Fine dining doesn’t have to mean formal as Katrina Harper-Lewis discovers at Crockers Tring when she takes a seat at the chef’s table
You might not expect a fine-dining restaurant like Crockers Chef’s Table to pop up in a quiet market town like Tring, but as one of the area’s newest residents (I moved here 18 months ago), I can tell you that its arrival has caused quite a buzz. And not least because it was rated Tring’s No 1 restaurant on Trip Advisor before it even opened. However, as I’m reliably informed, this is a hangover from the restaurant’s previous life in its former home of nearby Potten End, which received rave reviews. Still, with 98% rating it ‘excellent’ that’s quite a reputation to uphold at these new, larger premises in Tring.
In recent weeks, on the nursery run, I’ve watched the elegant rose-gold signage go up and the window hoarding come down to reveal a slick interior worthy of any trendy London joint, whilst inquisitive passers-by scrutinise the sophisticated menu outside. To get a piece of the buzz I decided, dutifully, to pay it a visit – after all, it is only within stumbling distance of my house.
Founded by Luke Garnsworthy, a trained chef and fourth generation hospitality entrepreneur, Crockers is affectionately named after his father’s restaurant in Exeter, where Luke spent his childhood. However, the culinary artistry is all the work of Head Chef Scott Barnard. Luke looked up Scott after watching his impressive performance on MasterChef: The Professionals in 2015, in which he came second. Lucky for Luke, Scott decided to come on board team Crockers.
The chef’s table concept makes dining here as much about the experience as the food. Seating up to 15 people around the immaculate and seemingly chilled-out kitchen (there’s nowhere to hide here), the restaurant can be booked exclusively, or afford an opportunity to bond with new friends over simultaneous cooing as the intricate and delicious dishes are prepared in front of you. While Crockers has all the gloss and quality of a fine-dining restaurant, the staff, although eminently professional, have a refreshingly informal air. Crockers is, in their words, ‘food without any of the pomp that is usually associated with fine dining’.
As my husband and I took our seats, Luke and Scott were already (albeit affably) pulling the leg of a fellow diner, which opened up the conversation and put us at ease. On perusing our tasting menus, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the vegetarian offerings sounded equally as inventive as the meat options – a welcome digression from risotto.
We started with a succession of bite-sized snacks presented by Scott, including squid ink tapioca, a celeriac taco, and Tring Brewery Beer bread with Marmite butter. Our first course was slow-cooked quail (roast onion for the veggies) with seasonal asparagus and wild garlic. We opted for the standard wine flight (a fine wine flight is also available), each glass expertly selected by Crockers’ sommelier to complement the dishes.
Next up was Cornish hake, which my husband said melted in the mouth, while I devoured the roast cauliflower with curry and pickled grapes – an intriguingly tasty combination. The vegetarian version of the lamb course (Scott’s unconventional take on Caesar salad), was kohlrabi glazed in seaweed butter. The palette-cleansing pre-dessert was a variation on lemon meringue with a fragrant basil sorbet, and for the finale came a heavenly and silky-smooth Valrhona caramel chocolate dessert.
As I write, ‘The Bar at Crockers’ is due to launch, serving local beers and cocktails featuring gin from the nearby Puddingstone Distillery, as well as bar snacks to give a taster of what’s on offer from the kitchen. What better excuse to go back? And, with the tasting menu changing every month, I might just have to ditch that gin fund in favour of a Crockers fund.
Images: Matthew Bishop Photography