Stately conservative Old Amersham in South Bucks has had something of a foodie overhaul in the last few years. Adding to the undoubted excellence of the Michelin-starred Artichoke and the quality Gilbey’s, the town now boasts a brilliant, bijou café group The Grocers, the retro-stylish, Soho House-influenced The Griffin bistro and club (plus its more recent pizza offering The Griffling), and most recently… Pluma, a Spanish Kitchen and tapas restaurant on the main high street that’s just taken my tastebuds on holiday.
Pluma opened in July 2020, the brainchild of Charlie (voted employee of the year at Heston Blumenthal’s Michelin-starrred Hinds Head in Bray, no meat feat) and his wife Spanish partner Arantxa. With few Spanish restaurants in the vicinity and the ace of authenticity up their sleeve, they took on the 18th century site and, apart from the stress of last winter’s Covid closures, it’s been happy days ever since.
The restaurant is bigger than you expect from the standard double front exterior. Once inside, you encounter the first eating area – atmospheric, dark and cosy and probably best used for couples, evenings and private parties (you can claim the whole area and sit around 20).
Now go past the bar with its row of stools and keep walking on the Spanish tiles until you reach into a wonderfully light second eating area with clear roof, comfy banquette seating.
Finally there’s a further covered outside terrace for al fresco dining and drinking. Sympathetically and stylishly refurbished, the ancient beams and brickwork marry well with the modern glass extension and its industrial bulb lighting and open kitchen.
Authentic, slick, fun! Spanish music gave atmosphere, the chefs were speaking Spanish in the kitchen, and on the Friday lunchtime I visited the restaurant felt buzzy and cosmopolitan. With a wide ranging menu and quite a few ingredients that no doubt require some explanation to some guests (including this one) , the waiters needed to know their stuff and they did – service was friendly, professional and knowledgable. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights are apparently super-busy. I can believe it.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Let’s just cut to the chase here and say that the food is superb. I took my 12 year old as my plus one, and we dived headlong into the tapas. The signature dish here is hand-cut 100% Acorn fed Iberian pork, and it was extraordinary – rich in flavour, extravagantly marbled and, yes, absolutely, it melted in the mouth. I had to fight for my fair share of it – seriously, it was being funnelled into that pre-teen mouth. We ordered plenty of dishes that you might expect – a lightly-tempured calamari with lime mayo (would have liked a bit more lime bite, but the batter was fabulous); patatas bravas with roasted garlic alioli. But also some really interesting new dishes for me.
Calamari with lime mayo
A black creamy rice, chargrilled baby squid and garlic saffron alioli was exquisite, the oozy soft rice contrasting with the crisp morsels of baby squid throughout.
And the tour de force, Santa Rosalia Wagyu strip loin, Iberian ham dauphinoise with red mojo – a major investment at £30 but the best money you’ll spend in a restaurant this Autumn.
Santa Rosalia is Spain’s oldest producer of Wagyu beef, having imported cattle originally from Japan, providing many of the Michelin restaurants in Spain. The loin was incredibly tender with the dauphinoise giving a textural and creamy richness cut through with the spicy red mojo. It was the last tapas on our list and you know what it’s like with tapas – you always order too much. By the time the wagyu arrived we were so full we were pretty sure we’d be leaving most of it. As it happened, it was so delicious it gave us our second culinary wind and we even managed to finish the lunch with churros (well I was on a date with a 12 year old).
If tapas isn’t your thing or perhaps you’re looking for something different, I’d recommend an investigation of the Mains options as an alternative. Amongst the pork and ox cheek and milk-fed lamb shoulder dishes are lighter surprises such as Mussels in a creamy lemongrass sauce and cod loin in black garlic sauce with roasted cauliflower puree, with squid tagliatelle, seaweed in tempura and samphire.
I barely sampled the wine list as I was driving though as you’d expect there’s a strong showing of Spanish vineyards (one of few concessions past Spanish borders being a Champagne and a Crémant, both from France). So you can toast your partner with Llopart ‘Imperial Panoramic’ Brut Gran Reserva from Catalonia (£57) or one of the 35-strong Spanish reds, whites and rosés, as well as sweet wines and sherries.
OUT AND ABOUT
If you decide to eat at Pluma for lunch, clever you – you’ll have the afternoon to meander around Amersham afterwards, much of it a conservation area with more than 150 listed buildings from Tudor wattle and daub through to elegant Georgian mansions. The Old Town is elegant with some lovely indie stores. For fashion head to Fabric or Chattertons (there’s also a decent-sized Whistles there). Su Chases Interiors is a treasure trove for the home – a real tardis, you’ll be in there for hours!
Amersham is home to Kew Little Pigs, a miniature pig experience centre (some of the little oinkers have been on Game of Thrones!). Victorian redbrick mansion Hughenden Manor is nearby and part of the National Trust, as is West Wycombe Park and the stunning Palladian home of the Dashwood family. If you’re reading this from London, it’s easy peasy to come up for the day – Amersham is on the Metropolitan line.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: Great for couples, friends, private parties (no individual room but you could take the bottom of the restaurant easily) and families. There’s parking out the back so don’t be phased by the busy position on the road or trying to find parking on the high street (near impossible).
NOT FOR: It’s not a restaurant that will necessarily please little palates (even the patatas bravas are spicy) and though there’s an outside area, Pluma isn’t an ideal place for children to, shall we say, ‘let off steam’.
THE DAMAGE: Tapas starts at £6 per plate, rising to the Wagyu heights of £30 so you can pick within your budget. My reckoning on averages works out 5-6 plates shared will set you back around £60. The house wine starts at £22 rising up to the £340 Vega Sicilia ‘Valbuena No. 5’ . Don’t forget to invite me if you’re popping that one.
PLUMA SPANISH KITCHEN & TAPAS, 18 High Street, Amersham, HP7 0DJ. Tel: 01494 728 383 firstname.lastname@example.org.