Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Cowdray / Crawley

This review and photograph has been generously submitted by Mr. Hazeel. Thank you sir!

Who are they?

The Cowdray is a pub and restaurant on the Balcombe Road just off the M23. I selected the pub since it was on the way to Gatwick where my parents were catching a flight and I thought I should grant them a last meal before delivering them into the clutches of Ryanair. Would this be something worthy of lining their stomachs for the flight or just end up decorating the seat in front of them?


The restaurant itself is probably best described as an unpretentious gastropub. The dish descriptions generally fit on one line and mentions of jus, foam and emulsion are reassuringly absent. As seems to be standard practice these days, the pub makes a point of sourcing ingredients locally and even has a “Fine Sussex Wine” list, something I didn’t know existed. The building itself is relatively modern and although some care has been taken on the inside to make the dining area presentable, the lack of a low ceiling and wobbly floorboards removes some of the usual pubby charm.

On the menu the first item in the main course section was the “8oz Cowdray Burger” which wasn’t a promising start as I worry when restaurants start naming their burgers after themselves. Many establishments think that making a slight change to an existing formula allows them to claim they’ve come up with something unique but just as putting a kumquat in a martini doesn’t make a new cocktail, adding pickled red onions to a burger doesn’t make it revolutionary.

When the waitress came to take my order I briefly considered ordering the fish and chips instead but my sense of duty re-established itself and I plumped for the burger. She asked how I’d like it done which makes a pleasant change from London where many restaurants have been told by health & effing safety that they should only serve well done burgers to reduce the risk of E. coli. Asking for it medium added a thrilling frisson of risk to the evening.

When the burger arrived, first impressions were mixed. The bun was disappointingly standard issue with the usual sesame seed pimples and looked slightly dry. The patty had shrivelled up during the cooking and looked rather lost. Also present were the usual cheese, tomato and greenery. Thankfully, the chips gave some cause for hope. Thickly cut with colour and crispness around the edges, they represented a strapping example of British chiphood. Things started to get better after cutting the burger in half as the patty had indeed been cooked medium and had a nice amount of redness whilst still having some structural integrity to it. 

The first bite revealed that the (hopefully local) butcher the restaurant had sourced their meat from knew what they were doing. Although it didn’t have the depth of flavour of meat that had been properly aged, it still had a robust taste that was enhanced by the nicely seared patty. The meat had also been properly ground and gave enough resistance in the mouth without being excessively chewy. The cheese was standard cheddar but they had thankfully decided not to use an extra mature variety which tends to overpower the rest of the burger. After having mocked the pickled red onions they actually added a pleasantly sharp top note which served to cut the richness of the rest of the burger. There was also a smear of garlic butter on the top half of the bun which added some more flavour and mouthfeel to the experience. Unfortunately, the size mismatch between the bun and the patty meant that as consumption progressed some rearrangement of the fillings was necessary to ensure that every bite was consistent. 

The chips proved to be as good as they looked with the crispy exteriors being matched by fluffy interiors showing that the cook knew how to blanche a chopped spud. However, at the risk of being called Mister Picky (never! -ed.), I’d say that the chips were perhaps a little too big and in danger of becoming potato wedges, which are just not British.


Overall, the burger was a solid, if unremarkable, effort. With a better bun and some more imaginative garnishes, an extra half-point could have been extended.



Where can I find them?