Many readers will remember Bar 62 on Catherine Street (St Albans) and it was worrying when it closed; the question was whether we were losing yet another pub to developers?
I am delighted that young entrepreneur Adam Richardson has taken it on, under the watchful eye and funding of Punch. He has done an impressive job of revamping the pub, which is now called Craft & Cleaver (to reflect the decent beers on offer and the smokehouse and ribs menu). It is the sort of place that the USA do brilliantly and Brits don’t always get right, but Adam, a recent Pub Landlord of the Year, knows exactly what he is doing. You might know Adam from the White Horse in Welwyn, which he took over five years ago; he made that one a success and continues to run it alongside Craft & Cleaver.
Head chef Ben Cockhill, formerly at Mayor of London’s Mansion House, was sous-chef at the White Horse and was promoted to come over and run the kitchen here. I met them both for a tour of the kitchen and to check out their smoker, which was packed with ribs, beef brisket and duck legs, and filled the room with deliciousness. Ben and team use a mixture of hickory and oak, but he plans to experiment with apple and cherry wood too. The smoked food is cooked fresh every day so is only available after 5pm during the week (all day on weekends), having had up to 12 hours to cook. Weekends are already booking out and when the smoker is empty, that’s it. Get in there fast!
Meat is what they do well here; look out for the Hanger steak which is aged in Red Squirrel Ink Stout, which is also available to buy behind the bar. Platters of buttermilk fried chicken, smoked wild boar sausages and smoked brisket are a generous feast and doggy bags are given if you cannot manage it all. For a lighter option I recommend the blackened salmon which was cooked perfectly. The one dish you must order though is the BBQ pit beans; sold as a side dish these contain meat just as a cowboy would eat. They are so more-ish and a bowl would probably be enough for a small lunch!
Boss Matt loved the ‘Filthy Animal’ burrito with BBQ beans, dirty rice and all the classic Mexican additions. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is the veggie burrito option, containing grilled halloumi and smoked mushrooms. Matt pointed out that there isn’t anywhere local to get Mexican food and I think it will be very popular here.
Ingredients are sourced locally where possible; fruit and vegetables come from Little Orchard Nursery in Welwyn. Ribs are harder to find so usually come from farms across Devon. You might notice that salt and pepper are not placed on the tables; instead you get a mini pot of Ben’s home-mixed Cajun spice. Bottles of homemade spicy beer barbecue sauce replace ubiquitous commercial brands.
There isn’t a specific kids menu but the kitchen will do a half portion of ribs, buttermilk chicken or fish goujons if you ask. I’ve heard good things about brunch too; waffles, milkshakes and eggs benedict have been popular.
I took a friend who knows a lot more about beer than me, and she was very impressed with the condition and range of the keg and draft beers. Sold in ¾ and pints, Adam has had pretty much a free hand to choose the beers he wants. I really enjoyed the Red Squirrel house pilsner which had a zesty orange flavour. If you like gin look out for the Adnams and Bloom, served in copas glasses and packed with botanicals and fresh herbs.
The refurbishment has let a lot of light into the place and there is space for both eating and just drinking. We liked the outdoor wood booths strung with lights, which managed to shelter us when we stayed out late in the rain one evening. Adam would like to do hog roasts and perhaps place a smoker outside too. He has great energy and plans to make this place work and I have no doubt he will succeed.