Dinner review: Fox and Duck, Therfield
PUBLISHED: 10:22 06 June 2016
With gastro-pubs now a dominant feature of the Herts foodie scene, food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne drops in on a prime example in the depths of the countryside
By the green in a tiny Herts village, the Fox and Duck at Therfield looks exactly what it is, a characterful rural pub. The building dates from the 19th century and has exposed beams and stone floors. Your average American tourist would love the place, though he or she would have to find it first, which might prove a challenge. A glance at the map brings up Therfield right enough, halfway between the main road from Baldock to Royston in the distance on one side and the A10 some way off on the other, but very little else. You start to wonder why anyone would go there.
The answer is its foodie reputation, thanks partly to a string of successes in last year’s Herts Food and Drink Awards. The F&D came top in the outstanding service category, was judged the county’s second best gastro-pub and took third place in the race for best restaurant. To top it off, it was awarded a TripAdvisor certificate of excellence. Isolated maybe, but not unknown.
As the awards indicate, this has more going for it than just an idyllic setting. The food offering confirms it, with traditional bar favourites alongside an à la carte menu, both seasonally adjusted and tending towards the satisfying grub side, which goes very well with the location.
The bar menu touts old favourites such as beer-battered haddock or burgers but there are also unexpected starters including chicken liver parfait at £5.95 with ciabatta crisps and red onion marmalade. There is also a tempting English charcuterie board (£10.95, or £17.95 to share) with a selection of salamis including venison and Cornish coppa plus lamb and duck prosciutto. Bar menu mains include a trio of gourmet sausages (£11.50), the threesome being Gloucestershire Old Spot, wild boar and apple, or venison with red wine. There is a ‘pie of the week’, plus a vegetable tian at £10 with aubergine, sweet potato, spinach and courgette, shallot purée and a Parmesan crisp.
Despite such temptations, we elected to go à la carte. Dishes on offer included an ambitious beef duo (£21.25) with a 6oz fillet, braised oxtail faggot, pancetta, carrots, baby onions and a Bourguignon sauce, or sesame tuna fillet (£17.50) with mussels, scallop, samphire, baby leeks, Parmentier potatoes (after Antoine Augustin Parmentier, since you ask), and salsa verde.
Surprisingly, there was also Dover sole (£19.95), a natural choice for my companion but not often available. This came with lobster cake, crab ravioli, peas, corn and thermidor sauce and was arranged as a tower in a bowl rather than the usual flat version. Not in the mood for beef, I chose the lamb duo (£18.95), which consisted of slow-cooked shoulder and roasted rump with Rosemary Ash goat’s cheese, olives, tomato, parsnip, fondant potato and rosemary jus, resulting in a very full plate of different shapes and textures and a real taste adventure.
Dessert was a shared pear frangipane tart (£7) with roasted plum and praline ice cream, which like the rest of the meal was substantial, well prepared and did its job.
We visited the Fox and Duck on a Thursday and it was satisfyingly busy, a sure sign of its popularity. We liked the unusual touches on the menu and the unfussy food. On the other hand, the crowd meant the only two waiting staff who appeared to be on duty, although polite and efficient, started the evening almost rushed off their feet. Things settled a bit later when the crowd thinned and all told it was a fun evening and we faced the journey back through the lonely country lanes in good spirits and with full stomachs.
The cost of this meal for two was £56.60 including two drinks, plus service.
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.
Book a table
The Fox and Duck
Therfield, Royston SG8 9PN