The Artichoke, Old Amersham (October 2012)

A pleasant and welcome weekend jaunt, The Artichoke proves that one does not have to be in central London in order to enjoy some of the country's finest and most innovative cuisine. More than the food and drink (of which more below), what stood out was the superb service. Our party comprised four adults and two children under the age of two. While the children did not eat from the menu, the restaurant was highly accommodating in arranging high chairs from another local establishment for them to sit in and being genuinely welcoming of their presence. Fortunately for all concerned they behaved well too! The eating options were extensive if not somewhat bewildering at first, being presented with three different dining possibilities in two different menu formats. In other words, one could eat either from a set menu, a tasting menu or just simply a la carte. We opted for the latter although we were also allowed to chooses dishes from the set menu (where there was little overlap), which is always a nice touch. It would be most appropriate to describe the food as well-executed although perhaps also slightly over-engineered. Both my dishes were superb: to start, a piece of Cornish mackerel in seaweed jelly with pickled mushrooms and various other accompaniments. A plethora of flavours, which sat together well although additions to the platter came at the expense of the quantity of mackerel. The same could also be said of the main: a lovely piece of venison, beautifully presented with a range of different beetroots, but with only essentially three mouthfuls of venison, I did feel somewhat short-changed in this respect. My dining comrades were generally of the same opinion and the one vegetarian in our party noted that her main comprised an egg with some vegetables (albeit well prepared and beautifully presented again), but with a tangible absence of starch. There were no complaints at all about the puddings (lovely chocolate mousse and also a blackberry and apple sorbet were enjoyed) or the wines. The list is very extensive (supported by a knowledgeable sommelier) and we chose a Washington State Riesling followed by a fascinating and successful Syrah-Merlot blend from the Languedoc. Up the portion sizes and perhaps reduce the complexity and then the Artichoke would be scoring on all fronts.