Hemel Hempstead Rd • Hemel Hempstead • HP3 8LA
• 01442 510520
Reviewed by Alan Cox
You could almost miss the discreet sign and gated entrance to the Centurion Club, Hemel’s exclusive new golf club. Down the long drive, shining like beacon in the dark, is the illuminated new clubhouse, which oozes contemporary sophistication before you’ve even stepped inside.
The interior is just as imposing. The comfortable bar and lounge area and the large open-plan restaurant are full of fresh, light colours, modern clean lines, wooden floors and stylish furnishings. It’s been open barely a month, so everything is pristine and has that ‘just out of the box’ feel.
This is the latest venture for the renowned Galvin Brothers. With an impressive array of high profile restaurants already peppered across London and Edinburgh, this is their first ‘out of town’ establishment.
We sit at the bar and enjoy a couple of glasses of chilled champagne, as we await our table. The staff are tripping over themselves with politeness – it’s like being in a really upmarket hotel. Considering its infancy and remote location, I’m surprised to see just how busy it is. Unfortunately though, the volume of diners does seem to be causing a few teething problems. We can already see that the service is a little bit hit and miss, with food arriving at surrounding tables a touch slowly and erratically.
Neverthless, when our starters arrive, we find they’re worth the wait. Mine is Lasagne of Dorset Crab with beurre nantais and pea shoots (Galvin’s signature dish). Visually, it’s very pretty – a delicate, silky smooth affair – nothing like the robust lasagne dishes I’ve eaten before. Three wafer thin discs of pasta, stacked and layered with white crab and crab mouse, sitting in a light butter sauce. The flavours are amazing.
Continuing the fishy theme, my wife chooses the Risotto of Smoked Haddock, Leeks and Celery. This is good. Very good, in fact. The texture is spot on, with a good trademark bite to the smooth buttery rice, and with minuscule slivers of strong smoky fish and celery stippled throughout.
What really impresses us is the wine knowledge of the sommelier. He suggests some of the best glasses of wine – suitably different, to enhance each dish – that we’ve drunk for quite some time.
Main courses, it must be said, fall a little short, both in terms of portion size and execution. My Ballotine of Peterhead Cod is beautifully white, fresh and perfectly cooked, but save the handful of (teeny) baby roasted artichokes and a few specks of aioli and pea shoots, it has no real substance and I’m left wanting more. Similarly, my wife’s Roast Corn-Fed Chicken served with girolles and onion tart, with a modest pouring of a mushroom and thyme velouté, also feels underdressed. There aren’t even any side dishes on the menu, to give hungrier diners some extra options. Even more disappointingly, the pastry of my wife’s onion tart is overcooked. I’m being picky here, but with a reputation as high as the prices, I expect perfection.
The pastry chef is obviously having an off-night, as the Tarte Tatin is over-caramelised, leaving a slight bitter taste. My Kentish Strawberry Cheesecake, served with dots of meringue, scores high in the fruit taste stakes, but is underwhelming.
I’m sure a lot of the shortfalls will be ironed-out as the restaurant matures. But, right now, its game is a little ‘under par’ and needs a few tweaks and a bit more polish before it’s ready to ‘tee off’ and justify its place in the already impressive Galvin portfolio.