Based in my hometown of Amersham, Buckinghamshire, the Artichoke restaurant is amongst Britain’s most celebrated fine dining institutions. Touting numerous awards, from being listed 30th in the Top 50 UK Restaurants Good Food Guide 2017, to winning the AA Restaurant of the Year for England 2013-2014, listed no. 5 in the UK Top Restaurants BMW Square Meal 2016, Good Food Guide’s Best New Entry in 2011, and deemed a Rising Star in the Michelin Guide 2011.
This delightful restaurant is in the heart of Amersham’s old town, a beautiful, picture-perfect village located in London’s Zone 9’s green belt. At a mere 30 minute train ride from Marylebone, it makes for the perfect weekend lunchtime escape from the city or a relaxing country retreat in one of the old town’s luxurious boutique hotels.
Artichoke has an outstanding reputation for innovative and refined Modern European cuisine that champions the best of the season’s freshest ingredients, including organic, free range, local produce from the rolling hills of beautiful Buckinghamshire.
Opened in 2002, Artichoke’s founders are husband and wife team Laurie and Jacqueline Gear, who embarked upon a mission to consistently deliver superior cuisine and service. As it grew in acclaim over the years, securing numerous prestigious awards, it was hit by tragedy as a fire from premises next door forced the Artichoke to close for 18 months. Undeterred, Laurie used these months to stage at Noma in Copenhagen, where he gained new insights and techniques that he has subsequently bestowed upon Artichoke. As a result, the restaurant has since been renovated, expanded, and ultimately, upgraded, enabling the restaurant to climb to new heights.
The elegant interior is of white washed beams, subdued hues of greys, creams and beiges, interspersed with warming artichoke greens, there is a composed sense of calm upon entry that sets the tone for the august food to come. Greeted by the vibrant and enthusiastic staff, we were seated next to a stunning wine collection by a hallowed out fire place, and welcomed by two glasses of their house champagne; the Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve N.V, a lovely golden champagne with a complex, nougatine, delicious nose.
Our kind waiter recommended we try the lunch tasting menu, which features six courses for a surprisingly affordable £44.00 and can be explored with pairing wines for an additional £24.00.
To begin, we tried (and indeed in my case, devoured) the homemade bread and butter. These were two crispy (yet fluffy on the inside) buns with bacon and cumin, and two malted sourdough buns that were truly delicious. These were to be relished with the day’s amuse bouche, which made an excellent start to our tasting lunch, as a light and fluffy refreshing fennel mousse topped with citrus shavings.
Our first starter was a lentils and smoked bacon soup with pineapple. A generous portion, this was a warm bowl of a pale lentil soup more akin to a rich yet equally light puree, served with small chunks of smoky bacon and zesty pineapple that worked wonderfully together to cut through the creamy lentil base. The generous portion was welcome given the lightness of this dish, and it made an excellent starter.
For our second starter and on the recommendation of Artichoke’s Chef Patron Laurie, we deviated from the tasting menu and tried the tartare of sea trout with pickled vegetables, mixed seed wafer and lime cream cheese. Presented immaculately, this was a distinctly Scandinavian style dish of delicate and refreshing cubes of sea trout tartare served alongside a crispy wholegrain biscuit topped with creamy mounds of a zesty yet creamy cheese. We enjoyed this dish with the Vittoria Sauvignon Colli Piacentini DOC wine from Italy, a lovely yellow and gold, fruity, floral sauvignon with a profound minerality yet excellent fruity notes that added warmth and freshness to its dry texture.
For our third starter, we returned to the tasting menu for a megrim sole on the bone served with brown shrimp and caper beurre noisette, alexanders and roast salsify. This was, surprisingly, our favourite dish of the meal. The megrim sole, a simple and unpretentious meaty fish, melted off the bone into a shallow bowl of nutty, caper infused butter, stippled with flavoursome brown shrimps and fresh alexanders. The roast salsify added a warm and welcome solidity to the light fish, rendering the dish well rounded and satisfying. An excellent, excellent starter. This was paired with a stunning Bordeaux-esque Semillon, from Mount Horrocks Watervale in Claire Valley, Australia, 2014. Cutting through the richness of the butter and capers, this was an appealing, sweetly spiced ripe pear and apple aromatic wine balanced well with strong, French oaky notes that enabled it to stand up well to the dish’s richness.
For the main, we were brought a smoked Madgetts farm duck leg served with spring greens, pomme puree, and orange and five spice glaze. This was an excellent variation on the classic duck confit, with the same decadence and richness of the duck meat falling off the bone, yet a more zesty and light finish. The skin was perfectly crispy, the meat tender, and the pomme puree a comforting side. This came paired with an exceptional light and fruity pinot noir from Argosy in the Marlborough region of New Zealand, 2015. Featuring velvety tannins with luscious deep, red fruit aromas, this light red wine complimented the decadent duck well and made an excellent pairing.
Pleasantly full, yet surprisingly not excessively so thanks to the freshness of the ingredients and the lightness of the dishes, we chose to close our tasting menu with a cheese board and dessert to finish. Yet in the spirit of Artichoke’s generosity and emphasis on local produce, we were delighted to be brought a pre dessert course, a fantastically freshening, and surprisingly subtle, goats cheese ice-cream that cleansed the palate.
For the dessert, our lovely waiter recommended the nadorcott clementine sheep’s milk panacotta with clementine compote and toasted almonds. This was the perfect end to our meal, as a the fresh and fruity, citrusy compote with clementine refreshed the palate whilst the delicate panacotta topped with crunchy almonds gave that much needed sweetness and decadence that all good meals finish upon. To pair, we tried the noble late harvest kia-ora, kanu from Western Cape South Africa 2013. A 95% Chenin Blanc and 5% Sauvignon Blanc blend, this deep, luxurious amber sweet wine oozed citrus blossoms, tangerine peel and spicy vanilla that worked wonders with the creamy panacotta and zesty clementine of the dish.
The cheese board was no less delicious though, as a range of French and English farmhouse cheese, all uniquely chosen for Artichoke and surprisingly diverse in offering. Served beautifully with handmade crackers and more fantastic home made bread (this time with walnuts and fruits), we were delighted with the offering. To pair, we had the Dulce Monastrell, Familia Castaño, Yecla, 2013 – a luscious, port-like deep purple red sweet wine that offers stewed black fruit on the nose with hints of carob bean and black olives. Extremely full bodied yet balanced with a refreshing acidity, this plummy, jammy, dried fruit sweet wine was a delicious addition to the delicious cheese board.
As we finished our meal with coffees and more delicious treats from the Artichoke in the shape of four varieties of petit fours (think, gooey, fudgy, sweet, and tiny creamy macaron-like delights), we felt well rested and hosted, ready for a lazy afternoon.
In sum, the cuisine, the produce, the staff and the interior ensure that Artichoke’s reputation as being amongst the best of Britain’s offerings well deserved. This is a restaurant well worth experiencing for Londoners and locals alike, and one I will most certainly be returning to with great anticipation for the Summer menu. Thank you, Artichoke of Amersham!
9 Market Square