Restaurant review - The Tilbury Datchworth
PUBLISHED: 14:18 12 February 2020 | UPDATED: 16:27 12 February 2020
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The Datchworth restaurant continues to surprise thanks to a dedication to invention and an award-winning wine menu
The Tilbury at Datchworth has a reputation for novelty. It goes back to when TV chef Paul Bloxham was in charge and has continued under the stewardship of the Bainbridge brothers, Tom and James, who took over in February 2014. Tom runs the kitchen, while James looks after front of house. Their company later also took over The White Hart at Welwyn.
Of course, the fun element is only part of the story. The Hertfordshire restaurant scene is fast moving and competitive and the first requirement for survival remains good food. It doesn't have to be fancy (though the county is doing quite well in that area too), and it doesn't have to be expensive, but it does have to please the customers. Pleasant surroundings and efficient service are other ingredients, with a lot of self-promotion and word of mouth stirred in. The great unknown is that special something to lift your business out of the ordinary. The Tilbury has it.
Tom, a self-taught chef, describes his style as 'modern British with a nod to classic French cuisine'. He is also a fan of foraging. Sounds straightforward, but the first dish he came up with when he and James bought the attractive 18th century red brick building - once known as the Inn on the Green - was a starter of rabbit and cake. A few months later, he caught the attention of Hertfordshire Life with another unusual contribution, garlic butter whelks with wild garlic gazpacho and cockles. For the festive season just past, and as reviewed here, it was venison mince pies.
Backing it all up is a series of varied menus with regular favourites, while another area where The Tilbury is making its mark is in the world of wine, a special interest of James' and reflected in a detailed eight-page wine list. The business has just landed its third consecutive AA Notable Wine Award as listed in the organisation's restaurant guide; only 173 establishments from more than 1,000 entrants received the accolade in the 2020 edition and The Tilbury is the only one in Herts.
Says James, 'We work closely with Hertford-based supplier Wine2Trade to put the list together, and to spread the word we host a quarterly wine dinner. This focuses on either a specific producer or a region and we pair food inspired by the area the wine comes from.'
Against this background, it was no surprise to find a happy crowd of diners in attendance on my visit. The venison mince pie starter (£8.50) served piping hot was an inspired mix of meat and fruit to set up the tastebuds, rivalled by another seasonal and unusual special, white chocolate and truffle hummus (£4.50) on anchovy toast, which my usually reserved fellow critic had no hesitation in pronouncing delicious. Other tempting starter options included Stilton and wild mushroom croquettes with Stilton custard and pickled mushrooms; smoked, cured and pickled salmon with white chocolate and cranberry roulade, and eggy bread with confit egg yolk, salsify, truffle mayo and truffle cheese.
For main courses, The Tilbury has a traditional line-up of pub favourites ranging from fish and chips to a bacon double cheeseburger and sirloin steak. On our visit, other choices included gammon ribeye with bubble and squeak, slow egg and roast pineapple and burnt butter sauce; rare beef with gingerbread and a snail and beef short rib sauce. Also offered was The Tilbury 'plate of pig for two' with pork belly, gammon ribeye, pig hotpot, apple crumble, bacon greens and a pork and apple gravy.
We elected to keep things relatively simple, going for a whole seabream fish pie (£21.50) served within the fish itself with green vegetables on the side, and a nut roast (£17.50) with Jerusalem artichoke terrine, mulled wine and beetroot sauce. Both dishes performed admirably. A shared pudding of apple and pear trifle (£7.50) rounded off a highly acceptable meal.
The cost of this meal for two was £98.50 including service and a half bottle of Chablis Domaine Gerard Tremblay from the award-winning wine list. This is an independent review by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
The Tilbury Datchworth nr Stevenage, Watton Road SG3 6TB