ONE could be forgiven for overlooking pretty Preston Bagot in Warwickshire. It is home to little over 100 people, a church, Manor House and beautiful 17th-century pub.
But it’s this very pub, The Crabmill, just a mile-and-a-half outside Henley-in-Arden, that puts the hamlet on the map.
As a relative local (I live in neighbouring Warwick and schooled my children in Claverdon and Henley), The Crabmill has long been on my radar. But recent new ownership and subsequent refurbishment, piqued a renewed interest, so it was time for a return visit.
Now a part of the Brunning and Price stable of pub restaurant businesses, the early signs are positive.
Arriving early for our meal, the outside tables were already all taken (admittedly it was a rare sunny evening) and the friendly vibe helped my husband and I quickly unravel from our busy days at the ‘coalface.’
The convivial atmosphere and mine hosts’ warm welcome settled us in nicely for the experience ahead. We had high expectations for head chef Gareth Evans’ mouth-watering menu. The South African, who hails from a Michelin starred restaurant background, offers a wide choice of classic British pub fare complemented by some more exotic influences, including Sri Lankan fish curry, Jerk-spiced chicken wings and Steam Prawn Din Sums.
But it was one of the evening’s fish specials that caught my husband’s eye (as a non fish-eater myself, he often takes these opportunities to indulge!) and he wasted no time after heeding the warning that there were only 10 portions of the Pan-fried Jon Dory (with tomato and beurre blanc, saffron boulangere potatoes, courgette and asparagus) up for grabs – an advantage of dining early).
This followed his Crispy Baby Squid starter (he really was taking full advantage!) – both dishes on which he lavished praise.
On the non-fish side of the table, my Roast Chump of Lamb (served with parsley potato cake, asparagus, herb tomato and minted hollandaise) delivered on all fronts. It was cooked to perfection and oozed freshness and flavour.
Both the lamb and my preceding Smoked Chicken and Herb Terrine were beautifully presented and went down a treat.
So far, so very good, we agreed. Dessert had a lot to live up to – but earlier glances of the menu’s sweet treats (I know I’m not the only one who looks at desserts first!) it was clear I was going to be in for the toughest decision yet.
From the eight or nine dishes on offer I think I’d managed to whittle it down to four. Was it to be the Sticky Toffee Pudding (with toffee sauce and vanilla ice cream); Warm Chocolate Brownie (with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream); Cherry Chocolate Tart (with sour cherry sorbet) or Toasted Waffle (with caramelised banana and honeycomb ice cream)?
I was more than happy with my eventual waffle selection, which was polished off with gusto. I’m often too full to appreciate a third course, but these were just too tempting!
Meanwhile my husband’s Crème Brulee with shortbread biscuits didn’t disappoint either.
Not for my sweet tooth on this occasion, but worthy of mention, is the impressive Cheese Board, made up of your choice of three – or six – local cheeses, including Berkswell Cheddar and Croxton Manor Stilton!
A Light Bites and Sandwiches menu is also available, options including Open Smoked Salmon Bagel; Coconut, Lime and Coriander Poached Chicken Salad; Roasted Red pepper, Sun Blush Tomato and Goats Cheese Quiche and Rump Steak Sandwich. So, a real contender for lunch next time you’re in that neck of the woods.
A meal for four here will not be light on the pocket, but prices are not uncompetitive with similar restaurants in the local area.
The Crabmill can trace its roots back more than three centuries – and it still bears the marks of its history today – with its tiny leaded windows, weathered half-timbered exterior, crooked beams and flagstone floors.
Fitting then that this cider mill is once again at the centre of purveying fine food and drink to locals. Long may it continue.
Visit their site at: www.brunningandprice.co.uk/crabmill/