Restaurant review: Auberge du Lac, Welwyn
PUBLISHED: 11:08 09 December 2019 | UPDATED: 11:08 09 December 2019
Brian Arnopp Images
Ticking all the reviewer’s culinary boxes, the restaurant overlooking the lake on the Brocket Hall estate also offers a particular old world charm at this time of year
Hertfordshire is fortunate in having a growing number of good restaurants, and a few more than good, but choosing one to epitomise the festive season was not difficult. There are other contenders as the incidence of good food on offer in the county rises. A certain skill in the kitchen is a given. A choice of dishes, fresh ingredients, seasonal menus, attractive surroundings, cosy décor, attentive but not overwhelming service - they all gather votes.
Some places I know have some of them but, in my strictly personal view, only one of those I have so far visited has them all, or at least it did on the busy Saturday evening of my most recent experience. That would be Auberge Du Lac.
The caveat about this visit is necessary - these reviews are based usually on one meal and there is no guarantee a good restaurant cannot have a bad day on another occasion. Herts restaurants garner as many indifferent reviews as good ones on the internet and according to one website even the Auberge is rated only third of Welwyn's places to eat, though it's not too specific about the other two. Given recent publicity about fake reviews, or even paid-for ones, personal experience remains the best guide.
The Auberge bills itself as offering 'modern fine dining with an upmarket ambience in an 18th-century former hunting lodge'. The lodge also happens to overlook an ornamental lake surrounded by trees illuminated at night in the middle of 543 acres of Brocket Hall estate. The bustle of modern life is left behind - an impression heightened by having to talk your way past the security gates at the end of the drive. Tranquility and good food however do not come cheap; to eat à la carte at the Auberge, you mustn't mind spending upwards of £11 for a starter or dessert and £30-ish for a main.
Head chef Matt Edmonds arrived in January 2017 with a CV including working at Goodwood Park Hotel, the RAC Club and the Army & Navy Club, both in London's Pall Mall, and the iconic Searcys at the Gherkin. He and his team have already secured two AA Rosettes for culinary excellence.
Matt says, 'Delivering fine food is a team effort and I am lucky to be supported by the best. Surrounded by acres of beautiful English countryside provides not only the inspiration for my menus but the opportunity to forage for the freshest and tastiest ingredients like wild cherry, mushrooms, quince, elderflower and water mint. Who could ask for more?'
In the current trend, the main dinner menu at the Auberge is kept simple with five starters, four mains and six desserts plus cheese although there is an array of other menus ringing the changes, including table d'hôte lunches at £29.50 or dinners at £39 for three courses. Whichever you choose, the ingredients are noticeably fresh, artistically presented and served with some intriguing accompaniments such as the smoked potato and mussels in nori butter offered with south coast cod on our visit.
In the event, we looked elsewhere, with our first starter of Weymouth crab (£15) with Isle of Wight tomato, wet almond, dill and sea herb proving a skilful introduction to the Auberge kitchen and a big hit with my fellow critic.
My opener, also a hit, was much simpler, a heritage beetroot salad (£8.50), but with spiced granola, apple and goat curd, a refreshing and lively prelude to my meat course. This was Herdwick lamb rump (£31.50), served correctly pink with aubergine, tomato, feta, polenta, fennel and black olive tapenade and as soft as it should be.
Across the table, butter-poached turbot (£28.50) with Scottish scallop, apple strips, celeriac and watercress scored three stars all on its own. A shared dessert of fig and almond crème (£11.50) with torched figs, honey sponge, fig sorbet and opaline was a fine way to round it all off.
The cost of this meal for two was £127.12 including two glasses of wine and an automatic 12.5 per cent service charge. This is an independent review by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
Auberge du Lac, Brocket Hall, Marford Road, Welwyn AL8 7XG
01707 368888 / brocket-hall.co.uk
3 of a kind
Richard recommends three more country estate dining venues
- The Grove
Five star retreat in 300 acres with two restaurants, the recently-opened Glasshouse with eight food stations to explore and The Stables specialising in steaks, pies and fresh fish.
Chandler's Cross, Watford WD3 4TG
01923 807807 / thegrove.co.uk
- Hanbury Manor Marriott Hotel & Country Club
Jacobean-style manor house in 200 acres offering English fare in the Cast Iron Grill and international cuisine in the classically designed Oak Hall, complete with fireplace.
Ware SG12 0SD
01920 487722 / marriott.co.uk
- Luton Hoo
Formal gardens designed by Capability Brown and 1,000 acres of parkland form a setting for dining in the classical Wernher Restaurant or relaxed and informal Adam's Brasserie.
The Mansion House, Luton LU1 3TQ
01582 734437 / lutonhoo.co.uk