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Restaurant review: Crockers Chef’s Table, Tring

PUBLISHED: 12:46 05 September 2018 | UPDATED: 12:46 05 September 2018

Isle of Wight tomatoes, sea bream, basil and black olive (photo: Brian Arnopp)

Isle of Wight tomatoes, sea bream, basil and black olive (photo: Brian Arnopp)

Brian Arnopp Images

Taking its successful Berkhamsted model and making it bigger in Tring, this communal eatery mixes cookery school with taster dining - to great effect

By coincidence, my visit to Crockers was on the same day The Daily Telegraph published a review by Michael Deacon on the place. I had taken advantage of a cancellation and booked at short notice, and did not see the piece until afterward. Probably just as well, or I might have been accused of allowing my judgment to be coloured. As it happens, Mr Deacon and I agree. More later.

Crockers is a strange hybrid of an eating place. Fresh at the time of my visit from a move from Berkhamsted to a larger space, it is housed behind an unprepossessing shopfront with a smart bar on the ground floor and the restaurant upstairs. The bar has all the trimmings, with neat modern décor, relaxing colours and a collection of exotic clocks on the walls. On the first floor – did I say restaurant? This is a cookery school, albeit an elegantly turned out one, with 15 seats surrounding a central area where head chef Scott Barnard, assisted by chef de rang Ian Churchill, does his stuff in full view of the students, sorry, customers. Yes, the Scott Barnard, formerly of The Grove, Watford, who made it to the finals of MasterChef: The Professionals and came second.

And this crazy idea works. The Crockers team, led by owner/manager and former chef Luke Garnsworthy, made the move to larger premises because demand meant they simply outgrew the former building. Luke, with four generations of a catering family behind him, attributes it to word of mouth, most likely generated by the novelty of the thing. Sometimes, it’s not just the food.

Crockers Chef's Table seats 15 (photo: Brian Arnopp)Crockers Chef's Table seats 15 (photo: Brian Arnopp)

Apart from the setting, the novelty at Crockers is everybody eats the same dishes, lunch or dinner. Menus change every month and there is a choice of a three-course set meal on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at £45 and a five-course tasting menu at £80 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Add drinks and it’s not cheap – some of the wines on sommelier Duncan Gammie’s list could require a small mortgage. It depends how much you value something different. As a special treat for someone’s birthday, for example, it hits the spot.

Hertfordshire Life sampled the three-course set meal, which is accompanied by snacks and bread served first, amuse-bouche between courses and a ‘pre-dessert’. There’s also an optional cheese course, which we didn’t have. The menu specifies the snacks are ‘to be eaten with your fingers’, neatly summing up Crockers’ casual jeans-and-beards approach. Ours were marinated feta with peas and mint, plus a tiny biscuit of squid tapioca with smoked cod roe. Well, I did say it was different. The trick was in the mix of textures and flavours, and though they disappeared in a single mouthful each, the memory lingered long after. The same approach applied through the meal – small portions (which is what a tasting menu is all about) of tantalising, sometimes unusual, ingredients assembled with care and explained in front of you, and each complementing the others.

Snacks were followed by a savoury sample of Tring Brewery beer bread with whipped Marmite butter, then the official starter of Isle of Wight tomatoes, chilled sea bream, basil and black olive, colourful as well as refreshing. The main course of piglet belly would not be my usual choice but given this was a set menu it was what there was and the softness and flavour of this particular cut is a foregone conclusion. Cliché alert – it melted in the mouth. Served here with fennel choucroute, salt-baked carrot and pineapple and enlivened by a subtle spiced pork sauce, it worked well as a centrepiece for the evening.

Piglet belly with fennel choucroute, salt-baked carrot and pineapple (photo: Brian Arnopp)Piglet belly with fennel choucroute, salt-baked carrot and pineapple (photo: Brian Arnopp)

A pre-dessert cucumber mojito to refresh the palate was followed by British strawberries with lemon verbena cream, shortbread and strawberry meringue.

It was wrapped up with Ovaltine fudge in tribute to the former malt drink factory in nearby Kings Langley and lemon and popcorn marshmallow, this was an enjoyable meal with a real difference. As for Mr Deacon of the Telegraph, he awarded Crockers 4.5 stars out of five (it would have been five but he dislikes side-by-side seating) and described his visit as ‘terrific, a sizzling, swirling Catherine wheel of a triumph’. Say no more.

British strawberries with lemon verbena cream, shortbread and strawberry meringue (photo: Brian Arnopp)British strawberries with lemon verbena cream, shortbread and strawberry meringue (photo: Brian Arnopp)

The cost of this meal for two was £132.77 including two glasses of wine and a 10 per cent automatic service charge.

This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.

Crockers Chef’s Table

74 High Street, Tring HP23 4AF

01442 828971. crockerstring.co.uk

3 of a kind

Richard recommends three more Herts venues with tasting menus

Colette’s at the Grove

Colette’s prefers the term chef’s menu but the idea is the same. Four courses at £40, with typical dishes including Norfolk quail, Cornish skate wing and English berries with olive oil ice cream.

Chandler’s Cross WD3 4TG. 01923 807807

Thompson

Phil Thompson’s tasting menu offers six courses at £65 per head. Sample dishes include bird’s liver and Madeira parfait and 40-day aged Dedham Vale beef sirloin. Vegetarian also available.

2 Hatfield Road, St Albans AL1 3RP. 01727 730777

Auberge du Lac

Seven courses at £85 a person or £135 with accompanying wines. Dishes might include blowtorch smoked eel, Herdwick lamb cannon, soy sauce and miso glazed monkfish and miso caramel mousse.

Brocket Hall, Welwyn AL8 7XG. 01707 368700

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