Saturday, 15 June 2013

The end of the affair - The Crown at Amersham

A few years back I had a brief, tempestuous romance with a pub. I fell for it hard, won over by Rosie Sykes' impeccably crafted menus and some very assured, very British cooking. A couple of Sunday lunches as good as you will find anywhere and a wine tasting dinner that I look on with misty-eyed nostalgia and I was thoroughly besotted.

Then it broke my heart. A lack of consistency, chaotic service, decreasing quality and an occasion where a chunk of metal turned up in a tomato sauce left me so sad and disillusioned and wistful for what might have been that we hadn't been back for about three years. Occasionally reading the menus for Rosie's current venture, Fitzbillies in Cambridge, has filled the self-flagellating role of looking at an ex-boyfriend's wedding photos.

Last weekend, we were thinking about Sunday lunch and it occurred to me to check their website. Even though the sample Sunday lunch menu hadn't been updated since April, it looked promising. We decided on a tentative approach at reconciliation.

At 1.30pm on a Sunday, we were the only people in the dining room. This, in an area where most of the pubs pack two sittings for a Sunday lunch, was not promising. But the menu looked good and they had a couple of good local beers on tap so we persevered.
They even coped with our somewhat eccentric ordering technique of naming four dishes and saying we'd decide who ate what when it arrived.

To start we had the brawn and the parfait. I'd like to draw your attention to the generous portion of toast with each serving. Such a rare treat to be offered enough toast to spread your pâté on!
The brawn was a teensy bit firm, but nicely porky. On the sample menu from the website a "ham hock terrine" had been listed, which I suspect was indistinguishable from this - the waitress certainly referred to it as ham hock terrine. The meat did have more of a hock than cheek texture. It was well-flavoured but I probably wouldn't have complained if there had been just a little more salt in it. The piccalilli was absolutely lovely though; not at all the neon yellow mush of harshly vinegared vegetables that it can be. The vegetables were crunchy and lightly dressed. Perfect with the rich pork.
The parfait was served on a disconcerting brown smear which I think was a spiced pear puree. It was absolutely perfect. Velvety smooth, rich and just what you want a liver parfait to be, with a scoop of rillettes on the side to add a bit more duckiness and textural contrast.

Things went unfortunately downhill with the mains.
We were very impressed when the maître d' announced that the jacket potatoes were not up to scratch and asked whether we'd prefer chips or roast potatoes with the barbecue special. Such integrity and commitment to quality! But if the jacket potatoes weren't fit to serve I honestly can't imagine how bad they were, because the roasties (we asked for a mix of chips and roasties) were absolutely awful. Leathery, with that weird shrunken interior that suggests sitting for a long time before reheating in a microwave.

The plate that had promised so much was let down on presentation and contained a very strange mixture. A delicious pork chop, excellent black pudding, then an unfortunate chicken kebab (chicken and aubergine have very different cook-times and make unhappy skewer-mates). Flabby beetroot with aggressive pickled onions and a few bits of undressed cucumber and firm tomato were the salad component. A bit of good coleslaw would have been so much better. As it was the whole thing was a bit dry and a waste of good quality meat.

The plaice with shrimp noisette was better but still flawed. Can you spot the problem? The total lack of shrimp, perhaps? What I was expecting were little brown shrimp in a brown butter sauce, poured over the fish. What I got was more like a sauce vierge - shallots, capers and tomatoes - nice, but not a shrimp noisette. When I mentioned the mislabelling, the waitress wasn't remotely bothered although she did offer to tell the kitchen that there was no shrimp in the shrimp. It was a shame, because it was a lovely piece of fish, cooked well, and the asparagus and new potatoes were also good (Paul felt the new potatoes were a little underdone, I thought they were fine).

By the time we finished our lunch, another couple had joined us in the dining room. Four covers for a Sunday lunch doesn't really make it worth opening, so we may have been witnesses to the dying breaths of a loved one. We certainly saw enough to remember why we broke up with the Crown in the first place.


Joanne said...

Well at least you know, once and for all, that you're done with it!

Barbara said...

Sorry about that! But I sure understand your disappointment. We always give a restaurant 3 tries and then they're out. Everyone is raving about this one restaurant in town and have been for several years. We had three disasters there and still haven't been back.
Memory like an elephant, I have.

Alicia Foodycat said...

Joanne - yes! Closure!

Barbara - that's a good approach! Very fair.


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