15th July 2016
Three and a half years since its refurbishment and reinvention, The King Stag in Bushey feels comfortably established. Whether you’re there for a coffee or a drink, a light bite or the full three courses, the atmosphere is friendly and the vibe easy – and the kitchen has a great reputation.
It’s an unexpected treat to be there for lunch, and we take our time to choose. It’s fine; no pressure. The menu is beguiling, with dishes described in just enough detail to set your mouth watering before you’ve even ordered them.
My guest starts with Smoked mackerel with wasabi crème fraiche new potatoes and sour dough croûtes, while I opt for the Pan-seared king scallops with chilli, pickled ginger and soy sauce consommé. The trend of late has been to serve scallops with a pureéd vegetable – cauliflower and pea spring to mind – so I’m interested to try what promises to be a more delicate version. And it’s good; very refreshing. The scallops, full of flavour, are very much the centre of the dish, and they stand up well to the robust consommé. They have great presence in the mouth (even when I inadvertently eat too many matchstick sized pieces of chilli all at once), and the little ginger hit is great. I’m pleased, too, that there’s a spoon provided for the consommé – don’t you just hate it when there’s lovely sauce left on a plate and no (polite) way to consume it?
The mackerel dish is carefully assembled, with the fish interleaved with toasted bread, all at an angle on top of the potato salad: it’s pretty, and tempting. The wasabi and the fish prove to be an inspired combination, with the toast adding a good crunch for extra texture.
Main courses are substantial, but not overpowering. Opposite me, Pan-roasted duck breast with sweet potato fondant, green beans and port-black cherry proves to be a rich, delicious dish; the jus is strong but well-matched to the meat, and the fondant works well. My companion is extremely grumpy when I ask for a second mouthful (in the interests of research, of course) so I know she’s enjoying it.
My Pan-fried bream fillet with pea risotto, shaved pickled fennel and a red pepper coulis ticks all the boxes. The risotto, in fact, is so good, that I’m several mouthfuls in before I even begin the fish (beautifully cooked, with the flesh falling away from the lovely crispy skin) and several more mouthfuls pass before I disturb the pea shoots and discover the pickled fennel underneath. This is a really clever addition; it accentuates the flavours of the fish, and relieves the richness of the risotto.
The side dish of vegetables – broccoli, carrots, beans – is also excellent: plain, perfectly al dente, and a proper accompaniment, that doesn’t eclipse the stars of the show.
We clear our plates; that’s quite an achievement for lunch. Not only that, but, again purely in the interests of reporting back, we are ready after a suitable pause to embark on dessert. I reject the suggestion that we should share the Vanilla panna cotta with strawberries (my guest eats it and enjoys it) in favour of Chocolate parfait with blood orange and toasted pecan crumb. This is rich, of course, but melts gently in the mouth and is enhanced by the crumb for texture, and the zing of the slightly runny sorbet. Not to be shared.
The King Stag has clearly found its niche. There’s precision and imagination in the kitchen, and the muted decor and mismatched chairs and tables set the tone for a very relaxed experience. Do I really have to go back to the office?