Run by husband and wife team Laurie and Jacqueline Gear, the restaurant dates back to 2002 though had an 18 month break when a fire in the neighbouring restaurant forced closure. While few things would seem more traumatic for a restaurant than this, they used the break wisely with, amongst other things, Laurie spending time in the kitchen at Noma. The restaurant meanwhile came back bigger and better, a full makeover of course, state of the art kitchen, and the acquisition of the next door premises doubling capacity.
We don't know how the 'old' Artichoke, was, but the new and improved Artichoke is in our view stunning, and the food delivers from start to finish. Cooking is precise, ingredients fresh, flavours bold and presentation excellent. And it's not just us who thinks so, The Artichoke has met with universal acclaim as it becomes more widely 'discovered' and is a favourite amongst chefs: the restaurant can even count Raymond Blanc amongst its regular diners. Indeed, at the restaurant's recent 10th anniversary dinner, Chef Blanc teamed up with Laurie, donned his whites and helped cook up the meal, delivering it personally to diners' tables. Yes, we too are kicking ourselves that we didn't attend that particular meal.
Despite all of the above, it's an unpretentious place with friendly staff and accessible menus. On the lunch service we attended, there's a set lunch, a la carte, five course tasting or seven course tasting with prices ranging from £25 through to £65; given the quality of cooking on offer, it represents excellent value. The tasting menu, our choice for the day, also provides diners with options on mains and dessert, so giving flexibility to the menu also.
The quality shines from the start, with Cornish mackerel served alongside 'isle of bute seaweed jelly', which initially brings to mind the richness of soy. Also with pickled mushrooms and pomelo, it's a plate that sings from the first moment and is a pointer to the quality that will unfold throughout the meal.
In a menu that is full of moments, it is two more seafood plates that perhaps edge in to our top slots for the meal. An Isle of Skye scallop with pork belly, cauliflower purée and cumin foam takes a few risks mixing cumin with some classic combinations but the dish maintains balance, with each of the elements still able to shine, but coming together to deliver that something extra. Needless to say, everything is beautifully cooked, but the precision and delicacy of the poached fillet of brill leaves us hushed with awe. An exceptional dish, plated with smoked chicken oyster, pumpkin mousse and crisp capers, it would have a deserving place served up in any of the world's finest restaurants.
And so went the meal. With brevity suggesting we should cut short our praise for the foie gras with hibiscus poached rhubarb, or the perfect quails breast, the pictures are nevertheless shown below, though you'd be best advised to plan a trip to Amersham and try it for yourself. On our visit, the place was humming and no one was in a rush to leave, so booking a table in advance is a must. With many awards already under its belt, and more undoubtedly on the way, we can only say they are all so well deserved. We will certainly return (that is, if we can get a table).