Eating in Berkshire

Friday, April 15th , 2011

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The Artichoke is technically on the tube network, though Amersham is not exactly central London.  The small premises (about to get larger) in historic old Amersham are the showcase for the cooking of Laurie Gear, whose wife runs the front of house.   I enjoyed the food here, though there was a tendency towards complexity and I didn’t like one dessert much, but there were some very good dishes too. I enjoyed a warm salad of quail and I thought that the rhubarb and ginger pre-dessert was excellent.   It is easy to see why this is such a popular place.

Stoke Place is a boutique hotel in landscaped grounds in Stoke Poges (near Slough, but they probably don’t emphasise that in their marketing).  Its restaurant has a nice view over the gardens, and is determinedly modern in character.  Some of the flavour combinations worked distinctly better than others, and the meal was a little erratic, with a very good beef dish (pictured) but also a flawed lobster and pasta dish, though the overall standard was still pretty good.  This is somewhere to consider if you are in the area and in the mood for some adventurous dining.

On my second visit to Dinner I was able to try some favourites from the first time, and also some dishes that had eluded me on the first visit.   The Iberico pork chop was a real success with superb flavour, but I was less sure about the hay-smoked mackerel and the braised celery, which were decent but not of the calibre of the meat fruit or the saffron risotto.  Still, the desserts were lovely and service was excellent.

Chutney Mary delivered a disappointing meal this week, particularly in comparison to a very good meal at the same restaurant less than a year ago. A monkfish dish was inedible, while several other dishes were flawed.  I had assumed there must have been a chef change, but apparently not.   Given the high prices here this sort of variation of standard is not on, and I have adjusted the web site score accordingly.

Tarantella is a little local (to me) family-run Italian place that I like, partly because of the extremely welcoming staff and the friendly atmosphere.   It is somewhere I can sit and enjoy a capable pizza without having to think too hard on a Friday night, all at a very fair price.

In other news, Grant Achatz of Alinea finally opened his much delayed next restaurant venture, called, er “Next” last week.  There will be a no-choice menu, changing quarterly, starting with a menu called “Paris 1906 - Escoffier at the Ritz”, all sounding very classical in nature rather than the molecular gastronomy of Alinea.  What is intriguing commercially is that there are no reservations, only “tickets”, so if you don’t show up then tough (and no vegetarian alternative either, at least on this menu).  This is certainly a radical notion, and will be watched closely by other restaurant owners: this completely eliminates the very genuine issue of no-shows, but of course you have to have a powerful brand to contemplate such an approach.   Since 19,000 people pre-registered for tickets before the place opened (thanks Amanda for confirming the numbers), and given that scalpers are already selling the USD 85 tickets for up to USD 500 a head on the black market, the early signs are that it has not exactly put off the punters (hat tip to NG for letting me know about this).

One curiosity is that choice of name for the menu: 1906 was when the Ritz in London opened, and at that time Escoffier was mainly cooking at the Carlton hotel in London, as well as acting as a consultant to a German shipping line.  He was not in Paris at that time (though he did help recruit chefs for the kitchens there in 1896).  Escoffier attended the opening of the Ritz in London and was a consultant for the opening, but was never a chef at the London Ritz.  The first chef at the London Ritz was Monsieur Malley, who ironically came directly from the Paris Ritz after working at Grand Vefour (thanks to Amber at the Ritz for the confirmation of this background).  Hence I wonder whether Next’s menu should really read: “London 1906 - Escoffier at the Carlton”. Obsessive – moi?