Restaurant Review: The Eatery at Hertford House Hotel, Hertford

Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne enjoys lunch with chef Julian Ward


The EateryHertford House Hotel1 Fore StreetHertford SG14 1DA01992

HE may be leading something of a food revolution in Hertford, but Julian Ward is not letting things go to his head. The Eatery at the Hertford House Hotel, where he is head chef, is moving smoothly to the next level of foodie heaven but Julian still wants to cater for 'the people who come in for steak and chips' as well, so he does.

Thus his latest menu has the familiar names but you need to watch out for the little tweaks - pan-fried scallops, for instance, come with a lemon emulsion. Shades of Heston Blumenthal! It's not a comparison he welcomes; when we tease him, on hearing he is now writing a monthly cookery column for the local paper, that he is on the way to becoming a celebrity chef, his response is instant: 'I hope not.'

The 72-cover Eatery is a modern open-plan restaurant, opened in October 2006 and all light woods and trendy lamp fittings with the kitchen in full view of the customers and a bar at the other end. It will move next year to a building next door, when the bar and restaurant functions will be split. It's a change Julian welcomes, 'It's not because we want to be bigger but the problem with a combined layout is that some customers in one can get a bit loud and spoil the occasion for people in the other.'

Lunch with Julian is a seamless display of fine cooking. Everything is done from scratch but the food just keeps coming. The foie gras starter, which in this case is duck liver with caramelised apples and port-marinated figs served with an apple and fig brioche, is rich, creamy and delicious. It's followed by what the menu simply calls seasonal vegetables, which is an equally-enticing plateful of steamed baby vegetables, including carrots, beets and more, lightly smoked at the table and finished with a garlic-smoked sauce.

That lemon emulsion turns up again in the tournedos of salmon dish, which also comes with carrots, courgettes and curly kale, cut tagliatelle style, all served with Beard of the Monk root vegetable.

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By the time we reach the roast lamb, it's time to call a halt. This is unfortunate, since it comes with a lightly pickled Romanesco cauliflower puree, potato gillette and lamb gravy, but the life of a food critic is never easy.

From the above, you gather Julian is enjoying life. Classically trained by Anton Edelmann at the Savoy, he also worked with Marco Pierre White and Pierre Gagnaire at Sketch and has, he says, 'done a lot of openings'. When he was headhunted by Hertford House, he had several offers in the pipeline but reckoned this was the best opportunity.

'The Eatery is all about good seasonal food,' he says. 'The most important thing is to be seasonal - we specialise in British food as far as possible, and we add just a little twist but not too much. Fusion and all those mixed flavours is ok, but I leave it to the guys that do it well. Fusion to me is confusion - I think there should be no more than five ingredients on the plate; that way, people know what they are getting.'

His current preoccupation is to make the menu simpler, to do away with what he calls superfluous descriptions and tell customers what's what. He is pleased with the way things are going. 'At first, we kept the food very basic and very simple,' he says. 'Now as the team has grown and Hertford has grown we are doing more but not too much - maybe one or two dishes to illustrate different styles but no more than that. A lot of people who come in now are foodies, a lot of them have eaten in top places in London and we get compliments from them on what we are doing.'

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