The Compleat Angler (named after the book by Isaak Walton) is a hotel nestling near a bridge over the Thames in a pretty setting near Marlow. There are actually two restaurants in the hotel, with Aubergine being the more ambitious of the two. It is actually a sister restaurant to Zafferano in London. The chef is Miles Nixon, who cooked for several years at the London restaurant Aubergine. Three courses cost £50, and there was a five course tasting menu at £55.
The dining room has a river view, with wooden beams and a low ceiling, and carpeting rather than a wooden floor so is relatively peaceful. There was muzak playing, and on this evening at least this included some curious choices including “big band” music, which may have appealed to some of the clientele (it is not often that I am one of the younger diners in a restaurant). The ten page wine list had plenty of French and Italian choices, but also ventures further afield. London Fine Dining Group is not noted for its generosity with mark-ups, and this shows in the list here. Examples include Jermann Dreams 2001 at £79 for a wine that costs around £39, the enjoyable Bastianich Vespa Biancho 2007 at £65 for a wine that costs £20 in the shops, Cloudy Bay Te Koko 2005 at £65 for a wine that costs £19 to buy. At the upper end of the list mark-ups seemed inconsistent, with Chateau Montrose at a hefty £210 for a wine you can pick up for £54, up to a less aggressively marked up Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1978 at £750 for a wine that costs around £515 retail.
The bread was made from scratch daily and is a choice of rolls: white, brown, olive, rosemary and sesame seed. The texture of the bread was good, but the olive bread barely tasted of olives, and although the rosemary bread tasted of the herb it was supposed to, the version here still had rather muted flavour. Still, they make their own bread, which is worth a lot (15/20).
Amuse bouche of gazpacho was topped with horseradish cream and basil foam. The gazpacho was served at room temperature rather than being chilled, and the tomatoes used had the rather ordinary taste of tomatoes that one can easily obtain in England rather than the ones that actually taste of tomatoes that can be bought in the Mediterranean. It was pleasant enough, though I found the horseradish and basil flavours, though flavours I enjoy, one too many for me in combination with the gazpacho. Finally, I would dial the seasoning up a notch on the gazpacho itself (14/20).
My starter of a trio of Lynne bay diver-caught scallops with pea puree and pea shoots was very attractively presented. The pea puree is seasonal and had pure taste and the scallops were of high quality. They were cooked for a fraction longer that my idea of perfection, but I like my scallops a little under-done, so this is a personal preference rather than a criticism (16/20). This was more successful than a salad of Cornish crab with aubergine caviar and mango. The crab was fine, the aubergine flavoured with a little curry powder, which added a pleasant spiciness to the dish, with the mango providing some acidity. This was a perfectly pleasant dish, but I just found that the aubergine flavour rather drowned out the crab (14/20).
My main course of corn-fed chicken breast was carefully cooked, served on a bed of excellent mash, garnished with properly podded and nicely cooked broad beans and late season fresh morels. This was a very well made dish, the chicken cooked properly, the dish elements coherent, the seasoning spot on (16/20 is perhaps a little harsh). Halibut was poached and served with seasonal asparagus, dill potatoes and champagne foam. The fish was nicely timed and the accompanying elements worked well (15/20).
A pre-dessert of a glass of Eton mess had very good strawberry flavour and nice meringue (comfortably 15/20). For dessert, plum tart was made in the style of a tarte tatin, the pastry good while the plums were quite tart, though enjoyable (15/20). Poached pear was carefully cooked and served with an enjoyable parfait of ginger and rhubarb (15/20). Petit fours were a pair of mini lemon tarts (which needed more lemon) and chocolates with passion fruit, which needed more passion fruit flavour (13/20). Coffee had good flavour (15/20).
Service was quite good though not without little flaws: there was a bit of a gap in getting the menu at the start, and some difficulty in getting attention at times. However these are minor quibbles, and the topping up of wine and general level of attention was good. The bill came to £103 a head with a quite nice bottle of wine and a glass of dessert wine. Overall this was a most enjoyable meal. The best dishes were very good indeed, ingredients were of quite high quality and the menu was attractive.