Featured Restaurant: The Alford Arms

7th April 2017

Frithsden • Nr. Hemel Hempstead • 01442 864480

Reviewed by Lisa Botwright

We’re lucky enough to have lots of great pubs in the immediate area, but there’s something exciting about venturing further afield and trying somewhere new. We drive along a twisting leafy lane, replete with picturesque country houses, and turn one last corner to discover the most ridiculously pretty rustic hostelry…

Back in 1999, when Becky and David Salisbury moved out of London, it took them three years to find their ideal pub – and it’s easy to see why they were smitten with The Alford Arms. It’s set in Frithsden, a little hamlet tucked between Berkhamsted and the glorious Ashridge Estate, and it’s so photogenically idyllic that I expect to see Midsomer’s Inspector Barnaby striding out to solve a seasonal murder.

Alas, it’s a little too chilly to sit outside, so The Husband (H) and I venture inside, where we’re just as impressed. It’s all very cosy-classic-country with a modern twist. Tastefully subdued neutrals are enlivened with a lime green sofa here, or a bright scarlet feature wall there. I’m shocked to hear that a huge fire almost completely destroyed the interior of the pub early last year, and that it only opened again in late summer after six months of loving and painstaking renovation.

But The Alford Arms isn’t just a pretty face: it can boast the privilege of being one of the very first gastropubs in the area. The owners have impeccable foodie credentials and the menu reflects their culinary calibre, with original ideas dancing off the page. It’s a joy to read and a headache to choose from.

Enamoured as I am by the idea of Wobbly Bottom Goats Cheese Fondant, I’m told the chef has just harvested a batch of early wild garlic and so I plump for the Warm Asparagus Salad with poached egg, roast Jerusalem artichokes and local wild garlic pesto (pictured above). H steps out of his comfort zone slightly and chooses Pig’s Head and Black Pudding Fritter with apple compote. It’s certainly not something he would normally choose, but it’s been recommended and he’s intrigued…

Silence ensues as we begin. As I expect, my asparagus is cooked perfectly with the requisite al dente crunch, and I use the spears to mop up the tasty puddle of egg yolk and pesto. And H’s fritters are sublime. The meat – a little like ham hock – spills out from the crunchy fritter, and is complemented perfectly by the sweet relish. Good recommendation.

We move on to mains: for me, the Rabbit Leg Bourguignon with smoked pancetta and creamy mash; for my husband the Roast Potash Farm Free-Range Chicken (from nearby Tring) with confit leg, leek mornay and sautéed potatoes. The intensely savoury smell that emanates from each dish hints knowingly at the deliciousness to come. H enthuses that it’s the best chicken dish he’s ever tasted. I’m too busy devouring mine – oh, those flavours – to do more than nod dreamily in reply.

I should add that it’s not just the food that’s carefully and thoughtfully selected here. The bar boasts an enormous range of artisanal drinks; from an unusual house gin to a great choice of real ales. Since it’s a school night, and H is driving, we can’t even begin to delve into the extensive wine list as we’d like.

To finish: a trio of home-made sorbets – gin ‘n’ tonic (mmm, I can taste that distinctive house gin), dark chocolate and lemon – and a plate of satisfyingly smelly English cheeses to share. My favourite is the very moreish Camembert-like Oxford Isis.

A true gastropub is defined by the quality of the food and alcohol it serves. It doesn’t hurt when it’s also beautifully presented in a heavenly setting. On all counts, I’d say this delightful pub scores highly (with extra marks for friendly, knowledgeable staff). Well worth a drive out into the country.

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