Restaurant Review: Waggoners, Ayot Green
A country pub lives up to its reputation for food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne
WORD-of-mouth recommendation has been urging me for some time to try the Waggoners at Ayot Green, and the recent arrival of a new chef, David Brett, provides the extra incentive. David's predecessor specialised in French fusion cooking while the new menu is back on more familiar ground. Nothing wrong with either approach, as long as the food is good and keeps the customers happy.From the outside, the Waggoners retains the appearance of a country pub and nothing else, and it is the pub side of things that is making the running on the evening of my visit, with a large happy crowd clustered round the bar. Turn right, however, and the other side of the equation appears, with a small reception area leading to a warm and cosy restaurant, complete with ancient beams and exposed brickwork.It's early and quiet and after a greeting by our waitress, deputy manager Moira Bortoli, despite having almost lost her voice, offers to show us round. The reason is soon apparent, as three more eating areas are revealed. Back at table, a competent wine list demands attention, with 12 whites, 10 reds, two roses and Perrier Jouet and Veuve Cliquot among the fizz. House wines are �13.95, but we order a classy red from Bordeaux, a light Chateau les Maurins 2006, at �19.95, which turns out to be an excellent choice. The wine glasses are trendily large and the wine is poured with care, all good signs.The new menu is replete with autumnal comfort food, with onion soup, Cornish crab and avocado, and tomato and goat's cheese tart among the starters. We choose carpaccio of beef (�7.95) and beetroot and grilled haloumi cheese salad (�5.95), the meat taking top marks for its honey and rosemary marinade accompanied by aged balsamic and parmesan shavings. The cheese on the salad, though described as grilled, is cold - I would have preferred it warm - but it's a minor quibble that the accompaniments of roasted pine nuts, fresh papaya and chive dressing do much to allay.From a choice of nine mains, we select suckling pork belly (�11.95) for one and duck a l'orange (�14.95) for the second. The roasted pork has an apple, lemon and cider puree and split sauce, while the duck is served two ways, confit leg and slow-roasted breast, with an orange and carrot mousseline, saut� spinach, and honey and soya dressing. Side orders are advised and we choose braised red cabbage and seasonal vegetables at �2.50 each, the latter bearing asparagus among the other goodies - a pleasant surprise. As with the wine, the food is served with care and attention to detail. The staff are attentive, the restaurant is comfortable, the evening is relaxing and enjoyable. The Waggoners remains a good choice.
The WaggonersBrickwall Close, Ayot Green, Welwyn01707 324241www.thewaggoners.co.uk