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The Crown, Stadhampton
When my colleague Chris and I first stepped into The Crown, Stadhampton, a year ago, we took one look at the shabby carpet and the general state of disorder the pub was in and walked out without saying a word to each other.
Such an offensive smell of cooking mingled with stale beer hit our nostrils that we wanted to leave as quickly as possible.
When I learned that it had changed hands and was now a very pleasant pub attracting locals and visitors, we headed towards Stadhampton again feeling optimistic and happy that a pub had been saved.
The Crown is a large free-standing building painted in the familiar pale yellow and green colours adopted by Greene King to distinguish its pubs from others. You will find it on the left-hand side of the A329 as you drive through Stadhampton towards a mini roundabout and the village green.
The couple who have taken over this pub, Graham Barr and Sam Allport, have not made any major structural changes, but, thankfully, they have got rid of the offending carpet, given the whole place a real spring clean and created a small restaurant, seating 36, in what was once the games room. The pool table and darts board are now in the main bar area.
As both Graham and Sam have lived in the area for some considerable time, they are confident that they know what the locals want. One of Graham's ambitions, apparently, is to maintain well-kept cask beer. Batemans Triple XB and Greene King IPA are on tap, to be joined shortly by Hook Norton's Old Hooky, which is a beautifully balanced, well-rounded Oxfordshire beer and certainly one of my favourites.
My colleague and I spent some time trying to decide how to describe the interior of this pub, with its deep red wood panelling trim and cream walls. It's not over-stuffed with bric-a-brac. There are pictures and a few mirrors, but they don't dominate.
After much discussion, we decided to say what it was not. It is not stylish in the accepted sense.
That said, it is - as Chris decided - distinctly honest. It's a pub which is not trying to be pretentious or modern, just welcoming and comfortable.
As the couple have a German Shepherd named Sadie, which we saw walking through the bar, dogs are not allowed in.
The menu, like the pub, is unpretentious. It's typical pub grub, which includes a selection of lunch dishes and sandwiches. But we made our selection from the main menu.
I chose the 8oz chargrilled sirloin steak, which came garnished with deep fried battered onion rings, chips and salad at £11.95, and was nicely cooked. I had requested a medium-cooked steak and that's exactly what I got. I was also offered a choice of peppercorn sauce or garlic butter garnish.
Chris predictably ordered scampi and chips with salad (£7.95), which he was delighted to discover came with home-made tartar sauce that he enjoyed enormously. Other dishes listed included beer-battered cod and chips (£7.95), smoked haddock and spring onion fish cakes (£8.95), ratatouille risotto (£6.95), and slow-roasted shank of lamb (£11.50).
Soup of the day, served with rustic bread, was £3.95.
In addition, there was a choice of four children's meals - chicken breast, home-made burgers, sausage and mash, or scampi - at £4.50.
All these dishes, and more, are cooked from Wednesday through to Sunday lunchtime by local chef Aaron Sherriff.
We left feeling pleased that a pub which had been neglected for a considerable time was coming to life again, and providing the people of Stadhampton with a place that they can proudly call their own. If you would like to check out a full menu, go to the website www.crownstadhampton.co.uk