Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Old Queen's Head, Penn, Buckinghamshire

One day I plan to move out of London. In fact, I look forward to that day. I am a country bumpkin at heart and the hustle and bustle of city life will only excite me for so long. But I have a concern. I am so spoilt in London. I open the door, turn right and then left! A whole street full of great neighbourhood restaurants where I can eat out to my heart's content. So much choice. So much great food on my doorstep. Move to the country and it is all a bit of a gamble. Good food may well mean getting in the car and trekking to the nearest town several miles away.

So, perhaps I should move to Penn in Buckinghamshire. Best not tell my brother-in-law - he might not be too thrilled by the notion of me moving in next door. Though he would save a packet on baby-sitting. The great thing about Penn is The Old Queens Head. A fantastic pub with a great restaurant upstairs, just sitting there, in the middle of the village. Gastro-pub this is not (really). It is more of a proper restaurant within a pub. A jolly nice pub it is too - the dining room apparently dates from 1666, so the website tells me. A pub with a website. A good sign, I think. All very nice, but what about the food?

Delicious. Impressive. Smiles of joy all round. The menu is fairly extensive with a mix of traditional classics and some more... unusual combinations. Some a little off-putting, to be fair. None of us were tempted to order the Roast Amersham Rare-Breed Pork Belly with Crispy Squid on Feta, Pea and Mint Salad. But maybe we were just chicken? Pork, squid and mint is perhaps the new beef and Yorkshire pudding? However, lots of things did tempt. And lots of local ingredients - the goats cheese was froma nearby farm, the wild boar was from up the road. It was hard to decide. I started with ham hock and leek terrine with a caper and mustard sauce and a roast red onion muffin. It was first class. The flavours worked beautifully well together although the muffin was ever-so-slightly superfluous. I think I would have preferred a hunk of crusty bread. Others thoroughly enjoyed a rather good goats cheese and roasted beetroot salad.

The rib-eye steak came highly recommended - it would have been churlish to have chosen otherwise. It was tasty and perfectly cooked and came with crispy onions and a special spicy tomato relish that was quite interesting. Roast lamb rump with pine nut crust on tomato polenta cake with artichoke puree was also deemed delicious.

By this stage I was fit to burst. But the arrival of the pudding menu heralded new-found joy. Would it be the Tarte Tatin?

Or the chocolate brownie with marmalade ice-cream?

The chocolate brownie won! Less brownie, more slightly over-cooked chocolate fondant (in a good way) this was hot, sticky, deeply chocolatey and I wish I had one with me right now. The marmalade ice cream was an excellent partner - lovely bitter-sweet flavour to it.
Perhaps the thing that impressed me most about The Old Queens Head was the selection of pudding wines by the glass. At most restaurants you are lucky to have one of two offered by the glass. Here there were 10 (to say nothing of Port or Sherry). This meant we could select three to match our individual desserts. With the appley Tarte Tatin, we opted for the Vendimia Tardia Riesling, 2003 from Chile (£2.35 per glass) with the two chocolate brownies we had Banyuls Cuvee Parce Freres 2004 (£3.25 per glass) and Stanton and Kileen Rutherglen Muscat (£2.25 per glass). Chocolate matches best with fortified wines - the Banyuls is a sweet red and the Rutherglen Muscat a deeply dark and sticky deliciousness - great with the ice cream too. I was in heaven.
I can't wait to go back!
Hammersley Lane, Penn, Buckinghamshire
01494 813371

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