Restaurant review: The Radcliffe, Hitchin
PUBLISHED: 18:01 28 November 2016 | UPDATED: 18:01 28 November 2016
Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne enjoys the garden setting and service at ‘Hitchin’s Gatrsopub’
Early photographs of the Radcliffe Arms in Hitchin show an ordinary street-corner pub with little embellishment, handy first for the coach trade and, later, business brought in by the fledgling railway. Built in the 1850s and known first as the Nightingale before becoming the Radcliffe Arms in honour of a prominent local family, it looked what it was, a functional drinking house for a passing trade.
How times change. Several owners later, the ordinary little pub, now renamed the Radcliffe, has undergone a major transformation and marketing exercise to turn it into ‘Hitchin’s gastropub’. The building has been extended and rearranged to give more space, a large garden area has been added and there is serious work afoot on the menus. Drinkers still have their bar area and a range of good beers to sample there, but, as with many similar undertakings in Herts, the emphasis has shifted to the food.
Of all the little touches that make up the new Radcliffe, from efficiency in dealing with bookings to careful and friendly service, it’s the garden that stands out. Expertly landscaped, it’s a big space with a variety of cosy alcoves in which to enjoy your food and drink. Luckily for us, the evening we visited was still warm enough to allow us to eat al fresco; in case of doubt, our highly-professional waiter told us there were blankets available if we needed to ward off the chill. Eating outside is always a pleasure and if I were in charge of the Radcliffe, I would find a way to extend the times the garden is available. A little extra fencing, some patio heaters, possibly a covered area with the sides open – and, of course, those blankets – and many more customers could enjoy their meals in the relaxed atmosphere we found.
Given that service and surroundings are two-thirds of the trio of essentials that make up the ideal dining-out experience, the Radcliffe was off to a good start. Part III, the food, came via a wide-ranging menu starting with three good-looking sharing platters, through nine starters and on to mains and desserts. Starters on offer included brie croquette with red onion marmalade, smoked salmon with crème fraiche, or mozzarella crostini with rocket and pesto. Our choices were coconut prawns, large and lavish, with sweet chilli sauce, and tangy crayfish pakora with mango dip (both £6, below), each showing that little extra that makes a dish different.
The large choice of mains – the nine, plus two steaks, one chicken and the ‘Radcliffe Wagyu burger’ listed under Grills – ran through the usual suspects plus a couple of surprises such as vegan cassoulet. We opted for butterflied chicken from the grill menu (£15), with roasted cherry tomatoes, flat-cap mushroom, hand-cut double-cooked fat chips and dressed mixed leaves, plus garlic butter (£2) as an extra; and baked cod (£18), with pistachio crust, mango purée, spiced polenta chips and watercress. Both did the job well without being too over-exciting and the chicken did not seem to be butterflied but a standard breast, but the flavour was good and we liked the fat chips and their trendy polenta cousins.
Puddings were tempting, including sticky toffee pudding with ice cream, lemon tart with blackberry sorbet, coffee crème brûlée with a chocolate biscotti and a triple-chocolate brownie with ice cream, but we resisted and treated ourselves instead to fresh (yes, fresh) mint tea in celebration of being in the great outdoors.
The Radcliffe is a good product with a momentum that deserves to be maintained. We had a good time, sampling good food served well in pleasant surroundings. And the garden really is a knockout. w
The cost of this meal for two was £60 80.
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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31 Walworth Road, Hitchin SG4 9ST
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