Modern British is the inspiration for the menu at the Crown & Badger, which has had a makeover under the new ownership of 26-year-old Jess Rafferty, who has worked in hospitality in the US, Caribbean (in one of Richard Branson's venues) and the UK.

In London for almost two years, Rafferty gained a passion for the interesting cuisine offered in stylish pubs in London, like the Dog & Fox boutique pub in Wimbledon, where she worked.

"People have this image that British food is plain and stodgy, but that is not true at all so I wanted to showcase the best of British recipes but with a very modern twist, offering food that is fun and exciting, and using high-quality local ingredients here in New Zealand."

So you will find traditional meals like fish and chips and bangers and mash, with the bangers herbed and handmade by a local butcher and served with onion gravy and caramelised onions. Rafferty says all the dishes use fresh ingredients and are made on site.

Advertisement

"We make as much as possible here in house, right down to smoking the butter for the beer-crusted bread and relishes."

The menu includes daily specials and changes seasonally. The new menu is already paying off, with the pub winning a Beef and Lamb Excellence award recently.

The drinks menu has also had a complete overhaul. Rafferty says she loves the complexities of beers, wines and spirits. The wines on offer include familiar names as well as new and interesting ones to try. There is craft beer and Panhead and Emerson's on tap.

The staff undergo regular training and are expert in suggesting wine matches for foods.

There is a range of bottled beer, with "the old favourites" still offered on tap, plus a range of cider jars and, in an innovative twist, cocktails served in teapots with British themes such as The Royal Wedding (Bombay Sapphire, Lindauer Pinot Gris, berry coulis, rose and lemon juice), London Bridge (vodka, passionfruit, lime and vanilla) or the ultimate dessert in a drink, Apple Pie (bourbon, butterscotch schnapps, amaretto, apple and cinnamon).

As well as a wide array of soft drinks, coffees and teas, there are tempting speciality coffees including the intriguing Bavarian Coffee of Peppermint Schnapps, Kahlua, espresso and cream.


The venue
The pub has also recently undergone a facelift, designed by Rafferty herself.

"I wanted to retain the character of an English pub, but brighten everything up and open it out. But also create different areas and options for seating - so you can have a date night, business meeting, or be in a larger group."

The interior has been painted, and a feature wall built by Rafferty gives a more modern feel. Chocolate brown sofas by the fire make for an alluring area to cosy up in winter, and there are dining booths or open tables.

The music is more modern too, not too intrusive but upbeat. The pub's events are Sunday Roast, Tuesday Quiz Night and Trivia Bingo on Wednesdays.

We'll have
The three of us decided to share all our starters. First up, the warm beer-crusted bread with the homemade smoked butter, which was divine.

Then crispy calamari, with both squid rings and baby octopus and served with a spicy marinara sauce, was inventively presented on a board with the squid wrapped in newspaper-like paper, and the sauce offering a piquant bite to the succulent seafood.

Then came an English icon: Three mini Yorkshire puddings filled with roast beef and brown gravy, on a bed of my favourites - minted mushy peas. My colleague declared them the "perfect mini roast meal".

For mains we shared a large salad of roasted baby beets, fresh orange segments, feta and foraged herbs. It was a colourful explosion of fruity tastes with the sweetness of beets and vibrancy of the orange mellowed out by the saltiness of the feta, which was both crumbling and creamy.

The salad was a perfect accompaniment to our pasta dish, mushroom pappardelle, which sums up Rafferty's vision of food that is simple, fresh but presenting something unique. We declared this our favourite.

Thick ribbons of pasta with wild mushrooms and a sauce of white wine, parmesan and truffle oil, creamy and tasty but not overly heavy.

We also shared a wild venison burger served with salad, horseradish mayo and an apple balsamic and beet relish. Tender and rich without being too gamey, it was an interesting alternative to beef, and the fries it came with were thick, hot and crunchy.

We had our eye on the wonderful array of desserts including a creamy lemon posset served in a jar, a chocolate self-saucing pudding with vanilla bean icecream, and an apple and toffee crumple with brandy custard. Despite drooling at the thought, our happy, full stomachs said no but we vowed to return to try them and the speciality coffees.

To drink
I had a Morton Estate chardonnay - buttery with a bit of bite and my colleague had an Angus the Bull cab sav.


Value for money
The food is well priced considering its high quality, with mains ranging from a $14 plate of wedges to a $30 for Black Angus Scotch fillet with red wine and garlic jus.


The staff
Friendly and knowledgeable. Service was quick and attentive. Rafferty has employed a mostly female staff, including head chef Nola Allen.

"Nola and I share more of a vision of serving food done well. We both like to challenge the status quo and make sure that people are extraordinarily happy when they dine here."


The verdict
We joked with Rafferty that when people meet this young blonde woman they probably don't imagine she is the owner of a pub, and she similarly defies expectations and conventions by offering a high-quality London standard menu and fresh ingredients at great prices.

We were enthused about the food, which is not what you might expect in a Tauranga pub. Once people try this food I am certain they will become regulars. You might just see us three girls by the fire sipping apple pie teapot cocktails.