The menu was impressive – different, exciting – not your bog standard, know-what-you’re-having-before-you-walk-in-the-door, Cotswold gastro pub fare, but something much more inventive.
Plus there was a new chef in situ to check out – Jason Christie – who landed at The Crown in Church Enstone three weeks ago, determined to make his mark.
And he did that in one lunchtime, his immense talent shining through. It was an exciting meal, his style and passion evident in even the most innocuous of dishes, right from the word go.
So don’t order the burger or the steak but go off piste to find out how good Jason’s food really is.
“I’m determined to stand out from the rest and do something a bit different”
Take the smoked cod’s roe with cod scratchings (£8) which arrived with the fish skins flared and crispy, the roe soft and lemony, perfect for dipping.
Or the cheddar beignets (£7), which should come with a warning sign in terms of ones arteries but worth every laden, hot bite – deep fried and oh so soft and unctuous inside, served with a homemade mayo flavoured with paprika.
Even the house malted smoked sourdough with whipped flavoured butter (£6) appeared crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy within, the butter a green, vibrant garlic and herb or the more sophisticated black truffle and anchovy.
A more abstemious sounding chilled cucumber and dill soup with creme fraiche (£8) then totally stole the show, the final evidence that Jason really is someone to write home about – the soup summery, nostalgic, softly flavoured with herbs, soft with cream and the bite of seeds, it was like going on a Greek odyssey. More, more, more.
The crab and kimchi thermador (£9) was another novel entrant – grilled and oozing with cheese in a tiny copper pan, it was a revelation if unusual.
“I just want to cook the food that I love for people to enjoy. That’s what gets me excited”
We also squeezed in the charred peach salad with burrata and toasted almonds (£9) perfectly suited to the sunny climes.
Then the dill späetzle with sauerkraut and a poached hen’s egg (£19) – a dish usually found in the Alps – a skiers twisted potato pasta – charmingly presented; the homemade sauerkraut not too overpowering. Jason is obviously big on pickling, (we found out afterwards he was chief fermenter at Daylesford), and his delicate and dedicated touch was evident.
As for the Cornish fish pie with cheddar mash, fresh peas and mint, broad beans (£22), it was beautifully flavoured, thick with mash and fish, enveloped in a wonderful rich sauce – proper comfort food.
How we managed the cherry pavlova with Chantilly cream and toasted pistachios (£8) remains a mystery, but it was a masterpiece – beautiful to behold, again cleverly balanced so neither the light sugary meringue or the sweet cherries won.
The balls of lemon and raspberry sorbet were a close contender, so delicate and fragrant yet bursting with flavour.
Chatting to Jason afterwards, he’s a fascinating man, full of great ideas and a dedication to the cause. He wants to stand out and offer something different and he’s already succeeding in droves.
His suppliers are of the utmost important; the lamb comes from a man who drinks at the bar, the honey from a local who lives at the bottom of the hill and the tomatoes from a neighbour who is cultivating 200 different varieties.
As soon as word gets out about Jason’s food, The Crown is going to be inundated
Jason has also travelled widely as evidenced in his menu; from Korea to South Africa, Switzerland and Italy, where he attended the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, so is a firm advocate of slow food, biodiversity and botany, without being evangelical about it.
Hailing from Gloucester, his first big job was at Calcot Manor before moving to Daylesford and then to The Crown via sister pub The Kingham Plough. (Owners Matt and Katie Beamish also run The Hare at Milton Under Wychwood).
He loves foraging, and is out every morning before work collecting wild produce to bring back to his kitchen – today nettles for a pesto to go with the one pot chicken and rice bake (£20).
“The crown Is a lovely little place and I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it”
So what does Jason hope to achieve at The Crown? “I’m determined to stand out from the rest and do something a bit different. We are a bit off the beaten track here but the beer garden is beautiful and inside is lovely and cosy and cool in summer and warm in the winter. It’s a lovely little place and I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it.”
“So I just want to cook the food that I love and that reflects my life experience – to cook excellent food that people to enjoy. That’s what gets me excited.”
I don’t think he needs to worry. As soon as word gets out about Jason’s food, The Crown is going to be inundated. As for me, I’ll be back very soon. It was the most exciting food I’ve had for a long time.
The Crown at Church Enstone is at https://crowninnenstone.co.uk