Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The Crown Chop House, Amersham

After plans to catch up with our lovely friend Maz fell through at the last minute, I decided to reclaim the evening as date night and treat my wife to dinner. While normally my beloved and I can't wait to get away from each other, with the Ewing being crazily busy at work and me working all weekend it seemed a good chance to enjoy an evening with squabbling about the washing up.

We decided on the Crown in Amersham. Firstly because, although it's a while since I've visited, the food is always reliably good, and secondly they were offering 50% off early diners. Knowing the Ewing isn't a cheap date, and with my budgeting plans to think of, I thought it prudent to be prepared. (Who says romance is dead.)

We kicked things off with a couple of tankards of Rebellion Brewery's Fat Cat bitter and some bread and butter served on pewter platters, which combined together provided an effect akin to dining in a medieval banqueting hall. Thankfully the menu is a little bit more refined than whole chicken legs and gruel - not that I'd have minded waving my dinner about above my head as I ate it, but I'm not sure my fellow diners would have quite felt the same.

My first course was the Chop House fish stew with an aioli topped croute and new poatoes. The light butter and garlic sauce was rather different than the tomato-y Provencal style I was expecting and, combined with the smoked haddock, crispy-skinned bass and delicate poached scallop, was pitch perfect. The only thing missing was a spoon to get to every last drop of broth.

The Ewing's duck parfait, rillettes and chutney. It's hard to see from this blurry, drunken photo just how huge this portion actually was, the toast running out far before the last of the pâté had been scooped up. Although it was a great dish, having both duck-based elements on the plate did seem a bit belt and braces. After eating vast slab of fat-edged liver, tackling a quenelle of confit duck leg, decorated with crispy duck cracklings, was possibly a little too much even for her.

With the flavour and execution, however, it would be hard to find fault. The fluffy, smooth pate and melting rillettes had been spiked with just enough booze and garlic to cut through the richness, with the chutney bringing a welcome sweet/sour edge.

I went with the slow cooked pork cheeks as my main, tempted by the cauliflower macaroni with Keen's cheddar that accompanied it. The cheeks had been cured so they had the flavour and texture of a  gammon hock, each generous nugget of tender meat a sweet, juicy and smoky joy.

The mac and cheese, in contrast to the pork, was a rather dry disappointment. Beyond the beautiful cheese-glazed crust the pasta and veg were sauce-less and under seasoned. Things perked up when I introduced them to the salty pork gravy, but the dish needed far more gooey, oozy bechamel to live up to its promise. 

Luckily the purple sprouting broccoli, ordered as a side, was perfectly cooked. One of my very favourite vegetables, it helped cut a swathe through all the meat and carbs.

The Ewing chose the (most expensive) British lamb rump with wild garlic and celariac gratin. The gratin showed a deft hand; wafer thin slices of root veg baked in a garlic-scented cream to a soft, sweet stickiness. The, very fine, lamb was cooked rare as requested, tender and with a good depth of sweet, musky flavour.

The surfeit of saturated fat meant even my wife was struggling when they offered us the desert list, but being such troopers for the cause, an agreement was made to share the salted caramel mousse with bananas and macadamia nuts. 

Rather like a reconstructed banoffee pie with added slices of a home-made malt loaf type cake, this took all the elements of a great pudding; sugar, fruit and cream; and turned them into a refined ending to our meal. Although the presentation was more abstract art than a pudding, the balance was spot on and turned out to be rather a good thing we were already so stuffed; trying to share this under normal circumstances may well have lead to divorce.

Skilled and generous cooking, cosy surroundings and perfect company; what else can you ask of a wet Wednesday evening?

The Crown Chope House on Urbanspoon

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