost Ship battered fish and chips was sorely tempting as was the confit duck leg, oven baked salmon fillet and wild mushroom and tarragon risotto however in the end she enthusiastically opted for the fillet of gilt head bream with sauté chorizo, potato, green beans, spinach and herb oil.
The combination of ingredients and flavours in both dishes was perfect. The succulence and intense pork flavour of the slow cooked cheek will linger long in my memory and I actually found myself mopping the last delicious pools of the cyder jus with a piece of bread such was my reluctance to waste a drop – I know you can’t take me anywhere…The bream was equally well received. Flavoursome fish and chorizo is a match made in heaven and when combined with perfectly cooked green beans it is a dish that will rarely disappoint.
As I was nominated driver for the evening I wasn’t drinking however Lesley, guided by our waiter enjoyed a glass of Gavi with her fish. Again a great combination. For dessert she chose the excellent cheese selection made up of Norfolk Mardler, Wild Garlic Yarg, Binham Blue and Copy’s Cloud and I went for the sticky toffee pudding, with caramelised bananas, candied peanuts, toffee sauce and banana ice cream which was without question the best version I have ever eaten. The sponge was light, the candied nuts a revelation and toffee sauce delicious. It may have taken me over my sugar ‘allowance’ for the whole year but it was worth it!
In all we couldn’t have been happier with our visit. While constantly developing and evolving The Westleton Crown has a consistency that will keep us coming back.