Restaurant Review: The Peppercorn, Kinsbourne Green
When things start to go wrong, a good waitress can make all the difference, as food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne discovered on a visit to The Peppercorn
The PeppercornLuton Road, Kinsbourne Green AL5 3NG01582 713891www.thepeppercornatharpenden.co.uk
MOST people would agree when going to a restaurant that the experience depends on three constituent parts - the food, the surroundings and the service, probably in that order. The reason for going plays a part too - dashing in for a quick something to save cooking when you get home doesn't carry the same weight as an anniversary dinner or a romantic tete-a-tete. Now it seems when you go is also a factor.
Twice recently I have arrived early in the week at what seem like good restaurants and found them wanting. The second one was The Peppercorn, which did well enough but its well enough was not good enough.
Apart from Charlie, that is. Charlie was what the Americans call a waitperson, 19 years old, an A-level student and all smiles. She wisely waited until she had determined that we were happy to talk and then she talked. We discussed the place, the food, A-levels, life in Hertfordshire, and so on. She made the evening. Given that The Peppercorn is what it says on its website, an attractive restaurant, that just left the food wanting, so you could say getting two out of three of the constituents of a good night out right isn't bad. It's just a shame the odd man out is the most important.
The menu is a fairly standard production, though the restaurant claims the specials line-up is changed every three or four days and there is the occasional spark of creativity. Among the starters, we find creamy mushroom and garlic crostini (�4.45), which proves a very satisfying mouthful or two, but the Thai chicken skewers (�4.95) are too dry and unappetising. Their saving grace is the marinade of chilli, lime, ginger, garlic and coriander, and the soy dipping sauce.
Of the mains, the rack of lamb (�14.95) is advertised on the menu as oven-roasted, drizzled with a fruity red wine jus and served with a layered tower of roast vegetables and mash. The lamb came in two pieces, not a rack, with each piece apparently cooked differently, one well done and one medium rare; an interesting trick. The tower of vegetables wasn't, but appeared on the plate rather like bubble and squeak with the jus in a messy puddle under and around it.
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Grilled fillet of seabass with roasted red pepper and pesto oils, served with roast vegetables and saut� potatoes, was better. The roast vegetables are still an unusual touch, though gaining ground, and the oil on the peppers was pronounced a good thing.
There is good news. The restaurant looks good, the building having reopened in June 2006 after extensive refurbishment. The three-floor layout provides secluded alcoves for special occasions as well as larger tables for families or groups. There is no time limit on the tables - customers can stay until they are ready to leave - and the meat and vegetables served in both the restaurant and bar area are locally produced.
The bar area is clearly popular, with a selection of real ales, lagers, ciders and spirits, and there is an extensive and varied wine cellar. In warm weather, parasols, tables and exotic plants are deployed in the garden.The major problem is the feeling some restaurants don't try as hard on quiet evenings as on busy ones - �50-plus for dinner-for-two looks the same on the credit card statement on a Tuesday as on a Saturday and customers have the right to expect the same welcome whatever night they choose to visit.
Did I enjoy my visit? I almost didn't, but thanks to Charlie, I did. I just didn't think much of some of the food.