Food review: The Fox & Hounds pub in Barley

PUBLISHED: 10:56 08 July 2019

Grilled Norfolk asparagus with a crispy duck egg and mint hollandaise (photo: Brian Arnopp)

Grilled Norfolk asparagus with a crispy duck egg and mint hollandaise (photo: Brian Arnopp)

Brian Arnopp Images

An ancient village pub, closed for seven years, is having a renaissance as a food destination after a £1m renovation

Next to a wave of exotic ingredients being added to menus, a hot trend on the Hertfordshire food and drink scene is the reinvention of the country pub. Economic pressures dictate the traditional boozer is becoming an endangered species; a fresh approach is needed. Tied houses judged able to survive are being given makeovers by their brewer-owners, but the ones to watch are those coming under private ownership thanks to a new breed of foodie entrepreneur.

The latest example, similar to the Black Horse in Brent Pelham featured last month, is the Fox and Hounds in Barley near Royston. The difference is Barley's revered tavern was closed for seven years - with all the implications for the state of the 350-year-old building that suggests - until two childhood friends, Robin Skidmore of Leeds and Colin Blundell of Barley, decided to buy it last year.

Many months and a £1m refurbishment later, the Fox and Hounds is back in business. The new owners were clear from the start food would be a major part of the undertaking, bringing in acclaimed chef Brett Barnes and John McKitterick, who has a long career in hotels and catering, as general manager.

The £1m appears to have been well spent. The new Fox and Hounds still looks like a village pub at the front, with the eating area complete with open kitchen to the rear. Beams and old artefacts set off the fresh but subdued décor, while outside is a large terrace for summer dining.

The renovated interior is light and fresh (photo: Brian Arnopp)The renovated interior is light and fresh (photo: Brian Arnopp)

As for the food, the website promises traditional pub classics as well as 'more progressive' dishes. There's a strong emphasis on local produce and a promise of traditional cooking methods including curing, smoking and grilling over wood and charcoal. Our first starter of hot smoked and potted salmon (£8) with watercress velouté and horseradish lived up to the promise, balanced by our second choice of grilled Norfolk asparagus served with a crispy duck egg and mint hollandaise (£8). Both dishes feature ingredients that look simple but can easily be over- or underdone and the combinations don't always work. Here, all was well, with the asparagus still crisp and the egg just the right consistency. We also enjoyed a sample of a wild garlic soup, served with goat's cheese fritters, chives and a warm milk loaf.

The mains revealed another bold move with guinea fowl breast (£17.50), not unusual, served with what was described as 'a little Kiev', which was, since that particular dish is normally applied to chicken. The pounded meat, butter, egg and crumb coating were all in place, just in a mini version and with a different meat, but why not? And it worked. It came with not just carrots but roasted heritage carrots and parsley to round it off. Nice one.

Equally tempting was the cider brined pork cutlet (£18), which turned out to be of a generous size, much to my fellow reviewer's taste and, in her words, perfectly cooked and properly moist. The pork was Gloucester Old Spot from the Rare Breeds Meat Company at Herons farm in Coggleshall, Essex. Chef Brett marinades it in cloudy cider brine for at least 12 hours before cooking while the sauce is made from the pork

bone stock and cider vinegar. The dish is served with local kale, home smoked bacon, capers and crispy sage.

More creativity is at work among the desserts (all £7.50), with Norfolk treacle tart accompanied by rum-soaked raisins and clotted cream among the contenders, followed closely by buttermilk pudding with rhubarb, rose and lemon drizzle cake. Banana toffee bread and butter pudding with almonds, Jersey cream and honeycomb was our choice, although we were sorely tempted by the bowl of warm cinnamon doughnuts with raspberry jam and whipped cream. As ever, it's a good reason to return.

The reborn venue was still enjoying the first few weeks of its new life for Hertfordshire Life's visit but general manager John McKitterick says he is pleased with the story so far. 'We are already exceeding our own expectations in terms of the level of business we are attracting,' he says. 'The feedback we are receiving also tells us we are exceeding our customers' expectations, which is what

every hospitality business should strive for.'

Banana toffee bread and butter pudding with almonds, Jersey cream and honeycomb (photo: Brian Arnopp)Banana toffee bread and butter pudding with almonds, Jersey cream and honeycomb (photo: Brian Arnopp)

This meal for two including two drinks and tip cost £86.40. This is an independent review by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.

- Fox and Hounds. High St, Barley

3 of a kind

Richard recommends three more Hertfordshire pubs serving great food

The 350-year-old building has a distinctive and rare gantry sign (photo: Brian Arnopp)The 350-year-old building has a distinctive and rare gantry sign (photo: Brian Arnopp)

- The Black Horse

Reviewed on these pages last month, highlights include beer-braised shallots as a starter. Lamb rump with salsify and wild mushroom is a popular main, with rum brownie and salted caramel ice cream leading the desserts.

Brent Pelham

- Prae Wood Arms

Comprehensive menu in a former stately home on the Gorhambury Estate on the edge of St Albans. Typically seven starters, 17 mains and seven desserts on offer. Large terrace and extensive gardens for outdoor dining.

Garden House Lane, St Albans

- Three Tuns

Bring your own wine on Mondays and a Thursday pudding club keep up the pace at this refurbished Georgian village pub. Typical starters include wild mushroom and stilton tart, with chicken parmigiana or beef ragu among the mains.

6 High Street, Ashwell

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