A-list appeal for foodies at The Crown, Woodbridge

PUBLISHED: 14:07 22 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:12 20 February 2013

Warm pear tarte tatin with clotted cream ice cream and stem ginger butterscotch

Photograph by ANDY ABBOTT

Warm pear tarte tatin with clotted cream ice cream and stem ginger butterscotch Photograph by ANDY ABBOTT

Ben Goodchild takes time to people-watch whilst dining at The Crown at Woodbridge, the new big thing on East Anglia's restaurant scene

Ben Goodchild takes time to people-watch whilst dining at The Crown at Woodbridge, the new big thing on East Anglias restaurant scene

Glass-roofed bar with suspended 15 foot skiff, a circular willow-lined terrace with lime green chairs, etched glass murals, spork food, prosecco on draught as soon as you walk into the Crown at Woodbridge, boutique townhouse inn and certainly one of Suffolks hot properties, it is clear it will be anything but predictable.
Yet at the same time one cannot help but feel relaxed and cossetted; the huge sofas to nestle in, the cosy woodburner and fireplaces, the familiar Suffolk names at the bar, the hearty menu of comfort food and local ingredients, all warmly reassure.
Perhaps that is key to the Crowns success, mixing the familiar with the unexpected, comfort and style unpretentiously fused. So often this striking design and quirkiness can seem threatening but here somehow, the Crown nurtures rather than assails the senses.
The Nineties gastropub label may be out-of-fashion but the one size fits all philosophy lives on in this blueprint; come in, kick back and relax whatever the occasion or your reason for visiting. Fortunate to live locally, I am just as comfortable here for a quick weekday supper to avoid the washing-up, on a Friday night with the office crowd at the bar, romantically dining deux come Saturday suppertime and back for Grannys birthday over a lazy family Sunday lunch.
Eager to find out whose brainchild it was, this seamless blend of funky luxury hotel, Londonesque wine bar and destination restaurant, the inspiration soon became clear. Meeting Stephen David, the Suffolk restaurateur tasked with creating this oasis of good taste, one first notices his affable personality and enthusiastic warmth but dig a little deeper and the steely determination and focussed business mind emerge.
Owned by Thorpeness & Aldeburgh Hotels (and overall winner of the Anglian Business Awards this year), The Crown joins their collection of four other equally different properties in the county, for which Stephen had previously been their consultant chef for six years prior to 2008. Two years ago, with his commitment to lead this project hands-on full-time, the group bought this sad bedraggled ex-Forte hostelry with a vision to completely transform it phoenix-like into a model of modern provincial hotel-keeping.
Good design and arty interiors take on an added complication in a busy business setting, especially one where visitors absolutely treat the scheme as a home-from-home, the practical and the ergonomic being just as important as the aesthetic and the contemporary.
The new look Crown at Woodbridge emerged in a startling reincarnation in July 2009 after a three month closure spent removing walls, knocking rooms together and relocating facilities alongside completely fitting out the whole place.
Chelsea-based David Bentheim, Stephens choice of interior designer, took his initial conception from the towns watery setting down by the white boarded mills and the yacht club in the atmospheric basin of the Deben, energised by the serenity and the fluidity of the riverscape, where coast meets country in a myriad of blue-grey-green tones. David elaborates further: The inspiration for the Crown comes from a number of sources, it is distinctly in its own mould locally but I suppose there is a strong flavour of Nantucket, off the east coast of America, some of the relaxed dolce fa niente approach found in Floridas Key West and my love of most things Italian to add a little pzazz.

Local and seasonal are big things for us but we do also love making use of European and more exotic ingredients

But food is definitively the focus of the Crown at Woodbridge and Stephens trademark long and wide-ranging menu takes centre-stage. In the four dining areas the front panelled dining room in paprika red, the bar-lounge area with its huge communal table, comfy sofas and stools for bowl-and-spork dining, the split two-tiered dining room on the side with leather banquettes and wooden floors the gentle hum is of happy diners tucking in.
The Crowns cuisine starts with a solid Suffolk base, Stephen and head chef Luke Bailey are committed to finding the best of local produce but they realise their worldly clientele also travel and dine around, and being limited to the restrictions of native fare in winter would soon become tedious.
Local and seasonal are big things for us but we do also love making use of European and more exotic ingredients our cuisine reworks old classic favourites as well as introducing some unexpected tastes and textures, Stephen explains.
We want our food to be comforting and gutsy, but never pedestrian so it is a balance of retro and new, elegance with simplicity.
Game is a big thing in the Crowns epicurean calendar. Early September saw the first partridge and wild duck, and now the pheasant season is well underway. Rabbit, pigeon and venison have barely been off the menu all year. Some of Stephens favourite gamey offerings are warm salad of woodpigeon breast, black pudding, garlic and beetroot; whole roast partridge with game chips, bread sauce, watercress; saddle and confit leg of young rabbit, herb gnocchi, honey roast parsnips, cavalo nero and Aspall cyder jus; fallow venison bourgignonne with truffle mash, red cabbage and wild mushrooms; and prosciutto wrapped pheasant with sage, chargrilled polenta, pumpkin and borlotti beans.
Also appearing on the starter selection now autumn has set in are perennial favourites of seared king scallops, crisp pancetta, pea pure and malt vinegar caramel, and devilled lambs kidneys on toasted Suffolk trencher with shallots, red chilli and watercress. Main courses might bring pink roast breast of Gressingham duck with dauphinoise potato, spinach, roasted squash, local ceps and a rosemary jus; cassoulet of Orford cod with Lane Farm chorizo, piquillo peppers, tomato and butterbeans; or off the spork food selection (eaten from a bowl and an elegant fork-spoon implement) perhaps lamb, chilli and mint meatballs with puttanesca sauce, spaghetti, rocket and parmesan; a sweet tooth might be tempted by chocolate tart, honeycomb mascarpone, burnt oranges and red chilli syrup or warm pear tatin with clotted cream ice cream and stem ginger butterscotch.
Stephen is swift to credit his hard-working team around him for their many plaudits and awards in the first year, attributing to them the commitment and enthusiasm in the kitchen and front-of-house. Working over the hot stoves are an ambitious brigade, led by head chef Luke Bailey whilst the other side of the hotplate house manager Rebecca Golden and assistant manager Laura lead a welcoming team of waiting and bar staff.
Since re-opening just over a year ago, not only has The Crown at Woodbridge been an evident success story, it has also been recognised countrywide nationally for its achievements. The pinnacle has been winning the national 2010 Pubs with Rooms' Award for England and Wales from travel guru Alastair Sawday as well as being listed so soon in all the major restaurant and hotel publications, AA, Michelin, Sawdays, Good Food Guide etc.
Perhaps most exciting is their new event company, Bespoke by The Crown at Woodbridge, having joined forces with one of the regions most established caterers to take a taste of their unique dining on the road for exclusive parties and weddings.
One of the first major assignments since their merger was looking after The East Anglian Air Ambulance Grand Tenth Anniversary Ball in October for some 400 guests. Preferred caterers at the likes of Glemham Hall, Pettistree House and Earsham Hall, they also specialise in marquee-based events in the grounds of private houses. Very much the society choice for important occasions, Bespoke can count the likes of well-known East Anglian figures and historic estates amongst their clients.
As for celebrities and the Crowns A-list appeal, Stephen is the soul of discretion I thought I spotted the odd famous face, but it was hard looking through my dark glasses and under that low slung hat.

The Crown at Woodbridge,
The Thoroughfare, Woodbridge,
Suffolk IP12 1AD
Tel: 01394 384242

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