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That Little Place, Harpenden
According to TV chef Raymond Blanc, it is not possible to run a restaurant which uses only locally sourced ingredients. The best you can aim for, he says, is about 30 per cent.
A couple of years ago, John Gunner and Alec Goodhand had been on standby to appear as contestants on Blanc’s show The Restaurant - where participants compete for the chance to run a restaurant backed by Blanc.
They never got to appear in the end. However they became attracted by the idea of a restaurant which whole-heartedly embraced local produce and so in May last year, they opened That Little Place, in Station Road.
Fantastically situated a stone’s throw from Harpenden railway station, the restaurant is low-key from the outside but elegant within.
Decorated in muted tones of green and champagne, with wooden tables resting on cast iron legs and a huge mirror along one wall, the effect is tasteful. It is uncluttered but creates an intimate environment for diners.
The menu shows real imagination. It was refreshing to come across unusual ingredients and I was intrigued by some of the tantalising combinations.
For starters, I went for bacon and cheddar porridge (£4.75), a tasty, hearty dish. The porridge oats were cooked in a risotto style and absorbed the strong flavours of the bacon and cheddar.
My companion chose the homemade gravadlax, consisting of thick cuts of salmon, which had been smoked for three days, on warmed bread and garnished with a striking yellow tartare sauce and dill. He said it was delicious and savoured every mouthful.
When setting up the restaurant, John, a former deputy mayor of St Albans, found many of his suppliers from Harpenden Farmers Market.
His beef is sourced from a farm in Roundwood Lane, and the Childwickbury goat's cheese (which Jamie Oliver served at a G20 summit dinner) is made just down the road. The quince is home grown, as are many of the herbs, fruit and vegetables.
The specialities section of the menu shows the distance the food has travelled in miles so you can see just how local it is.
The restaurant even brews its own beer, Ale 5, courtesy of Alec, who used to manage a brewery.
Even though I’m not normally an ale fan, I tried a bottle and found it mellow and refreshing. My companion drank Cobbledick’s Rum Matured Cider. The cider had been stored in a rum cask which smoothed out the tartness of the apples beautifully.
For mains I was drawn to the St Albans gloucester old spot pork and sage sausages (£10.50), which consisted of two of the thickest sausages I had ever come across – perfect for dipping in the sweet plum and chilli sauce which was drizzled on my plate. The meat rested on a huge bed of parmesan mash.
My companion opted for the Harpenden stroganoff – a rich creamy concoction of tender beef pieces in a closed cup mushroom, garlic and paprika cream sauce.
Despite feeling rather full after two quite large courses, I couldn’t resist a peek at the dessert menu, which had a distinctly chocolatey theme.
Indulgent sounding puddings such as death by chocolate, white chocolate and baileys mousse and chocolate brownie are sure to set the pulses racing of the sweet-toothed.
I had two scoops of Christmas cake ice cream, a recipe devised by John and involving generous chunks of cake mixed in with the ice cream. It was very good, as was the apple crumble my companion chose.
That Little Place offers diners something a bit different. There is a real enthusiasm for fresh, local produce, which is evident in the imaginative and varied menu. Despite being a relatively new restaurant there was a couple in there who were clearly already regulars. And I can see why, there's plenty to come back for.