Food review: The Old Crown, Birmingham
It’s an old building in the big city, and a pub still going strong serving drinks along with hearty food. James Driver-Fisher goes out for dinner. . .
There’s plenty of development going on in and around Birmingham – but away from all the modern-looking, trendy bars, pubs and restaurants shooting up all over the place, it’s great to know one oldest buildings in the city is still going strong.
The Old Crown in Digbeth is a lovely venue that has kept most of its original features but has also been beautifully restored.
If ever we’re thinking of catching of gig at somewhere like the O2 Institute, the Old Crown has always been a favourite place to meet for some pre-concert drinks.
It just ticks all the boxes – great beer, friendly people, knowledgeable bar staff and, most importantly, it still looks and acts like a pub.
I’d had a look at the menu a few times but never been in the mood for food but as my brother, Tom, who works at music college in Brum, happened to be hosting an open day, so we decided to meet up.
Soon my mum Nadine, sister Hannah, nieces Lucy, Olivia and Harriet, nephew Jamie and sister-in-law Claire had all got involved so, along with my wife, Kelly, and daughter, Annabelle, there was quiet a rabble.
There is a reason I’m explaining all this and that is because with ages ranging from three months to 57 years old, the staff went above and beyond to make sure we were all catered for throughout.
It was a Saturday afternoon and we arrived around 3.30pm. It was good timing too because any later and we wouldn’t have got a seat.
The pub is very popular and it was great to see. The Campaign for Real Ale recently revealed 460 pubs closed from July to December last year, including 35 in the West Midlands. The previous year 455 closed over the same period. That’s a lot, so it’s important they are supported, and we were happy to do our bit. The Old Crown is the oldest extant secular Grade II*-listed building in Birmingham, which is believed to date back to 1368.
It’s also neat, tidy, clean, welcoming and after moving two tables together to make sure there was enough space for everyone to sit down, it was time to order.
Now, we hadn’t looked at the menu in advance and, at first glance, it didn’t look like there was much for children.
On closer inspection, however, it became clear all the meals were served in small, medium and large portions – plus there was mac and cheese on the specials board.
We decided one main, with two bowls of chips would suit the children, aged three to eight, and it came with garlic bread too and side salad. Having tasted a bit of the pasta, it was lovely and gooey, but not swamped in the cheese sauce.
The macaroni was cooked to perfection and there was also a further sprinkling of cheese on top, which had been put back in the oven to give it a lovely crunch.
There was none left so it was clear the children liked it – and I would have liked it for a main myself too.
With no starters, we all cracked on with ordering our mains, which mainly consisted off a choice of sandwiches (again in three sizes to suit all appetites), a wide selection of burgers and some pub classics.
The sandwiches all came served on ciabatta rolls – single, half and full. Another nice touch we all noted – particularly as my brother and sister-in-law are veggies, and I had gone pescatarian for Lent (I couldn’t give up fish) – was the large choice of vegetarian dishes on the menu.
Greek goddess and falafel options were included, and even the pasta option, which changes weekly, always remains vegetarian. In the end Kelly, the one who hadn’t given up meat, went for the Jimmy Butters maple cured pork rib eye sandwich, with a pea, mint and mustard pesto, aged cheddar and lettuce.
Considering she ordered the small version, there was still plenty. The ham came in thick slices and there was a nice salty flavour to it, which complemented the mushy pea and mint dressing. Kelly doesn’t normally like mushy peas so the fact she enjoyed the Old Crown’s homemade version perhaps tells you how nice it was.
She also upgraded to sweet potato fries and, again, it was a hearty portion and very tasty.
The burgers included Hawaiian, Spaniard and classic styles, but Tom and Claire both went for the Greek halloumi, which was crispy fried halloumi, white bean and rosemary fava, fried green tomatoes, avocado smash and lettuce. They both described their burgers as ‘mouthwatering’ and they came served in a ‘heavenly’ in a brioche bun, with ‘fat’ chips and homemade coleslaw – which is always important.
The halloumi had a lovely bit of bite and served up with the relish made for a delicious alternative to usual bog-standard veggie burger varieties.
The coleslaw was light and not swimming in mayonnaise. You could actually taste the filling, compared with the shop-bought alternative, and the chips were huge, crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle.
My eyes had wandered towards the pub classics which included all the usual fare, such as pie and mash, fish, chips and peas, steak and gammon, but also some other eye-catching offerings, such as bacon, cabbage and colcannon, and a sweet potato and plantain curry.
There’s just something about Caribbean-style curries that are so inviting. Packed with flavour, spices and freshness, they are hard to beat. So, unsurprisingly, I went for the Jamaican curry, which came with coconut rice, flatbread and fresh mango. It was an excellent choice and the perfect size. I had been slightly worried the curry itself might be a little sweet, as I would usually opt for one packed with spice, but it wasn’t overbearing at all. The sauce was thick, the plaintain and sweet potato were still firm and not mushy, and it all combined to make a lovely dish. The coconut rice was fluffy and quite light which, when mixed with more of that curry, did add a little more sweetness but there was enough kick to ensure it maintained its flavour.
The flatbreads were also served warm, perfect for dipping and mopping up, and there was a side salad.
I was nicely full too, which left room to sample another real ale while Kelly went for the Cotswold Botanic gin and tonic – both of which were superb.
We had planned on letting Annabelle enjoy an ice cream for dessert but, being a fruit fiend, the bar staff very kindly cut up three huge strawberries for her to enjoy free of charge. Another nice touch was the staff offering to warm up bottles of milk for the babies, and also bringing drinks to our table, even though table service was not generally catered for.
It was unanimously agreed the oldest pub in Birmingham gives all the new-fangled gastro pubs in the city a run for their money with the food, ambience, original features and great beer garden.
The staff were friendly, efficient and went above and beyond to accommodate our party of babies, toddlers, parents and grandparents.
And for those who want to make a weekend of it in Birmingham, The Old Crown has 10 bedrooms and one apartment available to book.
If it was good enough for Queen Elizabeth I back in 1575 on her way home from Kenilworth Castle, it should be good enough for us.