Wandering up the eclectic Stoke Newington High Street, I was accosted by a free art gallery, a farmers’ market, and a car boot sale. I visited all three. Stokey in a nutshell?
This was all on the way to the Three Crowns for a gratifying lunch in a historic setting.
Dating back to the 1600s, the pub perches along the corner of the High Street and Church Street and has done so for over 500 years.
The space is airy and dazzlingly bright as the massive windows welcome in the rays. It has been thoughtfully and lovingly revamped by the landlord Stacey Thomas.
In keeping with the Baroque bones of the pub, patterned ceilings in Victorian brown plaster stretch overhead, with 1950s lamps hung from chains.
The chocolaty hue is complemented by avocado green banquettes, dark tables and chairs, creating a moussy and relaxing feel.
Live jazz tinkles in the far corner and we settle down. I spy on the other end of the cavernous room a child and her mother swaying heartrendingly to the keyboard and trickling double bass. Relaxation like a warm wool blanket covers us in the dappled sunlight. Everything will be alright after all.
Ousmane Gaye and his small team have built up the menu, focusing on seasonality, expanding from weekends to evenings and now lunches.
Offering roasts on a Sunday, the focus is doing the pub basics and elevating them.
Kimchi is a world away for once, but Gaye has some dazzling little tricks up his well-worn sleeves – he previously worked at the Rosewood Hotel.
But first, as always, a drink. Overall, the cocktails are uneven, ranging from a disappointing, flat-tasting Kir royal to an acceptable, creamy whiskey sour, and finally to a dazzling “Negroni but better” crafted with top-of-the-line ingredients.
The wine options aren’t horrifying – the cheapest bottle is £21 – and the beers are reasonable. My dinner companion desribes his German Lagunitas IPA very simplay as “fresh”. I wonder why I bother inviting guests sometimes.
The starters are where the clever subtlety begins. Pork belly chips are not, as I had assumed, chunks of potato flavoured with pork, but instead are stacks of the meat, cooked to death. These elevated scratchings are perfect for dipping in the sweet mustard – a must-have for carnivorous diners.
A good-sized ham hock with luminescent piccalilli and sourdough is very pleasant, but the prize for most beautiful dish goes to the roast aubergine salad and burrata with heritage tomatoes. These arrive together like two stars of vegetarian goodness. They are arranged lovingly in the shape of a pentagon, but there is nothing demonic about them. The soft slabs of aubergine are dusted delicately with pomegranate seeds, basil, pine nuts, and garlic confit, with a spoonful of crème fraiche in the centre. Perfect for dunking the warmed vegetables. The burrata (cut open by myself rather pornographically) spills out onto the green and red points of the tomatoes, and a basil sauce leaves spots of oily green dotting the dish. Food almost too bonny to eat. Almost.
There is a sweet potato and spring onion dish for vegans, or a chorizo scotch egg for the opposite end of the dietary spectrum. Both, I am sure, will have Gaye’s own quiet but pleasant flick of the wrist. That these all sit politely under £10 adds an extra level of enjoyment.
The mains are classic gastropub fare, and most are under £15. There are haddock and shrimp fishcakes, a stuffed artichoke, a chicken salad, or a striploin, along with chicken and vegan burgers.
My pork chop is perfectly cooked and, again, there is a secret lurking in this dish. Chayote, a Mesoamerican summer squash, and apple slaw complement the salty meatiness of the cut – it’s a reviving alternative to simple greens or potatoes.
The tender chicken supreme is sat in a mushroom sauce a few shades darker than the normal variety – deep, earthy, and excellent. Some minted beans are also a surprise, giving an almost mojito-like kick to the mushy green side.
We finish things off with a sticky date pudding that looks a bit left out surrounded by the ice creams and sorbets of the dessert menu.
This dish isn’t particularly impressive, though the gingerbread ice cream is a fun edition. It’s a little too wintry for August and I couldn’t get my mind off the idea of nibbling on some of the deep brown carpet saved in the pub’s renovation. The colour is not always a welcome recurrence. A Manhattan proves to be the best dessert.
So, lunch is munched. With careful reconstruction and a bright eye on the menu, the Three Crowns uplifts a classic afternoon at the boozer from predictable to promising. Offering Jazz on a Saturday, and electronic gigs below in The Waiting Room, this is a powerhouse of a place.
The food basics are well executed, and flamboyant little details, especially in the starters, pop out. These are guaranteed to bring a little smile to the corners of that bouche of yours. After all, isn’t amusing your bouche the name of the game?