A crowning glory in village eating

WHEN Penny Middleton Burn and her husband James decided they wanted to run a pub of their own - there was only one place they set their heart on.

Wednesday, 20th October 2010, 11:45 am

The Crown Inn at Dial Post had been run by Penny’s grandparents Jack and Bunny for ten years in the 1960s, and she was passionate that this was the perfect venue.

Four years since they bought it, she admits “it was meant to be.”

But it’s not just the historical connection which has made this a truly family undertaking.

The secret of Penny’s and James’success - apart from excellent cooking - has been keeping everything local and in the family.

Penny is a local girl - the fourth generation of a farming family.

Her 87-year-old grandmother lives down the road and not only creates the most equisite hanging baskets but still makes their famous zucchini chutney.

Meanwhile sister Jo and partner Spike live in Barns Green and from their smallholding provide pork and lamb for the pub.

Indeed, just about all the food is produced in the area - some of it by the locals themselves.

While we were reviewing Sunday lunch we fell into conversation with one regular who has seen countless changes at the Crown over the decades.

He’s clearly quite proud that it’s his apples and pears that are used in the pub’s kitchens.

We can vouch how good they are - the pears were served in the starter with a Roquefort mousse and toasted walnuts (£7).

There’ll be one more harvest of fruit this year, he confided - when he can get the wife up the ladder! “I’ll be holding it steady at the bottom,” he said chivalrously.

Another customer, overhearing a fragment of my conversation, said the food at the Crown was excellent.

“We’ve just had the four cheese ravioli - and it was better than they serve in one of London’s top restaurants.”

The meat and vegetables are not merely sourced locally - like the rack of lamb from Clayfield Farm or the crispy belly of pork from Shoats Farm - James and his team make much of the raw ingredients from scratch, be it the fantastic caramel ice cream or the pasta.

But this is not a place that seeks to be pretentious.

Penny said simply: “We describe ourselves as a food led pub. Just good pub food.”

She’s being too modest.

While in one sense the plates are simply presented, this is quality fare. We enjoyed the sirloin of beef (£15), the rack of lamb (£17), the crispy belly of pork (£14) and the home made beef burger with handcut chips and thick, crunchy coleslaw (£10).

The meat was tasty and tender. The selection of vegetables was spot on.

For dessert our table of four sampled the assiette of puddings for two to share (£11.50); the sticky toffee pudding with toffee sauce and homemade vanilla ice-cream (£6); and the vanilla cheesecake with local apple and blackberry compote (£6).

The mains were faultless for a pub Sunday roast. The icecreams and sorbets were good, with the moist sticky toffee and the lemony, not-too-sweet, treacle tart among the best I have tasted - ever.

The cheesecake was too bland for my taste.

Value for money is critical to the pub’s ethos. There is an early dining menu from 6-7pm with two courses for £10 and there are a range of light meals available during the week.

Pub classics are priced from £6 - locally made pork and herb sausages with hand-cut chips - to £15 for the locally sourced sirloin steak, hand cut chips and roasted cherry vine tomatoes.

The wine-list is refreshingly different thanks to their Slinfold-based partner which specialises in a selection from the South of France.

And the inn’s whole approach is creative. The Crown Inn and its sister company Crown Catering Co take a stall at Steyning Farmers’ market on the first Saturday of every month to sell produce.

They also offer a range of events ranging from private dinner parties in your home to business lunches.

The pub as a building has some inevitable challenges. While most is a wonderful, historic beamed edifice - it suffers from a ghastly upvc conservatory on the front which rather spoils that appearance but adds capacity.

But the welcome is warm, the food we sampled was excellent and two key indicators, the house red wine and the ratio of meat to fat in the crispy belly of pork both passed with flying colours.

James and Penny along with Chops their wonderful pub dog have transformed this inn in just four years.

There’s more still to be done - “a new carpet for the dining room,” Penny adds - but they have already made the establishment the crowning glory in village eating.

The Crown Inn 01403 710902, www.crowninndialpost.co.uk Worthing Road, Dial Post