Smith Travel BlogTravel tales and hotel news from the boutique hotel experts at Mr & Mrs Smith

The Inn Thing 3: Love a duck

Posted by Anthony Leyton on February 14th, 2009

The Crown Inn, AmershamLast week, Mr & Mrs Smith’s production queen Jasmine (who sorts out the printing of our books and all the lovely pictures on our site and arranges hotel reviews and, ooh, about six million other things) and I headed into the darkest depths of the Metropolitan line to Amersham, Buckinghamshire. It’s a sleepy satellite market town on the fringes of the Chilterns; one of those places that you half-recognise at every turn because of the fact that it’s routinely called in to play the role of ‘sleepy satellite market town’ in film. A role, I should add, that it performs with aplomb.

I’ll confess now that mooching around the Home Counties commuter belt is not my preferred means of disporting myself on a Thursday night, but when there’s an Ilse Crawford-designed boutique hotel to check out and the promise of a roast duck dinner, I’d happily fly Ryanair to Tasmania.

The Crown Inn, Amersham, is a sister of the nearby-ish Olde Bell Inn (which we made its first appearance on the Smith Travel blog about in July last year) and, now that it too has undergone a Crawfordian makeover, it’s due to be joining its sibling in the Smith collection of best UK hotels within the next month or two. It’s come a long way since Hugh Grant first cosied up here with Andie McDowell in Four Weddings, a Funeral and Several Million in Richard Curtis’s Bank Account; now, we’re looking at rustic rush matting, Welsh wool throws, mismatched chairs set around chunky tables, and a proper old-school inn atmosphere.

We scurry up the uneven wooden stairwell to have a peek at some of the rooms, which The Crown Inn, Amersham, Bucksmanage to achieve that peculiar Ilse Crawford effect of being soothingly simple and subtle while being instantly recognisable as her work. Glancing into a gleaming white bathroom, I think ‘very Babington House’, then remember that, of course, the Somerset hotel’s interiors are Ilse’s work too…

We’re not here to admire the lodgings, however – that can wait (sorry Ilse). This evening, it’s all about the food. Which means its all about the chef, Rosie Sykes. As well as crafting the menu at the Olde Bell, Rosie – who some might remember in her previous incarnation as the Guardian’s food doctor – has brought her considerable country cooking talents to the Crown’s kitchen.

Rosie’s recently published The Kitchen Revolution, a compendium of home cooking recipes using seasonal ingredients that can turn one meal into a week-long banquet. Her cooking is hearty and traditional, with nary a foam, jus, coulis or remoulade in sight – ideal fare for a country inn, basically.

Today, she’s showcasing one of her recipes – what she calls a ‘Big Meal from Scratch’ – with a hands-on demonstration of how to combine ducks, oranges and deliciousness. Perching on the end of the mediaeval-esque oak table in the Inn’s atmospheric, beamed function room, Rosie produces each ingredient in turn, passing them reverently round the table and delivering a potted biography of each one; everything from the culinary potential of celeriac (which she memorably describes as ‘ET’s head’), to the historical vicissitudes of the pomegranate. It’s rare that anyone can make an orange sound so dramatic…

The Crown Inn, Amersham, BuckinghamshireThe meal, when it comes, is phenomenal. The duck is as tender and velvety as the best fillet steak, and is lent a pervasive sweetness from the (normally bitter) Seville oranges. The celeriac mash – which has had only the briefest flirtation with any potato – is smooth and minerally, and an unaffected watercress salad brings freshness and bite to the plate. We couldn’t be happier. (Well, we could, but it would involve keeping Rosie on a chain in the Smith kitchen.)

It’s all very well wittering on about how fabulous the food was (and if you do get the chance to dine at the Crown, then, well, do), but right now that’s probably just frustrating if you’ve even the faintest flicker of an appetite, but I managed to cajole Rosie into sharing her roast duck recipe (following in the blogsteps of Gidleigh Park‘s Michael Caines who shared a roast partridge creation with us last year), so look out on the blog in the very near future for how to turn our feathered friends into flavoursome fun. Oh, and, while I’m on the subject of meaty goodness, look out for an upcoming account of the Ginger Pig butchery class I attended last week. And of course, look out for the arrival of the Crown Inn in the Smith boutique hotel collection. In fact, generally, just look out.

If you fancy sampling Rosie’s cooking, she runs regular Big Meal from Scratch events – give The Crown a call on +44 (0) 1494 721 541 for details. You can buy her book too…

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12 Responses to “The Inn Thing 3: Love a duck”

  1. We’ve just come back from lunch at The Crown, Amersham and can’t believe we were at the same restaurant! Unprofessional staff, two items from the limited menu already sold out, dirty glasses, a small piece of shot in a pidgeon starter and roast beef, which I was assured would be rare, was dry and overcooked. All this and zero atmosphere, we didn’t stay for dessert, but bought some lovely homemade cakes from the nearby Seasons cafe-deli, which by the way was buzzing, and headed home for a nice cup of tea!

    By philippa kendall

  2. Can’t believe you did a Ginger Pig course! I am a massive fan of their fabulous meat and their delightful butchers (esp. in their Marylebone shop). Did you also learn how to make their peerless sausage rolls?

    By Aline

  3. Sadly not. They keep the sausage roll info for their sausage course. I was strictly on beef – and I had the resultant cote du boeuf as a roast on Saturday. Incredible stuff. I did learn, however, that GP has just started making marrow burgers for Hawksmoor. A return visit may be necessary!

    By Anthony

  4. [...] Check out our recently posted roast duck recipe by Crown Inn chef Rosie Sykes [...]

    By Roast duck recipe

  5. @phillipa

    Oh no! So sorry to hear about that – we had the opposite experience entirely. Found the staff to be charming, the bar cosy and rustic, and the food excellent. Perhaps Rosie was out of the kitchen that day… I have to say though, I always find the presence of shot in a game bird reassuring – it tells me that it’s authentic country fare, not assembly-line meat. Ta for the tip about Seasons, though – will be sure to visit next time I descend on Amersham.

    By Anthony

  6. This food was so delicious. I must admit that I wasn’t the biggest fan of duck before but Rosie has converted me!

    By Jasmine

  7. [...] The Crown Inn (the Olde Bell’s opposite number, where we were lucky enough to sample Rosie Sykes’ divine duck not so long ago) is on the capital’s well-coiffed fringe in Amersham, and, a [...]

    By City Luxury Hotels

  8. Rosie is fantastic! We had our wedding feats at The crown and she was a great help with deciding the menu. On the day everything was just fabulous!!!

    By Lily Isherwood

  9. I’m returning to England in March after 3 years in far sunnier climes, and wanted somewhere typically English to take my Australian husband for a birthday weekend, I read this review and comments and had pretty much decided, however coments on TripAdvisor were so negative I’m now in a total quandry. Has anyone stayed at The Crown this year who has a good thing to say about it….please?

    By Traci Carpenter

  10. Hi Traci,

    If you’re concerned that the Crown may not be for you, you might like to have a look at some other excellently pubby Brit stays:

    The Olde Bell (The Crown’s sister property) on the Thames riverbank in Henley: http://www.mrandmrssmith.com/luxury-hotels/united-kingdom/berkshire/the-olde-bell-inn/

    The Beckford Arms in Wiltshire: http://www.mrandmrssmith.com/luxury-hotels/united-kingdom/wiltshire/the-beckford-arms/

    Or perhaps Hotel Endsleigh in Devon – they don’t come more classically British than this:

    http://www.mrandmrssmith.com/luxury-hotels/united-kingdom/devon/hotel-endsleigh/

    Feel free to get in touch if you need any more suggestions…

    By Anthony

  11. We have just arrived home from the Crown after a hugely disappointing evening. My partner and I decided that despite living only 25 minutes away that we would stay the night after dinner as it was his birthday. Rather a costly mistake at over £250. My dinner was distinctly average, although my partner seemed to enjoy his (perhaps he was simply being polite as I was picking up the bill) Having forked out for the ‘best room in the house’ we were very disappointed to find nothing that bears any resemblance to the images here. The lamps and carpets were stained and frayed, the bed had a single thin old blanket (not great with an outside temperature of -4) and there was no hot water, in fact no water at all in the hot taps! We won’t be going back, having come home tired and dying for a shower. Having tried to treat my partner to a nice evening I now feel guilty for having to put him through it.

    By Kate

  12. Hi Kate,

    Sorry to hear you had such a terrible time; the Crown Inn hotel was in fact removed from the Smith hotel collection in January following some negative feedback from our members. We set the bar high, and all our hotels are constantly monitored to ensure they meet our exacting standards (our spies are everywhere!).

    However, we really liked the property when we first visited (thus the original post), and have been keeping up with the hotel’s progress: the Crown now has a new manager, who tells us they are doing all they can to address recent complaints. We plan to revisit later in the year to check up on things, and make sure the hotel once again meets all our criteria for inclusion in the Mr & Mrs Smith hotel collection, and offers value for money, before sending another anonymous reviewer couple.

    By Lucy

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