Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Crown, Burchett's Green

Whatever your thoughts on Uber's corporate policies, the fact is their expansion out West has turned a day trip out to Berkshire to sample one of their surprising number of very nice gastropubs from a rare treat to a far more attractive and affordable proposition. Where once the last leg of the journey involved being ripped off by official cabs whose minimum charge for any trip, no matter how insignificant, appeared to be £15, the hop from Maidenhead station to Burchett's Green is now £7. Bargain.

Which means I and a friend arrived at the 18th century village pub The Crown with extra money in our pockets for a nice cocktail, one unfortunately I've forgotten the name of but which involved fizz and bitters. Like everything at the Crown, it's heavily French-accented; the building - and service - may be as charmingly English as tea and crumpets but chef Simon Bonwick's style is very much traditional gallic haute cuisine in a way you sadly see very often these days.

The closest thing I have to compare it to in recent years, in fact, is a meal at Little Barwick House in Somerset, which also served to remind us how much we have to thank the French for so many of our culinary achievements. Whether we like to admit it or not...

In the bar before lunch alongside our cocktails we got to nibble on these cute little canap├ęs, containing hummus, olive and almonds. On a doily, because you really don't see enough doilies in modern restaurants. I should also take a moment here to mention our table at the Crown, in a cute low-ceilinged space overlooking the main room which is one of the more quaint and cosy spaces I've ever had my lunch, and I highly recommend you asking for the same if you ever make a booking.

First of a four-course "surprise" menu offered by the restaurant (and which we weren't likely to say no to) was this frankly vast pile of fresh crab meat, offered with the advisory "just watch out for shell, dad's eyesight isn't what it was" which just made me love the whole thing even more. They needn't have worried, anyway - there was no shell, and even if the reality of ploughing through so much white meat was more attractive during the first few mouthfuls than the last, you at least can't fault their generosity.

Fish course was monkfish, dressed simply in a herby tomato dressing and topped with silky, buttery pulses. This was Mediterranean-French cooking of a kind I'd not seen in a little while, and it was nice to be reminded how nice monkfish works in this rustic (albeit expertly constructed) style.

Main course was so French if you listened closely you could hear it sing La Marseillaise. A neat little medallion of what I think they said was veal shoulder, tender and perfectly-seasoned, was draped in a jus so thick, salty and syrupy it probably took three years off my life just looking at it. With that, a vast sweetbread, crisped-up and golden brown and without a hint of the mealy dryness that can affect these things, and some vibrant root vegetables, "turned" into neat little shapes that would have made Escoffier proud. Of course this wasn't a groundbreaking arrangement of ingredients but there are so few restaurants willing - or indeed able - to turn out such unashamedly haute cuisine dishes that you can't help but applaud them.

Oh, and a word on the potatoes, bubbled up and brittle outside and silky smooth inside - there's probably a very fancy French term for them but I don't know what it is, so "world's best roasties" will have to do.

You also have to admire anyone going to the effort of making their own canelles, a process I'm reliably informed is about as tortuous and difficult as pastry work gets. This version involved salted caramel, which is a twist on the traditional I fully support.

Desserts came in two forms at once, for sharing. This is "Tulasmeen raspberry bavarois and sorbet", a pleasant arrangement of summer fruit which charmed with old-school silver-service vibe even if the overall effect was somewhat less than stunning. Lovely sorbet, though.

Similarly, "White chocolate and praline cadeau" wasn't quite the gift that kept on giving - it was rather an overwhelming amount of sweet, creamy white chocolate and not much else - but perhaps by this point it was possibly rather more the fact we were quite full than anything particularly wrong with white chocolate and praline that meant we didn't quite finish it.

The bill, with 2 wine tastings, a coffee and two very nice Armagnac to finish came to £147 - an incredibly reasonable amount of money to pay for what had been an enjoyable and technically proficient dinner, and all served with an easy, family-run charm (some of the Bonwick clan trained in some serious multi-Michelin-starred restaurants in France but have since returned to the nest). We toddled home (again, thank you Uber) very happy indeed, which really tells you all you need to know.

No, food like this isn't very trendy or fashionable - when was the last time you saw veal on a menu, never mind turned vegetables - but who cares? Far better for Simon Bonwick to cook the food he likes to eat than pander to any ridiculous fads and start littering his menu with nasturtium oil and sea buckthorne just for the sake of it. This was a lovely lunch, a reminder that the French culinary traditions are still right about things far more than they're wrong, and The Crown at Burchett's Green comes highly recommended. Vive la France.


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