175 Stoke Newington High Street, Stoke Newington, London N16 0LH
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? All on-route to The Three Crowns for a gratifying lunch in a historic setting.
Dating back to the 1600s, the pub perches along the corner of 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. Thoughtfully revamped by the landlord Stacey Thomas it has been lovingly updated. Keeping the Baroque bones of the pub, Victorian brown plaster pattern ceilings stretch overhead with 1950s lamps hung from chains. The dedication to the chocolaty hue, mirrored in the avocado green banquettes, and dark tables and chairs create a moussey and relaxing feel. Perfect for a quiet spot to eat after the exhausting car boot-farmers’ market-up and coming gallery I experienced on the way there.
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 double base’s soft trickling. 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 ever so slightly. Kimchi is a world away (for once), but Gaye has some dazzling little tricks up his well-worn sleeves (having formally worked at the Rosewood Hotel).
But first (as always) a drink. Overall, the cocktails are uneven, ranging from disappointing-a Kir royal with Chamberyzette Fraise that tastes flat, to acceptable- a creamy whiskey sour, to dazzling-a “Negroni but better” crafted with top shelf ingredients (for a top shelf writer I jokingly cackle). The wine options aren’t horrifying (the cheapest bottle is £21) and the beers are reasonable with my dinner companions’ German Lagunitas IPA described as “fresh” (I wonder why I bother inviting guests sometimes).
The starters are where the clever subtlety begins. Pork belly chips, not (as I assumed) chunks of potato flavoured with pork but cooked to death stacks of pork belly. Elevated scratching’s perfect for dipping in the sweet mustard provided, a must-have for carnivorous diners.
A good-sized ham hock with luminescent piccalilli and sourdough pleases, but the beauty prize must be a joint win. A roast aubergine salad and Burrata with heritage tomatoes arrive together like two stars of vegetarian goodness. Arranged lovingly in a pentagon fashion there is nothing demonic about them. The soft slabs of aubergine 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 in. The burrata (pornographically cut open by myself) 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 the vegans or a chorizo scotch egg for the opposite end of the culinary divide. Both, I am sure will have Gaye’s own quiet but pleasant flick of the wrist. All sitting politely under £10 adds an extra level of enjoyment.
Mains are more classic gastropub fair although again mostly under £15. There are Haddock and shrimp fishcakes, a stuffed artichoke, a chicken salad, or a striploin, along with a chicken and vegan burgers. All very take-your-parents-when-they-visit-London-if-you-think-you-might-have-to-pay sort of establishment.
My Pork chop is perfectly cooked and again there is a secret lurking in this dish. Chayote (a Mesoamerican summer squash) and apple slaw compliment the salty meatiness of the cut. 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 must, with an almost mojito-like kick to the mushy green side.
We finish things 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 impressive although the gingerbread ice cream is a fun edition. A little wintry for August and I couldn’t get my mind off the idea of nibbling on some 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. Lunch is munched and done. 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 at you, 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?