Restaurant Review: Brookmans, Bradmore Green
The imposing Brookmans building at Bradmore Green is undergoing big changes as a new team sets about creating a gastro-pub with a difference. Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne has lunch with Alastair Bramley to find out more
BrookmansBradmore GreenBrookmans Park, Hatfield AL9 7QW01707 664144http://www.brookmans.org/
AT first sight, the imposing exterior of Brookmans at Bradmore Green suggests a posh hotel with trimmings. So it might once have been, but times are changing and the man changing them is managing director Alastair Bramley. Alastair and partners Paul Barham and Tim Lightfoot took over the building, formerly the Brookmans Park Hotel, in March last year, and set about producing a lavish gastro-pub with a welcoming open-door policy.With hindsight, it's easy to see how the elements of Alastair's career to date are being brought into play. He began at the Crystal Room banqueting suite in Tring, moved to the All Bar One operation in London as it was setting up, then joined Hertford brewer McMullen and Sons, which wanted to establish a similar product. The result was the Baroosh chain, the first of which opened in Hertford in March 2000. Over lunch, Alastair explains that by this time he was looking for his own place and when The Bell in Ware became available, he joined forces with Paul and Tim to convert it into a gastro-pub called The Vine. Later the partners acquired a local off-licence, renaming it The Vine Shop, and the group now also includes The Plough at Coton, near Cambridge.The emphasis at the moment, though, is on Brookmans. Says Alastair, 'We are gastro-pub guys. We are into food, wine and customer service and a welcome for everybody and this venue lends itself to that. 'There is a perception because of the way the building looks that we are expensive and exclusive. We're not. Once we get people in, they realise they don't have to get dressed up; we go for smart, but casual. We are brasserie-style, not fine dining, although the food is good, with a relaxed atmosphere, and everybody is welcome, especially kids and families at lunchtimes and weekends.'The range of menus, which between them have a clear aim of offering something for everybody, reflects that. Customers have a choice of bar food, a lunch menu and a la carte; and there are special offers on two and three-course set meals. Says Alastair, 'We are adventurous but not over the top with it.'In keeping with the policy of drawing people in, the lunch menu is simple and approachable, with pizzas - all made on the premises - and a burger dish rubbing shoulders with char-grilled steak ciabatta (�7.95), free-range chicken pie (�11.95) and the like. Char-grilled calves liver is borrowed from the a la carte line-up, while other sections offer soup and sandwiches, salads and pasta, plus desserts. There is a selection of 'platters' with items such as salt cod salad or chorizo cooked in red wine (both �2.50), highlighting Oaks Deli, an attractive food shop in what was once a small function room.Between us, we tuck into salmone pizza (hot smoked salmon, baby spinach, field mushroom and mozzarella, �7.95) and the Brookmans Burger (with pickles, salad, chips, bacon and cheese, �9.50), plus a sample of the calves liver (�11.95), all good, satisfying fare for a midday meal.With an eye to evening trade, Alastair highlights some a la carte goodies, in which the expert hand of chef Stuart Smith is also evident. Of the ten starters, chorizo, spinach and oyster pie (�6.50), spicy salt cod fritters (�5.50) and crab and monk's beard risotto (�5.50) stand out.Among the ten or so mains are sauteed gnocchi (�9.75), which comes with smoked aubergine puree among other good things; roast Label Anglaise chicken (�13.95) with pancetta, roast button onions and pea puree; and veal rump (�15), with purple sprouting broccoli, fresh spinach tagliatelle, chilli and anchovies.