About thirty miles north of London, over the hills and far away…right at the end of the Metropolitan line…lies the sleepy little town of Amersham…
London has one of the most exciting and fantastic restaurant’s scenes in Europe but my heart lies in Amersham because it is where I can really call home. I was born and raised in the the market town in the Chiltern Hills and lived there my entire life before heading of to the University of Warwick to study my degree in English literature.
To give a bit of background to my home town the little place is divided into two areas, the more modern Amersham-on-the-hill and our destination for tonight Old Amersham. Old Amersham does what it says on the tin…it’s old…it contains a 13th century church and many Victorian pubs and coaching inns.
Quaint isn’t it?
Old Amersham reminds of nights down the Eagle or the Swan and then finishing up in cheesy night clubs, Winkers anyone?
There’s also the rather gorgeous Crown hotel, famous for appearing in the iconic film Four Weddings and a Funeral, it has now been transformed into a modern coaching inn.
But I digress… about a month ago I received an email from Laurie, the head chef at The Artichoke
in Old Amersham. Laurie invited me to come down and sample the tasting menu at his restaurant.
‘You do know Amersham is my home town don’t you,’ I asked. Laurie hadn’t actually realised that, it was just a big coincidence that he’d asked me particularly. Back when I lived in Amersham there wasn’t much of a dining scene, to put it in perspective, we were incredibly excited when Pizza Express opened… when Cafe Nero opened in nearby Chesham there were cries of delight. I’m not joking, when McDonalds graced the scene there were practically choruses of angels…
Anywhere The Artichoke opened in 2002 and bought a fine dining revolution to Amersham. The restaurant received acclaim from Michelin, the AA and Hardens but a devastating fire in 2008 led to closure for 18 months and restaurant reopened in 2009 with a fab refurbishment.
The interior is intimate and modern with an open kitchen.
As I was coming home, who better to join me for dinner than my mum? I nicknamed her Susan SilverSpoon for night, and she was very excited to try the cuisine at the Artichoke as it is so highly regarded locally.
My mum doesn’t like photos of herself so here’s one of me enjoying the lovely glass of champers that Laurie greeted us with.
A sack of bread was bought to our table and I dove right in…I’d been saving myself for this meal all day…
The Artichoke provides two types of freshly baked bread. The pancetta and onion flower pot bread was a light as the finest pastry with the small pieces of pancetta enhancing the flavour greatly. We preferred the roll that has been infused with ale, perhaps to give a light bubbly effect? Anyway it tasted wholesome with the perfect crust on the outside.
An amuse bouche of pea mousse with ham was larger than your average amuse but so very light and airy. Isn’t the combo of pea and ham such an ideal pairing?
Starter was ballotine of poached trout, young beetroots, dill creme fraiche and beetroot sorbet. The chef played with the different textures of beetroot and the icy sorbet married ideally with the perfectly poached trout. I loved the artistic plating too that was just alive with colour.
Next for me was pan-fried scallop with bacon, cauliflower, charred romanesque and bacon dressing. There’s nothing new about putting scallop and bacon together but it was the inclusion of the other flavours on the plate and the perfect preparation of the scallop that made this so wonderful.
Susan SilverSpoon avoids shellfish so Laurie kindly rustled her up an alternative. A pork tenderloin with peanut fed ham, shoulder cannelloni and a creamy pork and tarragon dressing. My mum loved this exploration of all things piggy and declared it one of her favourite dishes of the night. Each element of the plate was so well considered and cleverly put together.
I should also mention that each dish on the menu is matched with a thoughtful wine pairing. My mum isn’t really a drinker but even she was loving the Marlborough Riesling that came with our early courses.
Next was new season asparagus with a truffle jel and morels. The asparagus was perfectly cooked and the crumb on top of the dish added a delicious contrasting crunch. The morels were rich and earthy and the perfect accompaniment to the main vegetable. Though very simple, this was one of my favourite dishes of the evening.We were enjoying ourselves so much and I asked my mum to another photo of me…
…but her photography skills were slightly lacking and they were all blurry. So it was a selfie instead.
And back to the food.
Our main fish course was cornish sea bass with aubergine puree, tomatoes, fennel and bouillabaisse reduction. I think Laurie and I must have a psychic connection as he’d basically put all my favourite things on one plate. Both me and my mum loved it!
For the meat course we had a choice:
It was duck with orange caramel, duck leg boulangere potato, watercress sauce, orange curd and pear. I wasn’t sure I would like this as I’m not a fan of mixing sweet with savoury but Laurie converted me. The beautiful dish was totally incredible.
My mum’s choice was rump of hogget (lamb) with a potato mousse. Another beautiful plate and they were very accommodating in making sure Susan Silverspoon’s lamb was well cooked.
Goats milk mousse with sorrel sorbet was a clever palate cleanser that was a savoury dish disguised as a sweet one.
We shared the two dessert options on the tasting menu.
Strawberry galette, with caramelised white chocolate and strawberry sorbet was a beautifully light way to finish off what as truly an astounding meal.
The other choice was a kind of deconstructed cheesecake served with pear and pear sorbet. The scattering of granola on top give a sweet and delicious crunch to this delicious dish.
As a little surprise extra Laurie bought out a passion fruit souffle with dark chocolate sorbet. Look at the perfectly risen souffle…do I even need to tell you how good it was? Laurie really was so kind and generous to us too.
Susan SilverSpoon adores a coffee and a piece of chocolate and this finished the sublime meal off perfectly.
There really is nothing quite like coming home, and when you come back to food of this standard why would I ever want to leave?
I cannot recommend the Artichoke more highly. It is a very easy half an hour commute from Marylebone Station and definitely worth heading into the suburbs for. My fingers are crossed for a Michelin star for the Artichoke, it would be well deserved.
9 Market Square
Disclosure: Our meal was complimentary for the purposes of the review. This did not affect my opinion, The Artichoke is totes amazeballs.