It was a fire that forced The Alford Arms, ten-times winner of the Good Pub Guide’s Hertfordshire Dining Pub of the Year award, to close in February 2016. But six months later, a determined team led by owners Becky and David Salisbury re-opened the pub, much to the appreciation of its loyal band of locals.
It’s a pretty whitewashed Georgian building, wrapped in thick ivy on one side with a smart garden in front filled with picnic benches and umbrellas. Behind is Ashridge forest (a beautiful area for a pre-pub lunch walk) and in the background are the peaks and troughs of the Chiltern Hills.
Inside it’s surprisingly modern – bar and restaurant are separate, with the latter being an airy open space painted raspberry red in places. Lime green banquettes and tartan curtains add to a colourful palette; it’s far from a typical countryside pub, so don’t expect gnarled furniture or tankards hanging from the ceiling. You will find a much more traditional atmosphere in the bar area though, with its dark wooden furniture, parquet flooring and dog-friendly attitude.
The menu doesn’t follow a particular cuisine – instead, it attaches itself to the principles of seasonality and locality. Free-range chicken comes from Tring just down the road, greens and leaves are picked in Bucksum near Thame, and their goats’ cheese comes from Wobbly Bottom Farm near Hitchin. To begin, juicy sweet heritage tomatoes were tossed with wild garlic and hazelnut pesto in what was a light, refreshing start to the meal – but we did expect fancier foliage than little gem lettuce on the plate.
Bucksum beetroot with homemade ricotta (velvety smooth, though in need of a little extra salt), pomegranate and tiny cubes of fragrant local honey jelly was a pretty starter, delicate and light in texture. For main, a beautifully thick fillet of hake was pan-fried until pearly white and flaky – it had just the right level of bite, and came served with a smooth celeriac puréethat captured the flavour of that vegetable well. We could have done with a whole jug of it. Salsify, steamed kale and a scattering of sweet preserved grapes made it an elegant dish, worthy of a fine-dining restaurant.
Upon our waitress’s advice, we also tried the bubble and squeak for main (“people come here specifically for it,” she said). It was a huge plate of two chunky cakes, both drenched in hollandaise sauce with oak-smoked bacon on the side. We prefer our bubble and squeak hash-style, but these patties were impressively decadent and almost impossible to finish – perhaps a little less potato would have prepared us for pudding better.
Speaking of which, dessert was a thick lemon posset (it didn’t need the cream on top) with shards of zesty shortbread and local raspberries on the side. Satisfying enough, but next time we’re keen to try a scoop of homemade sorbet. For a slightly posh pub meal with guaranteed local produce, friendly service and particularly well-cooked fish, The Alford Arms is a good bet – just remember all that surrounding greenery for walking it off afterwards.