When I started this blog almost two years ago my intention was (and still is) to only share places I’ve enjoyed. If I don’t have a positive experience somewhere I don’t spend time writing about it. Simple really.
On a recent stay at the River Arts Club in Maidenhead my friend and I were spoilt for choice in terms of local restaurants, with Bray and Marlow less than ten minutes away.
The tiny village of Bray contains two of the three restaurants in the UK that hold three Michelin stars. Heston’s three star Fat Duck was voted as the best restaurant in the world in 2005, and he also owns the Hind’s Head and Crown in the village. The other three star joint is The Waterside Inn run by one of the Roux dynasty – Alain.
But back to reality – I’m not a Russian Oligarch so need to see what’s on offer in my price range.
For the first time I’m going to give you a compare and contrast article – two top chefs – two meals – one blog. Who will come out on top?……. Read on.
The Coach Marlow – Tom Kerridge
It’s a lovely autumnal day so we hit Marlow ten minutes up the road. It’s a high-end home counties town. Bunting zig-zags across the road – well-heeled folk dart through the town going about their business on a Friday. We amble up and down the pleasant high street popping into shops and whiling the morning away – smug to be off work.
It gets to lunchtime so I suggested The Coach – a place I’d unsurprisingly researched prior to our visit. It’s a pub owned by once cuddly (now svelte) Tom Kerridge who I’ve always found a refreshing TV chef, seemingly devoid of the arrogance and bravado shared by some other TV cooks. He also runs the two starred restaurant up the road The Hand and Flowers which has rooms if you literally want to roll upstairs to bed post dinner.
The Coach from the outside looks unassuming – no Tom posters plastered on the wall nor mention of his name.
We went in, and the place was busy as we had expected. A charming front of house lady ushered us through to a waiting area and brought us menus for us to browse.
The pub is open all day for breakfast through to dinner with tables available on a first come first served basis.
We chose a glass of wine and waited for only ten minutes before being shown to our seats at the handsome bar, which looks onto an open plan kitchen – chefs working just a metre or so away. If you’re nosy and curious like me, this is a fantastic opportunity to see the inner workings of a professional kitchen, which seems relaxed and fun on our visit.
The lunch and dinner menu consists of smaller plates so depending on hunger the waitress suggested up to four. I can be greedy but we’re out for dinner that evening so we limited ourselves to two dishes each. The most expensive item is £16.50 but everything else hovers around the £6-8 mark. The pub aims to be accessible for all and prices seem to reflect this vision.
We both chose potted crab served with cucumber chutney and a paprika butter. We loved this dish – it was outstanding. 24 hours later we are still talking about it and frantically trying to find the recipe online. Negative.
One thing to note is that the chef that makes your dish brings it to you if you’re sitting at the bar. It was great to have such close interaction with the creators of this amazing food.
Second and sadly last course time. My friend (a pescatarian) orders a autumnal salad with whipped goats cheese. Not being a fan of the goaty stuff I didn’t try this, but my friend enjoyed it thoroughly and it looked beautiful – colours reflecting the leaves on the trees outside.
I chose a Black Pudding and Smoked Haddock Scotch Egg with Moilee. Moilee is a Keralan sauce – lightly spiced and flavoured with coconut. Just so you know (I didn’t).
Yet another delicious dish – a runny quails egg in the centre – a beautiful charred onion on the top. I could have eaten a second. See – I told you I was greedy.
The Coach feels more like a restaurant than a pub. The food is delicious the atmosphere relaxed and unpretentious.
Tom has created the perfect formula for a gastropub and I am absolutely wanting to try his other gaff up the road at some point. In the meantime I’ll have to dream about my potted crab.
The Crown – Heston Blumenthal
With the tasting menu at the Fat Duck an eye watering £255 a head, the opportunity to try any Heston outpost in Bray village was pretty exciting.
I must confess the whole molecular gastronomy thing doesn’t really appeal, but hey if someone offered to take me I wouldn’t say no.
So Heston’s third outpost in the village looks like a traditional pub from the outside. And actually from the inside too.
A country girl myself the pub feels familiar in terms of clientele and atmosphere – similar to the village pubs around where I grew up.
With low beams and a log fire, the pub is cosy and totally rammed. The bar area is swarming with locals – a few couples and the rest local men of all varieties.
We wait for a while to get served – they could have done with an extra member of staff but hey ho.
We are shown to our table which was right next to the bar. The group of drinkers stand what seems .5 of a centimetre from our table – it’s pretty noisy and a bit claustrophobic to be honest. The waiter (who seems run off his feet) apologises though we haven’t said anything. He was clearly aware this layout didn’t quite work for diners.
Anyway we order our meal – prawn cocktail for both of us – a burger for me and fish and chips for my friend.
As a food reviewer I can’t at this point say any more than what we had was nice pub food. Nice and expensive.
The prawn cocktail was delicious – no twists or additions – just a good old prawn cocktail. My burger with the addition of pastrami was again very nice but not the best burger I’ve had by any stretch of the imagination. It came in at £19.50.
My friend’s fish and chips were nice but over battered, causing her to leave a substantial amount on her plate. We were surprised that the waiter didn’t ask if there was a problem.
In fact chatting on the way home we realised that no-one at any point had asked if our food was ok. A bit disappointing really as this should be basic for any restaurant Heston or otherwise.
Two G&T,s, a bottle of wine and two courses and we’d spent £50 each.
I understand that if you want a Heston experience you’ll go to the other two places in the village but I guess we expected something a bit different to justisfy the cost.
We left feeling somewhat underwhelmed after a nice but not outstanding pub meal coupled with less than attentive service.
So…………. the Crown goes to The Coach for me – sorry Heston. #TeamTom