Review: Auberge du Lac, Herts

It was a gorgeous autumn day, crystal blue sky and sun-dappled trees with a scurf of fallen leaves at their feet. The Auberge du Lac with its splendid lakeside setting were thus shown off to perfection. The Auberge is an old red-brick hunting lodge and inside they have a readily familiar country house style dining room with a conservatory addition. It’s a very satisfying place to arrive at for a celebratory meal of any kind (happy birthday sis!).

Now, can any industry insider please tell me, is it common practise to use your least competent or trainee staff for lunchtime sittings? Because this meal reminded me so much of our lunch at the Vineyard at Stockcross. Both Michelin star restaurants, both well-reviewed more generally, and both offering up clumsy and inattentive service on our outing there. I won’t bore you with all the individual infractions, that would be a dull list. But there were at least six, and it really isn’t normal at a Michelin establishment to have to get up from the table to go and find someone for the bill.

One of the service goofs was at least funny. The Auberge du Lac were celebrating the start of white truffle season with a couple of special dishes added to their luncheon menu. But unfortunately our waitress didn’t know which way up the truffle slicer went. Maureen ended up with scattered crumbs and lumps across her linguine after the girl’s brutal attempts to slice the truffle using the wrong side. She had spotted her mistake by the time she served my father, and came back around the table to casually slip a couple of proper slices on Maureen’s dish. Wrong! Yes they’re white truffles, and yes you’ll get a bollicking for using up extra to rectify your mistake. But this dish carries a £20 supplement and the diner is going to feel short-changed with two sliced and some naff crumbly bits.

Truffles aside, my starter was a lovely slippery piece of cured mackerel with a tiny beignet of smoked eel on top that packed a good punch. The pickled carrot and turnip was an appropriate addition but a little sharp.

My main course was a very good piece of slow-cooked mutton, still red through and with a thoroughly hill-farmish taste. It came with a pleasant parsnip purée and cabbage. Maureen’s truffled linguine was good, though so simple as to only be interesting for a truffle connoisseur. Across the table my brother had the best dish; monkfish with confit duck leg and ras el hanout, which he declared perfect.

My dessert was a trifle disappointing. It wasn’t a trifle. It was a blackberry tart with a wee scoop of tangy granny smith sorbet and some autumn fruit. The trouble was the tart, which had certainly been stained with blackberries but which hadn’t picked up any flavour from the fruit that I could find. Others chose the cheese trolley, which was extensive and good, or a chocolate marquise that was deemed tasty.

You can probably predict my conclusion. The food was generally delicious and always competent, but nothing terribly memorable in combinations or ingredients. The Auberge is a beautiful setting for a celebratory meal but may not be a great culinary destination for gastronomes to make a special journey. We paid a very reasonable £35 per head for the lunch menu. I’m sure the poor service was just a patch of bad luck, but it would have been better if the maître d’ had offered an apology rather than just suggesting that next time we book a private room for “such a large party”. A family, of seven.

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