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9 Market Square
, Old Amersham,
“Excellent in every way”; “a high-end star”; “a gem outside London” … readers continue to heap praise on Laurie and Jackie Gear’s Artichoke – a “small place with a great ambience” that seems to get everything right. Really confident clued-up staff help things along nicely, the well-oiled open kitchen adds its own entertainment, while the food is reckoned to be outstanding value for the quality on show. Laurie’s team are capable of delivering “unassuming world-class dishes” from an ever-evolving repertoire that runs in tandem with the seasons while hoovering up the best from the region’s producers. Regulars have their own favourites from the line-up: a picture-pretty plate of smoked haddock tartare with Royal Russet apple, radish and “beguiling” horseradish cream; a fat juicy roasted scallop with charred octopus, carrot, sea beet, pork and tarragon dressing; a vivid plate of Yorkshire grouse with blackberries, blackberry sauce and a cornet of foie gras ganache. Our own top picks include dishes from nearer home – notably saddle of Buckinghamshire venison partnered by smoked celeriac purée, a marvellous blue-cheese crumble, poached quince and cavolo nero. Presentation has “reached new heights” of late, especially when it comes to desserts such as a lemon bavarois with Arbequina olive oil jelly, citrus salad and powdery lemon thyme sherbet. Brilliant-value tasting menus and perfectly matched wines top things off admirably.
SquareMeal’s Best Restaurants in the UK 2018 is compiled using votes from our annual survey, last conducted in spring 2018. Thousands of readers took part and the results were moderated by SquareMeal’s editor and his nationwide team of professional reviewers. The UK survey does not include any restaurants in London. Click here for the full list of SquareMeal’s Best Restaurants in the UK.
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9 Market Square
, Old Amersham
Amersham Station 1km
Amersham Tube Station 1km
Harewood Downs Golf Club 3km
Highclere Farm Country Touring Park 4km
Tues-Sat 12N-2.30pm 6-11pm
Food & Drink:
Rate & Review
Food + drink: 5
Seasonality appears to have taken pride of place over local sourcing and provenance of ingredients, but happily there still some chefs who manage to combine both factors and at Artichoke this is certainly the case. The tasting menu no longer offers a choice of main, which always seemed to us something of a throw-back, and every course was in perfect harmony with the rest to make up an extremely well-balanced ensemble. Super home-made focaccia and whipped butter preceded a chilled melon soup amuse-bouche which set us up for some brilliant, tenderly charred octopus, with oyster leaf adding a touch of minerality to the dish, and this was followed by poached, charred and pickled elements, in particular some beautiful beetroot, contrasting with green vegetables and brought together by a super dill emulsion. Outstanding foie gras with tayberries and toasted rice for the crunch brought us to a fish stew (or bouillabaisse) with classic fish, brill and John Dory, highlighted by pickled fennel, saffron potatoes and an excellent rouille. The main dish was local duck which exhibited exemplary flavours and was notable for its black garlic dressing. Three desserts may seem a bit much, but each contained just enough perfection to make you want more. Macerated blueberries with an excellent digestive biscuit crumble, an accent of lime, and viola leaf chiming in with white chocolate mousse brought us swiftly on to one of the all-time ultimate indulgences of strawberries and chocolate, lavender meringue, strawberry crème pâtissière and buttermilk sherbet strawberry soup. We finished up with a feta medita, the stupendous baked apricot backed up by intriguing puffed mustard seeds.
If there is one thing you can guarantee when you dine at the Artichoke it is that Laurie Gear and Ben Jenkins will serve up a meal that will leave the offerings in many one-star restaurants absolutely standing. This has been the case for many years, and, with its style evolving and advancing on a regular basis, Artichoke continues to be synonymous with high class and delicious fine dining.
We make no bones about it - Artichoke remains one of our favourite restaurants, and we are still capable of judging it as dispassionately as possible and making unbiased comparisons of it with other fine-dining destinations. The atmosphere is relaxed, something made natural by the confident and always friendly service, and enhanced by the variety of dinner guests, on the evening we were there ranging from ordinary citizens like us to a member of the House of Lords (and Times journalist). For the level of cuisine achieved the menu is remarkably reasonably priced, and Laurie Gear and Ben Jenkins have reached new heights in the quality of their cooking and the wonderful presentation of the dishes on the plate. We opted for the tasting menu, the prelude to which was a sensational Lancashire bomb mousse, served at just the right not-too-hot temperature. A great start and just the way to get you looking forward to the rest of the meal. This feeling was underlined by the smoked haddock tartare with its rocket, radish, microherbs, beguiling horseradish ice cream and russet apple - a perfect demonstration of the three t’s (taste, texture and temperature). Another example of how to match ingredients followed, roasted scallop with a mild curried cockle sauce, pickled cauliflower and cauliflower purée - a joy to eat and a joy to behold! An extra course was kindly served, a tribute to the game season in the form of Yorkshire grouse, blackberries and blackberry sauce, bacon, a little cornet containing a terrific concentrated foie gras ganache, and crunchy nuts; yet another winner. It appears to be a trend to serve one veggie dish on an otherwise conventional menu, and Artichoke came up with a stunning mix of roasted salsify, autumn truffle, a selection of mushrooms, puffed wild rice and rye bread, topped off with a delicious chervil emulsion. The fish course was a homage to Cornwall, superb cod loin, River Fowey mussels, “coastal” vegetables, chickpeas, which worked surprisingly well with the fish, and a sensational chicken tea adding a contrast. We chose different dishes for our mains, my wife had some excellent local Buckinghamshire venison saddle with smoked celeriac purée, a marvellous blue cheese crumble, fruity poached quince and cavolo nero, and mine was tender local partridge, nicely gamey, with classic golden raisins and traditional chestnuts, hispi cabbage and a suitably meaty sauce. The pre-dessert was another stand-out, the lightest blackcurrant and goats cheese mousse matched with a lovely biscuit crumble. After a surprise extra, an amazing, light, orange soufflé with ginger, we went for different desserts: a brilliant Brillat-Savarin cheesecake with pickled pear, an outstanding granola and poire William sorbet, and a truly great lemon Bavarois with a perfect arbequina olive oil jelly, citrus fruit salad, properly powdery lemon thyme sherbet and topped off with excellent almond biscuit crumbs. Just to complete this wonderful meal a delicious finale of chocolate sprinkle tart, chocolate ganache and pistachio came with our after-dinner mint tea.
And still the Michelin enigma remains: How can this restaurant be properly ranked by The Good Food Guide in its Top 50 and given a score equal to that of a number of Michelin two-star venues, and superior to some others, and Hardens justifiably award it top marks, and yet not get even one measly star from the tyre company.
Food + drink: 3
This is the thought that occupied my mind as we paid and left the Artichoke after a meal that had some good points but on balance left me underwhelmed, and unconvinced by what almost seems like a lobby to get this place a Michelin star. The food I had today- a set lunch of pickled herring, megrim sole in a beurre noisette , and their selection of cheeses , was not ambitious or complex. It was testing no-one to make it, and was unable to convince me at least that this is one of the best restaurants in the UK outside London. Further the portion sizes for starter and main were very small. Now I need to say at this point that we eat out a lot- our main meal is in a restaurant well over 100 times a year, and our repertoire ranges from 3* to neighbourhood Italian . So I really do understand that quality modern European cuisine is not served in huge platefuls; nevertheless these portions stood out for their smallness. Three tiny pieces of pickled herring, and a dreadfully small megrim (which I buy and cook myself) .
Nevertheless there were clear signs- in the bread, the petits fours, the coffee, that this kitchen can do better than what we were given to choose from and eat today. Its just a pity we didn't get to see more of it. Now I do have a clear view on the question set in this review's title. It is that if you are an ambitious restaurant then everything that leaves the kitchen should be of a style , quality and quantity to make you feel you're showing what you can do. If it doesn't then what incentive are you offering to make customers want to come back, and maybe next time choose a la carte? If showing what the kitchen can do ( even within a restricted choice) isn't possible for £28, then charge what you need to do that, but I'm unimpressed by a two-tier kitchen, trading on great reviews and awards but actually delivering something different.
This is a highly rated restaurant on Square Meal, but I do note that of 12 diner reviews, eight are from the same two reviewers, all rating across the board 10's . This seems odd, and is artificially inflating the aggregate rating, and unfairly reducing the value of those votes that aren't 10. Square Meal- should this be happening?
Our bill for 4 today was a little over £220, which included a decent bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and a glass of a slightly flabby Gavi. Not expensive if what we'd eaten was as good as this kitchen could produce, though we may never know. Service was pleasant and nicely paced throughout, though we did feel a little pressured to order at the outset.
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