Restaurant Review: The Alford Arms, Frithsden

Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne unearths a tucked away but much garlanded gastropub

ANY restaurant that boasts bubble and squeak soup with a soft poached egg or pumpkin gnocchi with roast beetroot among its offerings is worth checking out. So it is with the Alford Arms, tucked away in the Hertfordshire hamlet of Frithsden on the edge of the Ashridge Estate.

On the dark and stormy night I visited, the pub half of the operation was in bustling and cheerful mood, while I had already been told when I called to book the day before that the restaurant was almost full - I had the last table. Whatever this unassuming gastropub is doing to generate such a following, it's doing it right. The Alford Arms rates favourable mentions in all the main good pub and good food books - and that includes the mighty Michelin Great Britain and Ireland 2009 hotel and restaurant guide, where it qualifies for the 'pub serving good food' category.

The publication speaks approvingly of the 'pleasant modern interior of terracotta and cream hues', and praises the 'stylish dishes with interesting combinations'. The Good Pub Guide for 2009 meanwhile lists the Alford Arms as one of its three Hertfordshire 'food high flyers'.All that has the effect of generating confidence, which is immediately apparent in the warmth of the welcome. It is also another useful lesson in the art of not judging by appearances, since the Alford Arms is almost wilfully unpretentious, with bare floors and no tablecloths.

The food choices, under the command of head chef Justin Flodman, are intriguing. The above-mentioned weather put us in the mood for grub as opposed to mere food, so the starter plate of rustic breads with slow-roast garlic, balsamic vinegar and olive oil (�3.75) hit the right note. It was enough for two, which made it a bargain, with the garlic presented as a whole bulb and the vinegar set at strong.

To follow, I chose baked Chiltern lamb and rabbit shepherd's pie with buttered sprout tops (�11.75), which did its job admirably. My slightly more sophisticated companion chose grilled seabass fillet, served on char-grilled spiced aubergine with baby fennel chorizo oil (�13.75). Up against stiff competition from similar dishes at other restaurants we have sampled, it sailed through.

The Alford Arms makes a point of stocking only European wines in the interests of saving wine miles and the house Bergerie de la Bastide 07 vin de pays d'oc from Languedoc proved satisfactory in both its red and white versions at �12.75 a bottle, �3.30 for a 175ml glass or �4.40 for a 250ml glass.USEFUL TO KNOWDinner for two at the Alford Arms cost �38.05 including two glasses of house wine and we left a �4 tip.

The Alford ArmsFrithsden, Nr Hemel Hempstead HP1 3DD01442

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