The Crown is a very unusual restaurant. Its owner and head chef Simon Bonwick is a rarity, a chef that chooses to work single-handedly in his kitchen. To make things even harder for himself, he starts each week with an empty fridge and chooses to cook labour-intensive classic French dishes, with lovingly reduced stocks and dishes that are made entirely from scratch. To give you some idea of the work involved, the sauce with the beef dish today took three days to make.
My latest meal here began with a plate of canapés. Chickpea mousse tartlet is a regular on the menu here, the pastry delicate and the chickpeas having smooth texture. Duck liver pate was enhanced with hazelnuts and had good flavour. A beetroot tartlet was filled with crayfish and salmon, the seafood contrasting nicely with the beetroot (15/20).
The first course was halibut with a single large prawn on a bed of Puy lentils, along with celeriac puree. The halibut was lightly cooked and the prawn, from Brittany, had lovely sweet flavour, precisely cooked. This contrasted well with the earthiness of the celeriac, and came with chervil root sauce. However for me the star element of the dish was the bed of Puy lentils, which were slow-cooked with no salt added, and had a deep, nutty flavour and lovely texture. It is one thing for a chef to cook a luxury ingredient like langoustine or turbot and make it taste nice, but it takes real talent to produce something special from the humble lentil (17/20)
A cylinder shaped pile of crab rested in passion fruit sauce and was topped with batons of apple, served with caramelised cashew nuts prepared with honey and salt. The crab, from Cromer, was very good, though the sweetness of the passion fruit seemed a slightly unobvious pairing, but the acidity of the apple worked well with the shellfish. The cashew nuts were an inspired touch, adding an extra texture and being delicious in themselves (15/20).
Fillet of Scottish beef from Henderson farm had been aged 42 days and was steamed over a pot of stock,the beef suspended on string above the pot. This was served with a clear beef stock along with spinach and root vegetables, as well as both fondant potatoes and Robuchon-style buttery mash. The key to the dish, though, was the sauce Albert, which is made by taking a clear beef bouillon thickened with cream and egg yolks and enlivened by mustard and grated horseradish. The kick of the horseradish was exactly what was needed to cut through the richness of the beef and its stock, and raised the dish to a higher level (17/20).
St Marcellin cheese was baked briefly in the oven and served with flapjack. This was a lovely, rich dish that my dining companion described as “the best thing ever served on a doily”. Mango tartlet arrived with coconut and lime, raspberry sorbet and a paste of white chocolate and vanilla. This was refreshing and enjoyable pre-dessert (16/20). The main dessert was a stunner. Baba is a tough thing to get right, because the bread base can easily dry out. Here the baba was delightfully moist, topped with forced rhubarb cream and coconut rum, with classic custard on the side. This was a joy, the texture of the baba superb, the combination of flavours lovely (18/20). To finish, coffee was the up-market Kilaminjaro blend from Nespresso, accompanied by excellent pistachio macarons. The bill for all this was £40 per person, which was almost embarrassingly cheap. Service from the chef’s son Dean was as attentive and friendly as ever.
The depth of flavours and the understanding of the balance of dishes here show a chef at the height of his powers. This is food for eating rather than made to look pretty on Instagram, and long may it continue. The Crown at Burchett’s Green is a delight, the cooking of a high standard, the value for money amazing, and all from a chef working single-handedly in the kitchen. It is the very essence of hospitality, something that every restaurant should aspire to but so rarely delivers in real life.