An Artichoke in Amersham? Unexpected
Everything about this worked. From the moment we walked in, we could see that this was polished and slick. Unfussy and professional service. Mainly French staff. I thought that we had drawn the short straw with the table – we were parked directly opposite the kitchen, where you could see the chef-proprietor and his various underlings beavering away quietly, only partially hidden by an opaque glass screen. My reservations were entirely unfounded and when conversation lagged I could make time disappear by watching the various mousses and foams being created in front of my very eyes. Indeed, it was so quiet that I wondered whether this was a pretend kitchen and that the real shouty, Gordon-esque- steaming pans-clattering restaurant kitchen hell was somewhere off stage left.
Starting with my usual glass of Kir, I foolishly forgot to request extra cassis – no matter, it was perfect. From the very tasteful muted, slightly Skandi decoration (great lighting) to the fact that there was no background music (or at least if there was, I couldn’t hear it), every detail of this restaurant worked for me. The bread was tasty and crisp – there was a sourdough, which I had in abundance and something delicious-smelling with bacon pieces, which I didn’t. The butter is good and salty – call me a northern savage, (and people do) , but I don’t hold with unsalted butter on bread.
I started with a beetroot dish – young beets with Shepton goat cheese, beetroot sorbet, lemon thyme, goats cheese mousse, rye bread and beetroot powder. It sounds fussy and it was, but in a good way. It was pretty on the plate and every flavour was powerful and well judged. I loved it. C had the poached fillet of wild sea bass, Isle of Bute seaweed, lemongrass and cockle tea, the “tea” being served from a cafetiere. Intense flavours, perfect cooking, beautiful presentation – this had the lot.
For the main course, I chose the monkfish, which came with caramelised broccoli and cauliflower and other things I confess to not being able to remember and now I can’t find the dish on the website. That will teach me. My memory is shot but not enough to forget that it was an excellent dish, well balanced and tasty. I spent about five minutes pathetically trying to mop up the light-as-a-feather frothy sauce with my fork. It was that or licking the plate, frankly. I could have asked for a spoon, or indeed more bread, but really, more bread at that point would have been sheer piggery. And the fork had picked up about 99% of the liquid even if it had taken 10 minutes to do it. I had, as usual, already had much more than C, who, unlike me, seems to be able to restrain himself when faced with a plateful of carbs.
He had the saddle of Denham Estate venison, with cavolo nero rose hip and hawthorn berry emulsion *forage alert* celeriac and pickled baby red onions. I snaffled them. it was an interesting and intense combination of flavours, properly cooked, the rosehip and berry emulsion giving a tartness needed by the venison . At least, that’s what he said.
An armagnac and prune souffle followed, with an ice cream accompaniment. For some reason, C didn’t see fit to proffer the obligatory spoonful and I didn’t notice until it was too late, but he described it as outstanding and you’ll have to take his word for it. It won’t happen again, mind you.
Not in major sweet-tooth mode (blame the fact that I had been mainlining banana salted caramels from L’Artisan du Chocolat all week) I chose the cheese – an interesting selection (part French, part English) with a bang-up-to-the-minute Nordic-style sourdough crispbread. I ate it all. Obviously.
I was sated but not stuffed, which is a novelty for me. This isn’t a place for gluttony – it’s a place to eat very interesting creative and thoughtful food – not dissimilar to Roganic in some ways, but so very unexpected in the Chilterns.
You can pretend it’s in London as the tube goes all the way. Then it won’t seem so scary. There are some reasonable hotels in the area too so you could go mad and spend the night. It’s not cheap but it is clever and the set lunch is a bargain.