Featured Restaurant: Thompson

6th July 2018

2 Hatfield Road • St Albans • AL1 3RP • 01727 730777

Reviewed by Lisa Botwright

Chef Patron Phil Thompson has trained under such illustrious culinary legends as Christophe Novelli and Marco Pierre White, and is a rising star himself – with a cv that includes a Michelin star and three AA rosettes. My expectations of his eponymous restaurant in St Albans are high…

… but my first impressions are that it’s a little like stepping into a (very stylish) home. My husband (H) and I hover in the entrance hall, confused as to where to go, since there are rooms at every turn; it’s only a few seconds, though, before a very personable maître d’ springs out to greet us. We’re led into a strikingly pretty conservatory space with a high, beamed ceiling and French doors leading out onto a peaceful courtyard full of ivy and honeysuckle. It’s late lunchtime, and the whole effect is enhanced even further by the afternoon summer sunshine pouring in through the huge glass windows.

‘Aperitif? A glass of champagne, perhaps?’ enquires the maître d’. How can I resist? Emboldened by the bubbles, and intrigued by the different rooms, I explore a little and discover two more dining areas, and a fabulous Art Deco-style cocktail lounge.

Curiosity satiated, but hunger less so (yet), I return to my seat and engross myself in a menu so sublime that I’m paralysed with indecision. After lots of umming and ahhing, I select Birds Liver and Madeira Parfait with steeped home-grown rhubarb, yoghurt and pistachio, and H chooses Roast Pork Belly with beer-pickled shallots and mustard mayonnaise. But first we’re presented with an amuse-bouche of Courgette and Basil Mousse with feta and black olives – a heavenly taste of summer-in-a-teaspoon that disappears in seconds. My rich and intense parfait is served scattered with puffed rice and pistachios, and accompanied by strawberries, tiny cubes of rhubarb jelly and small flourishes of yoghurt. The sweet and savoury balance beautifully. H’s pork belly pieces are morsels of porcine perfection; they simply melt in the mouth.

We follow with Yoghurt and Minted Roasted Lamb Loin with confit shoulder, broccoli purée, anchovy and black olive crumble for me, and Roast Fillet of Cornish Plaice with asparagus, English peas, brown shrimps and gem lettuce for him. Each plate is as stunningly presented as you’d expect from a chef of this calibre, and not a single ingredient added without thought for either harmony or impact. My sweet lamb steaks are drizzled with a traditional mint jus – all superbly tasty – but it’s the slow-cooked confit, topped with anchovy and pickled cucumber, that elevates the dish into something spectacular: my tastebuds are quite discombobulated.

The plaice, too, is wonderfully moreish, with a delicate flavour that pairs perfectly with the light English veg. But its star is eclipsed by the side of roast potatoes – a last minute request from H. Triple-cooked in duck fat for fluffiness and crispiness (and looking amusingly incongruent heaped in their large dish next to the refinement of the main plates), ‘they’re to die for’, we agree.

I’m pretty full, but there’s no escape from further indulgence. A pre-dessert of delicious pomegranate mousse arrives to cleanse our palates, followed by a tray of extremely pretty mini macaroons, and that’s before we even get to H’s actual dessert of Bitter Chocolate and Cherry Ganache: a decadent slice of soft and creamy chocolate that’s saved from being overly rich by the sour punch of the cherries.

This is fine dining, but in a relaxed atmosphere without a hint of stuffiness or contrived formality. My expectations have been exceeded, Mr Thompson.

STARTERS: £11.00-£14.00 • MAINS: £23.50-£32.00
DESSERTS: £9.00-£12.00 • HOUSE WINE: £23.50
lunch menu: £18.50 two courses, £23.50 three courses

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