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Review: The Crown Inn, Dial Post

It doesn't get more rural idyll than this lovely destination pub, with a relaxed and classy vibe, gastropub fare and an enviable West Sussex location. Perfect for a tranquil mini-break or day out with the fam.

The Crown Inn must be a candidate for the best-located pub with rooms in Sussex. Right opposite the picturesque village green in the tiny village of Dial Post, it’s nonetheless within a couple of minutes of the A24, making it both easy to get to yet beautifully tucked away. Not to mention the fact the world-famous Knepp Estate, known far and wide for its groundbreaking rewilding project that has seen rare and beautiful wildlife flourish, is just a short walk away.

It’s owned and run by husband-and-wife team Penny and James, and the clientele is a mix of regulars, drinkers, and visitors from further afield. It can be hard to strike that elusive balance of friendly local that’s also a genuine destination, but all the signs point to the Crown having nailed it.

THE VIBE

Visiting on a blissfully hot May day, the Crown felt like a true extension of the lush green verges we’d driven past on our way here and the equally lush village green, liberally dotted with buttercups, daisies and other spring wildflowers. The pub itself couldn’t look more traditional, all oak beams, leather chairs, cosy fireplace and scrubbed-wood furniture. The Garden Room, a conservatory extension, has a light, airy and modern feel with lovely sage-green walls and lots of plants on display. There’s also a patio garden out front, for people-watching on the village green, and a garden to the rear which is in the process of being revamped. In short, space isn’t an issue.

Although we arrived early for our lunch, the pub was already bustling with a mix of families, walkers and day-trippers enjoying the countryside and the sudden influx of belated and much-needed spring sunshine. As befits a country inn, The Crown is very dog-friendly and several four-legged friends could be spied both inside and out.

SCOFF AND QUAFF

The lunch menu is small and perfectly formed, featuring artisan-sounding starters like Rilettes of local pork, served with apple, beer and onion chutney on crusty bread (£7), soup of the day (£7) and a selection of Spanish tapas (£8.50). For mains, think gastropub faves like burgers (beef £14, veggie/vegan £12.50), fish and chips (£13.50) and a flat iron steak from Calcot Farm, just down the road in Ashurst (£16.50). Gluten free and vegan options are all available, along with extras for the burgers like bacon, a mushroom and cheese, and for the veggie burger, grilled halloumi. The specials change regularly and include hearty-sounding dishes like duo of South Downs lamb with dauphinoise potatoes and seasonal veg (£18), and assiette of roasted veg with lemon and herb couscous, balsamic glaze and sun-dried tomato dressing (£12).

To start, we had cheesy garlic bread (£4.50) which was delicious, not too filling and had a sort of old-school, nostalgic feel to it. For mains, I chose the steak burger, served in a brioche bun with triple-cooked chips, and added cheese and a mushroom. I do love a ‘build your own’ burger menu. The Mudlets are both fish and chips fiends and honed in on the battered haddock with triple cooked chips and lightly crushed peas (although they asked to skip the latter, which I refused to allow because I’m a mean, horrible mother).

The burger meat was incredibly soft and tender, more like a hache than a standard burger, and the chips were chunky and crispy, just the way I like them. The batter of the haddock was feather-light and crunchy and the fish itself firm and fresh. Nothing lasted very long! I really think the litmus test of a good pub is how they serve these evergreen classics. If they can do a burger to perfection, the rest of the menu is bound to be good. Therefore I can confidently state the rest of the menu at The Crown is bound to be very, very good indeed!

Sadly we didn’t have time for pudding, but the selection of homemade sticky toffee pudding with toffee sauce (£6.50), vegan chocolate brownie with vegan cream and fruit coulis (£6.50) and lemon posset with fresh berries and crushed meringues (£6.50) all sounded divine, as did the Sussex cheeseboard.

I washed my lunch down with a classy latte, and the mudlets had a range of juices with improbable amounts of fresh fruit slices, ice cubes, straws and so on. The wine list is also compact but has a range of choices, including local options from Albourne Estate, Wiston Estate and Ditchling as well as old and New World whites, Rosés and reds.

STAY

Ours was just a flying visit but The Crown has four gorgeous rooms above the main pub complete with stripped wood floors, Farrow & Ball paint, antique furniture, luxe local toiletries and, crucially, Nespresso machines. Each has its own theme, from butterflies and wildflowers to safaris! If you’re staying over, you can enjoy a continental breakfast in your room the following morning, before heading out to explore the local area. Fido can stay too, and he’ll get his own bowl, blanket and biscuit to make him feel right at home. Kids over 8 are also welcome.

AROUND AND ABOUT

Dial Post is the ultimate rural idyll, with the Knepp Estate, Shipley Windmill and acres of footpath and bridleway to explore. But if you find yourself craving more hustle, you can be on the A24 in minutes, headed up to Horsham for a spot of shopping or down to Worthing and the coast.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: A visit with the family (including four-legged members), a pit-stop on a long walk around Knepp, a stopover if you’re heading up the A24 to London and beyond, or just a really lovely, relaxed, indulgent mini-break in the sticks.

Not for: Those wanting to sip champagne on a bustling city terrace. Date night here could be charming, but it’s a drinkers’ pub too so don’t anticipate soft music and quiet ambience.

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