I’d like to think that a place like The Crown could only exist under its own circumstance. How the unconventional approach of having chef patron Simon Bonwick completely alone in the kitchen allows him to play out the Escoffier tribute without another chef whispering otherwise in his ear. How the front of house, made up of a third of his nine children, are able to talk through the tiny wine list, haggle on the extra bottles on the blackboard, and explain the eccentricities on the menu like a ‘rather nice sauce’, or that day’s ‘nice’ dish. Right down to one of the team jokingly telling us that their Dad would not be happy to see a prawn topple from a main course, it’s an experience which defies convention in its usual sense.
The overall effect is a timeless restaurant that focuses on the roots of fine dining as opposed to the ever changing colours of the leaves on its many branches. The endless towers of cookbooks which litter the bar area have each served a purpose to take the restaurant to the heights of a Michelin star, via a special recommendation from the same guide the previous year. Not bad for a space of just six tables and one chef.
A little canapé arrives alongside the champagne we start with; a delicate thimble of pastry holding a purée of chickpea, lemon, and smoked almond, then a cup of chilled squash soup with clusters of seeds and a hint of spice. Bread is a hot pillowy affair, a little dense, served with slivers of butter pinned together with spikes of lavender and rosemary. A trick we’ll be stealing for dinner parties in our home.
For starters we take a huge cylinder of dressed white crab meat, thatched with batons of apple and a solitary tomato petal. There is a dressing of something sweet and acidic, and a few spiced cashews for good measure. The result is up there with the very best crab dishes I have ever eaten, a tribute to the beauty of the more subtle white flesh. A terrine of pork belly studded with lentils is lovely yet not on the same level. Acidity to cut through the fatty pig is everywhere; a blob of something mustardy, a teeny quenelle of chutney, or the bite of the pickles. They all work.
A beef main is ‘cooked on a string’ and, I’ll be honest, I’m still none the wiser as to what that involves. My guess from the texture of the fillet, is that it is both poached and steamed, resulting in an excellent piece of meat that is very rare but not the slightest bit bloody. With this is spud squared; a fondant and the most buttery of mash with a little confit garlic, some spinach, and mushrooms cooked in plenty of butter. But what makes it is the sauce, reduced so heavily you could varnish a fence with it, and so glossy it could serve as a mirror. Full of bovine notes and with something piquant lurking in the background, it reminds me of the sauce I had with beef at The Ritz, only better.
If I’m launching into hyperbole it’s because we were both having the best time. There is something magical about being somewhere so at ease with itself. The other main of halibut owes much of its majesty to the Breton prawns it shares the plate with, being some of the freshest and tastiest I can recall eating. Like the beef it has the mash and the spinach, though this has a verdant pesto and a little tomato concasse to bolster the summer flavours it speaks of on the menu. A really outstanding dish.
Saint Marcellin cheese gives me happy memories of Mere Richard in Lyon, so when it’s on the menu as cheesecake, I’m ordering it. In truth it’s the one dish I’m not mad on. The cheese flavour comes through nicely, but it’s a little dense and the base is a little chalky. Lovely raspberries though. But frankly who cares when they have steamed syrup sponge as good as this. A light, pillowly bosom, sweet and unforgiving to the hips. A proper dessert. I get a macaron with a candle in because it’s my birthday. It’s a good macaron and a great birthday.
Starters and desserts sit mostly in the teens, whilst the mains above are £40 and £44 respectively. The total bill of over two hundred for two including wine isn’t cheap, but it is worth it. We simple loved The Crown. It defies trends and fashions to serve the food which they are comfortable with, in an environment which they have curated to suite them. With the exception of a few other favourites of ours, it stands out for having a true identity. I can see many other visits happening in the future.