Good Beer Guide editor’s 12 best Hertfordshire pubs at Christmas
Good Beer Guide editor and St Albans resident Roger Protz chooses his favourite Herts pubs at Christmas – 12 historic inns that hit the festive spot for drinks, food and atmosphere
1. St Albans offers two sharply contrasting pubs. Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, officially the country’s oldest pub, all ancient beams, settles and blazing fires, will feature live entertainment over the Christmas period, with carols on December 19 and a pub quiz the following day. This Good Beer Guide-listed pub will serve a remarkable 30 cask beers. Festive food includes French onion soup, smoked salmon, squash, chestnut and sage roll, Suffolk turkey, beef Wellington, grilled trout, wild mushroom, goats’ cheese and black truffle pie, followed by Christmas pudding, tiramisu or chocolate brownie.
16 Abbey Mill Lane, 01727 869152
2. The Verulam Arms is also known as The Foragers, as the owners scour the countryside for wild ingredients. The festive menu includes borscht beetroot soup (vegan option), Scottish monkfish tails with chestnuts and potatoes, the quaintly-named badger’s balls, a vegetarian dish of mixed greens and mushrooms, hog belly with scrumpy and apple sauce, Verulam burger with Douglas fir needles, duck glazed with sea buckthorn, pumpkin Wellington, apple and sweet woodruff cheesecake, boozy Christmas pud and sticky toffee pudding.
41 Lower Dagnall Street, 01727 836004
3. The Valiant Trooper in Aldbury is a celebrated 17th-century inn in the stunning Chiltern Hills and is the local CAMRA pub of the year, with beers from Chiltern and Tring breweries. Christmas meals are offered at £24 for three courses and £19 for two and include wild mushroom and chestnut soup, spiced ham hock croquettes, soused herring with horse radish rémoulade, turkey, ham and cranberry pie, seafood and spinach lasagne, chestnut and Wensleydale sausage roll, venison and stilton burger, mince pie with Christmas pudding and ice cream, coconut and lime posset with brandy snap.
Trooper Road, 01442 851203
4. Old Welwyn on the Great North Road was once, despite its diminutive size, a major coaching stop with such literary luminaries as Dr Johnson and Samuel Pepys staying in the village on journeys to and from London. The Wellington – known locally as the Wellie – groans with beams, standing timbers and creaking staircases. It’s open for lunch on Christmas Day and its menu includes as starters roasted beetroot, caramelised garlic toasted seeds and chive soup; and Bloody Mary crayfish and smoked salmon cocktail. Mains include roasted turkey breast with wild boar stuffing; pork belly with braised apricot pig’s cheek croquettes; beetroot Wellington with sautéed stem broccoli in a mushroom and Brie sauce; and duo of mackerel with celeriac rémoulade. Desserts are bread and butter Christmas pudding and crème brûlée cheesecake. Beers are from Greene King.
High Street, 01438 714036
5. The White Hart has a fascinating ramble of spacious rooms with accommodation in the former stable block. The festive menu offers for starters venison mince pie, Jerusalem artichoke soup, herb-cured salmon, and pork terrine. Mains include turkey breast with braised pork shin and bubble and squeak; cod loin, salmon, squid ink and a fennel and butter sauce; and vegetable dauphinoise, crisps, Old Winchester and parsnip emulsion. Desserts include Christmas pudding and mince pie with vanilla ice cream and chocolate fondant. Beers are from Charles Wells.
Prospect Place, 01438 715353
6. The Red Lion at Digswell near Welwyn is another former coaching inn from the days when the Great North Road cut through Hertfordshire. The inn was previously known as the Shoulder of Mutton and maintains its history with low beams, open fires and wood and stone floors. It has a fine reputation for food and for the holiday period promises roasted tomato soup, thyme roasted Portobello mushrooms, and smoked salmon starters, followed by roasted turkey breast, roasted salmon Wellington, root vegetable and mixed nut roast, and slow-cooked beef short rub. Desserts include gingerbread crème brûlée, Christmas pudding, and warm Belgian chocolate brownie. Beers include Brakspear and Doom Bar.
Digswell Hill, 01707 299342
7. The Old Barge in Hertford is on Folly Island alongside the River Lea, and is popular for its food, pub quizzes and beer and cider festivals. The holiday menu includes spiced parsnip soup, baked Brie, sliced duck breast, and chicken liver pâté followed by turkey and ham roast, slow-roasted beef and brisket, baked sea bass, and pear and blue cheese tart. For pudding there’s chocolate mousse, and poached pear in syrup. Beers include Woodforde’s Wherry from Norfolk.
2 Old Folly, 01992 581871
8. The Three Horseshoes at Winkwell enjoys an idyllic setting beside the Grand Union Canal. It dates from 1535 and was originally cottages and a blacksmith’s. The inn oozes history, with flagstone floors, oak settles, beams and standing timbers. There will be carol singers in the run-up to Christmas and the special menu from December 1-23 (£22.50 for two courses, £27.50 for three) includes mushroom and carrot soup and Parma ham salad as starters followed by roast turkey, leg of duck, and parsnip and chestnut nut roast. Desserts include vanilla cheesecake, Christmas pudding, and fudge cake. Beers are from Charles Wells.
Pouchen End Lane, 01442 862585
9. The King’s Arms in Tring is a Grade II-listed former coaching inn known to locals as ‘the pink pub’ from its distinctive exterior. The original coach house has been transformed into an attractive dining room, and guests at Christmas can enjoy a feast based on starters of spiced apple, parsnip and chestnut soup; king prawn cocktail; duck liver and port terrine; courgette fritter; and mozzarella, radicchio and rocket salad. Mains include turkey breast, roasted loin of pork, sea bass fillet, fig and goats’ cheese tart, and duo of venison. The meal ends with such deserts as Christmas pudding and sticky toffee pudding. Beers come from the local Tring Brewery.
King Street, 01442 823318
10. The Star in Bishop’s Stortford dates from 1635 and is a timber-framed building with traditional weather-boarding. For those flying elsewhere over the holiday period, the pub is a convenient spot for food and drink en route to Stansted Airport. The Christmas fare is comprised of roast turkey or roasted lamb shank with a special themed buffet. To add to the festive pleasure, guests will be offered mulled wine and cider along with a fine range of cask beers, including the renowned Adnams of Suffolk.
7 Bridge Street, 01279 654211
11. The Holly Bush at Potters Crouch is a hidden gem down country lanes between Hemel Hempstead and St Albans. It’s worth the effort to find this wisteria-fronted, early 17th-century pub with oak fittings and antique furniture. It’s the ideal place for an intimate meal as there are no juke boxes, slot machines or TVs to spoil the pleasure. Festive dishes from November 29 to December 23 include as starters chicken liver and Scotch whisky pâté, deep-fried Brie, and spiced butternut squash soup, followed by roast turkey, nut roast Wellington, steak and kidney pie, smoked haddock, baked cod loin; and goats’ cheese, beetroot and walnut salad. Desserts are Christmas pudding, chocolate fondant, cherry and almond tart, and Belgian waffle.
Off the B5183, 01727 851792
12. The Land of Liberty, Peace and Plenty in Heronsgate has one of the most intriguing pub names in the country and commemorates a ‘people’s commune’ created in the isolated area in the 19th century. The pub is just off Junction 17 of the M25, south of Chorleywood, but is down a long, winding road in deep countryside. The British prime minister Clement Attlee and the notorious spy Kim Philby both lived in Heronsgate. The pub offers something different for Christmas – it’s much-feted by Real Ale group CAMRA, and Gill and Martin, the owners, will have a festival of 10 beers from micro-breweries and will be open Christmas Day lunchtime and Boxing Day evening as well as the run up to the holiday. Food comes in the form of pies, pasties and snacks.
Long Lane, 01923 282226
Unless otherwise stated, the selections do not open for food on Christmas Day, although they may open at lunchtime for bar trade only. Check before going and it’s advisable to book well ahead for meals.
Roger Protz edits the Good Beer Guide. His latest book, IPA – A Legend in Our Time, is published by Pavilion Books.