Dinner review: George IV, Amwell
PUBLISHED: 12:52 03 April 2017 | UPDATED: 12:52 03 April 2017
With a confident and innovative menu, a chef-run pub in Great Amwell attracts a happy throng. Photography Brian Arnopp
An American advertising campaign a few years ago featured a man who so admired a product he had purchased that he bought the company that made it. Chef Oliver D’Arcy probably knows just how he feels. As Hertfordshire Life recorded in January last year in a profile of Great Amwell, it was while working part-time at the George IV pub in the village near Ware that Oliver became interested in cooking and left a career in quantity surveying to pursue his passion. As of 18 months ago, he’s back at the George as chef/owner and fast giving the pub a foodie reputation. If the happy throng present on the evening I visited is any indication, the place is happy to have him.
In keeping with the current trend of such establishments, the pub side of things has been kept more or less intact while the food offering develops in a separate space at the back. A space is so far all it is, with none of the usual restaurant trimmings, but as the boss would no doubt say, the food comes first.
Between leaving the George and returning, Oliver was honing his skills, first at Westminster Kingsway College and then with executive chef Phil Thompson at Auberge du Lac in Welwyn before moving to Phil’s new venture, then called Thompson@D’Arcy’s, in St Albans. He credits Phil with teaching him about flavour combinations and sous chef Alex Bond for steering him from classic toward modern techniques, both much in evidence in his menus at the George. Again in the current fashion, these change regularly and sometimes rapidly, in my case in the day and a half between booking and turning up for the meal.
As I have mentioned before, Herts’ rising standards in cookery are not just evident in the quality of the main ingredients but in the accompaniments that lift them out of the everyday. The George menu was awash with the likes of compressed cucumber, monk’s beard and tarragon cream; even the North African spice mix ras el hanout put in an appearance. A hot chocolate fondant on the dessert line-up was garlanded with peanut brittle and peanut butter ice cream. It’s all a sure sign of confidence in the kitchen and a chef not afraid to try new things.
The tone is set from the start with what used to be called nibbles but here are known as ‘Picky bits’. Marinated olives and a bread board are there for the traditionalists but then we are off into a world of salted padron peppers (also known as the tapas pepper), marinated halloumi fries and onion hummus, buttermilk hot wings with green chilli slaw and coriander, plus spiced venison koftas with pickled red cabbage and parsley mayonnaise.
From a similarly exotic list of starters, we began our meal with chargrilled field mushrooms with goat’s cheese mousse, toasted pecans and apple (£6.50, above) for me and poached salmon rillettes with compressed cucumber, radish and lemon (£5, opposite top) for my fellow critic. Both proved to be clever combinations of textures and tastes, with the mushrooms given particular depth by the grilling.
I also turned to salmon for my main course, in this case a pot roasted fillet of Loch Duart’s finest, served with confit fennel, monk’s beard and tarragon cream (£15.50) – light and lively with the chance to try a taste of Tuscany in the monk’s beard vegetable a bonus. Across the table, the pan fried breast and crispy leg of guinea fowl with potato and turnip gratin, cavolo nero and turnip (£16.50) was an even bigger hit, the meat light and moist and nicely set off by the earthy accompaniments. The delicacy of the first two courses even left us room for desserts, led by a strangely solid but satisfying vanilla panna cotta with poached Yorkshire rhubarb and jam (£6.50, left). My choice of the more traditional Bramley apple and blackberry crumble with vanilla ice cream (£6) gave no cause for complaint. Still in keeping with the D’Arcy approach, however, the panna cotta came in a miniature Kilner jar and the crumble in a small cast-iron pot, which as well as being ultra-trendy also kept the dish piping hot.
The cost of this dinner for two was £63.95 plus tip. This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and visited by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
Book a table
Cautherley Lane, Great Amwell SG12 9SW
3 of a kind
Willian Road, Letchworth SG6 2AE. 01462 480233
Multi-award winner with regularly changing menu created by head chef Sherwin Jones with ingredients sourced from local suppliers.
6 Bury Lane, Hertford SG14 2 QL. 01992 554077
Contemporary dining pub with historic touches offering a popular old-meets-new atmosphere. Welcoming open fire in winter, relaxing beer garden in summer.
The Green, Green Lane, Croxley Green WD3 3HN. 01923 778677
A traditional country inn with a reputation for good food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.