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ORANGE COUNTY CALENDAR: ARTS, ENTERTAINMENT, LEISURE
| Sunday Brunch

A Place to Celebrate, Royally

Tudor Charm Graces Five Crowns, a Restaurant for Festive Occasions

February 20, 2000|KAREN NEWELL YOUNG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Five Crowns restaurant in Corona del Mar doesn't just have a menu brimming with British entrees. It has a proper English pedigree as well.

In the 1930s, an Englishwoman named Matilda "Tillie" MacCulloch traveled from her frigid homeland to California in search of sunshine. Although she loved Corona del Mar, she lamented its lack of decent British architecture and decided to do something about it.

She found an ancient inn southwest of London and hired a builder to replicate the structure here. The result was a Tudor building that she named Hurley Bell, after Ye Olde Bell at Hurley-on-Thames.

Orange County historian Jim Sleeper said the building began as MacCulloch's residence, then under new management became Tail O' the Cock, then reverted back to Hurley Bell. In 1965, the Hurley Bell became Five Crowns and has been a successful restaurant ever since.

Five Crowns is a place to celebrate special occasions. The interior has all the charm of a cottage in the Cotswolds, filled with English antiques reportedly from the Hurley Bell days. When it's cold, the large room with the roaring fire is the place to be. On sunny days, head for the greenhouse room that overlooks an English garden and a neighborhood of whimsical birdhouses. This is a festive spot, especially around the Christmas holiday when carolers are on duty. The rest of the year you'll be hearing "Happy Birthday to You" a lot.

Five Crowns' brunch includes an unlimited supply of champagne--on our visit, J. Roget--and a choice of five first courses and a dozen main dishes. Two specials, a seafood lasagna and a crustless quiche on a recent trip, are offered each week.

A generous assortment of warm, freshly baked blueberry walnut muffins, currant scones, croissants and brioche come to the table with homemade lemon curd, orange-lime marmalade and butter.

Why can't every breadbasket be this good?

Unless you can't pass up strawberries and cream, a good choice for a first course is the wild mushroom bisque, a hearty cream soup with lots of mushrooms. The tortilla lime soup is full of vegetables and tortillas, but is salty. The simple Romaine salad comes cloaked in a delicious Stilton dressing on a wedge of lettuce.

My favorite starter is the harvest salad, a complex mix of baby greens, toasted pumpkin seeds and a creamy balsamic vinaigrette. This dish might have been perfect had the chef not been quite so stingy with the Gorgonzola.

Of the main courses, we liked the roast beef hash, the smoked salmon, the eggs Benedict and the prime rib. The crunchy beef and potato hash is topped with poached eggs, and the prime rib comes with a tasty Yorkshire pudding, which is a crusty version of puff pastry. The latter is served in the traditional style with creamed spinach and horseradish sauce.

The crustless quiche is a chunky cheese custard with ham, broccoli and onion served with a roasted red pepper and garlic puree. Other dishes include a sauteed chicken breast served on mango chutney with a sour cream mustard sauce; a smoked salmon eggs Benedict with a Lilliputian portion of salmon roe; a grilled chicken caesar salad that stands above the crowd by virtue of its genuine anchovy dressing; and crepes Veronique--chicken in wine sauce with mushrooms and grapes between soft thin pancakes.

We had two complaints with the half-dozen entrees we tried, both of which can be easily remedied by the commander in the kitchen. The chef has a heavy hand with the salt shaker, and the vegetables don't always arrive at the table hot. The roast beef hash, the quiche and the soup were over-salted. The creamed spinach was tepid and while the other side vegetables were properly cooked and delicious, they came to the table cold.

Save room for dessert: The cheesecake, creme brulee and chocolate tart are worth the calories. Or bow to Five Crowns' heritage and order the English trifle and a pot of tea.

Five Crowns, 3801 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar, (949) 760-0331. Sunday brunch hours: 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Brunch ranges from $13.95 to $20.95.

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