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Review: Williams’ Bar & Restaurant, Tewin Bury Farm Hotel

PUBLISHED: 13:25 09 October 2017 | UPDATED: 14:25 10 October 2017

Corn royale with summer truffles, violette potato chips and red mizuna (photo: Brian Arnopp)

Corn royale with summer truffles, violette potato chips and red mizuna (photo: Brian Arnopp)

Brian Arnopp Images

Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne returns to an old favourite under the stewardship of an exciting new chef

Once you adjust to the novelty of eating in a farmyard, the restaurant at Tewin Bury Farm is a find. It’s not just any farmyard, of course. A number of the former working buildings have been carefully converted to new uses and the complex is now a successful hotel, wedding and conference venue. An indication of how successful it is can be gained from the fact the project the village of Tewin near Welwyn was launched nearly 40 years ago, in 1980, when the owning Williams family opened a farm shop to sell produce and added four rooms in the family home as guest rooms for visitors. As recounted on the website, the demand for rooms grew, more renovation work took place and a hotel became the first part of what is now the ‘other half’ of the business, while the land around continues to be farmed and is still owned and worked by members of the family.

Again quoting the official history, a steady rise in the number of guests led to a decision to convert the former chicken shed into what is now Williams’ Bar and Restaurant, whose success in turn led to the restoration and conversion of many of the other 17th-century farm buildings into their new use. And in case that bit about the chicken shed causes concern, Williams’ is an upmarket operation. It is sufficiently so to gain an entry in the 2017 Michelin Guide, whose inspection team labelled it ‘a characterful, rustic hotel restaurant’. As for the ambience, the guide adds, ‘Black and white photos of farm life adorn the walls. Fresh, well-executed, modern dishes are pleasing to the eye as well as the taste buds.’

The AA has given Williams’ two rosettes and in 2015 the restaurant was awarded a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence. It was the fifth year running the accolade had been granted, giving Tewin Bury entry to the online review site’s hall of fame. The certificate can be earned only by receiving consistently favourable reviews on the website.

I knew of Tewin Bury and had good memories of my last visit five years ago. With a new executive chef, Grant Tomkins, in charge and a plateful of new dishes on the menu, it was time to go back, with extra impetus added by the sight of pickled white crab among the starters and Mimram valley lamb included in the mains. My fellow critic and I duly sampled both. The crab (£7.95), my other half’s choice, came with heritage tomato and a crayfish dressing and was praised for its consistency and fullness of flavour. I went for corn royale (£6.50), with the intriguing accompaniments of summer truffles, violette potato chips and red mizuna, a cool and refreshing dish which like the crab and succeeding dishes was presented on the plate like a work of art.

Chocolate cremeux (photo: Brian Arnopp) Chocolate cremeux (photo: Brian Arnopp)

Among the mains, the lamb (left, £20.50) went to my companion and came with charred onion, baby turnip and spinach puree. Lamb is a favourite of hers and this gained her full approval. It was equalled by my choice, two hearty cuts of duck breast (£18.95) with the novel additions of potato fondant, radicchio, salt baked beetroot and black olives. We added a side dish of sautéed new potatoes (£4.50) with violette artichoke and parmesan.

Although not often three-course people, we found the desserts equally tempting, succumbing to English cherries (£6.50) on the one hand and chocolate cremeux (above, £7.25) on the other. The level of expertise in the kitchen we had already detected was equally evident here, with the cherries accompanied by lemon and poppy seed posset and black pepper ice cream, while the second dish boasted aerated chocolate, chocolate glass and micro balm. The last item I have always associated with cosmetics and I still have no idea what it was here, but it worked.

Chef Tomkins is clearly in his element with what looks like a free hand with some exotic ingredients as well as seasonal produce from the farm and nearby, a key part of Tewin Bury’s green credentials. Other touches include trout from the farm’s own lakes and herbs grown in various locations around the site. Put it all together and it makes Williams’ Restaurant well worth a visit. Helping things along are regular special offers including a two-course lunch with a glass of wine for £16.50, and a wine, dine and stay package, both available during October and November.

Williams Restaurant (photo: Brian Arnopp) Williams Restaurant (photo: Brian Arnopp)

The cost of this meal for two was £97.75 including two glasses of wine and 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.

3 of a kind: Hotel restaurants

Sopwell House

Cottonmill Lane, St Albans AL1 2HQ. 01727 86447

Sopwell’s restaurant offers ‘formal and sophisticated gourmet dining’ and has just won two AA rosettes and an Open Table Diner’s Choice award for 2017. Guests can also choose from a second menu in the brasserie.

The Grove

Chandler’s Cross, Watford WD3 4TG. 01923 807807

A choice of three venues: The Glasshouse for international family cuisine prepared in a ‘theatre of cooking’, the Stables for ‘simple food’, and Colette’s for fine dining supervised by chef Russell Bateman.

West Lodge Park

Cockfosters Road, Hadley Wood EN4 0PY. 020 8216 3900

One of two hotels in the Beales collection, West Lodge is noted for fine dining in the Mary Beale Restaurant, led by executive chef Wayne Turner with weekly changing menus with suppliers and their produce listed in a special booklet.

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