I was so pleased to hear that The Prae Wood Arms had opened, after the lovely building on the Redbourn Road had been closed for so long. Renovations started back in January, and the new pub, part of the Brunning & Price group, opened two weeks ago.
The group has clearly spent a great deal of money on the refurb, and it is lovely to see the building full of people, buzzing with new life and energy. The sweeping drive down to the pub is a smart welcome, and there is plenty of parking. We were a little early so explored the garden, which has a huge lawn, sloping down the River Ver (though we couldn’t spot it). The terrace is spacious, and there are more tables on the lawn, with swings and a tractor for the kids to play on. We tried to find the walk advertised on the website, but I think you need to go back up to main road, rather than go through the garden; maybe this will become more accessible in the future.
Walking in to the pub feels like entering a grand house, and you can see how it was a hotel many years ago. Originally built as a “little cottage” in 1838 for Lady Frances Cooke Grimston, there is a spacious hall, with several rooms off it. The young staff were welcoming, and the bar was pretty impressive with 50 or so gins, 100 whiskies and a good choice of beer, including local The 3 Brewers and Tring. I tried the Brunning & Price original bitter, which I really liked, and is perfect for pub food. There is space to just go for a drink, but most people were eating lunch, and you do need to book; it was pretty full when we went.
Families are made welcome, and there were several large family groups, with high chairs yet still space to move around. The many rooms layout helps with cutting down any noise, and works well as they have quiet spots for couples, and larger rooms to seat groups.
There is a very long menu, with, I am sure, something for everyone on it. It features British classics, with some modern-ish twists, from fish and chips to Szechuan sesame belly pork salad. Starters include Oxford Blue and roasted sunflower seed cheesecake; asparagus with poached egg and mushrooms; and rabbit, leek and bacon pasty with piccalilli.
I like the idea of of a light bites menu, which was ideal for a sunny Saturday lunch time. I chose seabass with grapefruit salad; the seabass was nicely cooked, and went well with the grapefruit, and the kitchen put the saffron mayo on the side for me, as requested. Steve had a very generous portion of wild boar and chorizo pie, and our eldest enjoyed her chicken, ham and leek pie from the main menu, saying the filling was delicious, but I thought the pastry looked a little soft and pale. Our youngest chose from the “smaller things for children” menu; it’s not super-cheap at 6.50–7.95 a main course, so possibly better value for an older child than a toddler. Puds sound good, with classics such as sticky toffee pud, and baked cheesecake, for example. The cheeseboard focusses on British cheeses, such as Spenwood.
I went for an explore, and found a lovely private dining room upstairs, with a round table to fit 10, which I think would make a fab venue for a special dinner. There were lots of St Albans and Gorhambury theme prints on the walls, and piles of newspapers by the door. Large armchairs by fireplaces will be very cosy in winter months, and I am sure we will return. Our older girls loved the pile of games in the entrance, particularly the old-skool etch-a-sketchas.
Was it the best food I have eaten locally? No, but it is streets ahead of all the previous incarnations here. I think it will be very popular with locals and anyone driving past. I chatted to a few people and they were delighted to see the beautiful building brought back to life. It is a lovely place to head to on a summer day, as the garden is one of the best in the area, so I hope you get a chance to visit in the next few weeks to make the most of it.