Flanked by weeping willows, neighbour to a serene private lake and across the way from Brocket Hall country house and its 500-or-so acres of parkland, Auberge du Lac must be the most happily situated restaurant in Hertfordshire.
The building itself, an old hunting lodge, is just as beautiful: green shutters, four chimneys, higgledy-piggledy brickwork and sash windows paint a romantic picture (no wonder it’s a popular wedding venue), and there’s a quaint circular driveway lined with flower beds marking the entrance. Inside it’s all narrow staircases and cosy sitting rooms, although the dining room itself sits in a modern, glass-fronted extension; not as charming as the rest of the lodge, although it does offer wonderful views of the Hall (built in 1760) and its golf courses.
Auberge du Lac has been a fine-dining restaurant for years, but it welcomed a new dawn this spring with the arrival of chef Matt Edmonds (previously head chef at Searcy’s at The Gherkin and The Grantley Arms in Guildford). His ethos is to source quality British ingredients – some, like wild garlic and blackberries, are foraged from Brocket Hall Estate – and use them in classic French cooking; a cuisine complemented by immaculate Gallic waiting staff and a French restaurant manager who also acts as sommelier. Guillaume Pages’ (mainly French) wine list includes bottles by little-known producers, such as a heavily perfumed Mousse Fils Cuvée Effusion Brut Rosé champagne, reminiscent of fresh apples in aroma and taste.
Canapés were a delicate start to dinner – avocado and mild lemony snow on a wholegrain cracker – but the bread (rye submarines and sourdough, both with satisfyingly chewy crusts) was powerfully flavoursome, especially when coated in intense, Marmite-esque yeast butter. The eight-course tasting menu began with a tiny glass bowl of salty cured sea trout and fresh cucumber laced with dill, followed by an artfully placed sphere of beetroot alongside apple matchsticks, mellow goats’ curd and a sprinkle of softly spiced granola – a pretty plate, but not as powerful in flavour as that yeast butter we’re still hankering for.
A fat, juicy Portland scallop from Orkney was the savoury highlight of the menu, charred and slightly caramelised as it should be, and served simply with sea herbs and a smooth cauliflower purée. It was also our favourite wine match of the night – Bourgogne Aligoté, pale gold in colour, with subtle lemon overtones that suited but didn’t overwhelm the scallop.
Vegetarians needn’t miss out. One of the meat-free tasting menu dishes, in place of a tender fillet of beef with celeriac and truffle, was an innovative porcini ‘crumble’ that layered cooked hay custard (earthy yet light) with kale crisps, charred onion shells, mushroom crumbs and gnarled malt breadsticks that looked like twigs. But perhaps the very best course, or at least on a par with the scallops, was dessert – poached pink rhubarb, as fresh as if it had just been picked, with shards of pink-splattered white chocolate, little hibiscus jellies and a quenelle of magically creamy rhubarb sorbet. A joy to eat, and a dish that we’d return to Auberge du Lac for.
So beautiful are the grounds at Brocket Hall that you’d be loath to leave straight after dinner. We’d recommend extending the fun with ‘The Auberge Experience’ – £495 per couple including a seven-course tasting menu at Auberge du Lac (complete with wine pairing, or £395 without), a night in an en-suite room at Melbourne Lodge, a half bottle of champagne on arrival and breakfast in the golf clubhouse the next day. Pretty good value, considering how beautiful Melbourne Lodge is – it’s a converted Georgian coach house, across the fairway from both Auberge du Lac and Brocket Hall (keep an eye out for flying balls!), that once housed the horses that ran the estate’s private racecourse.
Rooms, each one named after a racehorse, are airy, bright and perfectly in keeping with the rest of the estate’s classic appearance. Ours was painted peppermint green and came with velvet drapings, huge sash windows, china lamps, illuminated oil paintings and squashy armchairs. Plenty of room for lounging, with great views of the golf course and its myriad ancient trees – we saw (and heard!) a barn owl right outside our room. Bathrooms have double sinks and deep baths, though a planned renovation project will make them a little fresher.
For breakfast, in the clubhouse, try a giant emmental and mushroom omelette or homemade granola. Portions are fit for a hungry golfer, and there’s a sun-soaked courtyard right next door – ideal for enjoying some last-minute Auberge du Lac views.