Photo of The Crown, Buckinghamshire

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 29th March 2010.

Chatting with a couple in the bar in this curious place, I start to believe I must be living in a dream. "Whereabouts in London do you live?" one chap asks me. I tell him the name of the quiet garden square where I've resided contentedly for many years. "Well, how funny, my sister lives there, at No 6." "No she doesn't, I live at No 6." "Yes, she does." "No, I do." "Blue door?" "Yes." "Roses in front?" "Yes." "Old yellow Fiat 500 and pink Jaguar always parked outside?" "Yes. That's definitely her house."

I'm saved from a bout of fisticuffs about who actually lives at No 6 by the arrival of my friends Amanda and Ken. "What's going on?" they ask. "Oh nothing. I might be living in a parallel universe, that's all. Let's go in to dinner."

The Crown stands in Amersham's exceptional High Street, whose mix of architecture spans five centuries, with shops, houses, churches and pubs all jumbled together, although smart boutiques and delis have now swept aside the dozen pubs, nine butchers and six greengrocers that traded here.

Old beams, creaky, uneven floors, a warren of corridors and staircases upstairs, and a fine cobbled courtyard outside distinguish the Elizabethan Crown, though its new look decoration by renowned designer Ilse Crawford gives it, to my mind, a bland, if pleasantly airy and unfussy, appearance. Rooms, necessarily small, are all the same, with good points and bad. In ours: luxurious, very comfortable beds but with irritating giant cushions instead of headboards; paperbacks and Roberts radio; uncomfortable rocking chair; large shower but with a rubber floor that looks as if it might start breeding bacteria; wobbly loo. One room has been spared the Crawford touch: the four poster suite where Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell famously got it together in Four Weddings and a Funeral. It's still just the same.

The food is meant to be the thing here. The excellent cook and food writer Rosie Sykes is the consultant, which is good and explains the menu's emphasis on organic and local produce. The food that actually appears on our plates, however, from a choice of only three starters and main courses, is dead ordinary, which is not so good. Breakfast is ordinary. Public rooms look modishly appealing, but feel too wooden and uncomfortable: you can't settle down. Staff are somewhat amateurish (looks like there was meltdown on New Year's Eve, according to Tripadvisor). We leave in the morning, our spirits lifted by the first blue sky in weeks, but not by our stay in the Crown, which may look smart but lacks a heart.

Four miles away at Great Missenden, a treat is in store. Amanda opens the enchanting Roald Dahl Museum especially for us (it's normally closed on a Monday) and gives us a guided tour. We return to London on a high, unconcerned that our home may turn out to be a figment of our imagination. Roald Dahl would have approved.