Dinner review: Brookmans pub
With a major refurbishment, the grand Brookmans Park gastropub is pulling off the trick of being both village pub and destination restaurant
The flavour of Brookmans is set by a note on the bill. ‘Good tippers’, it says, ‘make better lovers.’ There are four of us, so I hastily add a tenner to my share as we contemplate this new-look gastropub (their description, not mine) in the centre of Brookmans Park. As a member of Peach Pubs, it has a certain pedigree and the owners are showing confidence in its future by investing a large amount of cash in a major refurbishment – hence the new look.
The company has two other long-standing Herts properties, The Old Mill at Berkhamsted and The White Horse in Harpenden, and within its orbit seems to know what it’s about. At Brookmans, the planners have gone for the familiar island-bar-plus-tables approach; the difference is in the size of the building. It’s big, commanding a prime site in the centre of Brookmans Park. The revamp has involved pimping-up the interiors and letting in more light, especially in what has been transformed into a garden room leading to the garden where another 67 covers have been added to the total in time for summer.
Despite the building’s size, the eating area is welcoming with a contemporary touch to the interiors – deep teal walls and splashes of yellow and grey with chandeliers overhead. Historic posters from the Metroland era when Brookmans Park, part of the optimistic garden suburb movement, was built, adorn the walls.
Like the place itself, the food is a mix of the familiar and the adventurous, as if Brookmans is still trying to find its audience. The menu, large in size as well as coverage, is divided into sharing plates (butcher’s, vegetarian and fish), starters, salads and grains, mains, stonebaked pizzas, grills and sides. There is much emphasis on seasonality and freshness and a regular supply of specials. Among the starters, the pan fried native scallops with Clonakilty black pudding and pea puree (£10.50, right) is already proving a favourite and did the trick for one of our party thanks to its clever mix of flavours. Also popular – and filling – were sautéed mushrooms with summer truffle and garlic cream on toasted sourdough (£6.75); while the summer vegetable salad (£6.75), once known as superfood salad, kept the other half of the party happy.
Among modern mains, lobster mac ’n’ cheese is a fast riser, giving what used to be known as macaroni cheese a new lease of life. I confess I had never tried it but here was an opportunity. Served with fennel and radish salad and Bloody Mary ketchup (below) and on the menu at £15.75, it was exactly as expected, a blast from the past with a touch of the exotic added. I could have preferred the lobster to have been more evenly distributed through the dish but the taste was good and the pasta properly al dente, which is not always easy in a busy restaurant.
With a good selection to choose from, my other critics picked a salmon steak teriyaki (£16.50) from the specials; pan-fried sea bass with Bombay potatoes, mint yogurt and Indian salad (£16.75); and braised beef (£16.50), also on the specials list. All well-known dishes, they did their job to the satisfaction of our group without straying too far from the familiar. Having said that, it’s worth keeping an eye on the daily specials. One that turned up after my visit featured seared salmon fillet with tiger prawns and broad bean fricassee, which sounds as if it would be worth another trip to Brookmans Park all by itself. Also, fresh native lobsters are now available until the end of August.
Overall, Brookmans so far is playing it safe, fulfilling its role as a village pub while opening up to the growing foodie market without ruffling too many feathers. Keeping the bar area at the front gives the ale enthusiasts that all-important pub feeling of being among friends – ‘like an old-fashioned drinking den’, as one of my party put it – while the large restaurant areas are separate but still part of the whole.
Peach puts it like this: ‘Our aim is to make our pubs great places, full of character, great individual places to eat and drink; a place for local people, businesses, families and tourists to meet and call their own.’
Dinner for four including drinks was £63.74 per couple, plus tip.
This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
Bradmore Green, Brookmans Park AL9 7QW. 01707 664144
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