The Crown, 2 The Square, Aldbourne, 
near Marlborough, SN8 2DU
Tel: 01672 540214 Web:

A picturesque country pub with its own take on all you can eat, MICHELLE TOMPKINS finds you won’t go hungry at The Crown... and you probably won’t have room for dessert

“IT’S a huge plate of food,” said our waiter, furrowing his brow as my partner ordered the Crown’s rack of ribs. “Are you sure you’re up to it?” And with those six words, the challenge was on.

As a competitive man, John does not like his abilities called into question, not least his ability to eat quantities of food seemingly incongruous with his skinny frame. The rack of ribs it was... and he would finish every last one if it killed him.

We had not set out for a full-on feast, just a bite to eat at a pretty-looking pub we’d once spotted en route to somewhere else.

The bar area was packed when we arrived and had that happy, relaxed Friday night feel of people kicking back after a week at work. I asked whether the pub was always so busy and was assured it was — a very good sign.

The restaurant area at the Crown isn’t modern or especially swish but it felt comfortable and welcoming, and the fact that it was almost full was another omen that good things were to come.

Our waiter — he of the challenging questions — also turned out to be the chef (called Mark) and a nicer man you couldn’t hope to meet. Friendly, occasionally cheeky, he successfully walked the line between being pleasant and overbearing, despite being run off his feet, and we warmed to him immediately.

Our starter was a charcuterie board to share (£7.95), which came as a plank holding three types of cured meats, some plump green olives and the best sun-dried tomatoes I’ve ever tasted. There were also two mini baguettes and some olive oil and balsamic to dip it in. It made for a pleasant plate to pick at before the main event — not too filling but enough to stave off the hunger pangs.

It wasn’t long before Mark was back, brandishing an enormous platter and an even bigger grin. “I warned you,” he said, placing half a pig on the table in front of John, who visibly paled.

The rack (£14.95) came smothered in barbecue sauce — imported from America, we were told — and was served with home-cooked chips, coleslaw and a side salad (which seemed a little surplus to requirements, given the calorie count overall).

John began sawing into the meat politely with his knife and fork, but after one bite switched to ripping the ribs apart with his hands — to hell with the mess.

“Nnnw pubblmmm,” he said, pointing happily at the plate, which I took to mean he had every confidence in his ability to finish the lot.

I had gone for what I thought would be a lighter choice in the warm halloumi, beetroot and chorizo salad (£10.95), but there was no danger of me going hungry either.

“It’s a bit of a man’s salad,” Mark had said when I ordered, and he wasn’t kidding.

The huge bowlful of leaves was covered in grilled chunks of salty cheese, with sweet baby beets and tiny flecks of spicy sausage on top to liven things up.

Never before have I had to stop for a rest while eating a salad, but this was the exception... which was just as well, as 10 minutes in and with five ribs still to go, the shovelling had slowed considerably on the other side of the table.

I sat back and watched as the sweats kicked in and the puffing began but, to be fair, there was never any question of John being defeated.

As he pushed the clean plate away, he slumped back, groaning, and said: “That was possibly the best meal I’ve ever eaten in my life.” Which doesn’t say much for my home cooking.

There are half a dozen home-cooked desserts on the menu — the likes of sticky toffee pudding, blackberry and apple pie and Bakewell tart, all £5.95 — and Mark did his best to tempt us.

But quite frankly, just the thought of a bowl of gooey pudding made us feel nauseous and it was never going to happen.

Perhaps we’ll save some room for them next time — once the crash diets are done.