Dine & Stay: The Crown in Woodbridge
PUBLISHED: 11:19 03 July 2017 | UPDATED: 11:19 03 July 2017
Frances Hopewell-Smith settles in for a very comfortable night at The Crown in Woodbridge
Accepted as one of the best places to live in England, Woodbridge is definitely not a stick-in-the-mud, fuddy-duddy town.
A gentle wave of ‘returnees’ has breathed new life into this Suffolk riverside jewel. The quay, marina, theatre and cinema have been revitalised and there are exciting new developments within a pebble’s throw of the ancient Tide Mill. In the town itself the shops, galleries and cafés are hurtling into the 21st century, led by young, enterprising people keen to make the most of the business and creative potential of historic Woodbridge.
The Crown, a 16th century inn, sits plum on the corner of the main street, The Thoroughfare, and Quay Street, which obviously leads down to the quay (and marina). From its central position the hotel is perfect a base for visitors to get out and about, while local people come here too for its good food, good drinks, good looks, friendliness and assured, upbeat atmosphere.
Arriving for our overnight stay at the Crown, the young man at the reception desk, Josh Hicks, apologises for keeping us waiting and quite right too – we’ve been there for all of five seconds! He’s polite, charming and competent and gets full marks for first impression.
He takes us up to the room, which is number eight of the ten. I love that opening-the-door-to-the-room moment (or ‘the big reveal’ in TV showland). This particular reveal doesn’t disappoint. Decorated in the palest of pale blue with whitewood furniture and artfully arranged baskety bits and bobs as contrasts, it’s lovely. There’s a big bed, a big sofa, a big bath and big shower, and it feels generous and well, big.
The Crown is part of the TA Hotel Collection, a local group which knows its stuff, and it’s reassuringly classy. The complimentary bathroom products are REN, the biscuits home made, and coffees and teas by specialist artisan companies.
We’re booked in for supper at the restaurant downstairs so after a quick cocktail and a few words with Laura Miles, the manager, we’re shown to our table by the ever-present and super efficient Josh. Yay! Comfortable chairs and a table by the window.
As quick as you like a plate of home-made hummus with fresh mini flatbreads appears, and just as quickly disappears, while we read the menu.
It’s a great example of the best of local ingredients (Pinney’s, Aspall, Cake Shop Bakery, Metfield pork and Adnams are all given namechecks) and is a real pleaser, standards with twists and tweaks of inspiration which show panache and style. We order starters – one of scallops with chorizo and squid ink polenta, the other of sesame duck salad – then steak tartare and pig cheeks for main courses.
The chef here, Darran Hazleton, started in November 2016 and is certainly making a difference. The duck salad with Asian slaw is a very good sweet, spicy and umami plateful, presented in a pretty melange. Scallops with chorizo are just fine, the squid ink polenta an unusual accompaniment which, although not the prettiest to look at, is a great foil.
One main course, the steak tartare, is unusual in that, like some American restaurants, the meat is marinated and pre-mixed. The egg, more usually served raw in a half shell, is here sous-vide (vacuum-packed and slow cooked in a water bath) and although it’s tasty, some of the theatre and self-determination of the dish is lost.
But Darran must be applauded for his menu which overall is adventurous, well thought out and full of flavour. My main course of pig cheeks is very satisfying, rich, deep and meaty, counterbalanced by crispy pancetta and potato terrine. And the Crown wine list is worth a mention too because, like the food, it’s accessible and comprehensive without veering into ridiculous price brackets.
Now the jazz band is in full swing in the other part of the restaurant and the joint, not exactly jumping, is foot tapping along. It’s a nice background to the restaurant chatter and obviously a popular monthly event. Josh now tempts us with desserts and, when I ask, says the cheesecake is his favourite so we order that and a passionfruit parfait.
They are ‘completely yum’ (professional term) and the cheesecake is way above average: white chocolate with passionfruit, maple oats and Chantilly cream. Even after all this gorgeousness, apparently we can’t leave without trying the cheese selection. Along with undemanding crackers and a chunky chutney it is a carefully chosen fan of soft to hard, mild to strong British cheeses, which we eat effortlessly, a dream-inducing way to end the evening.
Next morning, after a very full night’s sleep in a deeply comfortable bed, made up with lush linen, we start the day with a big bath and a big shower, but sadly no big breakfast. Time was we would take every opportunity to have a big breakfast, especially when someone else is cooking, but now we’re under the cosh and need to be wise.
Glossing over the tempting choice of delicious things, it’s fruit and yoghurt please. There’s a jug of fresh orange juice on our table, luscious-looking yellow butter and a nest of local jams and marmalade to have with the toast we’re not ordering. And yes, it is boring being wise.
On our way for a morning constitutional down to the marina I have a chance to talk to Laura. We discuss the decor (designed by Bentheim which is so cool and fresh, the colours and paintings, furnishings and pieces expertly chosen), and how Woodbridge has reinvented itself and is much more lively and exciting nowadays.
She’s been in charge for three years – “Only seems like yesterday when I started” – and considers herself fortunate to have great staff. Laura evidently loves her work and her assured leadership shows in the jolly, positive and efficient atmosphere at the Crown.
We say goodbye and set off back to the real world, although I secretly wish Laura and Josh could come too, to run my life.
The Crown at Woodbridge
Thoroughfare, Woodbridge IP12 1AD