Hogpits Bottom • Flaunden • Hertfordshire • HP3 0PH • 01442 833322
Reviewed by Jill Glenn
The pleasure in returning to The Bricklayers Arms, tucked away in the tiny Hertfordshire hamlet of Flaunden, never wanes. It’s everything you expect a good country pub to be: charming and cosy (the building is 18th century and Grade II listed), family-run and full of character…
… and it’s home to an award-winning restaurant with a Michelin-trained chef at the helm. Claude Paillet is well-established here. He knows what the pub’s customers like, and he knows how to regularly reinvent it to keep the menus fresh.
We begin with bread, of course, and a little dip, concocted that very afternoon – black olives, chilli, garlic, capers – that dances on the tastebuds and begs us to eat more. We oblige, cautiously; we recall from previous visits that portions here are generous… we don’t want to fall at the first hurdle.
My guest starts with Slow-cooked pulled gammon, homemade piccalilli, watercress chantilly & toast. It arrives with the toast jauntily skewered on a spike of rosemary, which perfumes the air. The ingredients co-ordinate with each other perfectly; the meat is deliciously robust, and melts away in the mouth and the flavoured chantilly adds that perfect je ne sais quoi. My Duck liver parfait with roasted pistachios, pear chutney & toasted focaccia is also a triumph. The chutney is beyond delicious – not too sweet, fruity and almost creamy; I’d like to sneak into the kitchen and steal a jar or two while Chef is looking the other way. The parfait itself is presented in a tiny Kilner-style jar: pretty to look at, although awkward to access…but so worth the effort. The texture is very smooth, very gentle, and the pistachios add a nice crunch to the opening mouthfuls.
Although there’s a tempting February offer (a 1 kilo, 28 day aged t-bone steak for two, with skinny chips and wine) available, we opt to stick with the main menu: for my companion the Pan-fried duck breast & duck leg confit (marinated in salt and duck fat) with a fig jus, and for me the Duo of wild venison (pan-fried fillet and pulled shoulder) with a cranberry Grand Veneur sauce.
Both are served with dauphinoise potatoes, which are way too rich, but, if you’ll pardon the phraseology, bloody lovely. Creamed spinach and French beans with shallots ease our consciences just a little bit, and complement the main attractions wonderfully well.
My guest reports the duck as delicious (and a stolen forkful or two confirms this). The confit has absorbed the salt and fat flavours perfectly, and demands attention in the mouth. The breast is tender and moist. On my side of the table ‘venison two ways’ is going down a treat. ‘Pulled’ is evidently the new thing, and the technique works extremely well with this rich, dark meat. The pan-fried fillet yields to the knife without resistance and melts in the mouth. It’s good.
I have to admit that our predictions as to portion size were true, and, indeed, that neither of us can finish our plates. Doesn’t stop us entertaining the idea of dessert, though…
My guest sensibly opts for ice cream. ‘Don’t have vanilla,’ I beg. ‘I can’t write about vanilla.’ Obediently she selects Maple Walnut and Honeycomb, and refuses to share even a spoonful. ‘Too good,’ she says. ‘Specially the Maple Walnut… lovely chunks of nut.’ Like my Bourbon vanilla crème brûlée (slightly thicker than I like, but a good clean, fresh flavour), the ice cream is garnished with a little spring of redcurrants that give a welcome sharpness, and two little sugared pastry sticks, like sweet cheese straws. It’s the attention to detail that makes all the difference.