Double Crown

Double Crown, the recent restaurant to open in the ever-gentrifying Bowery by the design firm AvroKo, with a menu by Brad Farmerie, is a unique addition to the neighborhood. Right across from the old CBGB that is now a John Varvatos store, in an area that was once hip and lowdown, the restaurant joins a slew of other establishments such as retail stores, condos, and restaurants that have come to change the neighborhood for what many consider to be the better, but really to the detriment of the neighborhood’s original character. But I think the neighborhood’s soul is indelible even if the neighborhood brandishes a shiny new Whole Foods Market and a lopsided stack of metal boxes called the New Museum.

When I arrived I noticed how open and inviting the restaurant looked from the street. It just opened in September, but an outdoor patio still fronts the restaurant even though it's no longer summer. That evening the patio doors were open at first, but were soon closed. It seemed only a few guests decided to eat outside that late afternoon. But I think that the best way to experience any restaurant can only come from dining inside.

The entrance of the restaurant opens immediately into a foreground that includes the bar and communal table. The bar area, taking up almost the entire length of the left side of the space, is visually contrasting, both modern with its teak wood–like bar counter and white enamel edge and traditional with white lantern lighting hanging above, giving a nod to the restaurant’s Asian influences. Parallel to the bar in full view as the restaurant’s centerpiece is the long rustic wooden communal table inviting conviviality.

The right half of the restaurant is the main dining room, containing a few comfortable booths, but mostly tables and chairs. From where I sat in the dining room I could see my reflection in the tilted bistro mirrors that line the back wall of the bar. It reminded me of the décor at Balthazar and of Manet’s painting of A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, the one of the barmaid and her reflection. The room is lighted with rows of dark modern fixtures. There is also a more intimate dining space in the back of the restaurant, bathed in white, it provides a nice alternative to the bustle of the main areas. Below the restaurant, a long, dim corridor provides cavernous individual unisex bathrooms. Here, the Brit Indie music can be heard more clearly than upstairs. All these design choices, the exposed brick walls, interior decoration, ceiling fans, and flickering candlelight create the feel of a modern, pseudo-Indian palace. The juxtaposition of the palatial and the modern sets the tone for the restaurant’s British post-colonial fare.

On arrival, the hostess encouraged us to sit at the bar and order drinks while our table was being readied even though we were early by no more than ten minutes. The cocktail menu is split into two sections, house cocktails and classic-esque British cocktails. We ordered two of the classic-esque cocktails, my lady friend had the white lady (gin, Grand Marnier, and lemon juice) and I had the perfect gimlet (gin and homemade lime cordial). The bartender poured both drinks into saucer glasses, which I generally find a bit too pretentious, but the look worked, and the drinks were great. Once our table was ready, even though it looked ready when we came in, we placed our full order, knowing exactly what we wanted soon after seeing the menu. Each item on the menu is unique in its own right—so much so that it could be very easy to order any one. To go with our cocktails we ordered from the hawker-style snacks. A crisp and succulent braised pork belly with cucumber, cilantro, and a chili caramel sauce was thoroughly pleasing. Other eye-catching snacks on the menu include pickled watermelon rind, pigs in a wet blanket, deep-fried egg, crispy pig’s ear, and miso-glazed bone marrow.

To accompany our meal we ordered wine, one red and white. For a starter we decided to share a slice of foie gras served with toast and earl grey prunes, which proved to be one of the highlights of the evening. It was perfect even though it was not as described on the menu: tandoori foie gras with nut loaf. We did not taste any tandoori spice and the nut loaf tasted more like plain brioche. Some other interesting starters on the menu are heirloom tomato and paneer terrine, house-cured Scottish salmon, a pheasant Scotch egg, and crispy drunken quail. All the appetizers would have been worth a try, but I had decided to order the foie gras since my friend had asked what it was without being able to pronounce it. Her fondness for the dish proved that her sophisticated palate makes up for her lack of food knowledge.

We continued on with our mains, of which my friend enjoyed the twice-cooked chicken while I salivated, stunned over the violet beauty of the venison Wellington. The twice-cooked chicken had moist portions of dark meat and white meat, served with ginger garlic relish, water spinach, and star anise broth. The flavors were warm and spice-y, almost autumnal, and reminiscent of the crispness and flavor of the pork belly. The venison was spread in the traditional filling of duxelles (mushroom paste) and wrapped in savoy cabbage and puff pastry. The serving consisted of two nice-sized medallions accompanied by red currant jus and cranberry chutney. The dish was supreme, the venison was melt-in-the-mouth medium rare, and my only complaint would be that the puff pastry could have been crisper and less soggy. Because I had meat and potatoes on the mind, I ordered a side dish of potatoes garam masala, which was underwhelming. The waiter had suggested we order side dishes because the mains did not come with sides. But in hindsight I think the potatoes were unnecessary in this case, and most of the sides on the menu did not seem all too interesting. But I am sure that many other entrées that lack in size might require some side dishes to be fully satisfying as PinkPig makes clear with the pheasant and licorice pie. Other appealing entrées include lamb and cashew meatballs, roast half duck, and bangers and mash with wow wow sauce. I would not mind ordering the bangers and mash just to see what the wow wow sauce is.

By this time the restaurant was filling up and the bar was buzzing, surrounded by a mix of Bowery bohemians and suited nine-to-fivers. We decided that we could not leave without trying one of the many interesting-sounding desserts. And because my friend was in the mood for port, I also ordered a glass. The port really hit the spot for both of us and was the last highlight of the evening, but unfortunately the desserts were little letdowns, and I emphasize little. My friend ordered the bitter chocolate trifle, a small-portioned dessert that tasted and appeared more like pudding, served with malted Devonshire cream and English toffee. It was missing everything that would have made it a trifle as WSJ magazine also points out. I ordered the treacle pecan tartlet, which consisted of tiny little slices of tart, served with tamarind caramel and ale ice cream, which I found unusual but nice. These desserts, drastically lacking in size, reminded me of that Citi commercial where a guy and girl are in a restaurant, and after receiving their food, the guy says “it’s like elf food.”

I think that my only caveats with the restaurant would be the small portion sizes of many of the dishes and the absence of side dishes included with the entrées. I think that it has become a recent trend to separate side dishes from main dishes. I remember that Merkato 55 too ascribes to this trend. But otherwise the experience at Double Crown was top notch. Their post-colonial British Empire menu encompasses the reaches of the former empire on which the sun never sets. The menu fuses Asian and British flavors very unusually. And the British Empire experience came full circle with the interesting addition of Australian accents on the part of most of the wait staff. So I can truly say that the dining experience was multisensory.

Double Crown

316 Bowery
New York, NY 10012
Open daily for dinner from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. and for brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Appetizers range in price from $9 to $17 and entrées from $19 to $28.

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