It seems as if chef/owner Simon Bonwick has finally managed to get someone to help him in this previously single-handed kitchen. Here you will not find a water-bath or modern culinary gadgetry, just old-fashioned cooking on a stove. The dining room has plain wooden tables and a hard floor, but noise levels were fine, even when packed as it was tonight.
The regular wine list has around ten wines from £18.50 to £28, with labels such as Konrad Closheim Riesling 2011 at £25 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £13. What is more intriguing is a changing blackboard list of classier wines, which have a suggested price but which you are encouraged to haggle for. Here could be found Drouhin Mersault 2011 at a suggested £100 for a bottle that retails at £37. It is well worth haggling by the way – this is not just a marketing gimmick, and the price is flexible.
The bread rolls are made from scratch each day in the kitchen and had good texture (14/20). Smoked eel (£6) from the river Dart was served with a little crisp that had cured sausage embedded within it, along with horseradish and some beans. The combination of the sausage and the eel worked well, the horseradish giving a pleasing kick (13/20). Smoked salmon (£9) is a tricky thing to score but this one, from the Surrey Street Smokehouse, was certainly very good, served with a few onions and capers.
Things moved up a gear at the main course stage. Highland beef fillet (£20) cooked “a la ficelle” (poached on a string over a pot of stock) came with a mushroom and tarragon sauce using the cooking juices, as well as a few mushrooms. There were also excellent, crisp chips, cooked in a mix of half butter and half sunflower oil; usually it needs a triple cooking technique to get chips this crisp yet still cooked properly on the inside, but these were in fact double cooked (14/20 – more for the chips). The star dish of the night was monkfish (£18) with a topping of chickpeas and tomatoes. The fish was carefully timed and the topping worked really well, the flavour of the fish excellent (15/20). On the side were carefully cooked runner beans that had lovely flavour (15/20 is probably too mean a score for these).
Cheesecake with passion fruit (£6) was enjoyable, not as delicate as the version that Philip Howard prepares at The Square, somewhat denser in texture, but very pleasant (13/20). Cheese (£6) was from La Fromagerie and was in very good condition. Coffee was just £1, and that came with some chocolate truffles.
The bill came to £71 a head, but this was with some serious wine from the “Haggle” list. If you shared a bottle of wine from the regular list then a typical bill per head might be around £50. The restaurant was completely full tonight, and I was pleased to see that Michelin recognised it with a well-deserved bib gourmand in 2014. This is simple, old-fashioned cooking, but with skill and care. If you are ever in the Maidenhead area I would encourage you to try it.