Katherine MacAlister checks out the changes at a former 17th century pub that’s had a £1.8m makeover

If you want to score some serious brownie points this Valentine’s Day, take a tip from me. Stay the night at the newly-revamped Crown & Thistle in Abingdon, where the transformation is nothing less than miraculous.

Rooms at the former 17th century pub have been knocked through to include an en suite, with roll top baths sitting resplendent in the middle. And while the £1.8m modernisation programme has been thorough, original features – timbers and four poster beds – have been retained.

Having asked for a tour, we made a resolution there and then that when we returned it would be for the night because this is a wonderful new string to Abingdon’s bow.

But we were there for dinner, and were happy reclining in the separate bar area over the original cobbled courtyard, which was most unsuited to high heels, until manager Cian McMonagle had to come and find us, to remind us our table was ready and waiting.

The separate bar and restaurant was packed when we eventually trouped through, without a spare table in sight.

We admired the updated, contemporary vibe while we perused the menu – I wanted to take the wallpaper home with me.

The menu looked spot on; casual, unthreatening food with something for everyone, from salads and pasta to burgers or steak, and then a whole section of comfort food. We asked for olives - while we thought it over – which never arrived, and our water came by the glass so every time we wanted another one we had to ask which was mildly irritating. The pork belly bites, a take on pork scratchings, remained virtually untouched, and as Mr Greedy is usually a big fan, it wasn’t a good start.

Next up we tried a variety of starters. The homemade Scotch egg (£6.50) was delicious, and a great revival of a traditional pub classic. However, the ‘gamberoni king prawns’ (£7.50) were dressed in a rather insipid concoction of lime and coriander with a garlic aioli, rendering it greasy and lacking zest. The roasted fig and Oxford blue cheese dish (£6) sounded great on paper but was less of a success on the plate, and rather than the delicious salad I expected, consisted of an unpalatable layer of overmelted cheese on top of the fruit.

Onwards and upwards. The fisherman’s pie (£12.95) won dish of the night, the concoction of smoked haddock, cod, salmon and pollock served in a large ramekin oozing with grilled cheesy mash was delicious. The penne arrabbiata (£7.75) was fine, but lacked the juicy, oily, spicy, pungent sauce we were hoping for, and the venison cassoulet (£13.95) was simple but effective.

If you want pub food you won’t be disappointed. I think the point here is that the decor and transformation is so all-consuming that you expect the fare to be equally as dazzling, and it’s not, but then it’s not pretending to be. So take the Crown & Thistle at face value because there is an enthusiastic clientele already in situ, and from that point of view it’s already a winner.

The Crown & Thistle
18 Bridge Street, Abingdon.
crownandthistleabingdon.co.uk 01235 522556