The Crown Inn Restaurant – Amersham – Buckinghamshire

This restaurant has recently undergone a few changes, a main of these being the introduction of new head chef “Stephen Conway”.  Stephen comes from the restaurant held at “Stapleford Park Hotel/Spa” which holds a 2 AA Rosette.

The restaurant is situated in Old Amersham, and is not alone when it comes to fine dining establishments with various pub eateries, Pizza/american style restaurants and the well known “Artichoke” restaurant being only steps away across the road.  The Crown is pushing towards a fine dining experience, with a relaxed service and non pretentious food.  They want the ingredients to speak for themselves without the need for oddly shaped plates, and unneeded pretentious micro salad leaves dotted around the plate etc.

The cuisene type I would say is Modern English with a French influence, but steering away from the Gastro-type food which seems increasingly popular these days.  Anyway enough about the type of place and onto the visit.

Having driven into Amersham, arriving in the Evening the place is very oldy-worldy, with the little boutique stores and historical buildings scattered around.  The restaurant it self is held in a very very old building and is styled in the traditional Tudor style with the white walls with the large black timbers placed.  Walking in we were greeted by the manager and considering I was staying the night was shown to the room etc.

Moving onto the main event I was seated on a small table, in the corner of the restaurant.  The restaurant is very minimalist with bare wooden tables, with a small flower arrangements and large tall candles.  The lighting is very dark which adds to the atmosphere of the dining room, this would be a good place for a romantic meal, however the tables are placed quite close together.

The whole dining experience is trying to be a slightly stepped back fine dining approach, with the waiter placing a bottle of unopened bottle of water on our table, for myself to open and pour, which I do not mind, however opening the bottle could have been a nice touch.  The waiters were dressed in casual natural colours and are very young, which make them very approachable.  I think the staff here are still in the learning experience of the new chef and menu, as they seemed slightly not at ease with the serving etc.  Seeing however that the restaurant was only relaunched 2 weeks ago with the new chef, this is to be expected and time expected to be given to learn/experience the new chef dishes etc.

Looking through the menu, everything was as expected with items worded very simply and stating the main star of the dish followed by the accompaniment.  A few items also noted the local roots of the ingredients included beef from the local area.  Browsing through the starters I was leaning toward the beetroot salad, however noticing the large blackboard over in the corner of the dining room I immediately had chosen my starter selection.  Moving onto the mains I selected the pork cheeks, but I had noticed that this item did not mention any form of carb/starch which would be served with the meal.  When the waiter came to take the order I enquired about the lack of side with the dish, which he responded that the items are served exactly as worded and nothing else would be on the plate.  He suggested ordering a side which was listed, of which I chose the “buttered anya potatoes”.

Bread was then served cold and consited of, homemade white, with a wholemeal soda bread also.  This was presented with different cuts of the bread with triangles of butter placed atop.  The white roll was very good and airy to eat with the crust being extremely chewy, it had a strong salt flavour which is normally lacking in a plain white bread.  The brown soda bread was extremely dense but had a good crunchy crust and was my preference over the white selection.  It would have been more pleasant for this bread to be served slightly warm, however I believe this suits the whole rustic dining experience that the restaurant is aiming for well, being non-fussy food.

Starter : Smoked Duck & Celeriac Remoulade

When the dish was served, I was very pleased they kept to the style they were hoping for with no small micro leaves etc dotted around the place.  The presentation was exactly how described on the menu with thin slices of smoked ducked turned back on themselves, and rotated around some salad.  The duck was very rich with a good strong smoked flavour, it was tender to the cut and when paired with the peppery salad it worked very well.  Looking at the remoulade I was at first concerned that this could be too rich, due to there seeming to be an abundance of aioli/mayonnaise however when I first sampled this I was very pleased to find this was extremely light and not at all rich.  When paired with the rich smoked duck the flavours all blended and worked very well, with the celeriac provided a light tang/refreshing taste and earthing the very smoked duck.  I really liked the dish as a whole and found everything paired great, with the salad providing that little bit of pepperiness needed for the remoulade, the duck giving the strong background flavour of every bite.

Main: Cider Braised Pork Cheeks, Caramelized Apples

Now on first inspection with this dish, it was the complete opposite of the starter, with there being many elements I had no clue to what they were.  I was expected exactly what the menu had stated, however what was presented was cheeks placed upon a bed of spinach, and surrounded in a Kidney Bean/Beans/Barley(Or some other starch due to the breakdown of the actual object it was hard to identify) cider sauce.  I enquired with the waiter to what these additional items were on the plate and his reaction was more of surprise and not knowing what these items were, and oddly stated “Exactly what it states on the Menu”.  Anyway ignoring this I was extremely pleased that the waiter had forgot my side order of potatoes, but considering my dish had a huge pile of beans etc, I did not make a fuss.  Onto the food, well the style of the presentation was truly rustic and looked great to the eye, with the stewed apples placed a top the 3 chunks of pork cheek.  The base sauce was filled with all types of beans, barley and chopped bacon and was very good, provided a great sweet taste of cider which was cooked well and provided no sharp alcohol hit showing it had been successfully burnt off.  The pork cheeks were brilliant, and literally when pushing my fork into the meat it just fell apart in to beautifully sweet strands of meat, this was the absolute star of the dish.  The apple on top was very good and soft but had a good bite in the centre of the wedges, which I like as they give you a chance to change the amount of flavour kick each fork full gives.  Overall this dish I really did enjoy it was so rustic and had the taste of such great home cooking but with a fine dining “lift” in terms of flavour, and gladly was not overally salty with the combination of cheek and bacon.

Desert:  Chilled Lemon Tart & Ginger Ice Cream

I had originally selected the Pear and Almond Tart from the menu, but unfortunately they had ran out of this dish and it was replaced by a Lemon Tart.  I did not mind this being a fan of both types.  Again the dish was served extremely plainly with no frills or anything extra on the plate, and gave that rustic feel that was apparent throughout the meal.  The ice cream was good with large bits of Stem Ginger placed through out and when lucky enough to have a large chunk of ginger on my spoon, it provided that great ginger taste hitting the back of your throat.  The tart had great pastry, being very crisp and the base being not at all soft and giving a great crack when tackled with my spoon.  The tart filling had a strong lemon flavour but without having the slightest hint of sour coming through, it was a great flavour that lasted on the tongue and when combined with the slight heat of the ginger worked very well.  I really enjoyed this small tart and was nice to have a full ring of pastry instead of just a slice which is normally served.

The entire meal came to £36.50 including water, food and coffee, which I feel is very good value for the amount of food served, with the main and desert being well portioned.

Overall – 8/10

The food is where this restaurant shines with some true rustic dishes and flavours presented.  Everything was cooked well and I cannot find fault in any aspect of the cooking or food, I will be very interested to see how the chef continues to change/adapt the current menu to his way of doing things and sure things will only improve in terms of great traditional cooking.  The only let down of this establishment seems to be the service, with the front of house staff still needing some additional training, or maybe to sample the current menu, which they might have not had time yet to do.

I will be returning with excitement in a few weeks time im sure, to hopefully find the same great food but with matching service to really make for a fabulous evening and meal.

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