Restaurant review: Rose & Crown, Essendon

Nori and confit lemon cured salmon, Rose & Crown, Essendon

Nori and confit lemon cured salmon - Credit: Brian Arnopp

Pair dedicated landlords with a chef with a Michelin star studded CV and you have a village pub-restaurant that has quickly become a must-visit, writes Richard Cawthorne.

Alex Parker’s career began when, just before graduating from catering college aged 18, he walked into the kitchen after eating at Gordon Ramsay’s three Michelin Star restaurant in London and asked for a job. From there the chef from Cheshunt and now living in Bishop’sStortford moved to Jason Atherton’s City Social, Hibiscus in Mayfair under Claude Bosi and then with Claude to Bibendum in South Kensington, all holders, like Ramsay, of Michelins.  

Enter, a couple of years ago, Debbie and Chas Davis, owners since 1992 of the Rose and Crown village pub at Essendon. They arrived at the historic former coaching inn - built 1796 - as tenants in 1989 and as owners set about refurbishments, the first early on and the second with an upmarket restaurant launched last August. Covid was a delaying factor for a proper relaunch but the couple persisted in their search for a suitable chef and eventually found Alex. Their mutual feelings about it are about to be displayed by renaming the restaurant ‘Alex Parker at the Rose and Crown’.  

Loin of venison with squash and red cabbage, Rose & Crown, Essendon

Loin of venison with squash and red cabbage - Credit: Brian Arnopp

These restaurant reviews are chosen based on research and word of mouth recommendations. The Rose and Crown story, backed by favourable comments on the food, was enough for it to qualify. The latest refurb has seen the pub element faithfully retained while a spacious, modern restaurant extension has a theme of bringing the outside in.

There are 58 covers in the restaurant, 30 in the bar-lounge, and 20 on a new outdoor area nearing completion. Three large paintings in the restaurant by artist and family friend Anne Tilby-Jones reflect the outdoors-indoors theme. 

Newly refurbished restaurant at The Rose & Crown, Essendon 

The new restaurant extension seats 58 - Credit: Brian Arnopp

The restaurant is bright and airy with plenty of space between tables to relax. Staff are in uniform - always a good sign - and friendly, efficient and expert at explaining each dish as it arrives, and Debbie, who without a trace of self pity reckons she works 17 hours a day, is seemingly always on hand to jolly things along. 

The menu on the evening we visited had five starters averaging £11 to £14, six mains ranging from £20 for a vegetarian option to £38 for the stars, four desserts at around £11 and a cheese board at £12. The menu only slightly resembled that on the website, which is on the list of things to be updated, and menus change seasonally, so it’s good to check when you book.

Was the food worth the money? Yes. Presentation harks back to the days of nouvelle cuisine and courses are served on trendily large plates which makes them look smaller than they are but we felt perfectly satisfied and not over-stuffed, which is not always a sign of eating less but more the quality of what you eat. As ever, check out the small details for signs of how a chef works. Alex mixes nori – seaweed to me and you – with confit lemon for a cured salmon dish, Waldorf salad and brie sauce with lamb sweetbreads, or leeks and bacon with sea bream. Octopus, not your average Herts offering, is on the way.  

Mushroom tart with parmesan and bacon, Rose & Crown, Essendon

Mushroom tart with parmesan and bacon - Credit: Brian Arnopp

First surprise of our meal was the arrival of an amuse bouche, a gougère, or French choux pastry ball, with parmesan and truffle filling, not a bad way for the kitchen brigade to introduce themselves. My other half began with the cured salmon (£14), served as three tempting looking discs with accompaniments as listed above plus a refreshing side of fennel salad.

I chose mushroom tart (£11) with parmesan and bacon, plus pickled walnut as a tasty and artistic addition to the side of the plate. Both dishes had a depth of savouriness to set up the tastebuds for the rest of the meal with a whisper of sweetness for balance. 

Roasted guinea fowl served with coriander, confit lime and cauliflower, Rose & Crown, Essendon

Roasted guinea fowl served with coriander, confit lime and cauliflower - Credit: Brian Arnopp

Mains courses were headed by a favourite of my fellow reviewer, roasted guinea fowl (£26), served with coriander, confit lime, cauliflower and, again unusually, curry sauce for an added piquancy to the meat. It came with a side dish of leg with pickled vegetables.

An almost automatic choice for me, loin of venison (£38) was four healthy slices of perfectly cooked and flavourful meat with squash and red cabbage and a mini cottage pie on the side.  
A shared dessert of rhubarb baked Alaska (£12) provided just the right touch of sweetness to round off the meal. 

Dinner for two at The Rose and Crown, Essendon cost £139.46 including two drinks and service. 

The Rose and Crown 
22 High Road  
Essendon AL9 6HW  
01707 261229