Muddy Eats: The Alford Arms rises from the ashes
The fire that closed The Alford Arms in Frithsden earlier this year left good food and beer lovers across this end of the county howling and bereft. And understandably so.
But it’s back — and it’s just as lovely, as welcoming, as comfortable, and as popular as it ever was. The temptation to compare the newly-reopened Alford Arms to a phoenix rising from the ashes is almost too much to resist — pretty much like the temptation to go and see what’s new, what’s the same, and what’s on the menu.
Lovers of its previous pre-fire incarnation can breathe a sigh of relief. Nothing’s changed. Yes, the upholstery looks newer — because it is, obviously — and the paint on the walls is nice and shiny, but the important bit, the feel of the place, is just the same as ever. It’s relaxed, comfortable, and reassuringly recognizable.
The food, though, is probably even better than ever. Settling in for a lazy evening of eating and chatting, my friend and I were quite literally spoiled for choice menu-wise.
Starters include salmon rilettes with baby carrots and turnips and toasted sourdough, anyone? Or Bucksum Farm beetroot with homemade ricotta, pomegranate and local honey jelly? We went for Cornish soused mackerel with kohlrabi, confit fennel, apple and English mustard — which was clean and sharp. And crispy pig’s cheek with balsamic glazed onions and tarragon mayo — which was rich and indulgent.
It’s all presented so beautifully, too. Yes, you’re in a relaxed and comfy country pub — but you’re sitting down to some seriously gorgeous food both to eat and to look at.
The decision about the main course was no easier — but equally gratifying. I went for a vegetarian option: honey and pepper roasted butternut squash with salsify, braised barley, peas and yoghurt. I wasn’t entirely convinced at the prospect of the yoghurt, but it worked beautifully on the plate. My friend took a left turn onto the specials menu and ended up with the most delicious rump of lamb I have ever tasted — yes, I nicked a bit but purely for research on your behalf, you understand… Served up with caramelised garlic mash (I should have nicked more of that), rainbow chard and lentil jus, it was just about perfect.
And yes, there was space for pudding. Hard to believe, I know, but all the dishes were neatly filling without being overwhelming. I had to have chocolate — obvs — so went for dark chocolate delice with peanut brittle and *swoon* salted caramel marscapone. If I’d been at home, I would have licked the plate and rolled over to have my tummy rubbed afterwards, but you’ll be relieved to know that I managed to hold it together.
My friend resisted the chocolate temptation and plumped for Japanese matcha green tea panna cotta with blackberry preserve (sooo thick and juicy) and lemon balm granita. (Even though we had to ask what ‘matcha’ is…) It was cool and sharp, and pretty much perfect after the richness of the lamb.
The fire that closed the pub was undoubtedly horrible, but the resurrected Alford Arms is just as good, if not better, than the original. The owners have wisely resisted the urge to restyle the inside — or change things around — and instead have recreated and refined what was a winning combination of relaxed charm and serious dining.
The Muddy Verdict:
Great for: country-pub loving foodies, date nights, grown-up meals out, that sort of thing. Their Christmas menu is bound to be amazing, too, and is already getting booked up. It’s a busy place!
Not so great for: I’m not sure I’d take the kids there, but mostly because they wouldn’t appreciate it.