Oxford Road, Beaconsfield – HP9 2XE www.ihg.com/crowneplaza/hotels
As a miserable Londoner I tend not to venture much farther than zone three in search of fodder. While anywhere not on the tube map, well you may as well be in Scotland. However, I will make an exception now and then if something special is promised.
In today’s case, it was an invite from the recently refurbished Crowne Plaza hotel in Gerrards Cross, who had tempted me to try out their newly opened 1269 Bar and Grill with a menu featuring Peter Hannan’s superb Himalayan-salt-aged Northern Irish beef. I have tried this on its native soil at a great restaurant in Belfast called Coppi and that one solitary piece of sirloin was enough to propel me towards Marylebone Station on a Saturday afternoon and a trip out of town.
Without wanting to sound like too much of a crushing snob, a Crowne Plaza on the A40 between Gerrards Cross and Beaconsfield ain’t necessarily the place you’d expect to find such quality produce.
But their ambitious new restaurant, run by head chef Dean Crews, has been kitted out with all the trappings needed to claim a spot at the meat-eater’s top table: an in-house aging room; a charcoal fired Josper oven; a space designed by fancy interior-design agency; and a menu featuring some of the best meat you can find from the UK and abroad. As well as the aforementioned Northern Irish beef, they have steaks from the Buccleuch Estate in Scotland and the ultra-fashionable geriatric dairy cows of Spain’s Basque country.
Of course, good suppliers and a fancy oven come to nought if you can’t cook for toffee, so without further ado, to the table. Regrettably, in a restaurant that can seat at least 60 covers, there was only a handful of tables occupied on the night we there, meaning atmosphere was in short supply. Nevertheless, with hopes high, we kicked off with a couple of meaty starters Ã¢â‚¬â€œa ham hock and smoked chicken terrine (£9) and pigeon with speck and choucroute (£8).
The terrine was well made and nicely seasoned, but the promised accompanying soda bread turned out to be nothing of the sort to the disappointment of my Belfast born date. The pigeon was perfectly cooked without a hint of liverishness, and the pickled cabbage made a good sharp counterpoint to the rich gamy meat.
Avoiding any of the fishy and vegetarian options on the menu, for mains our sights were firmly set on the Josper Oven and that beef. Alas, they were out of Basque milkers, so we had to slum it with a bone in rib of Buccleuch estate Scotch beef (£38) and a piece of salt-aged hanger steak from Norn’ Irn’ (£15).
As you would hope, in a restaurant that has have invested so much in its steak, both were perfectly medium-rare and deliciously charred on the outside – the Josper’s calling card. The bone-in rib was more than double the price for the same weight of steak as the hanger, but we both preferred the richly flavoured cheaper cut. Not sure whether that says more about my tastes or the quality of the beef, because I’m not a cheap date.
However, like Michael Gambon going on stage with the Chuckle Brothers, the virtuoso steaks were let down by their supporting acts. Both came topped with large blob of’whipped butter’, which slid unceremoniously off the steaks and around our plates like an uninvited greasy houseguest. The beef dripping chips were underdone and had none of the flavour you’d expect from an immersion in boiling lard, the caramelised shallot was also underdone, while, bucking the trend, the confit garlic was chewy and overcooked. Odd that the most technical part of the meal was done perfectly, but let down by things I can do happily at home without any bother at all.
For dessert a pineapple and mint carpaccio was nicely done, but they seemed to have doused the pineapple in some sort of syrup, which oversweetened it. A of a bit ho hum end to the meal, but nothing terminal by any means.
Was it worth the trip then? Well, I guess two thirds of a good meal is a decent return and they really do know what they’re doing with their meat – the hanger steak was the best piece of grilled meat I’ve had in a while. It’s the kind of restaurant that if you were staying at the hotel you’d be delighted to find on your doorstep in lieu of the usual paint-by-numbers offering. I’m sure it’ll also get a good local following once word gets out, but it’s a couple of rail bridges too for me to go back too soon.