The Crown at Burchetts Green near Maidenhead operates with a solitary chef working in the kitchen. No sous-chef, chef de partie, commis or even a kitchen porter here, just Simon Bonwick. The kitchen is old school: some modern kitchens look more like laboratories these days with their water baths and centrifuges, but here we have a fridge, a stove and a collection of pans. Mr Bonwick doesn’t make things easy for himself. The week starts with an empty fridge, and he cooks classic French cuisine the old fashioned way, with stocks slowly reduced in pans. The dining room seats around twenty guests, the service done by Simon’s son Dean, one of a large family and who worked for a time at the Waterside Inn. Simon Bonwick started cooking at the age fo 14 and worked over his lengthy career at restaurants including the Connaught before switching to pubs such as The Three Tuns at Henley. In 2013 he opened the Crown, which gained a Michelin star in 2017 that it has retained ever since.
The tasting menu today started with a trio of tartlet nibbles. Langoustine tartare was excellent, as was foie gras pate with white truffle from Alba. I was just as impressed with tartlet of chickpea with almonds and confit lemon. It is one thing to take luxury ingredients and allow them to shine, but it takes talent to turn the humble chickpea into something as delicious as this (16/20).
The meal continued with a pair of snacks. Mixed grains were wrapped in tomato with harissa with cumin, coriander and marigold. This tasted quite fresh, with nicely controlled spices, but even better was falafel made from broad beans and carrots and fried with an avocado base, served with a pomegranate dressing and olive and caramel balsamic vinegar. Falafel can so easily be dry but this was not at all, having plenty of flavour, the dressing nicely enlivening the dish (16/20).
Eel from Norfolk was lightly smoked and served with liquor of the eel with parsley, along with a pastry crisp and a rich blob of mashed potato in the buttery Joel Robuchon style. The eel had excellent flavour and the mash went well with it, not too buttery, the parsley adding its distinctive flavour (15/20). Pastilla with spinach, cheese and chickpeas had delicate pastry and a nicely balanced filling (16/20). This was followed by Cromer crab with apple and tomato with citrus and nut dressing with sesame seeds and cashews. The crab was free of shell and was refreshing, the apple bringing some acidity to balance the slight sweetness of the crab (15/20).
The main course was a quail that had been deboned and stuffed with foie gras and sweetbreads, served with potato topped with shavings of white truffle from Alba. On the side was a choucroute involving cabbage, carrots and celeriac, as well as a quail reduction with lemon and thyme. This was a gorgeous dish, rich and deeply flavoured. The choucroute was a clever match, as the pickling juices cut through the richness of the quail (easily 17/20).
This was followed by a trio of desserts. Apricot jam rice pudding came with vanilla ice cream and was very good. This was followed by a classic canelé with sticky toffee sauce and pear sorbet The canelé itself had excellent texture and the sorbet was particularly well made (16/20). The final dessert was coconut and mango rum baba with mango sauce and rum infused with coconut, as well as rum poured over at the last moment. Rum baba is tricky to make as it can very easily dry out. Here it was gorgeous, having lovely texture, the rum lifting it and the mango and coconut providing balancing acidity and freshness. I have had some fine rum baba over the years and this was top drawer (19/20). Finally there was coffee using the exclusive Kilaminjaro blend from Nespresso (which is served in some three Michelin star restaurants). This came with a delicate pistachio macaron and a truffle made with beef dripping instead of butter then coated with hazelnut.
The price for this superb tasting menu was an almost embarrassingly cheap £42 per person before tip. The Crown at Burchetts Green is the essence of hospitality and generosity. It feels like you are eating at a friend’s house, but a friend who can magically rustle up superb food from their kitchen. It is surely one of the most enjoyable places to dine at the moment in the whole country.