07:14 april 30, 2022
Pair dedicated owners with a chef with a Michelin-star CV and you have a village pub-restaurant that has quickly become a staple, writes Richard Cawthorne.
Alex Parker’s career began when, just before graduating from hotel school at the age of 18, he walked into the kitchen after eating at Gordon Ramsay’s three-star Michelin restaurant in London and asked for a job. From there the leader of Cheshunt and now living in Bishop’s Stortford moved to Jason Atherton’s City Social, Hibiscus in Mayfair under Claude Bosi and then with Claude at Bibendum in South Kensington, all holders, like Ramsay, of Michelins.
Enter, a few years ago, Debbie and Chas Davis, owners since 1992 of the village pub Rose and Crown in Essendon. They arrived at the historic former coaching inn – built in 1796 – as tenants in 1989 and the owners undertook renovations, the first early and the second with an upscale restaurant launched last August. Covid was a delaying factor for a proper relaunch, but the couple persisted in their search for a suitable leader and eventually found Alex. Their mutual feelings about it are about to be displayed by renaming the restaurant “Alex Parker at the Rose and Crown”.
These restaurant reviews are chosen based on research and word-of-mouth recommendations. Rose and Crown’s story, backed by favorable food reviews, was enough to qualify. The latest refurbishment has seen the pub element faithfully retained while a spacious and modern restaurant extension is themed to bring the outdoors in.
There are 58 covers in the restaurant, 30 in the bar-lounge and 20 in a new outdoor area nearing completion. Three large paintings of the restaurant by artist and family friend Anne Tilby-Jones reflect the outdoor-indoor theme.
The restaurant is bright and airy with plenty of space between tables to relax. The staff are uniformed – always a good sign – and friendly, efficient and expert at explaining each dish as it arrives, and Debbie, who without a trace of self-pity feels she works 17 hours a day, is apparently always available for fun things on.
The evening menu we visited included five starters averaging £11-14, six mains ranging from £20 for a vegetarian option to £38 for stars, four desserts at around £11 and a cheese platter at £12. The menu was only slightly similar to the website, which is on the list of things to update, and menus change seasonally, so it’s good to check when you book.
Was the food worth the money? Yes. The presentation is reminiscent of the nouvelle cuisine era and the dishes are served on large fashionable plates making them look smaller than they are, but we felt perfectly satisfied and not too stuffed which which is not always a sign of eating less but more the quality of what you eat. As always, check out the fine details to find out how a chef works. Alex mixes nori – the seaweed from you and me – with candied lemon for a dish of smoked salmon, Waldorf salad and brie sauce with lamb sweetbreads, or leeks and bacon with sea bream. Octopus, not your average Herts offering, is on the way.
The first surprise of our meal was the arrival of an amuse-bouche, a gougère or a ball of French choux pastry, filled with parmesan cheese and truffles, not a bad way for the kitchen brigade to introduce themselves. My other half started with the salted salmon (£14), served as three mouth-watering discs with the sides listed above, plus a refreshing side of fennel salad.
I chose mushroom tart (£11) with parmesan cheese and bacon, plus pickled walnuts as a tasty and artistic addition to the side of the plate. Both dishes had a depth of flavor to set up the taste buds for the rest of the meal with a whisper of sweetness for balance.
Main courses were led by a favorite of my fellow reviewer, roast guinea fowl (£26), served with coriander, candied lime, cauliflower and, again exceptionally, curry sauce for a extra spiciness to the meat. It came with a leg side dish with pickled vegetables.
An almost automatic choice for me, the venison loin (£38) was four wholesome slices of perfectly cooked, flavorful meat with squash and red cabbage and a mini cottage pie on the side.
A shared Alaskan baked rhubarb dessert (£12) provided just the right touch of sweetness to end the meal.
Dinner for two at the Rose and Crown, Essendon costs £139.46, including two drinks and service.
The rose and the crown
22 High Road
Essendon AL9 6HW