Last weekend was my 30th birthday, and also a bank holiday weekend. As we had a BBQ on the beach on my actualy birthday, Tom treated me to lunch out on Sunday. In Colchester, we always struggle to think of nice places to eat that aren’t chain restaurants. I love fine dining and feel that Colchester has a serious lack of nice places to eat. It’s so frustrating as it seems that nowhere hits the standard we expect. It’s too easy these days for restaurants to open and people fall over themselves to get there, big it up, then it turns out to be an average, over-priced place to eat. For true fine dining food, we have to venture into London and unfortunately, my wages can’t stretch to do this! It’s a definite treat if this happens.We decided to try the Crown Inn at Stoke by Nayland, which is roughly a 40 minute drive from where we live. It has two rosettes and is a quintessential English pub. Unfortunately, it was raining sunday, but in the sunshine, it really is an idyllic setting. I had visited the Crown before, but this was about 3 years ago. It was excellent the first time I went, but the menu has obviously changed since then.Upon arrival, we were slightly taken aback by the ‘welcome’ we received. I say ‘welcome’, as there was no maître d and we were told that our reserved table was in the room at the back and the man just pointed. Having both worked in the hospitality industry, we were both bemused as to how they had obtained two rosettes. Service clearly wasn’t part of the criteria for getting one. We followed the mans instructions and walked into the room where we had to stand for about a minute wondering where on earth our table was before the same gentleman came down from the bar and showed us where to sit. Our table was the only one in the section that was not laid and a waitress asked to take our drinks order even though we had not been given a wine list. A standard requirement surely? Apparently not. Not the best start, and I think it made both of us slightly dubious that we had made the wrong choice and my special birthday lunch, would once again just be in an average restaurant.Luckily, it did get better. We had a delicious, cold bottle of prosecco and the waitress took our order promptly, before eventually having our table laid. When the food came, it certainly made up for our poor treatment upon arrival. I choose the crispy duck salad with cashew nuts, hoison sauce and pickled lotus roots. I have to say, it was equisite. It’s not often you have a salad where you could lick the bowl clean and have about ten portions of it. The duck was warm and was like shredded duck you get from a Chinese – but better. It wasn’t greasy and even though there were strong flavours on the plate, it still played the hero of the dish and all of the other ingredients all sung in harmony. Pickled vegetables are one of my favourite things to have on a plate. They bring such sharpness and crunch to a dish, elevating simple ingredients to a new height. The lotus root was delicious, it was vibrant and there was just enough on the plate to tickle your taste buds and not over power the rest of the dish. I would definitely go back for this dish alone. One thing that I love about eating out is the different crockery places use. I’m a bit of a loser and love buying new dishes to try and get quirky instagram pictures, and I got bowl envy from here! It just adds something a little extra when you can see that a restaurant has really thought about how they are serving their food.For my main, as it was my birthday, I went for the half native lobster, avocado and heritage tomato salad and fries. After enjoying the starter so much, the lobster had a lot to live up to! I love lobster, it’s luxurious and delectable. I was impressed with the cooking of the lobster. The meat was succulent and not chewy, and the salad was a great accompaniment with it. The fries were excellent, they were not greasy and you could actually taste the potato – a novelty these days as most just taste of the oil they are cooked in and become very uninteresting. Despite the service being poor, the food more than made up for it and I’m glad we decided to go there. I would go back to try their Sunday lunch, but I like to think that they would improve their service and really make guests feel welcome and as though nothing is too much trouble.