Just Outside London Lunches: The Crown at Burchetts Green
As much as we – obviously – love everything that London’s restaurants and bars have to offer, there’s a lot to be said for getting out of town on a weekend. There are tons of idyllic pubs and restaurants less than an hour away by train, which feel like they’re much further. There’s no excuse not to take a mini holiday to the countryside every weekend, then, if you feel like it. Peace and quiet, Ploughman’s lunches and lots of brass horseshoes nailed to fireplaces await those who know where to look
You could do a lot worse than start with The Crown at Burchetts Green. This tiny Berkshire village is about as sleepy as they come, silent on a Saturday lunchtime apart from the odd dog barking and a car passing through; people either live here (in one of the very large, impressive houses) or they visit The Crown, a Michelin-starred pub run by Simon Bonwick and his family.
What’s remarkable is that Bonwick is, apparently, alone in the kitchen. The restaurant is running at half capacity following a recent refurb when we visit, but still, this is quite something. There’s a lot of classic technique going on here, and it’s of the French variety — look, it’s ok, JOL doesn’t mind going old school sometimes, particularly when the results taste this good.
There’s something very charming about Bonwick’s food, and it’s clear he’s very much cooking for himself rather than attempting to impress any concept or aspiration upon the plate. It’s more the case that he just really bloody loves a shiny, sticky sauce on his veal and he damn well relishes the two-day process of making it.
The meal kicks off with what is, frankly, a stupendous amount of crab. It’s one of our all time favourite foods (far superior to lobster) and so this begins the meal with a statement of intent — that statement being, ‘we will feed you very generously so you’d better bring your baggiest trousers.’
A dish of monkfish with tomato sauce has a distinctly Provençal feel, and seems to scoop up the last rays of summer sun that flicker across the table. What follows is resolutely autumn, however: a piece of veal lacquered with a sauce that clings like dark honey. A gigantic sweetbread sits alongside, with vegetables that have been ‘turned’ in the classic French style, which means they’ve been fashioned into a fancy shape because, well, it’s a way of making an effort and earning Michelin stars. This is all served with the most incredible roast potatoes which somehow have crispy ‘tails’ so that not just the potato itself is ruggedly golden but each boasts an extra treat by way of an appendage: a crunchy comet tail of batter.
A highlight of the meal is a warm canelé. This traditional French pastry from Bordeaux, flavoured with vanilla and rum (and in this case filled with salted caramel), is notoriously tricky to make but this is perfect, and such a treat to eat straight from the oven. Desserts proper are, we suppose, a little less interesting than the rest of the meal, or perhaps we’re simply too full to enjoy them. An arrangement of raspberry mousse, sorbet and fruit is cheering, though, and a full assault of white chocolate no doubt heaven for those who dig the super sweet stuff.
There’s a calmness about The Crown that makes it perfect for the out of towner, and this may well be in part due to the fact that Bonwick is a solitary king in his castle, while some of his children run front of house. Don’t be fooled into thinking this means it’s sleepy or complacent however — there’s some serious experience among them and the service is as smooth as ganache.
We sink coffees (and, truth be told, several brandies) before bundling into a taxi for the short ride back to the train station, full, merry and insufferably smug about our mini break to countryside. Just for lunch.
The Crown, Burchetts Green, Maidenhead, SL6 6QZ