Published in Welwyn Hatfield Times 12 July 2017
I was intrigued when Matt Edmonds took over as head chef of Auberge du Lac earlier this year, leaving Searcys at the Gherkin, and even more so when he invited me to go foraging while we talked about his new direction for the Auberge.
I went to meet Matt and sous chef Anthony Raffo (from Texture and Pied a Terre) at the old hunting lodge on the Brocket Hall estate; it is a short drive from Wheathamstead, through gates and along the pretty drive until you reach the Auberge, opposite the main house.
Matt explained that his menu focuses on British, seasonal ingredients, and that he often forages for ingredients on the estate. He showed me the watermint growing by the lake which they use for infusions for crème brûlée and cocktails (blanched of course). Just along, there was a patch of nettles, which they have used for soup.
The Auberge sits in over 500 acres of grounds, with a huge variety of trees, and as we explored, Matt pointed out that they use Douglas Fir pine needles with one of their pork dishes, and whole branches for the canape displays. They can also use some of the tree barks for syrups.
Blackberry bushes edge the estate and are in flower at the moment, and the chefs use these for salads and to flavour gins. The elderflower shrubs had just finished flowering, but we found a few sprigs and plenty of elderberry capers, and Anthony explained that they will deep fry the capers until they puff up, to go with fish. We were also able to pick wild cherries. We could see poly tunnels on the estate that are no longer in use, and Matt explained that he would love to bring them back to life, and grow more of their own ingredients, as at Le Manoir Quatre Saisons, and I can see the potential here to take this beautiful restaurant in that direction.
The menu already reflects Matt’s new approach, with dishes such as South Coast Plaice with cauliflower and watercress, and Saddle Back Pork Fritter with apple, Secret Farm Leaves and Douglas Fir Pine. A set lunch of three courses for 24.50 is a steal. Auberge du Lac has always been popular for special occasions and you have to book well ahead at the weekend: the eight-course tasting menu looks amazing, and at 85 a head, will need to be! Back at the restaurant Matt cooked me a dish using some of the ingredients we had found, and my salmon with elderflower flowers, bronze fennel, fresh apple and elderflower vinaigrette was truly delicious!