Dinner at: The Hermit of Redcoats, Titmore Green
PUBLISHED: 09:00 09 April 2016
Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne seeks out the story behind a celebrated Herts character
There’s nothing like an intriguing name linked to a good back-story to alert the tastebuds to an eatery that might be worth sampling. Add an adventurous menu and the fact the place was awarded the accolade of Best Gastro Pub of the Year in the Herts Food and Drink Awards 2015 and it becomes irresistible.
The Hermit of Redcoats is in the hamlet of Titmore Green between Stevenage and Hitchin. It takes its name from James Lucas, born in 1813 to a wealthy family in Liverpool that later moved to neighbouring Redcoats Green. He eventually inherited the estate but after the death of his mother became a recluse, wore only a blanket and lived on eggs, cheese, kippers and gin.
Charles Dickens, visiting his friend Edward Bulwer-Lytton at Knebworth House, is among those said to have called on Lucas, who was happy to chat to passers-by through the bars he had put on his windows. Records in Stevenage Museum recall Dickens wrote a semi-fictional account of the visit, which was published under the title Tom Tiddler’s Ground.
Fortunately, Lucas’ diet has no echo in the gastro-pub that commemorates him. As well as saying dogs and wellies are welcome, and that it offers ‘a true taste of English country life’, the place revels in its food, changing its menu in some cases almost daily to reflect its policy of using locally sourced, freshly produced quality food.
The line-up featured on the website, which makes the point it is for illustration purposes only, changed at least twice in the days before my visit and by the time I arrived had changed again. Another plus point – the Hermit’s dishes are made freshly in-house, ‘from the tomato ketchup in our Hermit burger to the banana bread that comes with our cheese board’.
The menu with which we were presented featured six starters, including Cullen skink, otherwise known as Scottish smoked haddock soup; scallops and langoustine with chorizo and butterbean velouté; confit duck with duck egg yolk and rhubarb, and pigeon with ravioli, Cox apple and silverskin onion. Our choices were similarly different enough from the usual to attract attention – Dorset crab with texture of carrots (£7.95, left), and courgette flower with goat’s cheese and nutmeg yogurt (£7.25).
The first quickly found favour with my companion, a major seafood fan, for its freshness and carrot accompaniment that actually tasted of carrot. The courgette dish was equally clever, with a blob of the cheese melted inside the flower bulb and the yogurt refreshing, though I didn’t detect much nutmeg.
The speed of the menu changes was brought home to us with the mains. My fellow critic seized on the Suffolk suckling pig en assiette, with cauliflower cheese, fennel and apple – only to be told it was sold out. Not in the mood for fish (pollock or fish pie with cod and cockles were the choices), nor the lamb or ox dishes that were other options, she settled for a sirloin (£20.50) with portobello mushrooms, roast tomatoes, potatoes dauphinoise and peppercorn sauce.
As it turned out, it hit the spot, cooked as she had specified, tender and with the right amount of fat and no more. I would have gone the adventurous route and picked the lamb or ox dishes, both of which looked intriguing, but I had already spotted one of my favourites, roast loin of venison (£26.75, below), expensive but worth it, served with celeriac, shallot, horseradish pomme purée and juniper jus.
Convinced by now of the standards set by the Hermit, we went for broke with desserts, one a pistachio olive-oil cake with apricot (£6.50, bottom left) and the second a frozen millefeuille with chocolate, vanilla and cherry (£6.95), both exactly as good as they sound.
The cost of this meal for two was £89.45, including two glasses of wine. Service is extra.
This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
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The Hermit of Redcoats
Titmore Green, Little Wymondeley
Hitchin SG4 7JR
01438 747 333
3 of a kind
village pub dining
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