What is your idea of an escape from the hustle and bustle of life in the city? Perhaps, you have become used to the monotony of your daily routine per se. We all deserve a mini getaway to recharge our batteries, be it with close friends, family, or alone. Just before Christmas, an opportunity popped up to visit the Brocket Hall Estate in Hertfordshire including (wait for it!) an overnight stay, dinner, and breakfast. Without hesitation, I confirmed my reservation for Thursday 14th December 2017. Surprisingly, Brocket Hall is only 40 minutes from Kings Cross to Welwyn Garden City. Set in over 543 acres of tranquil English countryside, Brocket Hall retains its 18th Century elegance and is a breath of fresh air. As the gates open upon arrival, you are taken on a therapeutic journey through an enchanting parkland. I can understand why Brocket Hall is the perfect destination for wedding ceremonies. It serves to provide the most beautiful and romantic backdrop for such occasions.
What I found fascinating about Brocket Hall was the ambience and regal architecture through which British heritage strongly resonates. Two British Prime Ministers, Lord Melbourne and Lord Palmerston used to reside in Brocket Hall. The latter was also a favourite country retreat of Margaret Thatcher while writing her memoirs and Queen Victoria, who formed a close relationship with Lord Melbourne, hence Brocket Hall’s rise to fame in ITV’s popular series Victoria. As the wife of the second Lord Melbourne, Lady Caroline Lamb (who introduced the Waltz to England in the Ballroom of Brocket Hall) created a public scandal by having an affair with poet Lord Byron on the Estate.
As you explore the stunning grounds of Brocket Hall, you will discover other prominent, historical references to ‘Old England’ such as the Broadwater Lake where the future Queen Elizabeth frequently walked beside to see John Brocket. There is an oak tree on the far side of the lake where a horseman delivered the news to Elizabeth that she was the new Queen. Auberge du Lac, which used to be an 18th century Hunting Lodge on the Estate, is now a much-acclaimed restaurant and where I had dinner as part of the “Auberge Experience.”
Auberge Du Lac Brocket Hall
The dining area can hold up to 100 guests. Luckily, I had an early dinner reservation, the first to arrive, in fact, due to my 7:30 pm table booking but the restaurant soon picked up. Before I reveal my dining experience, here is another truth about Brocket Hall. During the Second World War, the stately home was the London Maternity Hospital. The Prince Regent, Lord Melbourne, and Queen Victoria Suites were all used when expectant mothers evacuated from London. A total of 8,338 ‘Brocket Babies’ were born during this time.
There is so much to be said about Brocket Hall not only because it provided stability for those in need during the war, but just because it is the epitome of beauty and tranquillity. I mentioned a well-deserved break earlier which, I am sure you have guessed by now, meant a night or two in Brocket Hall. On my return to London, I travelled much lighter in that the emotional baggage I had at the start of my journey got swept away in the healing wind of the countryside.
The room I stayed in is named after one of the famous racehorses of the day – Northern Dancer – and situated in Melbourne Lodge, the original coach house and stable block to the valuable steeds that took residents of the Hall hunting. Melbourne Lodge also provided the main point of interest on race days held on the private race course that surrounded the Estate during the 18th Century. Half a bottle of champagne on ice and a small box of truffles awaited my arrival.
The hospitality was on point throughout my stay, including friendly staff and transport by buggy to and from Auberge du Lac, which brings me onto the “Auberge Experience.” By dinnertime, it was dark and ice-cold, but the twinkling lights across the Estate and the distant moving shadows in the windows of Brocket Hall kept me intrigued. The hall was closed that evening for a private function. Nonetheless, I had an eight-course tasting menu to look forward to. This honour came compliments of Matt Edmonds, head chef of Auberge du Lac, who joined the restaurant after leaving Searcys at the Gherkin. Along with sous chef Anthony Raffo (from Texture and Pied a Terre), Matt focuses on incorporating into his dishes fresh, seasonal ingredients that are homegrown on the Estate. For example, watermint that grows by the lake is used in cocktails and creme brulee. Also, local nettles are used to form a soup, and Douglas fir pine needles flavour one of the pork dishes. I mentioned to Matt that I am a pescatarian after which he immediately presented me with the eight-course tasting menu featuring a selection of fish and paired wines to accompany each course. I was not only impressed with the variety on the menu but also the inclusiveness to individual dietary requirements. From the get-go, Matt provided great hospitality including a tour of the kitchen and a brief introduction to the rest of the kitchen staff. We even had a good old chinwag before the later reservations arrived, which is rare as you would expect the head chef to be pre-occupied to greet his guests. Matt’s approach made me feel relaxed and excited to try his fusion of British- and French-inspired dishes.
Style Icon Nat & Matt Edmonds
Auberge du Lac
Auberge du Lac – Tasting Menu
Auberge du Lac – Tasting Menu
I sipped on a glass of complimentary champagne while exploring the menu. The variation of ingredients in each dish, especially the wild mushroom rolled monkfish combined with artichoke and dark chocolate, reminded me of the juxtaposition of tastes in a Heston Blumenthal creation, i.e., chips served with ice cream as opposed to tomato ketchup. Unheard of, but opposites attract, apparently.
Cured Sea Trout (Dill, Cucumber) Paired Wine – N.V. Chateau De Bourseault Brut Rose
Beetroot & Goat’s Curd (Spiced Granola, Apple, Secret Farm Leaves) Paired Wine – 2014 Les Cabotines, Touraine, Joel Delaunay
Salmon Mi Cuit (Avocado, Rock Oyster Mayonnaise, Fennel) Paired Wine 2016 Gavi di Gavi, “Fossili”, San Silvestro
Wild Mushroom Rolled Monkfish (Artichoke, Dark Chocolate, Reindeer Moss, Rye Twig) Paired Wine – 2014 Neilin, Clos Mogador
Cornish Turbot (Smoked Yoghurt, Turnip, Kale, Cured Egg Yolk) Paired Wine 2014 Chablis 1er Cru, “Montmains”, Domaine Jean Goulley & Fils
Matt’s menu was adventurous and very different from my usual choice of cuisines such as Japanese, Italian, or home comforts like occasional traditional fish and chips. My taste for things, in general, is relatively simple and classic, somewhat, hence why I appreciate Brocket Hall for its timeless beauty. Although the Auberge du Lac menu was a little too rich for me, it is essential to step out of your comfort zone to make a change. The cured sea trout and salmon mi cuit satisfied my delicate palette. My least favourite was the wild rice with Hampshire Tunworth cheese. I appreciated the contrasting texture of the crispy rice and smooth cheese, but I just do not like the look of wild rice.
Cheese Course (Hampshire Tunworth Cheese, Muscat Raisin, Wild Rice) Paired Wine – 2014 Cahors Sweet Malbec Wine
At this point, I was pretty stuffed. The portions were small, but eight dishes of food combined with paired wines are quite enough, especially for someone with a little appetite. The wines were reasonably dry in taste, which I prefer, and complimented each dish. A glass of Neilin, Clos Mogador came with the monkfish, but I found it very bitter. The former is definitely an acquired taste. I am not a fan of dessert wines, so I chose not to overindulge. The matcha ice cream and pistachio white chocolate cremeux were delicious.
Matcha Ice Cream (Confit Lemon, Mousse, Shortbread) Paired Wine – Yuzu Sake Liqueur
Pistachio White Chocolate Cremeux (Blackberry, Vanilla Anise) Paired Wine – 2014 Jurancon Moelleux, Symphonie de Novembre, Domaine Cauhape
Overall, my dining experience at Auberge du Lac was of a high standard. I would recommend the menu to anybody who appreciates a dynamic mix of flavours, but the salmon and trout, specifically, to those who prefer a subtle blend of authentic ingredients. Call me old-school, but I am a creature of tradition rather than habit. On that note, I could not resist scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on toast for breakfast in the Watershyppes Clubhouse, which overlooks the Broadwater Lake.
Scrambled Eggs & Salmon at The Watershyppes Clubhouse
The clubhouse is an ideal location for weddings, comfortably accommodating 120 guests. For a more intimate setting, the Piano Lounge also captures stunning views but seats up to 26 people for a meal.
Brocket Hall is launching a new private members club like Soho House, and part of the offering is an arts and wine club. I had an incredible time, and that was for one night only. Brocket Hall has enigmatic energy that makes me want to return. My gut instinct tells me something unexpected could happen on my next visit!