Bed, breakfast, Bentleys and (golf) balls | Auberge du Lac and Brocket Hall, Welwyn, Hertfordshire AL8 7XG
We’d had a couple of full on weeks at work, the Easter and bank holidays had played havoc with the schedules and my stress levels. I thought the perfect antidote would be the Auberge du Lac Experience at Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire. We hot footed it to Kings Cross on a Friday night and 25 minutes later we were in the leafy, if somewhat sterile commuter town of Welwyn Garden City. It’s not a city, in fact on the ten minute £10 taxi journey to Brocket Hall, the driver pointed out just how quiet the town was, no clubs, no bars and very little in the way of any evening ‘social activity’. And that was how the residents of Welwyn like it, ‘if you want nightlife’, the driver added ‘then London’s only half an hour away’.
Then we were there, amongst the beautiful, sprawling grounds of the Brocket estate. Set in 543 acres of immaculately landscaped gardens is Brocket Hall, one of England’s finest stately homes (click here for a history lesson if you should so wish). But it wasn’t at Brocket Hall that we were staying or dining, the confirmation letter stated that we had to report to the golf club reception. Here we waited as the receptionist told a caller very firmly, yet politely, that ‘one cannot simply just turn up at Brocket Hall and walk around’. She efficiently checked us in and asked where our car was parked. She seemed a little taken aback when we said that we had arrived by train and taxi, I think they are more used to chauffeur driven luxury saloon cars.
So after a short walk we were at our lodgings for the night – Melbourne Lodge, an elegant converted Georgian coach house. Our room was named Sun Chariot after a racehorse, as are all sixteen bedrooms. It was clean, spacious and furnished with original pieces from the estate but maybe a little tired and unwelcoming. It wasn’t a trendy boutique room, but it wasn’t trying to be either, in fact I don’t think it was trying to be anything. But it did have Penhaligon toiletries and more oil-painting-perfect views, this time over Broadwater Lake and the golf course, so we were willing to let it off. Other facilities include in room coffee and tea, complimentary mineral water and WiFi throughout (although it’s very slow).
So after a quick freshen up it was time to wander back down the hill and over the lake to Auberge du Lac. Be warned, the dress code is strict. No denim or sports wear (understandable), collared shirts only (what’s wrong with a smart polo top?) and shirts are to be worn inside your waistband (ridiculous, but I went with it).
Its position overlooking the lake and the hall is stunning. The building itself is beautiful, almost cute, with a soft warm glow spilling out of its windows highlighting its strong brickwork. Inside, the dining area decor is very simple, very safe. Crisp white tablecloths sat formally on the tables while polished cutlery and sparkling glassware were placed millimeter perfect. Saff had accidentally bought two odd shoes, after a lot of fretting she crept in wearing little biker boots, she was relieved they could be tucked away under the long tablecloths.
Al fresco dining in summer at the water’s edge must be a wonderful experience, but early spring weather required that we dined inside. We decided to go for the three-course Spring à la Carte menu, £60 each. As we sat we were presented with the wine list, blimey there were some high-end and high-priced wines present, luckily there was a good bottle of 2009 Puglian Primitivo £40, but still a bit steep. Marcus McGuinness is the new head chef, previously of Hibiscus where he worked alongside Claude Bosi, so we were expecting a memorable meal…
Service was a little patchy. There wasn’t a dedicated waiter, service was split between three members of staff and a manager who kept buzzing around apologising for the noise coming from the wedding reception in the next (not so private) room. One waiter was a keeper – quick, polite and efficient. One was OK apart from being a little flustered. Waiter No.3 was simply rude. He put down our menus with no explanation, mumbled through the special and stressed at least twice that the Côte de Boeuf came with a £10 supplement – we obviously looked like an extra tenner would send us into a spiral of debt that would lead to a life of crime and a Wonga loan.
As our order hadn’t been taken yet and it was nearly 9pm, I asked if we could have the bread selection. To which Waiter No.3 snapped ‘that comes after the appetizer’. The appetizer arrived shortly after the bread, puffed rice crackers and a velvety smooth foamed blue cheese dip, food-wise it was so far so good.
Both our starters were excellent too, a real mixture of flavour and texture. My Iced duck liver parfait, rhubarb and cardamom was probably the highlight of my meal. The parfait was rich and creamy topped with toasted grain for bite and cubed poached rhubarb for sweetness – very imaginative. Saff’s Devon crab salad, avion mango, cucumber and wasabi was another winning combination – fresh flaked crab wrapped in translucent slices of cucumber with a buttery yet sweet mango parfait.
The main course was where it started to go wrong, mostly due to Waiter No.3 again. Firstly he neglected to ask Saff how she wanted her Côte de Boeuf cooked, it arrived medium rare which was what she would have requested so no real dramas – more by luck than judgement. It came served with smokey white asparagus, a small serving of chips, roasted bone marrow and a scattering of pearl onions.
My Elwy Valley loin of lamb on the other hand was so rare it was almost bleating. It was tough too, hacking away at it was like a scene from Dexter. It was such a disappointment as the Jersey Royals, morels, broad beans, pickled cucumber and minted pea purée were fresh, crisp and packed full of flavour. The bonus side dish of shepherd’s pie, served in a cute little copper pot was easily the best element of my main. I would have much rather have had a full-sized portion of this than the loin of lamb.
One last whinge, this was a review booking and as such we need to take pictures of the food. We are very subtle (using our iPhones) and very considerate to other diners (we NEVER use a flash). So we found it rather strange and rude when No.3 rushed over, placed his hand over our plate exclaiming ‘copyright, copyright’. We’re not really sure if he was joking (his tone of voice suggested not) but it was all very embarrassing.
Luckily dessert ended the meal on a high note. Saff ordered ‘Malt’ which was a light and airy homemade malt vanilla ice-cream, a sticky salted caramel sauce and a little pot of delicious warm malt Madeleines. Saff felt her experience was well and truly rescued by this dish, big thanks to the pastry chef. My ‘Mango’ was again brimming with freshness, texture and taste. The ripple ice-cream was thicker that Saff’s, the mango salad in its coulis had a balanced sweetness and the clafoutis (a traditional baked French dessert) held the whole dish together.
We finished the meal with a filter coffee (as the coffee machine was broken) and a mint tea and wandered out past another Bentley with its chauffeur waiting patiently for his boss to finish their meal. A short stroll later we were tucked up in bed, or rather tangled up in sheets rather than a cosy plump duvet. But it was a great night’s sleep, just what my jangled nerves needed. There was little distraction in the room, no mini bar to raid and the before mentioned WiFi was frustratingly slow. So it was lights out as soon as we got back to the room. One huge bonus was the peacefulness of the estate, no drone of busy roads, no sirens, just silence. And their heavy blackout curtains blocked out that irritating 5am morning sun.
After a lazy morning wander around the lake and a huge but fairly unremarkable breakfast it was time to check out and head back to London for a date with The Mad Hatter at the Sanderson Hotel. All in all we were a little disappointed by Brocket Hall, the Auberge du Lac Experience, a whopping £315 per couple, states that you receive a morning newspaper and bottle of wine on arrival. We received neither.
The service really let the restaurant down, otherwise Auberge du Lac has loads of potential. Let’s hope that new chef consultant – two Michelin starred Anthony Demetre of Wild Honey and Arbutus can get things turned around.
The golfing facilities here are obviously brilliant, unfortunately the closest I get to playing a round is adventure golf with the kids. The grounds are so beautiful, views of Brocket Hall from across Broadwater Lake are reminiscent of those from Downton Abbey. You can almost picture tight corseted women getting all flustered when a handsome young gentleman gallops past on his steed. But as the receptionist so eloquently put it ‘one cannot simply just turn up at Brocket Hall and walk around’.
Brocket Hall, Welwyn, Hertfordshire AL8 7XG
*We stayed at Brocket Hall and ate at Auberge du Lac as their guests, this does not affect our review in any way. We always write with complete honesty.