A Jewel in The Crown at Burchetts Green.
At the weekends I am often to be found in south Oxfordshire, supposedly relaxing and cooking wholesome food from scratch, hoping to justify my ever-expanding collection of cookbooks. My inner restaurant addict is having none of that.
But this isn’t London and there aren’t twenty reasonable possibles within twenty minutes walk.
Try Opentable here and these are some options:
The Fox Country Inn at High Wycombe, where the mains include breaded scampi and chicken breast risotto. Yes, it might be lovely, but you and I both know what those menu items mean.
The Crazy Bear at Stadhampton, where I once had a truly terrible meal from a menu that reminded me of 1985 and had far too many items on it. That was about eight years ago. I hope it’s improved but I’m not prepared to risk it to find out.
The Thatch, in Thame, which is probably worth a visit, but the last time I went the service was so slow we left before ordering.
The Angel at Long Crendon, which I am told is worth a visit but again the menu isn’t really speaking to me. Yes, I am the queen of the snap judgement.
And you can’t trust the stars on Opentable, when Zizzi’s in Henley gets 4 out of 5 stars. Yup, I’m a food snob and I own it. And when I say snob, I am not a fine dining fascist; my desert island dish is chips peas and gravy from the chippy next to Salford Royal, partly for the memory, of course but mainly because it tastes so bloody marvellous.
All I ask is for cooking to be authentic, for decent ingredients to be used and for the restaurant not to be something it isn’t. We’ve all been there with the flowery menu descriptions, the cod-French, and the italicised menu with swirls, serving pre-prepared food supplied by the big catering companies and simply heated-up. It’s particularly prevalent out of London, this desire to deceive and when you come across the authentic in a sea of mediocrity, it’s to be welcomed, nay shouted about.
One glance at the website tells you that this isn’t your usual pimped-up pub or chain fodder. The blurb is, I assume, written by the owner/chef, Simon Bonwick, about whom there is little to be found in the website. All I can find is a photo of him in his kitchen surrounded by copper pans, a slightly startled expression on his face, like a better looking Ken Dodd, “Whatever makes me laugh and whatever makes me happy is what you’ll find on the menu” he says. Clearly, cooking a mixture of French bourgeois/British cuisine is what puts a smile on his face.
I’ve eaten at The Crown twice now and both times I have been struck by the generosity of the cooking. Yesterday was the Spring set menu at an absurdly well-priced £32, for four courses.
But first there is homemade bread, two buns and three small baguettes for the two of us. I like how they roll, no pun intended. I make the mistake of eating two baguettes as, well, there is no excuse but they were there and the butter was good and next time I will ask them to take the bread away, because it took up valuable space where I wanted the roasted potatoes to be. And I should have declined the (clearly) home-made Palmiers, with two types of homemade accompaniment, a pesto and a Provençal tomato dip. But I didn’t.
I ask about the Croustade of Spring Cabbage. Oh, said Dean (of whom more later ), it comes with an egg and morels. No mention of the marvellous morels on the menu, when to me that’s the main event. And wonderful they are too, three fat moist morels, dotted around a flaky pastry case, filled with softened spring cabbage, topped by a hen’s egg, the whole lot drenched in a rich cream-wine sauce, with chopped chives and crisp onion pieces scattered over the top. So rich it would make a wonderful midweek supper on its own.
Fortunately, the next course is rather lighter although the portion size means that I am technically full by the time I clear the plate. Technically full: the point at which a normal person stops eating. And I did clear the plate, because the Cromer Crab, Apple and Cashews was an exercise in simple yet sophisticated that only a competent chef can pull off well. Perfect white flaky crab, really fresh, topped with almost raw tomatoes, with batons of fresh apple on top, in a slick of toasted sesame oil, dotted with cashews and black onion seeds(kalonji). I’d never think of putting a thug like toasted sesame oil with the crab but I’m wrong. It worked.
I do not quite manage to finish my enormous chunk of Hope Cove Cod, almost pellucid and flaky, sat on a soft onion bhaji, surrounded by creamy mash. That’s because I am drawn to the copper pot full of what might very well be the best roast potatoes I’ve eaten in living memory. They were a side dish to C’s steamed beef, not on the set menu, but offered as a special order, (£6 supplement) when I mention his penchant for beef on a Sunday, whilst booking. And there was a plateful of steamed and buttered veg, enough for four.
It was at this point that I nearly caved, but there was a Praline and White Chocolate dessert included in the menu and it would have been rude not to and I do so hate waste. I managed to eat the white chocolate casing from the two portions, though I did leave half the interior tiramisu-like filling and some of the chocolate ice-cream because by this point I was Christmas-lunch full and had to go home and lie down for the rest of the day and watch the whole of series one of Line of Duty.
Summing up: The Crown is a proper old-fashioned pub-restaurant with a chef proprietor who runs the kitchen single-handedly and who is clearly passionate about what he puts on the table. It’s a pub with character and charm and quirky decor. I love it that website refers to the “smart, casual and informative service directed by Dean (eldest son)” and talks about Dean’s training at The Waterside Inn, Le Pres de Eugenie and the Hand and Flowers, without mentioning the chef’s own rather stellar training, under the legendary (late) Bernard Loiseau in Saulieu and at The Waterside Inn, just up the road in Bray.
My only slight cavil is that the service could be more relaxed and I prefer not to be asked whether I’m enjoying something as I’m eating it, but that’s a little bit of trying too hard, which is better than not trying hard enough. And this is a restaurant which tries hard to please, is run by someone who cares and who clearly has a sense of humour. And they got a Bib Gourmand last year, so they are starting to be recognised. Definitely worth a detour if you’re in the area, it’s now on my (very short) list of weekend regulars. Use it or lose it.
N.B In the interests of full disclosure, the restaurant knew I was coming and we have had “conversations” on Twitter but I have no idea if they know I write about food and I didn’t say or suggest that I was going to write this up and I paid for my own meal, as always.
Burchetts Green, Maidenhead, Berkshire
Lunch Sundays from 12:30
Dinner Tuesday to Saturday 6:30pm onwards