My husband and I have eaten at the Crown of Crucis once a year for the past 20+ years when we go to the International Air Tattoo every year. For the past 4 or 5 years we have stayed at this convenient pub/hotel from Thursday to Monday for the Tattoo and have, prior to this year, been largely satisfied. Our experience this year was exceptionally poor owing to the evening meals and we will never return.
We both stay at a variety of hotels in our work and eat out a great deal - some is in 'posh' and expensive hotels, and some is in small B&Bs; some dining is in fine-dining restaurants, and some at 'greasy spoons'. My point is that our expectations are realistic when it comes to staying at a pub/hotel of the standard and price of The Crown.
As in previous years, the service was good, approachable and friendly, although it is apparent that little staff training has been given (see later).
The room was clean and acceptable though dowdy. However, the headboard on the bed needs replacing as it is unsavoury and there is no need for net curtains. These nets are unsightly, a dirty grey colour and make the room appear more gloomy. It is unfortunate that the recent refurbishments and renovations did not provide double glazing for the rooms
whose windows become sodden with condensation.
Wi-Fi which is supposedly available in all rooms was not available in ours, nor available anywhere on an iPad except by using the hotel's own network. The young man at reception
was as helpful as he could be regarding this problem but it was not a satisfactory situation. In addition, Wi-Fi is at additional cost for the hours used which we were amazed at and which is not acceptable these days.
Basically, the room is OK for the price but is only run-of-the-mill.
However, the food is exceptionally poor in many respects. In previous years, when we only had a meal at the pub, it was good, wholesome pub food. More recently, as part of the package, we had bed, breakfast and evening meal and the evening meal was cheap and rather mundane but OK. Last year, we found the food was poor but readily forgave them because the pub was being refurbished and we assumed this resulted in a less good menu, atmosphere and less good quality.
This year, however, the food was very poor and far too expensive for what it was. We opted for the pub food as the previous package was unavailable, booked for 3 of the 4 nights but gave up after two attempts.
Just a note on the refurbishment - the reception is lovely and the bar area fine although the light fittings designed to look like crowns with cutlery sticking out are really naff with the
chandeliers being dangerous for anyone with any height - fortunately not us!
Back to the food. Breakfast is largely fine although chef can only cook soggy or largely raw and cold but crispy hash browns. When it comes to the evening though, the cooking is really poor. The first night, we ordered bread to start. This amounted to 3 pieces of bread of two types, white and brown and butter. This was either not very good bread or a bit stale but cost £2.50. My husband had a pork chop which he said was good but it was covered in a very thick and nearly congealed brown sauce/gravy of indeterminate ingredients or flavour
which spoiled his experience. I had the Beef Rendang which should be spicy hot. There was no heat in the dish and it tasted of nothing. When I observed this to the waitress, we were told that all their curries were mild and that she could spice it up. I declined the offer since I was afraid this might mean adding either Tabasco sauce or a hot chilli sauce which did happen to me at a surfing cafe. Again, the chunks of meat were obviously quite good with no gristle or fat but the total effect was that it tasted of very little. The menu did not point out that the curries were mild, although creating a mild rendang is absurd anyway - it is like having a vindaloo that is less hot than a korma.
The second night - after carefully noting what others' food looked like the previous evening, we thought a pasta carbonara would be safest. It wasn't! Prior to the main course, we decided to have the garlic bread to share. This cost £6.25 I am appalled to say and consisted of a piece of flatbread, about naan size, which had been cooked to the point that it broke off pieces like a poppadom with some leaves of rocket and grated cheese on it. The latter items had not been cooked at all. As we sat there, breaking our teeth, our neighbours eating the same thing said that having tried the bread, they were now very worried about
the main courses they'd ordered. When ours came, it wasn't a carbonara at all but that was not the problem. It tasted of nothing again but was just too gloopy and unappetising. The ingredients were fine but the chef just does not know how to cook them. I think he had also got a 'job lot' of mushrooms too because they were in the dish in abundance as they were at breakfast and they were chewy and unpleasant. The chef also insists on putting a sprig of parsley on every hot dish, morning and afternoon. This is not a problem but is so seventies and unnecessary, not to mention adding to the cost.
The meals were not finished and my husband asked to speak to the dining manager. At my husband's suggestion, they removed themselves away from the dining area and to a more private place. Our neighbours were interested in joining in and complaining but my husband didn't think that was fair! He spoke with Cassandra, a very lovely lady that had served us another year and he was courteous and constructive in his criticism. There were no raised
voices and she listened carefully as he did to her. There was no offer of a refund and neither did we ask.
The major criticism is not to do with service, ingredients, ambience but with the fact that the chef has little idea how to cook well and the prices on the menu are way too high for what is served. The suggestion is that the hotel will shortly be opening its proper dining room with fine dining but this cannot be with the current chef. Had Cassandra told us the chef was off
work and this was a fill-in, I could have understood but no, he/she does not know how to cook.
I have tried to be as honest and fair as possible to The Crown of Crucis but after many visits there, we feel we cannot stay or eat there again.
The crowning moment was when we checked out and said this to the previously helpful
receptionist who said " Nobody else has ever complained". Now, this is where his lack of training is evident as, whether what he said was true or not, he had dissatisfied customers in front of him who he has now told are unlike everyone else, i.e. wrong, stupid, fussy, ignorant, unpleasant, lying......the interpretations are endless and, of course, it made us angry. Voices were still kept calm but we were prepared to be much less reasonable. A couple of points - was he in a position to know if anybody else complained about the food as he seemed to work only in reception,and, although he was put on the defensive, he
should have expressed concern/regret at our disappointment and just got rid of us or offered to get the owner/manager of the hotel. As it was, we continued to outline what was wrong as other guests went through reception. Staff training would rectify this error.
Finally, our bill was wrong by £45 in the hotel's favour. We had booked July 2010 and left £100 deposit. In the days before the 2011 visit we were informed by email that bed, breakfast and evening meal was not available, that the price we had been quoted was
incorrect but that the hotel would honour the B&B rate previously quoted. This email came out of the blue and was entirely acceptable. I did 'phone and check that my understanding was correct which it was. So someone had the foresight to check this booking and to note a problem which was then totally ignored when we booked out. This is either poor administration that the receptionist did not have notice of the agreed price or was sharp practice. In addition, no monies were taken off for our very poor meals - we were told that "we hadn't asked for this".
We are mostly disappointed by what has been a positive experience for us over a number of years but the restaurant of The Crown of Crucis will not succeed long term unless it gets in someone who cooks well for the pub grub and the fine dining and till its prices reflect far more what is offered.
We are both entirely happy to speak to anyone at the hotel to offer suggestions for its future success.