I have a terrible memory; I never forget a thing. Which is why the drive to Fusions, in High Wycombe, was quite so odd.
I have a terrible memory; I never forget a thing. Which is why the drive to Fusions, in High Wycombe, was quite so odd. It's where I first played Space Invaders; it's where I first came face-to-face with the National Front; it's where I traded in my Genesis records for a New York Dolls import. The best thing I can say about this ugly, grey town in Buckinghamshire is that it isn't Slough. The worst thing I can say is that it's where I grew up.
For six years, I walked its unremarkable streets. Actually, I got pushed down most of them in a shopping trolley - I was in the school rugby team, you see. But never once did I venture down the West Wycombe Road. Too rough. So I was intrigued to hear about Fusions. I could see the locals welcoming a new take-away, but a restaurant with Michelin pretensions? Not likely. Surely the place couldn't have changed that much. I asked along my strapping nephew - just in case.
A lot of the run-down houses have been cheaply renovated and turned into student bedsits. But, otherwise, the road was much the same. And there, behind the Ambassador Court Hotel, was Fusions. You would never find it without a map. It was a leather-chair-and-blond-wood-floor kind of place. That is restaurant shorthand, and from the single gerbera on every table I had a fair idea of what was going to be coming out of the kitchen - sea bream and polenta. Nice, but a bit predictable. The menu, however, managed a few surprises.
My nephew likes to eat, so when I told my nephew that Fusions wasn't an all-you-can-eat establishment, he looked nervous. Not as nervous as me - after all, I was going to be picking up his tab. He liked the fact that the crab risotto (£7.50) didn't stint on meat. And that it had a reassuringly brown colour. Personally I prefer the more absorbant vialone nano rice with seafood, and arborio with meat and mushrooms, but either way it should have a soft starch on the outside that melts into a rich, creamy sauce, with still-firm inner starch. This rice, however, had no bite about it. Shame, really - the flavour was exquisite.
The risotto came with avocado ice cream. I've always thought nothing says "we want a Michelin star" more than a savoury ice cream. It certainly brought a smile to my nephew's face. And not in an I-see-what-he's-doing-here sort of way. He genuinely liked it.
The chicken liver parfait (£6.50) was deliciously grainy, and stood up well to the accompanying fruit compote and port wine reduction. But the tomato and lemongrass broth (£5.25) was bland. The plum tomatoes didn't taste roasted, whatever the menu might have said. And the lemongrass, which usually creates a layer of flavour, was barely noticeable. You can't have a fusion restaurant without lemongrass. I just think the chef - Anthony Vivier, a South African - could afford to be a bit more heavy handed with it.
The loin of venison (£15.95) arrived with a swirl of chocolate pepper oil on the plate. Chocolate and chilli are essential ingredients in mole, the Mexican sauce. But in mole the chocolate is unidentifiable, providing less of a sweetness than a silkiness. Here it was too up-front. Fusions uses a lot of imaginative deli oils, but in a rather unimaginative way. Cook the ingredients - don't just show them off.
Roast organic pork (£13.95), with its sticky apple jus, was beautifully flavoured but too dry, and because the fat under the rind had melted away, the crackling didn't crackle. Duck breast (£13.95), with its star-anise and five-spice marinade, should have been fatty and robust, but it was thin and disappointing. Like a lot of the dishes at Fusions, it read better on the menu than it tasted on the plate.
It's fair to say that Fusions is the best restaurant in High Wycombe. And if Vivier just had the courage of his convictions, he could create a destination restaurant to be proud of. At the moment it's all a bit half-hearted. People in High Wycombe won't spend £40 a head if they are worried about where their car is parked and the food isn't extraordinary. They'll do what I always used to do - get a bag of chips on the way home. E
145 West Wycombe Road, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire (01494 430378)
SECOND HELPINGS: CHILL OUT IN THE CHILTERNS
By Caroline Stacey
A gastropub with its priorities right. Keep wellies or walking boots on and squeeze into the bar for local ales and posh comfort food. Book for the dining room or eat outside overlooking the village green.
Frithsden, Herts (01442 864480)
Bollinger doesn't quite outsell beers, but as more of a restaurant than a bar, wine flows at this breezy ex-pub. Eat modishly - Greek salad or crab risotto - in or out on the patio.
Chesham Road, Great Missenden, Bucks (01494 865625)
Bull & Butcher
B&B gives good rustic R&R with Brakspears beers, a large grassy garden to sit out in, and Midsomer burgers or crayfish salad. New managers wait to see if it keeps its smiley face in the Michelin guide.
Turville, Bucks (01491 638283)
Part of this ancient coaching inn is an antiques centre and the restaurant's accordingly furnished and shabby chic. But the cooking is contemporary, and the grassy garden and wine list have just got bigger.
Tetsworth, Oxon (01844 281182)Reuse content