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Muddy eats: The Bricklayers Arms, Flaunden

It could be the blueprint for your traditional English country pub, but this family-run 18th-century ale house is also award-winning for its Anglo-French gastro menu. Time to dig in!

THE LOWDOWN

An 18th Century pub nestled in the Chess Valley, The Bricklayers Arms is as much honeypot for keen ramblers as it is for foodies. It’s been run by the Michaels family for 15 years and its Michelin trained chef Claude Paillet has been heading up the kitchen for even longer (with a name like that it’s no surprise that the menu has a bit of a French twist) – clearly a bit of a dream team if the trophy cabinet is anything to go by.

It’s positively groaning under the weight of accolades, both local and national, including the most recent award for Dining Pub of the Year 2020 from the Good Pub Guide (for the sixth time), and a AA rosette for culinary excellence.

 

THE VIBE

It’s a proper country pub, with trad décor and, refreshingly, doesn’t buy into that chichi gastropub vibe. You’ll find exposed brickwork, rustic beams and mismatched furniture here, but barely a lick of Farrow & Ball paint and not a hint of a feature wall in sight. Thankfully what you see is what you get here – whether you’re popping in for a cheeky pint or settling in for a leisurely Sunday roast – meaning that the food is allowed to speak for itself and the atmosphere just bubbles along naturally.

There’s a rack for muddy boots in the doorway and the clientele ranges from Karrimor-wearing, OS map-toting hikers to bar-propping local regulars and families with kids of all ages. It’s child-friendly too by the way, without shouting about it – there’s no children’s menu offering plates dripping with Baked Beans and soggy chicken dippers, but they do offer half-size (and half-price) portions of all their mains, plus there are booster seats available too. Put it this way – we certainly didn’t feel out of place there with our nearly three-year-old and she was more than happy with her chicken and veg lunch.

We arrived at midday when just a few other diners were taking their seats, but by the time we left two hours later practically every inch of space in the pub (and the car park) were spoken for, with some hungry walkers lingering outside for a table in the unseasonal sunshine. Note to self: always book ahead! Having said that it felt cosy and hububby rather than overcrowded, with just the right amount of space per table so as to not feel hemmed in.

 

SCOFF & QUAFF

Being a Sunday lunch time we dived in for the full three courses – stretchy dress on in preparation!

My starter was like a cheffy bubble and squeak – a pumpkin and purple potato cake, topped with a poached egg and the best creamy, mustardy Hollandaise-style sauce I’ve had in a long time (and I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur in that department!) If I hadn’t been in polite company I might have licked the bowl clean and to hell with the calories! My husband opted for a hearty French Onion Soup which looked substantial and warming, with some deliciously bubbling Emmental toasts on the side, which I very nearly snaffled off his plate.

And we could have stopped there had it been a light lunch, but oh no, there was more to come. Plenty more… If there’s one thing you can say about the food here it’s that they do not scrimp on portions, so bring a good apetite and maybe even skip breakfast. My husband’s Roast Bedfordshire Top-Side of Beef was humongous, let alone the noggin-sized Yorkshire, and there were plenty of roasties, veg and red cabbage to go with it.

And my veggie main – a mushroom feuilletté – was equally sizable, with a totally moreish and rich calvados cream sauce (yep, more cream, but who’s judging?) and a puff pastry top, with some fancy julienne vegetables and a side portion of buttery new potatoes for good measure.

When we’d had our fill – which involved a more galliant effort from my not-to-be-beaten husband than me! – it was (sloooowly) on to dessert. Well, it would have been rude not to…. Just a simple scoop of mango sorbet was all my husband could manage but I couldn’t resist the sound of the Dandelion and Burdock Sticky Toffee Pud.

I rarely manage to un-see a sticky toffee on a menu (and this was no exception, especially with the intriguing sounding twist), but I was also tempted by the Warm Treacle Tart with clotted cream and candied hazlenuts, and the Honey and Raspberry Panna Cotta with coconut granola caught my eye too.

Having decided to stick (sorry!) with my first choice I didn’t regret it. One for those with a seriously sweet tooth it was a sugary, saucy delight, with the addition of a scoop of date mascarpone on the top and a refreshingly cool and milky (not too sweet by comparison) vanilla ice cream.

 

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Those after a real gastro experience, but the atmosphere of a traditional country boozer with a genuinely welcoming atmosphere might just make this their new favourite Sunday roast destination.

Not for: If it’s crisp white tablecloths and fancy flourishes you’re after you won’t find it here – it’s no frills in the décor department but it’s not trying to be something it’s not, and that’s all part of the appeal, particularly for die-hard pub aficionados.

The damage: Starters range from £7-£11, mains from £16-£24 and desserts are around £7-£8, so you’re looking at spending around £40 per head on your food bill for three courses, which I reckon is pretty reasonable for the quality and portion sizes – you certainly won’t go home hungry!

The Bricklayers Arms, Hogpits Bottom, Flaunden, Hertfordshire, HP3 0PH

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