As I walked inside The Rose and Crown on a cold wintry night, I was met with warmth from an open, crackling fire.
At first glance the pub and restaurant, in Kings Langley's High Street, appeared to be a traditional pub. The exposed wooden beams, slate tiles around the bar, solid oak tables and little lamps, perched on the walls, create the impression of a cosy tavern. A large fireplace forms a centrepiece in the main room, decorated with small silver tankards and next to it a basket of logs. The building's original features were retained when the restaurant underwent an extensive refurbishment last autumn, opening with a new menu and new landlady in September.
But while much of the décor is traditional, there is a distinct modern twist. Glass partitions separate the interior into sections, and the music blends from the classic to modern, with Coldplay following Sinatra.
When myself and my companion visited on a Wednesday evening, about a third of the tables were occupied. Our fellow diners were families, little knots of young friends and couples. Taking our places at a candle-lit table, I ordered a glass of a beautifully-mellow Shiraz Cabinet, while my companion went for a Peroni.
Reading the menu was a delight, as one sumptuous-sounding dish gave way to the next, and we agonised over our choices. While the menu included typical English pub fare, it also had distinct Spanish and French influences – such as the bouillabaisse and tapas-style sharing platters. The menu is divided into two sections, the ‘seasonal dishes’ boasting options such as pan-fried Barbury duck breast, and the ‘pub classics’ like beer-battered haddock with home-cut chunky chips.
We opted to begin with the house sampler (£13.95), a platter for two of assorted starters, which looked nothing short of a feast when James the waiter placed the plate on our table. Pieces of grilled chorizo, juicy and flavoursome, were served alongside huge sautéed king prawns. The deep-fried brie encased in crunchy breadcrumbs was gooey and delicious, while the duck confit was both tasty and tender. Two little teacups containing French soup were a nice touch.
For mains I chose the venison steak (medium rare) on a bed of honey-roasted root vegetables and butternut squash with a bacon, thyme and mushroom sauce, served with seasonal vegetables (£15.50).
There was plenty of venison, which was full of flavour. The sauce was thick and rich with the saltiness of the bacon combining wonderfully with the mushrooms. The root vegetables were sweet and crispy while the accompanying seasonal vegetables were drizzled in butter.
My companion’s roasted pork with a light jus, black pudding mash and seasonal vegetables (£12.95) was also excellently presented. The pork belly lay across the mash – an odd yet inspired mix of softly mashed potatoes and flecks of black pudding – and was topped off with a lightly fried apple. Together with the accompanying vegetables the dish had a distinct English flavour.
While both the starter and the main course were filling, I couldn’t resist a dessert, especially when faced with such a tantalising array of puddings. The cappuccino cheesecake with mocha cream sauce and the chocolate and hazelnut brownie were strong contenders, however I plumped for the treacle and ginger tart with clotted cream (£4.95). The dish was once again well presented and the sticky tart tasted indulgent. My only slight criticism would be that the ginger tended to overpower the taste of the treacle, and I couldn’t help wondering whether it would work better to incorporate the ginger in ice cream or as a sauce rather than in the actual tart.
Overall, however, the food was impressive, and left us reinvigorated as we headed back out into the cold.