The Verulam Arms is a familiar pub to us - we were quite fond of it a couple of years ago when we used to live just around the corner. It first opened in 1853, so it's been part of St Albans for a long time! But it's outside the centre of town, in a quiet area, and increasing competition and changing culture have caused it to struggle time and time again over the last few years. During the five years we lived nearby it closed down and opened again more than a couple of times! And it had just closed down again when 'the Foragers', George and Gerald, met the landlord and told him they were looking for a place to set up a wild food business... The Verulam Arms is still a pub (now with their own beer on tap, and occasional homemade wines and flavoured spirits) but offers a restaurant-style foodservice as well. And I can't believe it's taken me this long to get round to trying it!
Eddie and I started with home-smoked whiskey-cured trout with nettle salsa verde and crispy lardons of homemade chorizo, garnished with crispy fried fish skin and beautiful trout eggs (how's that for making the most of a catch?), and a sprig of goosegrass!
This was a wonderful combination, very rich and flavourful - in fact I would have liked a little more of the lovely nettle salsa verde to temper the richness.
Dave had this pig’s head and rabbit white pudding terrine with tomato chutney, pickled baby carrots and toasted sourdough. He said it was really good, and he particularly enjoyed the pickled carrots!
For Eddie's main course, he chose braised ox cheek with a stilton, wild garlic, roasted shallot and mushroom ragout, and toasted spaetzle pasta. The slow-cooked ox cheek was amazingly soft and tender, and really tasty.
Dave chose battered skate wing with pea purée, goose grass, parmentier potatoes and crispy capers. It looked lovely!
I read once that goosegrass should be cooked to get rid of the hairiness, but actually, served raw like this, the hairiness doesn't really matter, and of course it disappears as soon as you chew anyway. Goosegrass tastes pretty good, and I have added it to my 'to forage' list...
I had venison wellington (the last piece - sorry guys!) - venison wrapped in mushroom duxelle and flaky puff pastry, served with nettle sauce, pommes dauphine and home-grown blackcurrant game jus.
Again, this was wonderfully rich and full of flavour. The blackcurrants complemented the rich wellington really well, the mushroom duxelle was delicious, and the meat was just perfect. I'm always a bit nervous about rare meat, as it can be chewy and I'm not a fan of that, but this was incredibly tender and lovely.
For dessert, we picked chocolate fondants with a white chocolate and hazelnut sauce. There's not a lot you can say about a chocolate fondant, is there...? (Except maybe 'more please'!) But yes, it was just right, and the hazelnuts were a very nice complement.
All in all, a really great meal and a great evening. You can see how much love and care goes into both the sourcing of the ingredients and the preparation of the dishes, and flavours are brought together perfectly on every plate. The atmosphere was pretty busy (and I'm so glad they're busy!) but service was quick and very friendly, and the barman even recognised my name and answered in person a question I had asked on facebook - how's that for service?! Unfortunately it's a bit pricey for us to go regularly, so it won't be replacing wild food night, but I do hope we can go again. And while at our regular wild food nights there's a sense of 'this is what's available this month', seeing the full menu at the Foragers brings home what a huge variety of wild and local seasonal foods (including, of course, stored and preserved foods) are, in fact, available at any time of the year!
Thank you, Foragers!