Featured Restaurant: Bricklayers Arms

20th April 2018

Hogpits Bottom • Flaunden • Hertfordshire • HP3 0PH • 01442 833322

Reviewed by Jill Glenn

On a dank April evening The Bricklayers Arms stands proudly in the tiny hamlet of Flaunden like a beacon in the gloom. Inside, this 18th century Grade II listed pub – cosily decorated in warm country colours – simply glows. There are even fairy lights along the beams, for an extra touch of delight.

There is the warmest of welcomes, as always, and a table at one end of this long low building that began life as a row of cottages and shops but has long been lovingly reimagined as a dining destination of note, under the watchful eye of owner Alvin Michaels and Michelin-trained chef Claude Paillet.

We begin with ridiculously delicious crusty bread and a dish of mellow tapenade, a pleasant diversion to wake up the appetite before we move on to the main event.

I choose one of today’s specials as a starter: Crab & Haddock Terrine with lime mayonnaise. The terrine itself is presented in two triangles, sharply angled like brutalist architecture, with a generous smear of the mayonnaise along the plate, and a tower of thin toast, spiked with rosemary. Nothing brutalist about the in-
the-mouth experience, though; it is refreshingly light, with the clean taste of the sea and a zesty kick of lime.

On my recommendation (I ate something very similar last time) my companion is starting with the Duck Liver Parfait with roasted pistachios, pear and white wine chutney & toasted brioche. Fortunately, for there’s always a risk when you say to someone ‘have that, you’ll love it’, she does love it. ‘Well, this is gorgeous,’ she observes, unprompted. The smoothness of the toasted brioche works well with the creaminess of the parfait, which is full of flavour; both the chutney and the pistachios add extra layers of interest and texture.

She follows this with a main from the specials: Roasted Monkfish Tail with lime beurre blanc and new potatoes. It’s a generous portion, simply presented and perfectly conceived. The lime in the beurre blanc is subtle, but brings a lightness to the meatiness of the fish. It’s all very moreish.

I’ve opted for Roasted Leg of Lamb, sweetbreads and cabbage millefeuille and redcurrant jus. The meat is so tender, melt-in-the-mouth tender (yes, I know that’s a cliché, but sometimes clichés are true…) and the jus is sweet and sharp all at the same time. The cabbage in the millefeuille is lightly shredded and mixed in with the sweetbreads under a layer or two of the thinnest pastry. The combination is superb; the sweetbreads, which I’ve not eaten before, are soft and savoury and thoroughly delicious – it is for these that I hunt when the overall portion size starts to defeat me.

It’s served with dauphinoise potatoes – very rich but very delicious, with just the right amount of yield in the texture. Alongside, we’ve ordered creamed spinach and French beans cooked in butter with shallots; both dishes offer flavour and texture in abundance… excellent accompaniment to the carefully curated main courses.

Clearly we have no room for dessert… but, beguiled by the thought of Coconut and Milk Chocolate Bounty with passionfruit sorbet, we order one – and two spoons. ‘Just a couple of mouthfuls,’ we promise each other. ‘Just to see what it’s like.’ It is a thing of beauty, both visually and on the palate. The coconut has plenty of texture, but is light and airy and not too sweet. The sorbet is sharp without being astringent: an inspired addition to a dish that a lesser chef might have thought complete already.

‘Oh,’ says my guest. ‘We’ve nearly finished it…’ I look up from making my notes and find she’s still eating. There’s no justice in that…

STARTERS: £6.45-£14.95 • MAINS: £17.95-£27.45
DESSERTS: £6.95-£7.45 • HOUSE WINE: £19

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