Monday 25 November 2013

Thompson @ Darcy’s, St. Albans (twice in two days)

Just like buses, you wait for ages before trying a new restaurant and two turn up at once. Except they are both the same restaurant and they aren’t going anywhere, so more like a bus garage really. Dropping this analogy now. Last week I was entertaining overseas visitors (from Spain and USA respectively) and traditional British fare was the name of the game on both occasions, coincidentally we ended up going to the same place on consecutive nights (neither of which I booked).

This is a solid, renowned restaurant in St. Albans that has just been taken over by a chef named Phil Thompson, who you will not have heard of; however you may have heard of his previous restaurant, Auberge du Lac at Brockett Hall. Here he held a Michelin star and is no doubt hoping to replicate this fine-dining success at Darcy’s.

To start with on the first visit I had the boudin of confit duck leg with smoked duck salad. This was a standout dish for me, I love duck (especially smoked) and this was a divine starter. This was accompanied by a celeriac remoulade and pistachio, equally divine. This is one of those dished that you really want to cut a piece off of so that you can let a friend try it; although I would obviously never, ever do that. A SUPER-DISH for the duck.

Main course was the ubiquitous and can-always-be-relied-upon-to-be-good pork belly. Specifically, a belly of Dingley Dell pork with red wine braised cheek. It was very nice but not at the top of the pork belly score sheet. The cheek was divine, very rich in the thick red wine sauce. The accompanying cauliflower cheese was OK, as was the crackling.

We didn’t make it to dessert. Well, mentally I did and was looking forward to it, but others were tired so we had to cut things short. Fast forward to day two…

I was first to arrive so was phoned by colleagues and asked to order a selection of starters, which I did. There were eight of us eating and seven separate starter dishes so I ordered one of each plus an extra portion of the duck from day one. In a way, this was sort of like ‘X Factor’ or ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ where one dish has been voted through to the next live show, whereas the others didn’t make it to boot camp.

Main course this time was pan roast fillet of sea bream with a thyme confit and savoy cabbage. I’m a big fan of sea bream and this was a lovely dish. However, I have some major beef with this fish dish : after I had polished it off I remembered that it was supposed to be served with a razor clam, which was conspicuous by its absence. I might not have realised if it hadn’t been for the fact that a colleague had the same dish on day one. Cheated.

Dessert was cheese, a perfectly good but pedestrian selection of British cheese, including the (I think) gimmicky Stinking Bishop). The walnut bread was very nice but the homemade chutney was a little disappointing, it seems to me that my expectations are sky high when a chutney is served in a Kilner jar so this made the disappointment more marked.

All in all, great food on both nights. Some average parts to both meals but I’m prepared to overlook these because I enjoyed the starter so much. Well worth a visit.

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