It had been a while – a long while. So long in fact we couldn't even remember the last time our little family had gone out for a meal together.
Adapting to lockdown had been one thing, but getting our heads round the fact were finally able to go out and eat at restaurant or pub again also took some adjusting.
And that's nothing to do with safety, from our point of view anyway, it was more we had just got used to our own company, splashing out in supermarkets and eating some nice food at home.
However, there was one special occasion on the horizon, which gave us the nudge we needed to get back out there again – my daughter's sixth birthday.
Of course restaurants and pubs are also desperate for the public's support. The industry has been hard during the pandemic so it's important, if possible, to give them some custom.
We had a scout around and decided a lunchtime slot would be better, with an afternoon cinema booking on the horizon too, and it was my wife, Kelly, who came across The Crown, in Iverley, just outside Stourbridge.
She couldn't really have picked a more suitable venue either because while the decor and, as we would find out later, food was all high-class, it also had a nice family feel to it.
We were the only family there with a child but it was fairly quite, as you'd probably expect at the moment, and the staff went above and beyond to make our meal special – well, special for birthday girl Annabelle anyway.
A look at the menu and it's not cheap, so if you're watching the pennies it may be best to plan ahead, but the selection looked superb.
Starters included butternut squash soup with sourdough bread, goat's cheese cheesecake with balsamic beets, and duck salad with hoisin sauce, spring onion, cucumber, pak choi and sesame seeds.
And then there was one I'd never heard of – gin-cured salmon with mojito dressing and guacamole – which was tempting but in the end I went for smoked pepper mackerel pate with toasted brioche and pickled cucumber.
Sometimes when the prices are high, the portions and small. Not so here. The starters were ample and could even be an option as a main for someone with a smaller appetite.
The quality was superb. The smoked mackerel was fairly chunky, rather than smooth, and whatever the fish was mixed with – it tasted a little like creme freche – worked wonderfully with the sough dough.
The pickled cucumber also gave it a nice smoky, sweet and sour contrast. All in all, a lovely starter.
Kelly went for the wild mushrooms on sourdough toast, which also came served with parsnip crisps.
Again, it was a large portion but came with a nice variety of mushrooms. It was cooked to perfection and had some lovely flavours running through it while sourdough happens to be one of Kelly's favourite breads, so it was a winner from the start for her.
The mains looked equally as appealing with plenty of variety to suit pretty much every taste.
Porcetta with mash, apple and vanilla sauce, asparagus and gravy, and lamb rump with dauphinoise potato, chorizo, charred spring onion, peas and also gravy, caught the eye.
For vegetarians there was creamy pappardelle with mixed greens and pesto roasted tomato, as well as a beetroot and squash tart, with shallots, veloute, omega seeds and pesto.
Staple favourites included a 10oz ribeye steak, house steak burger, and fish and chips.
But once again it was one of the other fish options that grabbed my attention, which was sea bass served in a Japanese broth with prawns, noodles and pak choi.
I have to say I chose well, even if I do say so myself. Broths filled with Asian-style spices are wonderful when they are combined properly – and this dish was beautifully cooked.
As we went for a lunchtime slot, it was also nice that it wasn't too heavy too overbearing, it was just a nice amount.
There was plenty but because the sea bass was only lightly fried it went really well with the prawns – which you have to de-shell yourself – and the pak choi.
The only thing I would slightly mark it down on was the fact the noodles tasted like they had come straight from the supermarket. There was nothing wrong with them, they just stood out a bit because of the rest of dish was so nice.
Kelly went for the Korean-spiced pork belly with stir fry and tempura noodles. It was a simple dish but again packed with amazing flavours and a little spice – the presentation was also superb with the crispy top being the icing on the cake, so to speak
The pairing of noodles with pork belly worked perfectly, although Kelly had to be careful not to fill up on noodles as the piece of meat she was served was an ample portion alone.
Served with the mixed vegetables, such as broccoli, which appeared to have been lightly battered, the all over all taste was sublime.
There wasn't a lot of choice for children but again it was quality stuff. Luckily for us, Annabelle eats pretty much anything and loves pasta.
Her dish was served in quite a creamy sauce and came simply with some chopped tomatoes. I tried a bit myself and it was really nice but perhaps a little too different for some youngsters more used to a standard spaghetti bolognaise or the more common cheesy pasta.
Annabelle, however, lapped it up and still had plenty of room for pudding.
The dessert menu was filled with all the classics, such as warm chocolate brownie, sticky toffee pudding, an Eton mess and apple crumble tart but Annabelle – who, as already established, has quite a mature pallet already – went for the creme brulee, which came served with two little shortbreads.
After quiet word with one of the waitresses, it came out with a candle while staff sang happy birthday. A lovely touch that really made the birthday girl feel special.
The pudding must've been pretty nice too because halfway through Kelly ordered one for herself. Served with the caramelized sugar on top, the rich custard underneath was once again lovely and light, not heavy at all.
The restaurant also had a great range of gin cocktails – I went for the Kiwi Sour, of Hendricks and JJ Whitley gin, mixed with lime juice, egg white and Monin Kiwi, which was excellent – for those who just fancy popping in for a drink.
Head Chef Leon Breckles has designed the superb menu, following the seasons and using a local butchers and produce, which means the menu can change. Not everything we ate was on the online menu.
Over all, a great place to visit, whether as family, as a couple or with friends.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Butternut squash soup, sourdough bread – £6
Gin cured salmon, mojito dressing, guacamole – £9
Porcetta, mash, apple and vanilla sauce, asparagus, gravy – £18
Lamb rump, dauphinoise potato, chorizo, charred spring onion, peas, gravy – £20
Warm chocolate brownie, hot chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream £5
Sticky toffee pudding, caramel sauce, Devon toffee ice cream £5
The Crown, Iverley, Stourbridge