Welwyn’s secret supper club
Have you heard about Hertfordshire’s secret supper club? It takes place every other month at The White Hart in Welwyn, and it’s an event that is great fun if you’re lucky enough to get a ticket. I was invited to the first one of the year back in January, celebrating the food and wine of Argentina. I feel compelled to share the secret – it’s just too good to keep to myself.
The supper club takes place in what used to be Welwyn’s court house, where petty sessions were held and crimes and misdemeanours included unruly drunken behaviour. The White Hart is a great pub and known for its award winning cocktails and for happy hour (it’s actually two hours) and food, but let me tell you about our Argentinian supper.
Our main host for the evening was James Bainbridge, co-owner of the The White Hart in Welwyn village and The Tilbury in Datchworth with his brother Tom, who is also the Tilbury’s chef. This is a family business, and James, who has many years of experience of hospitality, including a significant stint at The Fat Duck, welcomed us all as if we were guests at a party in his home. He is the perfect host, and yes, you can say that this is down to his 3 Michelin star experience, but I put it down to the fact that he’s a generous person who cares about people and wants to look after them properly. I actually sat on a table with his parents, who told me a few tales about their sons. Co-hosting the evening was James Dowling, from Wine2Trade, a Hertford business that supplies wine to pubs and restaurants, and because this was a special evening, we were able to place orders with him on the night.
The atmosphere was deliciously clandestine but also delightfully convivial. The minute I arrived a glass of Argentinian Kaiken Uco Valley Brut was thrust into my hand, and after a few delicate sips I knew I was in for a good evening. Everyone was up for a good time, bearing in mind that in January half of Herts was dabbling with veganism and abstinence. But not in the former courtroom at The White Hart. Oh no. Here the scene was set for a night of feasting on local meat and quaffing six wines.
We sat at two big tables and everyone was quick to introduce themselves. I think these events at The White Hart are perfect for catching up with friends. You pay in advance (£45 per ticket) and when you arrive, you are looked after brilliantly, and you don’t waste precious talking time choosing from a menu, making decisions about wine and splitting the bill. And of course if you want to learn more about wine, this is the perfect occasion. James of Wine2Trade has a light touch, so while he is extremely knowledgeable, he was also succinct and allowed us to get on with the important business of tasting and eating. The food was delicious! It certainly gave us all lots to talk about. What I loved about it was the fact that we were experiencing some strong and distinctive flavours completely different from the every day. This isn’t a fancy tasting menu, and all the better for it, because you can get stuck in and be greedy. We started with fantastically moreish empanadas, together with a smoky aubergine dip. We tried two wines, both white and one a Chardonnay. Much discussion. More drinking. Obviously I was on my best behaviour. It felt very cosy and homely and conducive to relaxation: you can enjoy yourself and eat and drink a lot.
The main event was the asado, when big sharing boards of grilled meat arrived from the kitchen. All the meat at both The White Hart and The Tilbury comes from Bridget B’s in Watton and it was outstanding. I don’t usually eat much meat, and probably ate more during this one evening than in the whole of 2017, but I enjoyed every mouthful. The steak flank had us in raptures. There was also a yummy sweetcorn dish that I couldn’t get enough of, and a zingy chimichurri sauce. Two more wines to taste and drink and both made with Malbec grapes. One was served chilled and I think we were divided, or perhaps even in agreement that in January we didn’t require anything chilled. Again, James Dowling told us a bit about the journey made by Malbec grapes between France and Argentina. The wine served at room temperature, I think Obra Prima Malbec, was a joyous accompaniment to all the grilled meat and I drank and ate far too much. For pudding we had a cake that was made with dulce de leche. It was so delicious that I’m afraid I ate it before I had a chance to photograph it.
We were very happy to thank Gigi the chef when he came in at the end to take a bow.
The White Hart used to be a popular overnight stop for travellers going north from London and while today it no longer offers stabling for 34 horses, it does still offer 13 bedrooms for humans. I was lucky enough to be able to stagger up the hill and home to bed, but if you do want to stay the night after your six glasses of wine, you can always book a room in advance. The next supper club celebrates the food and wine of Chile and there are more planned for the rest of the year. Recommended.