The Crown Inn, Upton
This renowned Hampshire inn was relaunched by its new owner in 2019 to much fanfare - but is it still up to Hants' relentlessly high foodie standards? We tried the Bib Gourmand-toting spot for ourselves.
The Crown Inn in Upton has long been known as a top-notch foodie destination. However, back in 2019, its future looked a little bit bleak after its doors suddenly closed. Thankfully, Hampshire native and ex-Manoir alum, Dave Watts, took ownership of the inn back in July 2019 to much excitement around the area.
As you can imagine, the expectation was high as the inn had previously held one of the county’s only Bib Gourmand awards. But there was cause for celebration when Dave and his crew were able to retain this for the 2020 guide and have since continued to push forward the inn’s excellent reputation for good food.
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Sausages, sausages, sausages fennel and onion; nutmeg and cinnamon; Oregano and nigela seed 👌 coming to our menus this week and made by our own hands from wonderful Gloucester old spot pork #lovewhatwedo #nosetotail #sustainable #responsible #makeitnice #hampshirefood #hampshirelife #testvalley #bournevalley #traditional #chefs #chefsofinstagram
The North Hants eatery is tucked just inside the North Wessex Downs and is about 6.5 miles outside of nearby Andover and 24 miles north of Winchester. With ample parking, an outdoor beer garden and plenty of quiet countryside surroundings, it’s the perfect place to sneak off to for an afternoon.
You could drive past this inconspicuous little country pub and not bat an eyelid if it weren’t for the giant wood-carving of Marvel’s Groot outside (at least that’s what I think it is?). Pulling into the car park on a Saturday lunchtime, everything was very “countryside” with fresh pheasants hanging up at the back door and a couple of cars – I would imagine of eager diners – already in the carpark.
Walking in the bar area was warm and inviting. There was an open fire roaring away plus the mandatory squishy leather sofa every pub must own. My husband had to be dragged through to the restaurant, having spotted the games room, complete with grey baize pool table and plenty of board games for the patrons to have a go at.
Getting that balance between “olde worlde” country pub and something a little bit more modern can be hard, but they’ve managed to achieve cohesion here, along with a slightly masculine twist to the decor as well.
With a small dining area replete with countryside imagery on its walls and wooden floors, there’s also a large wooden conservatory at the back and a little snug up some hidden steps – perfect for private dining.
The one thing that really struck me was the whole place smelled AMAZING. A mixture of the smouldering fire and tasty morsels being cooked up in the kitchen – if this were my local, I would be rather smug.
SCOFF & QUAFF
There’s certainly no slimmed-down menu here. And, whatever your preferences or budget, all three of the lunch menus should have you covered. From the higher-end with a caviar sharer (tempting…) to the special three-course set menu, there’s enough going on that you can easily choose a light bite or go the whole hog – there was even a vegan ploughman’s in there as well.
When it came to the starters I had a tricky time selecting before deciding on the Smoked River Test trout pâté, complete with homemade pickles on toasted soda bread (seen above – £8.50). Expecting the usual ramekin and doorstop slices of bread, I was rather chuffed that it came out so beautifully presented, topped with pickled pineapple and delicately sliced red onions. The pâté was loaded onto the slivers of bread rather generously, and it was so delicious I could have quite easily had seconds.
For my main, I opted the red wine marinated Gloucester old spot pork shoulder (£23). The pork was extremely tender and packed with flavour, accompanied with moreish salt-baked celeriac, quince compote plus a rather unusual – but undeniably delicious – caper and raisin sauce.
Dave later told me that the pork came from a friend’s small-holding down in Somerset which he went and collected himself. Details like this show the extreme care and attention that goes into selecting each dish and ingredient on the menu.
Over on the other side of the table, my husband decided to try out the wild mushroom risotto, topped with truffle, herb cream with Old Winchester cheese at its centre. I’m not usually big on risotto but even I had to admit it was delicious, and my request for a second taste was invariably denied by Mr Muddy who quickly polished it off.
Selecting a dessert, we were at first torn between the chocolate cremeux – adorned with frosted pistachios ( £7.50) and baked Madagascan rice pudding (£7.50), but in the end decided to share the Treacle Tart ‘our way’, accompanied with citrus mascarpone with apricot and orange compote (£7). As far as desserts go, this was a massive hit and we rather regretted opting to share it.
Wine-wise, you’re certainly in luck with a two-pager of plonks to choose from. As well as the expected Old World/New World offerings, there’s also plenty of fab wines that are “off-menu” you can request from the knowledgable staff, and there are also a few local tipples to try from nearby Stockbridge winery, Danebury.
OUT & ABOUT
Bring your wellies and your doggo as the North Wessex Downs are on the doorstep just waiting to be explored.
For a spot of heritage yomping, the world-famous Highclere Castle is a mere 20 minutes up the road.
Alternatively, If you want to keep on the food and drink theme, then check out nearby Parsonage Farm (who also supply the inn with fantastic charcuterie) that sell amazing local produce and even run the odd sausage workshop to try your hand at.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good For: Foodie orientated pairings, those who appreciate a beautiful country pub with added pizazz, Sunday-lunchers, those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the town and city.
Not For: Those who are looking to eat and dash. This place celebrates the food, from full Chateau of beef to share with homemade gourmet Scotch Eggs, in all their glory. Also, you’ll need wheels to get here, so non-drivers take note.
The Damage: All price-points are catered for here so nobody needs to miss out. With a pocket-friendly £15 pp three-course menu to the aforementioned caviar starter at £70. The classic menu mains come in at an average of £12ish and the lunch menu towards £20. Puds are all around the £7 mark as well. Slightly more than your average country inn, but this is certainly not your average country inn!
The Crown Inn, Upton, Andover, Hampshire, SP11 0JS. Tel: 01264 736044