A few weeks ago after a random night out in Windsor that resulted in just a little too much wine consumption and a chance encounter with a young Frenchman and his Venezulean girlfriend we decided that a bracing walk was required to clear our heads.
We’ve been trying to walk the Thames Path in stages and have done most of the Putney to Oxford section with the exception of Tilehurst to Shiplake. So we headed off to Shiplake to park the car at Shiplake railway station before catching the train to Tilehurst to make the 11/12 mile walk back to Shiplake.
It was a beautiful sunny September day and we worked up quite an appetite en route so when we finally made it back to Shiplake I thought we should reward ourselves with dinner out.
I searched to see if there were any Michelin Bib Gourmond restaurants nearby and there were two. One run by the ubiquitous Tom Kerridge in Marlow and called The Coach , the little sister of the Hand and Flowers, the other called The Crown in Burchetts Green, near Maidenhead and run by chef Simon Bonwick formerly of the renowned Black Boys Inn in Hurley.
The Crown looked more promising with an honesty that was not about celebrity and so we headed off to Burchett’s Green. On arrival I was relieved to know that there was a table available although I would recommend booking to avoid disappointment. We were greeted warmly by one of Simon’s sons Dean who was heading up front of house and shown to our table.
The former pub has been converted into a restaurant by Simon without the whiff of a pub about it! More like a cosy front room in a country house with the owner’s passion for painting adorning the walls for decoration. Yes he can paint as well as cook! what talent has Simon Bonwick.
The menu is a fairly simple affair with an excellent choice of 4 or so seasonally fresh starters, main courses and desserts.
One of the most impressive things about this place is the wine list. Modest in length, but with a pedigree that would have any sommelier salivating or indeed anyone who knows the Silex wines of the late Didier Dagueneau from the less exciting wines of Pouilly Fumé. One quirk of this place that I love is that the fine wines listed on the board behind the bar are all priced subject to negotiation. In other words there’s a price but its open to sensible offers.
Being towards the end of the month and with pay day being another week away I decided to go for something more modest, a white Côtes du Rhône. They’d opened a bottle for a customer to try at lunchtime that day and it wasn’t to their taste so I was offered it for the bargain price of £25!!
It was a heady blend of Viognier, White Grenache, Rousanne and Marsanne. With notes of apricot and apples and a long fat finish. As I glanced back at the menu the wild sea bass fillet caught my eye. Dean asked if I liked my sea bass thick and chunky. In my opinion it’s the only way to serve this fish but so often restaurants choose to serve the insipid cardboard like and thin farmed varieties.
Our choices ordered we settled down to our first course. A delicious homemade coarse pâté with fruit chutney. Served with home backed bread.Next up was my favourite dish, the sea bass as Dean had said was a thick middle fillet from a wild line caught fish. Cooked to perfection. Moist and dense on the inside but with a caramelised crunch on the crispy skin. Served with red and green pesto, a melange of fresh vegetables given extra colour by the unusual addition of beetroot and a wonderful silky smooth pomme purée. We had both opted for the same starters and main courses. There’s nothing worse than your partner/spouse getting food envy when their choice is trumped by yours but at the dessert crossroads we took separate paths.
Gillian opting for the wonderfully rich and smooth Brillat Savarin cheesecake with a citrusy passion fruit sauce.I for the Rocky Road Pie with homemade rum and raisin ice cream. As well as being indulgent and rich the thing that really set this off were the tiny droplets of concentrated “Tout Le Monde” raspberry purée that garnished the plate but which also complimented the rich chocolate of the Rocky Road. After dinner and whilst enjoying coffee Simon, the chef came out to chat to us. It’s always great to meet the chef and understand a little more about their ethos and what their trying to achieve. Simon is a man with a vision and at last he’s in a position to execute that plan. It’s a family affair with his wife helping out with the books and 2 eldest boys Dean and George at front of house. Don’t let that family thing fool you though. Dean cut his teeth working for the Roux brothers at the Waterside Inn and carries with him the professionalism you’d expect from someone whose learnt his craft from the masters.
Simon’s really passionate about ingredients and their provenance too. That’s one of the reasons why the restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so he can spend the time sourcing fresh ingredients whether it be the sea bass that I had from Cornwall or some wild mushrooms or other seasonal ingredients.
Either way, if you live within a reasonable driving distance of this place I’d be booking your table for a Saturday night dinner pretty soon, I know that I will be!