Restaurant Review: The Stable Door, Welwyn

Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne goes all Spanish in the heart of Welwyn


The Stable Door, Welwyn12 High StreetWelwyn, AL6 9EQ01438

For people who don't know Welwyn, The Stable Door comes as a surprise, an authentic looking Spanish tapas restaurant in the midst of Hertfordshire.Director Chris van der Heaver is unabashed about describing it as 'a really interesting dining experience'. What makes it so, he says, is that 'it is like walking into a tapas bar in Barcelona, the same look, the same atmosphere, you can eat at the bar and we have live seafood displayed so you can wave at your lobster and watch it waving back.'

The dry humour apparent in that remark peppers our conversation over lunch, but Chris, originally, like his wife Joan, from South Africa, is a businessman at heart and he makes that clear too with talk of franchising The Stable Door idea as well as plans for the company's other Welwyn outlet, The White Horse.

The lunch offering is seared scallops with warm tomato and basil salsa; Russian salad with crayfish and black tiger prawns, and a Spanish cold meat platter with Serrano ham, and two types of sausage, salchichan and chorizo, with caper berries and quince jelly. Like the man says, it is authentic in description and flavour, the latter asset recently boosted with the arrival of a Spanish head chef, Alex Gonzales, from Catalonia, who has added his talents to those of executive chef Joan, a woman with 30 years' experience of the restaurant and catering business.

Above all, Chris says he is out to make dining a novel experience and in fact the tapas idea is only part of The Stable Door philosophy. 'We set out to be different in terms of the food we offer,' he says. 'It is something that changes with the village, so in the morning it does fresh pastries and coffee; at lunch time it switches to light lunches and the tapas and in the evening we offer Spanish style dining with more tapas and main courses - there are three dimensions to it.'

Chris and Joan were drawn to Hertfordshire by the availability of local schools for their children and the convenience of having Luton and Stansted airports on the doorstep, important for Chris's previous life as an international IT executive. They bought The Stable Door, then a pub that served food, eight years ago, changed it into a modern English restaurant and then brought in the tapas bar idea.

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Says Chris, 'We did it because tapas is exciting, fast-moving cuisine. Ten years ago, none of the top restaurants in the world was Spanish. Now there are four or five in the top ten. Also nowadays a lot of people have less time to spend over lunch and want just a glass of wine, a few light dishes and maybe a chat with a friend.

'We were fortunate in being from South Africa where we were exposed to a lot of different cuisines, Malay, Afrikaans, French and English among them. By the time we got to England, we had a fair background of different styles of food and the Spanish style appealed to us.'

The other benefit of The Stable Door style is that one thing leads to another as far as the food goes - customers drawn by the tapas are attracted by the wide choice of other dishes and file the information away for return visits. And for even more choice, there is the nearby White Horse operation, which consists of a traditional village pub and a separate - a point stressed by Chris - restaurant with yet more menus to explore.

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