City dining in county town: Hertford's £1m new foodie destination

Hertford House steamed Cornish cod, white crab, creamed potatoes and horseradish

Hertford House steamed Cornish cod, white crab, creamed potatoes and horseradish - Credit: Steve Ryan

Occupying two historic sites in the heart of Hertford, a family has reinvented a boutique hotel and opened three inspiring food outlets with the help of a leading chef, writes Richard Cawthorne.

The food offering in Hertford just went up a notch as developments worth hundreds of thousands of pounds help transform the centre of Hertford into a new foodie destination post-lockdown. 

The driving force behind the project is Daniel Shipton who along with his brother Matt and sister-in-law Wendy are members of the family that has owned Hertford House Hotel for more than 20 years. Daniel has signed up award-winning London based chef Andrew Clarke to help bring the transformation to fruition alongside Hertford House head chef Simon Ulph.

The hotel, with 28 boutique bedrooms in a 19th century Grade II listed building on Fore Street, is at the heart of the changes. On the site, with separate entrances, the family has opened a takeaway called Hole in the Wall with a moving feast of pop-up menus from around the world, and a deli, The Storehouse. Across the road, on Parliament Square, a modern tapas bar named Anexo completes the new set-up.

The Grade II listed Hertford House on Fore Street

The Grade II listed Hertford House on Fore Street - Credit: Charlie McKay

The hotel bar and restaurant were fully refurbished in the the spring and summer of last year in the style of a classic New York brasserie with eclectic Art Deco influences. The new look, which also incorporates a jazzy cocktail bar with cocktails to match, features soft leather seats, velvet banquettes and large Arabescato marble tops alongside classic Georgian panelling, wall mirrors, inlaid marble flooring and lots of lush foliage.

It was the onslaught of Covid-19 that Daniel says gave him the opportunity to follow this project up by taking over sought after multiple sites around the hotel, with a mission to rejuvenate Hertford’s high street.

He is also conscious of the pent-up demand caused by the lockdowns for people to get out and about again while not being comfortable with travelling any distance.

‘People have been missing some of the things big cities, principally London, offer,’ he says. ‘What we wanted to do was bring some of those inspiring food concepts that you normally only get in bigger cities to people in Hertford. The vision was that we worked with a really great chef to develop innovative and evolving menus to capture some of that sense of excitement about dining out that we’ve all missed so much.’

Chef Andrew’s new seasonal a la carte menus for Hertford House champion produce from Hertfordshire complemented by ingredients from suppliers he has worked with throughout his career, all cooked over his trademark wood fire. Typical dishes include barbecue lamb with courgette, mint and crispy lamb fat potatoes at £19; steamed cod, white crab, creamed potato and horseradish (£18); and roast truffled chicken breast and chicken offal ragu (£20). 

Award-winning chef Andrew Clarke

Award-winning chef Andrew Clarke has created new menus based on his signature wood fire cooking - Credit: Steve Ryan

He brings more than 20 years’ experience in hospitality as both chef and restaurateur, and is best known for his previous London restaurants, Brunswick House and St Leonards, and for his mental health campaign, Pilot Light. In 2019, he received the Innovation Award from the Craft Guild of Chefs, an accolade voted for by the professionals of the industry.

To accompany the food, Herts resident and wine expert Bert Blaize – previously at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Clove Club and also St Leonards -- has curated a wide-ranging list of New and Old World labels, as well as those from lesser known British vineyards.

The new two-floor tapas and pintxos bar, Anexo, a short walk from the hotel, occupies the former home of Andrei Lussmann’s Hertford restaurant, now moved nearby. The building is also Grade II listed and features a striking Egyptian style façade, one of only three examples of such architecture in the UK. The upstairs is available for bookings and walk-ins and, as with Hertford House, focuses heavily on wood fire cooking.

Anexo grilled chorizo, marinated peppers and rosemary 

Anexo grilled chorizo, marinated peppers and rosemary - Credit: Steve Ryan

Featured dishes include grilled asparagus, fermented pepper, garrotxa and migas (£9); grilled Iberico pressa, broad beans, Amalfi lemon and caper butter (£13); and grilled sardines, and Iberico tomato escabeche (£8). Another innovation is a fresh day-boat fish counter where customers can choose their ingredients to be cooked on the grill or take them home fresh to cook themselves. 

Down a spiral staircase, guests are transported to what is described as a Basque country charcuteria with a wooden bar, wine cellar and hung Iberico jamons. The menu offers a variety of pintxos, charcuterie and cheese, including hand carved jamon, Iberico salchicon and manchego, plus sherries and regional Spanish wines.

Hole in the Wall is designed to collaborate with guest chefs to develop its pop-up takeaway menus, starting with Little Wu’s featuring Sichuan and regional Chinese cuisine. It has 28 seats for outdoor dining with dishes including vegan mapo tofu (£8), Xinjiang style lamb and cumin skewers (£8); crispy aromatic duck with steamed buns and chilli hoisin mayo (£18), and char siu Tamworth pork spare ribs (£9). 

By contrast, the Store House deli celebrates British and local produce, selling bread, cheese, wine and other artisanal provisions. Wood fired rustic dishes, pizzas and breads are baked fresh daily and available to take away or eat along window bar seating or at one of 20 seats on the pedestrianised square directly out front. Produce includes Cacklebean eggs, Estate Dairy milk and butter, Natoora vegetables, Cobble Lane charcuterie and bread from Pronto Bakery of Cheshunt.

The final word goes to chef Andrew as he watched the various projects begin trading last month: 'It's been wonderful to be a part of such an ambitious enterprise in this beautiful historic market town and bring great food to the people of Hertford.'