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The Crown at Burchetts Green looks unassuming from the outside: the old brewery owned sign still hangs by the road belying its idiosyncratic and independent existence, willfully not quite anywhere and unassuming to outsiders. One moment we’re on the motorway and another without realising how we got there: surrounded by green pastures and sedate country houses of the ilk of which were built many years before. The Satnav (Argos’s cheapest offering) seemed to be malfunctioning, often saying to turn when necessary to continue in a straight line, some things freezing altogether as if trapped in stasis, or having vanished completely from the jurisdiction of a modern satellite. This might seem, in some respects, to be an interesting setting for strange occurrences.
Indeed it starts very much that way when the door opens seemingly of its own volition to reveal an uncommonly cordial and well scrubbed young man, who beckons us inside and takes our coats. Inside pictures scrawl across the walls all fuzzy frizzes of colourful backgrounds, still life’s of solitary strawberries bigger than a greedy man’s head. Jazz noodles in the background tweely. The whole thing somehow playing games with you, inviting you to take the whole thing at face value when the quirky edges of its taste are provocation. The sort that carries a feather duster rather than a machine gun. The staff display a similar sense of contrivance, a playful fantasy of old fashioned service, a certain formalness which masks who knows what beneath. It feels as though we have retreated into a different era. One where children respected their elders, rather than taking pictures then transfiguring them into a parent-hamsters using filters on their iPhone.
With everything else going on the food does, in some sense, seem to take a back seat (will be 20 mins sir, can’t be rushed!) at least certainly until when the pie arrives compete with not only trompette mushrooms it seems but battlements. The menu is very traditional. Also to be found along with pies are cuts of meat, served roast veg and a lighter fish dish or two. Much in the tradition of grandparents roast dinners quantity is supplied beyond bursting point. If a Michelin star is weighty, the weight of our mains must be at least in equilibrium with this. The friendly wrestle with lunch continues for some time, plates of meat are defeated, mounds of potatoes with hidden little treasure onions do however defeat full stuffed stomachs. To go with lunch, I drink probably the best traditional ale I’ve ever had, brewed specially for the establishment I am told by Wizard Brewery. A good pint!
Our lunchtime conversation ranges freely over topics including my partner’s return from the Philippines with the massive time difference, the erroneous clock in my car and the possibility of time travel. I think back over the course of the whole experience: the Satnav malfunctioning, the classically English old fashioned food, the young people with manners of yesteryear and conclude that the possibility time travel would be involved is ridiculous.
Back in the car I look at the clock. Again it is not right. But rather than simply having the wrong time by an hour I realise now that it also says the year is 1924! As we leave I note a small three-sided square of grass with roads spreading out in different directions and no signposts, like a train set model of the Bermuda Triangle. I note with surprise that three pleasant hours have passed, as well as 97 years on the digital dashboard.
Previously I’ve visited other Michelin restaurants, namely Tom Kerridge’s two star, The Hand and Flowers. Look around on the Internet these days – or 97 years later in my case – and you’ll find that stars in other countries are awarded to very different kinds of establishments including low-priced dumpling restaurants and small vendors in food markets. The mystery of what makes a Michelin star still eludes me after my visit to The Crown and, as for whether we really travelled back in time or if it’s just an hour ahead in my car, have been unanswered as both Honda’s customer service line and MI6 have refused to answer my calls. In whatever Masonic scientific lab these strange occurrences are being manufactured by otherworldly and powerful men I may will never know. Still the pleasant, strange and memorable experience of The Crown lingers on.