Chef/patron Simon Bonwick took over The Crown, a little pub in the countryside near Maidenhead, in 2012. He had previously been working in private service, but had a classical training with Bernard Loiseau in Saulieu and for a time at the Waterside Inn, amongst other places. He has chosen the arduous path of cooking everything by himself, with not even a kitchen porter to help him. This is particularly demanding given the classical style of French cooking here, with stocks and sauces made from scratch, bread made in the kitchen, and an empty fridge at the start of each week. Despite these self-imposed constraints, the food has continuously developed and improved, and this was recognised with a Michelin star in 2017.
The tasting menu tonight started with some canapes. Little tartlet of hummus, lemon and smoked almond was lovely, as was a tartlet of blue cheese Waldorf salad, the pastry made from scratch in the kitchen and having very good texture (16/20). Even the bread is made from scratch in the kitchen, and very good it is too. Pumpkin soup is a common enough seasonal dish, but here was enhanced with black sesame and crisp onion, which provided an interesting extra texture, the sharpness of the onion balancing the inherent sweetness of the pumpkin (16/20). “Memories of Cairo” is a pretty dish with broad bean falafel with pomegranate seeds and pomegranate caramel, avocado pulses with sumac and a single large and accurately cooked Breton prawn, with a garnish of a delicate Parmesan crisp. The contrast of the shellfish with the falafel worked nicely, the pomegranate seeds providing pleasing freshness (16/20).
Next was a slab of Cornish turbot from a huge fish (over 10kg in weight). With turbot, size matters, the bigger fish having a vastly superior flavour to the 2kg tiddlers that often feature on cost-conscious London menus. The fish was beautifully cooked, served on a bed of spinach and with a deeply flavoured bouillabaisse sauce made using the turbot bones, crab shells, and a touch of saffron. The sauce reminded me of a similar creation made by the legendary Nico Ladenis in years gone by, so intense was it. This was terrific fish cookery, showing off a really top-quality ingredient to its best effect (18/20).
The main course was French quail cooked “en cocotte’, the whole bird boned in the kitchen and stuffed with “Trouseé” foie gras (a high-quality brand) wrapped in a quail sausage parcel flavoured with thyme. The result resembles a huge egg, with the quail skin glistening from a glaze of honey and soy. This was served with some much-needed bitter leaf chicory salad to cut through the richness of the rest of the dish. The flavour of the quail was noticeably better than the Norfolk quail that most UK kitchens use, and the luxurious foie gras element lifted the dish to a high level. This was a gorgeous dish, and all the more impressive for such a complex dish to emerge from a kitchen with a solo chef (18/20).
A cheese course was an almost liquid l’Ami di Chambertin in lovely condition, served with some of the terrific flapjacks that the chef makes. Dessert was lighter, which was no bad thing after the last couple of courses. Mango tartlet came with refreshing mango sorbet, coconut and lime (16/20). Finally, there were petit fours of sticky toffee canelé with rich coffee ice cream.
Service is now led by George Bonwick, one of the nine (!) children of the owner. George has a pleasing ability to anticipate your needs before you have even realised them yourself, and takes the time to get to know his customers well. In these pandemic times he and his assistant behind the bar wear masks, hand sanitiser is provided on entry, and tables are as generously spaced as the large food portions. The bill tonight came to £75 per person, of which £65 was the tasting menu. Given the level of cooking and quality of ingredients used, this is a steal. The Crown epitomises what hospitality should be all about.
Further reviews: 18th May 2021 | 14th Feb 2020 | 26th Jul 2019 | 05th Jul 2019 | 16th Mar 2019 | 08th Mar 2019 | 07th Dec 2018 | 06th Jul 2018 | 29th Mar 2018 | 23rd Sep 2017 | 20th Jan 2017 | 09th Apr 2016 | 05th Sep 2015 | 28th Mar 2015 | 10th May 2014 | 02nd Nov 2010