You may have spotted the Centurion Club, with its limestone sign and impressive topiary as you drive out of St Albans towards Hemel. Ex-Mayor and keen golfer Annie Brewster told me about it a while ago as it has attracted quite a buzz among local golfers. But the reason she told me is that that the Galvin brothers, Jeff and Chris, had plans to open a restaurant there. In September Galvin at Centurion opened, and the good news is that you don’t have to be a member to book a table.
The Galvins are well-known restaurateurs in London, especially for Galvin at Windows which holds a Michelin-star. Jeff lives locally and knows the area well, and got involved in the club as he is a keen golfer. Although the brothers divide their time between their different restaurants, this is their ‘local’ and I met Jeff when I went in for dinner recently. I took my Token Golf Friend (TGF) with me, who was a great asset talking about greens and membership while I checked out the bar and spacious restaurant. Jeff explained why he wanted to open a place outside London: “I was introduced to Centurion Club a few years ago through my passion for golf. We have been planning the restaurant over the last two years and are very excited by the result.”
The restaurant is spacious and well-designed, and I really like the contemporary, light space, which has huge windows out to the lake and greens beyond. Even if you are not a golfer, I think you will like the setting, as it does feel like you are escaping town. A huge terrace wraps around the building, and you can sit out there for drinks and lunch on sunny days. The restaurant was fairly full when we went in, but the tables are spaced well, and acoustics are good so it is a relaxing place to eat.
The Galvins are known for their French-style cooking using British ingredients, and the menu is seasonal, though a few favourites stay on all the time, such as Loch Duart salmon with watercress, Dorset crab, Herdwick lamb and Cumbrian rib-eye steak.
I chose Isle of Wight heritage tomato salad with candied walnuts and whipped goat’s curd which was beautifully presented and a lovely combination. TGF thought the Lasagne of Dorset Crab delicious. Main courses are around the 20 mark, and I enjoyed the Roast Corn-fed chicken with girolle and onion tart with mushroom velouté. TGF had the Roast rump of Herdwick lamb, and it was cooked as she asked, and came with perfectly cooked vegetables.
The wine list is interesting; you can order a great value ‘on tap’ glass of wine, with prices from 4.10, or a litre or half litre ‘pot’ for the table, which is very French. Our glasses of house wine went well with the food, and the sommelier explained that they sell the same wine across all 12 restaurants, which helps keep the prices sensible. At the other end of the list, a bottle of Pierre Damoy, Chapelle-Chambertin Grand Cru 2009 has a high price tag at 250, but I imagine the club has members who are quite happy with this.
Puds are French and crowd-pleasing; I had a delicious Prune and Armagnac parfait, and TGF had a perfect soufflé. Service was excellent throughout; the staff are clearly very experienced.
The set lunch and early dinner menu is going to be very popular, and I think well worth the drive out of town. You can choose two or three courses (16.50/19.50) and there are a couple of options for each. When I went in the set menu suited the warm early Autumn weather, with pressed ham hock terrine or a leek and potato velouté; chicken with pea risotto or sea bream with endive and citrus fruits; and buttermilk pannacotta with champagne poached strawberries or Morbier with grapes and walnuts for pud. The family sunday lunch is 25.50 for a set menu, and would make an excellent option for a special occasion. The club also has a couple of private dining rooms that seat 12–14.
I am not a golfer and am very unlikely to ever pay the eye-watering membership fees to join, but it is fun to come and eat here and have a change of scene. I recommend you book as I am not sure how you get through the imposing security gates otherwise! You can book online at centurionclub.co.uk or on 01442 510520.