Dave Watts, Chef and owner of this charming cottage-style pub in the heart of the Test Valley, Hampshire, has lost no time making sure the place stays ahead of the game, particularly during these difficult times. By serving high quality food with an unusual twist, using local and artisanal produce, not being afraid to be different and providing the best possible experience inside and out, The Crown Inn has been able to bounce back following lockdown. Using suppliers as close to the pub as possible means that The Crown has also avoided some of the delivery difficulties experienced by others and reduced its carbon footprint.
Dave started his career at the famous Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons under the direct guidance of Raymond Blanc before moving on to tread his own path and find his true food style and values. He worked in various high end restaurants, winning the coveted The Good Food Guide’s ‘Chef to Watch’ Award in 2013, then offering bespoke in-home catering before moving to the Crown. It’s this experience that influences the food offering here -combining classic French with modern rustic and a touch of light, clean Japanese. And Dave is passionate about what he does, cares for his team and his customers and particularly enjoys talking to those eating and drinking in the pub rather than staying in the kitchen.
Ingredients are sourced wherever possible from local artisanal suppliers, supporting the community. Dave makes the most of Hampshire’s rich variety of home-grown foods such as River Test chalkstream trout, local lamb and pork, vegetables from community growers and the pub’s own garden. And all bread is made on site – from sourdough and brioche to soda bread and crusty traditional loaves. Drink is just as important as far as using local is concerned – wines from nearby Danebury Vineyard, beer from Andover’s Penton Brewery and Test Valley Gin all add to the experience. The Crown likes to draw the punters with special events, like its recent Great Gatsby Party, serving up cocktails, bubbles, showgirls and a 5-course meal 20s-style! It will also be hosting a late Oktoberfest with bands, beers and food and launching an amazing new wine menu, offering a full range of quality wines at affordable prices.
During lockdown The Crown Inn, Upton took the opportunity to refurbish inside and out – giving it a modern restaurant feel but still keeping its original country cottage pub characteristics such as the open fireplace. Outside some unique wooden H’Igloos (Hampshire Igloos) have been added, providing gorgeous private spaces heated by wood burning stoves and blankets to keep the outside dining experience warm and cosy all year round. People can even bring their own music to add to the atmosphere! At the same time Dave and his team kept busy serving the community (and keeping up the pub’s popularity!) by offering a very high quality, reasonably-priced take-away menu.
And as if things couldn’t get better for the Crown, the pub became a TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Award Winner 2021, was included in the prestigious Michelin Guide 2021 which describes the pub as ‘welcoming’ and the food ‘colourful, eye-catching with ingredients from small local producers which steal the show.’ The Crown was a Trencherman’s Award finalist in the Best Trencherman’s Pub category 2021, found itself in the top 5 Destination Pubs in the website Muddy Stilletto award scheme and is mentioned in Sawdays Pubs and Inns – the best places to eat and drink in the UK. A real achievement for the pub.
Dave has another string to his bow which complements the running of The Crown – he recently acquired The Charcuterie at Parsonage Farm, where, from organic meat supplied by smallholdings where animal welfare is paramount, he creates cured meats such as flavoured salamis, coppa and lomo as well as pancetta. This meat is sold online and served as platters in the pub. He also runs a Charcuterie School from The Charcuterie.
Says Dave: ‘I’m so proud of The Crown and its team and how we’ve come through the last 18 months. We have a very firm philosophy regarding hospitality, buying local and supporting the community and caring for our customers. I’ve been lucky to have such good training and career opportunities which have influenced the way we run things here and put the customer first. The Test Valley, too, is a beautiful place to have a pub, together with such an abundance of produce.’
The Crown can be found in the north of the Test Valley. It is famous for the clear chalk streams of the River Test, which are excellent breeding grounds for its famous trout. Chalk hills provide just the right environment for sparkling wine as well as mineral water. Gin, beer and cider producers are also a feature. Livestock farms abound raising rare breed pigs and cattle and even water buffalo. There are also lots of small-scale artisan producers selling everything from honey to cheeses.
For more information about The Crown visit https://www.crownupton.co.uk And more about visiting the area can be found at https://www.testvalley.gov.uk/communityandleisure/tourism/ You can also find out more about food and drink in the Test Valley by visiting https://www.testvalley.gov.uk/communityandleisure/tourism/taste-test-valley. Or try Hampshire Fare’s new guide to local produce in the area ‘The Chalk and the Cheese’ https://www.hampshirefare.co.uk /Hampshire Fare support local food, drink and craft producers – a not-for-profit organisation working closely with over 400 businesses involved in rearing, growing and making an array of produce including cheese, wine, beer, meat, charcuterie, pies, spirits, cider and more.