Dinner at: The Waggoners, Ayot Green
PUBLISHED: 12:58 12 September 2014 | UPDATED: 12:58 12 September 2014
With all the recent emphasis on Mediterranean and Italian cuisine, it's about time the French, whom many would consider the grand-père of them all, had a look-in, says food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne
Like London’s Victoria and Albert, which once advertised itself as ‘an ace caff with a nice museum attached’, the Waggoners at Ayot Green is an ace village pub with a nice French restaurant attached. Unlike some similar places, it seems to manage this well. The pub has kept its popularity, while the cosy restaurant uses its Frenchness to go its own way with what one can only describe in this context as panache.
Attractively placed in its village-green setting, the Waggoners, another of the county’s 17th-century former coaching inns, has been run for the past six years by Aude and Laurent Brydniak, though Laurent’s restaurant career goes back much further, resulting in a CV which includes the equally-ace Auberge du Lac. The kitchen is under head chef Paul Ribbands, formerly at London’s Lanesborough Hotel among other top places.
The restaurant’s special selling point is the weekday tasting menu, which offers five courses and a glass of champagne for £30 per person. A typical starter might be sautéed scallops and ham-hock terrine with celeriac and apple, while mains can feature the likes of slow-roast duck breast with fondant potato and caramelised orange. It would have been my choice had I not been on duty, but the menu is available for whole tables only and to our waiter Alain’s intense regret no, you can’t mix and match and Herts Life in the interests of a balanced report requires a review of two meals. I shall return as a private citizen.
Happily, the smallish à la carte list yielded other items of interest, including two excellent starters. The soup of the day, gazpacho with crayfish, avocado and grilled peppers (£6), was pronounced ‘formidable’ and correct in every detail by my guest, with the seafood adding an unexpected twist. My smoked duck salad (£8) was perfectly balanced by its accompaniment of an outstanding spiced-apple chutney plus watercress and radish with grain mustard dressing.
My companion’s sure-footedness deserted her on the mains, with the wild mushroom tagliatelle (£13). It was prepared according to the menu with truffle oil and fresh herbs but seemed heavily laden also with (unadvertised) cream, making it more like a carbonara with mushrooms instead of ham. It was tasty enough, just not what was expected and not suited to the hot weather.
In contrast, my daurade, or pan-fried sea bream, with saffron and fennel compote and sauce vierge (£16.50) hit the target, with crisp skin enclosing a generous and well-flavoured fillet with, again, a sparky accompaniment in the compote.
Desserts (£7 each) were too tempting to resist, a chocolate ganache with coffee Chantilly, sauce Anglaise and pistachio ice cream proving a worthy partner to the vanilla panacotta with strawberry compote and basil.
The cost of this meal for two was £85 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.
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Ayot Green, Welwyn AL6 9AA