It was seven years ago we last reviewed The Crown Inn at Dial Post.
The first impression then was poor.
A dated and dreary upvc conservatory bolted on to the front of the historic establishment was a carbuncle. In other circumstances we might have driven past.
Fortunately we were not dissuaded. We entered and enjoyed one of the best pub Sunday lunches we had devoured in a long time.
Returning this Sunday, at the invitation of owners Penny and James Middleton Burn, there was still a conservatory appended to the front. But this is a replacement of some quality.
We had a table for four booked in this sunny glass arena and now we dined there because of it and not despite it.
The Crown is not pretentious. It aims to deliver high quality food, priced to ensure strong custom. But it makes no claims to fancy dining.
That said, others independently consider the food is rather exceptional.
In the lounge bar, proudly displayed, is a plaque proclaiming it was named as South East Pub Champion in the Countryside Alliance Awards - the rural Oscars.
Awards, of course, don’t just reflect how wholesome James’ plates are - he is the head chef as well as owner with his wife.
They also reflect a level of excellence in the small details too.
As we chat to Penny about their 12 years there, she is open about the struggles. There was a time when they just wanted to walk away. Like the most rewarding journeys, the passage has been almost unbearably tough at times.
But for the past three years - and against the trend for many similar establishments - they have seen year on year growth in business.
No doubt the regular community events have helped - announced gently in chalk on a board alongside the awards plaque. A quiz night; a vintage car day; a curry night - these have all entered the monthly calendar.
Mondays and Tuesdays are now as busy as a frantic weekend. That’s a real achievement.
The quality of service is key.
Penny is frank. She has a smaller loyal staff who she says are well and properly rewarded. Everyone works hard and really cares.
That’s clear when our order is taken.
She has an eye for the detail of the decor too. The small items - the upholstery, the comfy chairs.
But as pub food goes, the fare here - local sourced whenever possible - is as good as it gets for the price.
James is often out foraging for wild garlic, chamomile, blackberries, apples and mushrooms. He supports many local farmers and producers with home-cured meats, sausages and bacon from David Jesse at Calcot Farm and vegetables from Derek Crush at Daylands Farm, Ashurst. Venison comes from the neighbouring Knepp Castle Estate, free-range Sussex eggs from Hallgate Farm and Luke the fisherman brings his daily catch straight from the boat.
We opted for the roasts after sharing a selection of tapas-style starters.
The Sussex sirloin of beef (£18), served slightly pink were absolutely tender. The Daylands Farm leg of lamb (£16) with rosemary and garlic rub was great. The piece de resistance chosen by our son was the Petworth pork belly (£15) with crackling.
A local confided The Crown was famous for its pork. We understood why.
Plentiful dishes of vegetables and a crowning Yorkshire pud sealed the deal.
Desserts were wholesome. Generous bowlfuls - sticky toffee pudding with homemade ice cream (£6.50); apple and blueberry crumble with custard (£6.50); chocolate and orange bread and butter pudding with custard (£6.50).
It was good to see Gluten and Vegan labelled so clearly. Comprehensive information was available about food allergies.
For Penny, James and their small team this is a labour of love.
Their passion to deliver the very best they can shines through. For Dial Post, it is the crowning glory.
Although we were invited by the owners who knew we were dining our reviews are independent and not linked to any advertisement feature.