Archive for December, 2013

Restaurant Review: Crown, Burchetts Green. Dec 2013

Posted on: December 7th, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Simon Bonwick has made a welcome and timely return to East Berkshire, taking over at The Crown in Burchetts Green in the autumn of 2013.

Living locally, we have followed his career, enjoying meals at the food led pubs where he has been head chef.  He first made his name less than three miles away at the Black Boys Inn, Hurley, where his modern British cooking attracted diners from Maidenhead, Henley, Marlow and beyond. In the highly selective Good Food Guide of 2007 it was named Berkshire Newcomer of the Year, earning a mark of 5/10 which it retained for the next two years. During this time it was also awarded a prestigious Bib Gourmand by Michelin for its good cuisine and value for money. We ate there several times enjoying his accomplished cooking. Fish and game dishes were particular strengths, so it was little surprise when we learnt he had won the title Game Master 2009, beating several Michelin starred chefs with his dish of steamed mallard breast with white truffle dumplings and root vegetable bouillon. The competition, in association with Restaurant Magazine, rewarded for the best game dish in the country.  Our only regret was we didn’t have the opportunity to try it!

A move to the Three Tuns in Henley earned Simon another 5/10 in the 2011 Good Food Guide, followed by another short tenure at the Half Moon in Cuxham, Oxfordshire, where, had the stay been longer, he would have received similar or higher acclaim. Anyone who could serve stuffed pig’s trotter as he did in Henley, or “Assiette aux trois saveurs,” a veritable tour de force of meat and game cookery at Cuxham, was deserving of the highest praise.

Now, after a period of private service, he has come to revive the fortunes of The Crown at Burchett’s Green, a quintessentially English village in the heart of the Berkshire Green Belt. The Crown has had checkered history in its food offering in recent years, with highs and lows. Our abiding memory from over ten years ago – since when it has changed hands at least three times – was being served raspberry sorbet which was white and tasteless, and given a knife which still bore the smell of raw garlic. Not impressive, although another meal under new ownership some time later partly restored our faith.

On hearing of Simon’s arrival, we were keen to visit. Whilst the exterior remains unchanged, the low ceilinged, oak beamed dining area has been given a lift. The freshly painted walls are decorated with food based prints. Wall lighting, which is not dimmed to ridiculously low levels so diners cannot see the food, gives a bright, comforting warmth. Scrubbed pine tables and a newly varnished wooden floor complete the fresh, rustic feel.

Given the plethora of high end, fine dining restaurants in the area, Simon’s aim is not to compete at that level – although we are confident he could easily hold his own if he did. Rather, a more home-style menu, including the resurrection of some British classics, is being offered in more relaxed surroundings. Not that there is any compromise regarding the essentials of impeccably sourced, mainly British seasonal ingredients, harmonious combinations of taste and texture, and accurate cooking based on classical techniques.

The Winter Food menu includes four starters (from £3 to £8) and five mains (£12 to £15) and five desserts at £6 each. Whilst desserts feature British classics such as hot apple crumble, other courses are more adventurous: consider, for instance, Madam St Agnes recipe for brined Savoie cheese, Mr Farley’s beetroot salad with goat’s curd, or Truffle polenta, squash pickle and slated chestnut. Specials such as venison and pigeon pie with rowan, or and wild mushroom risotto with truffle offer enticing alternatives.

Our meal started with a dish of a soused herring which tasted and looked nothing like the standard version. Here the fish fillets were enhanced by a marinade lifted by the addition of acacia honey and yuzu which gave a gentle sweet and citric balance. Thickly sliced radish added a contrasting lively crunch, whilst delicately arranged micro leaves gave a fresh, decorative finish.  Invention, skill and artistry were all shown in this simple starter.


Next, a delectable tranche of foie gras was sauted to produce a caramelised crust and soft, melting interior. Resting on a slice of toasted brioche, it was accompanied by chestnuts, baby onions and puy lentils in a rich wine based sauce. Here was a dish of luxurious and humble ingredients, which maximised the flavours of both through fast and long slow cooking. The Riesling, Schloss Vollrads Riesling, Kabinett Feinherb, Rheingau, 2008, was elegant with  touch a sweetness – a fine match for the food.


It was pleasing to see the main course featured Dexter beef, from a small, once rare breed. Cooked medium rare to enhance its dark, well-marbled qualities, the soft, flavoursome meat was garnished with trompette de la mort and porcini mushrooms, the heady fragrance of which complemented the meat perfectly. Mashed potato added substance and a light jus bought the dish together without overwhelming the main elements. The Pinot Noir wine which accompanied the dish, Gevrey Chambertin 1er cru, Cote de Nuits, Domain Perrot-Minot, 2007, was subtle and satisfying, with a nice nose of berry bruit and balanced acrossthe palate.


Three desserts, two English classics and the third French, were greedily consumed.

Hot toffee apple crumble had a rich buttery topping of exemplary texture. The generous Bramley apple filling struck the right balance of sweetness and sharpness whilst vanilla ice cream was velvety smooth and well flavoured.

Lemon Possett blended cream, lemon juice and caster sugar into a tangy, thick but not over sweet dessert. It was given a little twist with the addition of violets crystals and flaked almonds for contrasting texture. A beautifully crisp palmier finished the dish perfectly.


St Emilion chocolate pot was rich, dense, dark and fruity. Again, the balance of this dessert was well judged, with the cognac not overwhelming the chocolate taste. Simply served in white porcelain, it did full justice to the classic French recipe.

Overall, this was an accomplished meal, with thoughtful, well executed dishes devoid of superfluous flourishes. The wines were chosen from a select list, combining fine and rare wines with more accessible house wines. The young man who served us was friendly, efficient and well informed

In conversation with Simon afterwards, our view of him as a highly skilled, passionate chef who clearly loves his craft was fully confirmed. An air of eccentricity pervades his persona, being fuelled by his encyclopedic knowledge of the food, wine and restaurant world. This also makes it a joy share our thoughts with him. Burchetts Green clearly needs a chef of his calibre and we wish him every success in his new venture. Fine Dining Guide will follow his progress with interest.

Alimentum Restaurant Review, Cambridge. (Nov 2013)

Posted on: December 5th, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Cambridge today is a town of two halves. The architectural spendour of King’s, Trinity and St John’s, lining the picturesque beauty of The Backs, is well known to all. Most visitors arriving at the station take a right turn for the historic centre. However, a turn in the opposite direction, and only three minutes by taxi, will take them to Alimentum, the Michelin starred restaurant in the southern, less familiar, but rapidly developing part of this university town.

Far removed from the narrow streets and ancient college buildings to the north, Alimentum is housed in the ground floor of a new block of flats on the busy Hills Road – where it widens as a dual carriageway – diagonally opposite a modern shopping mall adjacent to a private housing development. The location, together with its proximity to the station – only 50 minutes by fast train from King’s Cross – and the decision to open all week are major bonuses, attracting London foodies as well as local, well-heeled professionals and academics.

Beyond the spacious bar, complete with jazz piano and high stools, the long, high ceilinged restaurant has a smart, informal feel. Smoked glass windows and plain white walls – apart from the red cushioned section at the far end – throw into sharp relief the polished wooden floor, well-spaced dark lacquered tables, and comfortable leather seating. Thankfully, the lighting is not turned down to ridiculously low levels, unlike many high end restaurants, so diners at Alimentum can actually appreciate dishes in their full glory.


The 60 cover dining room can be divided in half by a folding partition to create a private dining area. The major attraction of this end of the restaurant however is the cleverly positioned low window looking into the kitchen. Diners can observe the intense activity of the cold starters and dessert section: bread, fruit and vegetables are swiftly sliced; salads precisely arranged and delicately dressed; savoury mousses carefully piped; sauces artistically drizzled, smeared and doted; ice creams and sorbets deftly shaped into quenelles; crumbs and chopped nuts neatly scattered; and blow torching used for bruleed finishing. And, constantly in the background, the chef-patron’s eagle eye inspects all dishes leaving the passe.

Mark Poynton’s modern European cuisine developed during his seven years at Midsummer House where he was head chef. Since joining Alimentum in 2008, then becoming its owner in 2010, his cooking has reached greater heights. Recognition in his own right came quickly, with the award of three AA rosettes, high marks in The Good Food Guide – including being listed in the Top 60 best UK restaurants – and a Michelin star, the ultimate accolade, in the 2013 Guide edition.

I first sampled his cuisine at his pop up restaurant at the Landmark hotel in November 2012. Now, a year later, I was able to visit Cambridge to enjoy again his highly skilled, inventive and complex cooking. With a talented brigade of eight, Mark employs contemporary techniques to supplement, but not overwhelm, a solid classical base. Impeccable, carefully sourced seasonal ingredients are used in multi component dishes revealing layers of flavour. They impress by their painstaking preparation, accurate timing, harmonious combination of taste and textures, and exquisite presentation.

Creativity and passion matched by accomplished execution are much in evidence in the ambitious menu structure.  Terse listings of main ingredients understate both content and composition, adding to the excitement when the dishes finally arrive.The fixed price lunch and early evening menu offers excellent value at £24.50 for three courses, £18.50 for two. A wider choice is available from the carte (£49 for three courses. £36 for 2), whilst two tasting menus are offered: the seven course Taste of Alimentum (£72) and the ten course Surprise Menu (£85). Wines flights to match these, priced at £35 and £42 respectively, are a relative steal at this level. For those who prefer to choose themselves from the international wine list, they will find a good range by the glass, carafe and bottle, without the aggressive mark ups seen elsewhere.

Visiting on a Friday evening, the buzz of real enjoyment created by contended diners became more palpable as the restaurant filled up. The clientele, including students with their parents, groups of young executives and mature couples, reflected the general appeal of the restaurant to a wide social mix.

The Surprise Menu was selected to demonstrate the extensive range of skills and versatile use of seasonal produce.

Nibbles of savoury popcorn and crisp gougeres, generously filled gruyere, were enjoyed with a glass of wonderfully fresh, Deutz Brut, NV champagne.

A warm mini sage and onion loaf had a crisp crust and firm, well flavoured crumb. By way of contrast, slices of milk loaf were more delicate, giving also a nice retro touch.

The inventive element to the cooking was quickly evident in the amuse bouche, a playful interpretation of carrot and coriander soup. A base of caramelised carrot was topped by a silky veloute and crowned with an intense quenelle of coriander sorbet. This witty offering was a miniature triumph of contrasting tastes and temperatures.

Beetroot, goat’s cheese, carrot and orange:

Gently pickled golden and red baby beets and carrots were partnered with a light, creamy but not cloying goat’s curd mousse, encased in a cylindrical beetroot tuile.  An intense orange gel, acting as a dressing, cut the richness of crumbled goat’s cheese, extending the sweet and sour notes, whist micro leaves gave a herbal, decorative flourish. These humble ingredients, with contrasting crisp and soft textures, were elevated into a refined, elegant dish which was visually stunning in its vibrant colours. The matching Sauvignon, Chateau Reynon Blanc, Bordeaux, 2007, was suitably light, crisp and clean.


Quail, breast and legs, broccoli lime and peanut

Resting on a bed of smooth pea puree and garnished with wilted bok choy, the well flavoured game comprised melting confit leg and a soft, caramelised breast. Peanuts added crunch whilst an intense wine reduction was acidulated with lime, an inspired touch adding a refreshing lift to a rich dish. Again, the matching wine – “Babiana”, Vondeling, Paarl, South Africa, with its balance of spice and fruit, and an underlying minerality, worked well with the food.


Plaice, langoustine, cucumber, fennel and seaweed

Accurately timed fillets, double layered and topped with firm, sweet langoustines, were sauced with a well-executed chive beurre blanc which did full justice to the seafood. Garnished with shaved fennel and seaweed, this was a fresh, lively dish with subtle aniseed notes. The white wine, St-Aubin, en Remilly 1er Cru, Voincent Girardin, Burgundy, 2010, with its good acidity and minerality complemented the food well, adding to the enjoyment.

Alimentum_Plaice and langoustine

Monkfish, pork belly, onion and bay leaf

This “surf and turf” combination was a veritable tour de force of tastes and textures. The moist, meaty monkfish tail and soft, unctuously rich, slow cooked pork were highly compatible partners. Onion puree added an earthy depth, endive gave crisp texture, and bay leaves added a herbal, gentle fragrance. This robust dish was served with Pinot Noir, Robert Oatley, Mornington Peninsula, Australia,2011, a light bodied, gently spiced clear red which paired up equally well with the fish and meat.

Alimentum_Monkfish and belly pork

Beef fillet, parfait, artichoke, cep, salsify, beetroot, hazelnut

Succulent squares of medium rare fillet shared the plate with two delectable parfaits, one of foie gras, the other of ceps. Their rich flavours and soft textures were balanced by the acidity and crispness of artichoke Barigoule. Other autumnal vegetables – salsify, Swiss chard and beetroot – alongside layered potatoes, hazelnuts, a rich jus and the heady fragrance of shaved truffle, added to the embarrassment of riches, making this the most sensual, indulgent dish on the menu. How fitting that it was paired with a full bodied red of great depth and character – Cabernet Franc, “Figure Libre”, Gayda, Languedoc, 2011

Alimentum_beef & foie gras mousse

The three sweet courses showed the strengths of the pastry section and the meticulous same attention to detail as the savoury dishes

Pineapple, barbeque’d,yogurt

This pre dessert served as a palate cleanser, with its refreshing tang of yogurt sorbet set alongside cubes of barbequed pineapple garnished with shards of meringue.

Banana Parfait, pecan granola and smoked maple ice cream

Here was another successful marriage of tastes, textures and temperatures.

Blackberry, apple, hazelnut and cassia bark

This autumnal dessert comprised whole blackberries, an intense sorbet and a lively apple semi freddo, both of exemplary consistency. Cubes of apple jelly and a crumble of hazelnuts given the cinnamon flavouring of cassia bark added textural and flavour complexity, again demonstrating the fertile imagination and creativity of the chef.

Alimentum_Blackberry & apple

Overall, this was a most accomplished meal, with no anti-climaxes as is often the case with desserts in a tasting menu.

Wine pairings were expertly selected and concisely presented by the sommelier. The mainly young front of house team, ably overseen by Des (Daniel Huby) the restaurant manager, provided knowledgeable, professional yet relaxed and friendly service. This, together with the excellent food, wine and lively atmosphere – there is also live music at weekends – have contributed to Alimentum’s success as a destination restaurant. Mark Poynton and his team clearly deserve the recognition they have received and move from strength to strength. Fine Dining Guide will certainly follow their progress with interest.

Ozz Restaurant Review, Marylebone, London. (Nov 2013)

Posted on: December 5th, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

With an Australian sounding name, Russian owner, Brazilian chef, French manager and paintings by a Syrian artist, Ozz has a somewhat confused identity.  Its location at 41-43 Lisson Grove, an undistinguished commercial street north of the Marylebone Road and round the corner from the station, puts it at a disadvantage compared with the trendy eateries of Marylebone village.  However, the restaurant setting and design are not targeted primarily to attract at a bright, young demographic.

The understated, net curtained frontage gives little idea of the eclectic décor within. The two interconnected dining areas feature chequerboard tiles with under floor heating, grey floral wallpaper, Tiffany pendant lights and Middle Eastern style paintings. Tables are simply dressed in white cloths, and leather backed chairs are plain but comfortable. An open hatch allows diners a glimpse of activity in the kitchen.

The menu structure comprises a carte of seven starters, six mains and eight desserts supplemented by a good value set lunch, £15.95 for two courses, £18.95 for three. The wine list offers a selection at reasonable prices, although aperitifs, digestives and specialty coffees are expensive in comparison.

Head chef Emerson Amélio D’Oliveira has extensive restaurant experience, more recently with the Galvin brothers. He offers, according to the website, a “unique style of cuisine, created with passion in a truly contemporary style.”  Ingredients are well sourced, the cooking is competent and the portions are generous. Dishes which are rooted in the French classics, such as seared foie gras, or duck breast with pomme Dauphine feature Individual components which are well rendered, and artistically presented. However, it is the combination of ingredients, along with differing temperatures and textures, which occasionally raise questions of compatibility: consider vanilla Jerusalem artichoke with monkfish, citrus saffron vodka dressing on the same dish, or Culantro sauce and papaya with braised oxtail

Fine Dining Guide visited on a mid-week evening in the first month of Ozz’s opening.

We nibbled on good home baked bread, freshly prepared each day, with our starters.

The distinctly strong taste of grilled asparagus, cooked al dente and benefitting from a gentle smokiness, was balanced in taste and texture by the soft sweetness of confit heritage tomatoes and a carrot mousse of velvety smoothness.  A dressing of port and balsamic dressing finished this well conceived vegetarian starter.


Rye Bay hand caught scallops were plump, utterly fresh and beautifully sweet. Searing gave them a caramelised crust, with soft, melting flesh. For my taste, the timing was perfect, but others might prefer a little more cooking. Perched on a creamy leek and Shiso fondue– the latter hardly detectable – this seafood starter needed a little more acidity and a contrasting crisp texture to be wholly satisfying.


As one of the main courses, I tried a signature “surf and turf” dish. Two generous, reformed portions of boneless oxtail bore all the successful hallmarks of marination in red wine and long, slow cooking.  The result was a rich, unctuous and highly flavoured meat wrapped in parma ham. On its own, with its sauce and a root and green vegetable, this would be fine. But to marry it with cold seafood, fruit and vegetables, sliced raw octopus, papaya and Cherokee tomato (in typical Brazilian style I’m told) made for an imbalanced dish of clashing tastes and temperatures. The dish may also have benefitted from a crisp texture to balance the softness of the other components.


A fish main course was simpler in conception but more successful because of it.  A thick tranche of fresh Scottish halibut was moist yet firmly textured. It was dressed with a butter and caper sauce, which added the rich sharpness the fish needed. The accompanying squid ink linguine added colour contrast and extra flavour.


For dessert, strawberry cheese cake was attractively presented like a classic Frasier. The Breton, sable like base was an improvement on crushed biscuits, whilst the dessert was well conceived.


Lime and raspberry sorbets were intensely flavoured and of the right consistency.

Service was pleasant enough with Gael acting as a charming host.

The aforementioned confused identity occasionally shows itself in the food. Primarily French in menu construct, one feels that to succeed fully Ozz may benefit from one of two food strategies –  “Internationalize” dishes to the full and execute well or retain a classical French restraint. The medium displayed at present is not quite a happy one, although overall, this was a satisfying meal.