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Dinner review: The Farmhouse at Redcoats, Little Wymondley

PUBLISHED: 11:34 15 January 2018

Charcoal roasted local venison loin with hunters pie, autumn squash, black cabbage, parkin crumb (photo: Brian Arnopp)

Charcoal roasted local venison loin with hunters pie, autumn squash, black cabbage, parkin crumb (photo: Brian Arnopp)

Brian Arnopp Images

Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne visits the historic country hotel with a fresh sense of purpose

The new year promises to be an exciting one for the Farmhouse at Redcoats as it enters a new phase in its long history under the new ownership of Anglian Country Inns group. A small country hotel on the back roads between Hitchin and Stevenage, it was a favourite among discerning visitors for its placid setting in four acres surrounded by rolling fields. Dating from the 15th century, Redcoats was bought in 1916 by the grandfather of brother and sister Peter Butterfield and Jackie Gainsford, the former owners, and built a reputation as a reliable place for a relaxing meal.

Herts-based ACI, already well known in the county for an upmarket collection of bars and restaurants, has pledged to keep what director Howard Nye calls the new acquisition’s ‘quirky and nostalgic’ flavour while masterminding an extensive renovation and refurbishment programme. Spread over the next 18 months or so, it includes the conversion of two Grade II-listed barns into further bedrooms and a 120-cover wedding venue.

For those of us who have known Redcoats for a while, it’s a relief to find the work so far is not encroaching on the cosy Conservatory restaurant, now under the command of executive chef Sherwin Jacobs, formerly head chef at ACI’s The Fox at Willian. He grew up on a farm in South Africa and is a self-confessed fanatic for the ‘farm-to-table’ school of cooking and what he described as dishes that are ‘fresh, local, wholesome and tempting to the taste buds’.

Always on the lookout for new ideas, I was impressed by the online sample menu and found the real thing no less tempting. My starter of salt-baked celeriac (£7, left) was something I had not heard of before, the more so thanks to its accompaniments of confit, Havensfield egg yolk, wild mushroom fricassée, truffle emulsion and apple. An interesting concept with just the right touch of subtlety to impress the foodies while delivering a satisfying and refreshing dish. My other half, not only a seafood fan but also newly returned from Sicily, seized on the spiced crab arancine (£7) from the specials menu and found it well up to its south Italian cousins.

Conservatory restaurant at The Farmhouse at RedcoatsConservatory restaurant at The Farmhouse at Redcoats

Our mains, in the shape of partridge and venison respectively, were well into season as promised but were also enhanced by some intriguing touches. The partridge (£18.50) was roasted and came with confit legs, white pudding, honey-roasted parsnips and burnt pear, the last three items not exactly usual but tasty additions to a comforting winter dish. Not to be outdone, my venison (above), a dish of which I am a long-time fan, was charcoal roasted and came complete with hunter’s pie – not quite as robust as it’s meant to be but warming enough – autumn squash, black cabbage (another unusual touch) and parkin crumb. It was the most expensive item on the menu at £24.95, enough possibly to discourage some, which would be a pity.

The final touch was a dessert that just begged to be ordered, a muscovado sugar, cinnamon and ginger baked custard with caramel poached pear, damson jam and vanilla angel cake (£7.50), which we opted to share and which turned out to be easily generous enough. Without such temptation, I could easily have been persuaded to sample what looked like a particularly interesting cheese plate at £9 for three pieces or £12 for five, all with homemade biscuits and spiced fig chutney and a list including a rare Sainte-Maure de Touraine from France. Look it up – it’s different.

The Conservatory is an attractive place to settle down on a dark winter’s night. Spacious and airy, it makes the most of its outlook on the gardens. With ACI’s customary polite service and some interesting other rooms to explore, including a selection for private dining and the Old Kitchen as well as a more traditional bar in which to relax for a pre- or post-dinner drink, it’s worth getting off the beaten track to seek it out.

Salt baked celeriac with confit, Havensfield egg yolk, wild mushroom fricass�e, truffle emulsion and appleSalt baked celeriac with confit, Havensfield egg yolk, wild mushroom fricass�e, truffle emulsion and apple

The cost of this dinner for two was £81.35 including two glasses of wine and an optional £1 donation to the charity Street Smart.

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.

Book a table

The Farmhouse at Redcoats

Redcoats Green SG4 7JR. 01438 729500

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Three of a kind

Richard chooses three more places for cosy winter eating

1. Needham House

Blakemore End Road, Little Wymondeley SG4 7JJ. 01462 417240

A near neighbour to Redcoats, the four-star boutique hotel boasts the SG4 Brasserie, complete with two AA Rosettes and a relaxed setting.

2. The White Hart

2 Prospect Place, Welwyn AL6 9EN. 01438 715353

Atmospheric refurbished restaurant with flagstone floors features British cuisine plus pub favourites in a Grade II-listed building.

3. White Hart Hotel

23-25 Holywell Hill, St Albans AL1 1EZ. 01727 853624

This timber-framed 15th-century coaching inn has the atmospheric Tudors restaurant complete with panelled walls and dishes based on Tudor recipes.

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