I was lucky that my lovely friend Emily was able to take a half day holiday in order to have one last lunch with me before I headed back to Bangkok, and she drove us out into the pretty hamlet of Frithsden not far from the beautiful Ashridge estate at the foot of the Chiltern Hills for what was to be a simply delicious lunch at the Alford Arms pub http://www.alfordarmsfrithsden.co.uk/.
The Alford Arms is not a traditional British pub in many ways, rather it is part of the newer wave of great British pubs who put the emphasis on food, serving simple, seasonal, locally sourced products -their menu lists suppliers from nearby Tring and Ashley Green showing this commitment is more than just advertising hyperbole – in comfortable pub surroundings.
This commitment to using local produce doesn’t stop with the kitchen and I was really intrigued to see that they list wines made in a recently re-established vineyard just next door to the pub http://www.frithsdenvineyard.co.uk/ which is home to some 6000 vines in 3 unique British varieties, Solaris and Phoenix which are used in the production of white wines and Rondo which is used to produce a dry, full bodied rose. Of course I wasn’t going to pass up on the opportunity to try a new British wine and after finishing my (very good) glass of organic “Loimer” Gruner Veltliner I decided to order a glass of the 2013 vintage “Solaris”, a dry white described as having notes of “tropical fruits, vanilla, honey and raisins” which I found extremely interesting – especially as the main tropical fruit I was getting on the nose was durian! The bartender very sweetly mentioned that it had quite a unique flavour and recommended to leave it a few minutes to breathe in the glass before drinking and whilst I can see it would not be to everyone’s taste, I was very pleased to have tried such an interesting and unusual wine – all credit to them for listing it!
I was really spoilt for choice with the menu, everything looked delicious and in the end I settled on one of the Daily Specials, an appetiser of Homemade Sweet Potato and Chive Gnocchi with Baby Gem Fricassee along with a side salad, whilst Emily ordered the seared Grilled Mackerel Fillets with Broad Bean, Beetroot, Watercress and Radish Salad and a side order of Courgette Fries with Honeyed Yoghurt for us to share.
Whilst my gnocchi was a simple dish, they were so light it was like eating little pillows air and the sweetness of the baby gem lettuce and sweet potato was nicely offset by the chives. I loved the vibrancy and the combination of ingredients in my side salad, so much more imaginative than the standard green or garden salad you might expect. Slices of beetroot, raw, shelled broad beans and thin slices of peppery radish were mixed in with the tangled watercress and creamy tarragon and roasted pepper dressing, delicious on its own but taking on a whole new level of deliciousness when combined with the rich, oily mackerel fillets that Emily had ordered, a feast for the stomach as much as the eyes
The courgette fries were something else! I mean they were less like fries and more like a courgette had been quartered, breadcrumbed and fried but they were perfectly juicy and tender in the middle whilst crisp and crunchy on the outside – absolutely delicious – do not eat there without trying them!
The Alford Arms manages to combine a beautiful environment with friendly service and great, well sourced food and cooking. This is the kind of pub I wish all tourists who visit England could get to experience, instead of some bland chain where all the food has come straight from the freezer. If I was a local to the area I know I would definitely have the Alford Arms firmly in my line up of favourite and most visited pubs and restaurants and if you do visit the region I wholeheartedly recommend a visit. Thank you again to my lovely Emily for the delicious lunch, and of course the outstanding company!