If you happen to be heading North or South on the dreaded stretch of the 405 through Irvine cursing the California traffic and wondering why you are there instead of say, the English countryside, where the pace of life is slower and people are road rage-free, perhaps I can recommend a detour. Head west on MacArthur Blvd and the freeway gives way to a busy four-lane road. Continue on and the deep blue of the Pacific will soon emerge on the horizon. When the boulevard dead ends into Pacific Coast Highway take the left fork in the road. Not quite a mile later, as if from some dream of misty moors, an English Inn will appear- Five Crowns- and with it so evaporates the Southern California freeway angst.
You have a choice of doors when entering Five Crowns: the front or the side. If you can remember the days of the three-martini lunch, then you just might have been through these doors before at some point since the restaurant opened in 1965. If you were of legal drinking age in the sixties I would suggest the front door where a lovely hostess will escort you to a comfortable white table clothed dining room where many of those now retro original dishes- like the famous prime rib- are available along with a more modern and seasonal menu. But if you are too young to remember what you were doing in 1965 or simply young at heart, I would recommend the second choice, the side door.
A restaurant within a restaurant, Side Door, is a separate entity within the walls of Five Crowns. Picking up on the trends in England and at home, the owners got together and in January of 2010 launched an English style gastro pub within their fine dining historic inn. In the past few months Executive Chef Ryan O’Melveny Wilson, a fourth generation member of the original Five Crown family, has been perfecting the rotating offerings of charcuterie and cheese as well as seasonal small plates designed for sharing.
One recent evening the daily changing menu produced a lovely selection of cheeses from around the world including a limited edition Mimolette, the color of an egg yolk, shaved paper thin and served with sour-sweet pickled figs. Early season squash blossoms came lightly battered and fried, stuffed with sweet corn and molten cheese that erupted with each bite. Lamb sliders with harissa and curry seasoning were rich and succulent, a wrap of caul fat kept the tasty meat patties moist and tender.
Side Door would not be a proper English gastro pub if you couldn’t wash down all this excess with a good pint of beer. Like the food menu, the tap handles change often. Allagash White from Maine, Delirium Nocturnum from Belgium, and Lost Abbey Lost and Found from California all recently scored a spot on draught. Wine lovers are better off with the bottle selection as the Sonoma Cutrer and Rombauer Chardonnay by the glass are playing to the local Orange County scene more than the detouring driver. But a solid cocktail selection with classics and new creations gives more than enough options for all kinds of drinkers.
The successfully modern menu of Side Door is no mirage, even if it comes wrapped up in an out-of-place English building steeped in Southern California history. For those who find themselves on a freeway somewhere between LA an San Diego, Side Door is worth a side trip. Your road rage will thank you.
Side Door, 3801 East Coast Highway, Corona del Mar, California, 92625 (949) 717-4322