Burchetts Green Road,
Berkshire, SL6 6QZ
Tel. 01628 824 079
Food type: French
Nearest tube: N/A
Website: the Crown at Burchetts Green
It has been a while since I last wrote about the Crown at Burchetts Green. Back then, they were a Bib Gourmand restaurant and a table was pretty easy to come by. In fact, the night we visited, we were the only two people dining at the restaurant the whole night. Since being awarded a Michelin star in the 2017 guide, the fortunes of the restaurants have completely changed. A table for Saturday night dinner requires booking 2 months in advance. Part of it may be down to the fact that they are a small restaurant, and do a maximum of 16 covers. But if anything, this just goes to show the power of the Michelin guide and as much as people try to downplay its relevance, no other guide/ list/ award has the same effect on a restaurant’s fortunes. Chef Simon Bonwick still cooks alone in his own kitchen flanked by his children who lead the front of house.
This would be our 5th meal here since they were promoted to 1* status and as usual, I left it to chef to serve us the food of his choice. The menu prices here have gone up slightly but this is also a reflection of the fact that the restaurant is now serving prime ingredients as opposed to cheaper cuts. Take for example the poisson du jour of Turbot, which is sold for around £35-40. The turbot is cut from a large beast of a fish and you get a generous portion of it. The restaurant also has expanded on their wine list – now with a board featuring ‘haggle’ wines. They have also upgraded their stemware to Zalto and added the Coravin system to their arsenal to offer more wines by the glass.
Today’s meal began with some satay of chicken sot-l’y-laisse. Chef Bonwick tells me this is an old Robuchon recipe circa 1991. There was nothing ancient about the flavours however. I could have easily eaten a hundred of these bad boys washed down with a pint of ale. The marinade here is in the Balinese style of satay i.e. soy and peanuts. The caramelisation is wonderful, and the chicken oysters themselves are naturally juicy and moist. Slightly sweet, sticky and umami from the soy, leading to the gentle crunch of the peanuts. The balance of all the flavours was wonderful as it could have been so easy to have overdone the sweet or salty element here.
We followed with a small thimble of gazpacho topped with crab. Although just a small portion, the but flavour delivered was incredible bringing the sunshine to cloudy England. A generous heap of picked crab meat (sans any shells) give contrasting sweetness and salinity. Some raw shallots added pepperiness. Seasoning was bang on point, to draw out the sweetness of the vegetables. I would go on record and say that this has to be one of the best gazpachos I have eaten.
Next was potted trout and crayfish, with some breakfast radishes on the side. This was a generous mound of seafood here which had been lightly bound with mayonnaise. Trout is bang on season at the moment and had amazing flavour. Moist, rich with the iodine of the crayfish contrasting the trout. A little crisp on top added texture. Perhaps this dish could do with some toast to spread the fish on, but we had plenty of amply good bread from the basket.
The first main course was a huge slab of turbot, classically pan roasted, topped with a shallot, almonds and anchovy crust. As you can see from the picture, the turbot had been cut from a large specimen – probably an 8kg beast judging by its thickness. Chef apologized for a lack of sauce with the fish as he wanted to show it off in its natural state. A little bit of house-made pesto helps bind the elements together. When you serve a fish sans sauce, the fish cooking has to be perfect… and it was. The cuisson of the turbot was spot on – glistening, moist, flaking beautifully. You did not need any sauce as it would just mask the sweetness of the beautiful fish. Sometimes, the greatest pleasures in life is one of simplicity.
The last savoury course was a fillet of beef façon Rossini. Chef Bonwick takes a different approach to cooking his beef – steaming it on a string over a pot of boiling stock. This approach is like an old-fashioned way of cooking sous vide, the steam a gentler way of cooking the beef than roasting at high heat. This keeps the fillet uniformly moist, with a quick sear on the outside for caramelisation. The beef was meltingly tender, so much so, you could cut it with a spoon. Of course, one of Chef Bonwick’s strengths is in his sauce making, done in the proper old fashioned way by reducing plenty of beef bones down to a syrupy, sticky consistency and infusing it with truffles. I believe, he also adds shin and sometimes ox cheeks to give it a nice gelatinous consistency. If only more young chefs in England would take to time to learn how to make sauces like they do here. On the side, excellent Garlic roast potatoes. I also like the fact that chef serves the crusty potato scraps as well, which are the best bits!
After the two substantial mains, it was nice to end on a light note with a classic raspberry bavarois. The raspberry sorbet was particularly good on the day. You can tell just looking at the lovely shine on it. It had a smooth, luscious texture with fantastic raspberry flavour coming through. The sweetness and acidity were perfectly balanced and I liked that the chef was confident enough to leave the raspberries in its au naturel state.
Dining at the Crown is like walking into the Bonwick’s family home and being fed. The service led by Dean is excellent with true warmth and sincerity. This is backed up with his dad’s cooking which is unashamedly classical French, cooked with a lot of passion and love. The award of a Michelin star has been both a good and bad for the restaurant. With the increased and more consistent bookings, chef Bonwick can push his food forward further. The ingredient quality has noticeably improved. Not that he was using bad ingredients in the first place. It just means that he can afford to buy larger specimens of fish like turbot or halibut or put more expensive cuts of meat like fillet instead of rump on the menu without having to worry that it won’t sell.
The bad bit? It is getting incredibly hard to get a table here! If you ever get a table here, then you will enjoy some of the finest bourgeoisie French cuisine that is on offer. Cooked by one man!