Featured Restaurant: The Highwayman

12th January 2018

262 High Street • Berkhamsted • HP4 1AQ • 01442 285480

Reviewed by Jill Glenn

The discreet street-side frontage of The Highwayman, a White Brasserie pub in a Georgian building on Berkhamsted High Street, conceals a surprisingly Tardis-like interior, with a cosy bar area, a mezzanine kitchen for a little bit of culinary theatre, and a spacious lower ground floor dining room.

The design scheme is all muted colours – creams and olive greens and washed sea-blues – with old tables and not-quite-matching chairs for a relaxed, shabby chic feel. The staff are some of the most charming and competent I've come across.

Described as 'proper pub food with a French twist' the menu features classics and more innovative interpretations, along with daily specials. My guest picks one of these for her starter, a Grilled fillet of mackerel with coleslaw, pickled turnips and a soy and citrus dressing, while I opt for one of the classics – Lightly smoked and grilled fillet of Scottish salmon, trio of beetroot and cauliflower florets with horseradish crème fraîche. There's a decent delay before the dishes are served, which pleases me greatly; I can't bear it when the food arrives almost before the menus are cleared away, as if it's been sitting on the pass just waiting for someone to order it.

The mackerel dish is exceptionally good: it sings – or should that be zings? – in the mouth. The pickled turnip packages some brilliant flavour, and the coleslaw adds great crunch. My salmon is less successful: all the components are perfectly fine – the fish is delicate, the cauliflower pleasantly powerful – but it's just an assembly of ingredients: they stand around the plate like guests at a party who haven't been introduced to each other yet. They need something to bind them together.

My main course – Slow-cooked shoulder and leg of roast suckling pig, prune stuffing, caramelised crisp, hispi cabbage, sautéed potatoes, gooseberry compote and rich pan juices – is a rich affair, ideal for a midwinter evening. The meat is tender and full of flavour, the prune stuffing has a really assertive flavour, and the gooseberry compote dances on the tongue. And as for the hispi cabbage, a whole one in miniature, it's just delicious: beautfiully cooked and seasoned to perfection.

My companion's Duck leg confit, with black cherry sauce, Dauphinoise potato, pot-roasted carrots, celery, parsnip and green beans, is equally impressive. It's a very mellow dish, with lots of startling little flavour bursts, and the cherry sauce – rich, dark and not-too-sweet – draws everything together.

The dessert menu is dangerously mouth-watering, sprinkled with tempting phrases like 'salted caramel' and 'Pedro Jimenez syrup' and 'toasted almonds'. We narrow our choices down to two – Pistachio soufflé, with rich chocolate ice cream and Three-fruit marmalade crème brûlée – and agree to split them precisely half and half. It's a good call. The brûlée is a beguiling mixture of creamy softness and ridiculously sharp rough-cut marmalade, but it is, I think, the soufflé that is the star of the show. It's as light as air, and so hot and full-flavoured. It's beautifully complemented by the ice cream, which is not too sweet, and properly chocolatey. I watch as my guest demolishes her share with dedication and diligence. 'Do you think you'll manage it all?' I wonder, vaguely, and she pauses for a nano-second. 'Half and half,' she says. 'Precisely.'

It was worth a try…

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