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Food

Review: The Lamb at Crawley

"Unfussy simplicity almost always trumps wealth of choice"; Jack Rayner visits Rachel & Matt Weedon's fabulous gastropub


"Very heavy on the butter, but then again, what are restaurants for?"

If we take it as a given that the number of items on a restaurant’s menu is inversely proportionate to the quality of said items, then it’s clear that The Lamb at Crawley is on to a winner before you’ve even given your order.

 

The Lamb’s menu consists of three starters, six mains and five desserts – each described in a single word (“Mushroom”, “Terrine”, “Beef”, and so on). Unfussy simplicity almost always trumps wealth of choice, and likewise, overwrought menu descriptions are just trying to compensate for lack of flair in the kitchen, nine times out of ten. The Lamb is no exception and the confidence brimming from the staff is palpable from the moment you walk in the door.


 

Proprietors Rachel and Matt Weedon might have kept the furnishings simple at their most recent venture, but Matt’s previous employers read like a ‘who’s who’ of country hotels – L’Ortolan, Hambleton Hall in Rutland, Glenapp Castle in western Scotland (where he was awarded a Michelin star), The Lords of the Manor at Upper Slaughter (where he won another) and, finally, Fallowfields in Southmoor, which abruptly closed earlier this year before reopening as a “blank canvas” events venue. Matt jumped ship a year previously to take over the tenancy of The Lamb: a decision for which we should all be thankful.

Now, it’s time for a game. Here’s how to play: 1) Keep that culinary background in mind. 2) Read the words “freshly baked beer and honey sourdough with rapeseed oil and our own treacle vinegar”. 3) Imagine the results and 4) try not to dribble onto this page. No prizes because this is a trick and the game is logically impossible.

Onto the starters and the aforementioned “Terrine”, comprised of chicken (corn-fed, naturally) and smoked ham hock, pressed into a coarse loaf and served alongside razor-sharp pickled vegetables. Aromatic tarragon mayonnaise provides enough sweetness to keep the salt-sour balance in check, and if by some miracle you have some of that sourdough left over, you can use it to meticulously clean the pickle vinegar from the plate. Sardines, grilled and laid over toasted brioche and tapenade, work as maritime accessories to a smooth tomato soup.

If I haven’t already made it clear, Matt is well-versed in how to use saltiness to maximum effect, and the plaice main is another demonstration of his artistry. The flatfish is roasted whole, on the bone, soaked in warm parsley and anchovy butter and adorned with chewy brown shrimps and capers. Steaming new potatoes and samphire complete the dish. It is very heavy on the butter - each morsel drips with dairy fat as you lift your fork - but then again, what are restaurants for? Steamed kale is available elsewhere.

Gressingham duck breast comes honey-roasted with its own fried liver and carrots that retain their delicious mineral crunch. Orange and chicory bolster the bird’s flavour with a confident bitterness, but the real star of the show is the gravy – a glorious, glossy reduction with Mariana Trench-level depth of flavour. Just give me a pint of the stuff and have done with it.

The pricing is reasonable for the level of skill and ingredients on display - £7 for starters, the mains faltering between £15 and £25, and desserts (go for the caramelised lemon tart) starting at £6.50. Many, many gastropubs claim to do what Rachel and Matt are doing, but a very slim few are actually doing it, particularly with this level of panache. Try it out.

Go for:

An exhibition of fine British food

Don’t go for:

Steamed kale

- Jack Rayner

 

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