This was a gifted meal.
At the centre of the beautiful village of Ham, The Crown and Anchor is a pub worth taking a trip to. It has featured in The Times in their ‘good walk’ piece and also voted Muddy Stilettos best Sunday Lunch across the counties (one of only two in Wiltshire). Considering it’s just over the hill from where I live, it was about time I went to try it for myself.
The bar at the front of the pub is full of comfy chairs, bar stools and small tables. The sofas and roaring fire made it feel relaxed and informal. It was rammed with locals on a Friday night. The restaurant is two steps up from the bar and stretches along the length of the building. We could see through the pass into the kitchen from our table as well as earwigging the latest local news from the residents.
For me, a menu can go two ways. I either find one or two things that I like the sound of, or not much at all. It doesn’t happen often that I read through the menu and want every single dish. But that’s what happened at The Crown and Anchor. How to choose between confit pork belly, black pudding, apple salad (£9). Or beef carpaccio, rocket and frisée, anchovy dressing (£12.50)? The Negroni helped a lot with deliberations.
My starter of torched smoked salmon, potato cake, wasabi mayonnaise, oyster beigent (£10.50) was one of the best plates of food I have eaten in a long time. Head chef, Gert Pienaar, was able to swap the oyster for a small piece of cod as I can’t shellfish. The subtly smoked torched salmon gave a caramelised edge to the dish. The potato cake was comforting, with the zing of the wasabi mayonnaise and crisp tempura batter on the beigent made it so well balanced. I could have eaten it again for my main. And for pudding.
I pretty much forced husband to have the other starter I wanted to try: butternut squash risotto, shimeji mushroom, aged Parmesan (£8). It was everything I wanted all my risottos to ever taste like. If I find out it’s on the menu again I might beg and plead with them to let me come and fill armfuls of Tupperware up so I can take it home with me. Finding a babysitter, and therefore going out for dinner, is a rare occurrence for us these days!
The four main courses offered a wonderfully enticing mix of what was in season; feeling both wintry (it was chilly outside that night) and also vibrant with spring on its way. The celeriac dauphinoise that came alongside the guinea fowl and the beetroot and goat’s cheese tortellini were both turned down.
I went for the Skrei cod, smoked mash, spring onion, mushroom, langoustine butter sauce (£23). I had buerre noisette instead of langoustines (thank you Gert!). The whole plate was light and indulgent at the same time. The cod was cooked perfectly. The discreetly smoked, buttery mash (just look at that sheen), lightly steamed spring onion, earthy mushrooms and rich beurre noisette worked so well. Each individual element was discernible and packed with flavour.
Husband didn’t order the burger (one of the ‘classics’ on the menu alongside fish and chips) and we found out afterwards that they bake their own buns for the burger. So that sounds like an excuse to go back if ever I’ve heard one. Instead, he tried the ribeye steak, chips, tender stem broccoli, mushroom, cep butter (£28). Just look at that mushroom. I don’t know how they cooked it but I think it involved a lot of time and butter. The cep butter was rich and powerful.
Pudding was as difficult to choose as the rest of the menu. How could I say no to spiced rice pudding, caramelised salted apple, cinnamon straw (£8). Or clotted cream ice cream affogato, almond financier (£5)? But I did.
I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to try a rhubarb and custard spring roll. The fact that said spring roll also came with rhubarb and vanilla cheesecake (£8) was a bonus. That is one refined looking cheesecake. Almost too perfect looking to eat. Almost. It was so good. The cheesecake filling was creamy and rich, the vanilla giving it a hint of custard; the rhubarb compote was sharp and simple, cutting through the creaminess well. And the spring roll was masterful: rhubarb and custard in bitesize crispy pastry. I find myself daydreaming about it even now.
I remembered to steal some of husband’s pudding. Millionaire’s shortbread, whiskey and chocolate sorbet, blood orange gel (£8). Rich, chocolatey and creamy but the orange gel brought freshness to cut through it all. The sorbet had such a fantastic smoky, whiskey flavour that husband said it was ‘the best ice cream ever’.
At most pubs and restaurants it’s usually easy to find something that I wasn’t so keen on, or that could be done differently. But I’ve got nothing. This was, hands down, one of the best meals out I have had in a long time. The staff clearly work well as a team, the Crown and Anchor has a relaxed, happy atmosphere, the food is fantastic and just outside the door are some beautiful walks.
The care taken with each ingredient was most impressive. The main part of each dish was perfectly prepared, but as much effort went into the food that accompanied it. It was balanced, vegetables were an essential part of each meal and everything was perfectly seasoned. It’s cooking with finesse, but it’s comforting and clearly cooked by an expert. Also, although we didn’t try it when we went, there’s a really good sounding kid’s menu.
I was invited to try dinner for two at The Crown and Anchor as a guest and the meal was paid for by The Crown and Anchor, thank you to them. All words and opinions expressed are my own.