A Day in the Country – Sopwell House:
It may seem totally illogical for a South London Lass to hike up to St Alban’s for lunch. Thanks to Thameslink though, it’s actually a hop, skip and a jump of a direct train journey from Elephant and takes around 40 minutes. And, in Spring I do yearn to be out of the City. Add to that, I know a few bloggers who are based in St Albans and I was happy when I was invited to have the chance to visit Sopwell House for lunch with Heidi Roberts.
Sopwell House is a stunning Grade II listed house. Built in the 17th century it’s just a few miles from the centre of St Albans and is now a rather glamorous hotel. This place was home to Prince Louis of Battenberg, an Admiral of the Royal Navy who made it his family home. His 4 children grew up here, the youngest Louis, like his father, had a distinguished Royal Navy career. He became the last British Viceroy of India as Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma. Alice married Prince Andrew of Greece and their son is Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
The hotel has a fantastic Elemis spa, an indoor pool, a terrace restaurant and bar and a fine dining restaurant. And, it’s been set up to work exceptionally well as a venue for weddings and special celebrations. Elegant gardens, excellent food and space for those who want to stay to be accommodated in the main building or in some chic self-catering cottages just to the side of the Hotel. It’s a well thought out proposition for anyone wanting to throw a party and really rather a nice place to go and relax, use the well-equipped spa and pool and just unwind a bit.
Our mission, though, was lunch. We walked through the Terrace bar where the buffet style lunch was in full swing. Perfect for a spa day lunch, there were a range of salads and cold meats, a hot buffet counter and some tempting looking desserts.
But, we were heading for the fine dining restaurant, with elegant seating, white linen and an excellent well thought out lunch menu with a choice of four starters and mains and a selection of desserts, cheeses and ice-cream. I was impressed that the menu was carefully but discretely coded so that a whole range of food intolerances were catered for, from celery to sulphur dioxide!
I started with confit sea trout with wasabi mayonnaise, dill puree, lemon gel and a tapioca wafer. At a guess the sea trout had been prepared in a water-bath, it was deliciously fresh tasting and perfectly flaky. I liked the little tapioca and dill wafer too. Tiny dabs of wasabi mayo and lemon gel added bursts of flavour to an excellent way to start the meal.
Heidi ordered the salad of roast butternut squash with shaved parmesan, gem heart and caesar dressing. Again, a beautifully plated dish with great colour and textural contrasts
For my main dish, I ordered the (remarkably for me) healthy sounding steamed lemon sole with bok choi, spring onion and coriander Asian dressing. It was an elegant plateful and a good light lunch dish. I’d have preferred my fish on the bone, but it wouldn’t have looked so pretty and I know that is a personal taste not shared by everyone. The sole was well cooked again and the Asian flavours were delicate and perfectly balanced.
Heidi picked the Breast of Norfolk Black Chicken with morels which looked amazing and would have been my second choice. A nicely creamy dauphinoise, plenty of rich morels and caramelised button onions in a velvety sauce.
Dessert was the stunning dark chocolate mille-feuille for Heidi, served with chocolate glass and mango sorbet. It was such a dainty looking dish I had a touch of food envy.
I’d ordered the rhubarb crumble with vanilla ice cream which was lovely, though just a bit closer to a crumble tart than I’d expected. A good dollop of ice-cream with a liberal lacing of vanilla made an excellent accompaniment
We enjoyed a pretty plate of petits fours with our coffees before going for a walk around the gardens with Tony, who had been serving our food but told us he normally worked as a private butler for the cottages and other special events.
With our meal, we enjoyed a bottle of Bocelli Pinot Grigio priced at £29.95, which worked well with all the dishes we’d ordered. And, we were both impressed that the lunch menu pricing offers a choice of two courses for £19.50 or three for £23.50, with no supplements.
I’d happily have spent the afternoon wandering around the gardens watching the carp in the lake…
And perhaps enjoying a champagne afternoon tea in the lounge.
But, I did need to get back to London.
Hopefully, at some point, I’ll be able to come back and try the spa – or even spend the night in one of the cottages and enjoy my own private hot-tub.
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Disclosure: We were guests of Sopwell House but all content is editorially given.