A winter's tale

17th January 2017

Article by Lesley Rawlinson, Essential Suffolk

My checklist for a winter excursion will often look something like this: (1) Find a cosy pub (2) Stay there. I know, simple things – but sometimes when all the shopping and the visiting and the festive shenanigans are over it’s the peace and comfort of a country pub that calls. Throw in a walk first, to blow away the cobwebs and build up an appetite, and I’m rarely happier. There are few better destinations for exactly this purpose than The Westleton Crown.

2016 was a busy year for our household and not nearly enough time was made for jumping in the car and heading to the coast – so the chance to start this year with such a trip was very welcome indeed. The Crown is also one of those clever destinations that seems to mould and meld to become what you need it to be, depending on your mood or reason for calling by. In the warmer months the terraced garden is the perfect spot for some quiet contemplation (not one of those pub gardens where you’re cheek by jowl with the next table but more a case of your only little private garden within the garden) and the Garden Room with its enormous wall of bi-fold doors and glass atrium roof gives an indoor – cum –outdoor dining experience all year round.

However in winter I head for either the cosiness of the bar or the Parlour. Both have welcoming open fires and we tend to stay in the bar if we have our dogs in tow so, as we were pooch-free on this evening visit, it was a chance to enjoy the Parlour’s intimate ambience. One glance at the menu and I was reminded too that a visit to The Crown generally means a night off from the diet. Head Chef, James Finch has an indulgent style and there were plenty of ‘naughty but nice’ options leaping off the menu, begging to be chosen.

The menu is heavily influenced by the proximity to the coast and the wealth of good local ingredients available and there’s a good choice of vegetarian dishes as both starters and main courses too. The fact that everything, from the bread to the ice cream – and all in between – is made from scratch on the premises means that any dietary requirements are easily and affably met, including vegan options.

Pork shoulder terrine at the Westleton Crown Pork shoulder terrine

I started my meal with a beautifully rich fishcake served in horseradish cream. The bite from the horseradish and the accompanying watercress balanced the deep salmon and cod flavours perfectly and the dish would have made an ample light supper by itself. My husband was tempted by slow-cooked Blythburgh pork shoulder terrine served with apple purée and puffed crackling in an artistic flourish.

Main courses weren’t quite such an easy pick. With both seabass and hake on the menu, as well as beer battered cod plus skate on the ‘daily specials’ I was almost lured into a full on fish feast. But there’s something so warm and inviting about lamb that I chose to wrap myself in the familiarity of a favourite but with an interesting twist. Crowned with a delicious lamb cutlet the dish was based on a deep and rich tomato-y melt-in-the-mouth chick pea and butter bean cassoulet with chunky braised fennel and lamb shoulder ‘fritters’. With tarragon oil added to serve, the flavours were reminiscent of Moroccan rather than French cuisine but worked like a dream. I teamed it up with a glass of full bodied Argentinian Malbec that complemented well.

Rich fishcake at The Westleton Crown Rich fishcake

Across the table a decadent dish arrived of roasted breast and smoked chicken thigh with chorizo, alongside an incredibly creamy sun blushed tomato risotto. Topped off with green peppers, roasted baby onions and chorizo oil this was another flavour packed plateful. We were almost beaten but couldn’t resist sharing a dessert of chocolate fondant that oozed from its dark heart as a flawless round off to our meal and as thoughts turned to the drive home I was reminded that there are often winter deals to be found via The Crown’s website that makes staying over in one of the comfortably appointed rooms very tempting indeed!

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