Sunday 9 January 2011

The Amazing Artichoke

Old Amersham has always held a special place in my heart. It's an historic and beautiful small market town....I was born and brought up very nearby and it was always a special treat to visit the interesting High Street as a child. I'd spend my pocket money in places now long gone...Scoops, The Daisy Shop...and we'd love to imagine the way it would have looked in it's heyday (not difficult - I'm sure that not much has changed, architecturally speaking!)

It is also the place that I started my professional cooking career. As a 17 year old schoolgirl, I became a Sunday 'washer-up' at the long gone but much missed (and not just by me, I'm sure) Willow Tree Restaurant. A few years later, after much more part-time work there and as a relieved 'drop-out' from university (something I've never regretted) I became Head Chef . In a lot of ways, those years were among the happiest of my working life - certainly until I owned my own business. I learned so much in those hectic, happy, affluent days of the late 1980's....and I'm forever grateful to Carol & Mark, my bosses, who placed a lot of faith in me at a young age and gave me such amazing training.

So, I still love visiting the town. And Paul & I have a good reason to do so, as it has for a few years contained one of our very favourite 'formal' restaurants, and certainly the best one outside London that we know.
The Artichoke is the place we choose if we feel like brightening up the day, as we did yesterday when we headed there for lunch. It's run by a husband and wife team, Laurie & Jackie Gear - he is the chef and she heads the front of house team.

The restaurant is small (in my day, it was a newsagents!) but beautifully designed to be light and luxurious and so never feels cramped. Service is impeccable without being intrusive, and there are touches of humour too which make customers feel welcome and at home. If you've been before, they will remember you...and any special requests or dietary requirements you may have, which is very rare outside big cities, I find. It all adds to a wonderfully pampering and relaxed experience. But it's the food that really sets it apart...

Light, fresh, seasonal, starter of jerusalem artichoke a la grecque, leeks, green beans,truffle mayonnaise,artichoke crisps, toasted hazelnuts and hazelnut vinaigrette will stay in my foodie memory for a long time to come. I could eat it every day.

Above is Paul's main course - breast of wild duck with spiced pastilla of confit duck leg (the little parcels on the right), butternut squash fondant, candied kumquats & pine nuts and coxes orange pippin apple sauce. He had the biggest smile on his face while eating it..and was quite quiet for once too! My main course was a picture perfect plate of white onion mousse with lots of beautiful, intricate vegetables (unfortunately I deleted the photograph!) and made such a change to the ubiquitous nondescript cheese-filled dishes that I'm usually offered. And the desserts...

the picture doesn't do justice to my plate of orange compote, vanilla ice cream, warm madelines & orange salad...which sounds fairly simple, but was a complex dish of preserved, candied and fresh oranges, with a hidden & wonderful surprise in the ice cream pyramid!

Paul hardly ever has a pudding, but succumbed to this pear & caramelised white chocolate galette with poire william sorbet - he wouldn't give me a taste, which shows how good it must have been...

The courses are not huge, but we always find that they are just enough. I hate to leave a meal feeling too full, it's something that really puts me off...and I also dislike wasting food and leaving lots on the plate. Never a problem here.

With my 3-course set lunch at £25, it also offers terrific value for this level of service and well considered, perfectly executed cooking.

The Artichoke - I have a feeling it will always be on our Top 5 list. Highly recommended. 10/10


  1. I love seeing how different foods are presented- just beautiful!!

  2. Oh what yummy food...


  3. Your meal looks delicious, pity we can't have taste- o -vision.


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