The perfect pub grub at St Albans' historic hostelry
PUBLISHED: 10:52 22 December 2014 | UPDATED: 10:52 22 December 2014
On a chilly, blue sky day, lunch by a crackling log fire in an atmospheric pub is hard to beat.
The oldest pub in the country (according to the Guinness Book of Records) Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is in the most beautiful location, just a short walk from the cathedral and Christmas Market and overlooking Verulamium lake. If you are looking for somewhere to escape during your shopping or after a brisk walk with the family, head to this cosy, quirky pub.
Christo Tofalli has been landlord at Ye Olde Fighting Cocks for three years, and the pub has regained its position in the community. A natural host, Christo has worked hard to make his pub a real favourite with locals and a destination for visitors to St Albans. The real ales are so good that CAMRA have held their Christmas party here for two years and the pub has won Best Pub in the St Albans Food and Drink Awards twice.
Food has always been popular at the pub; Christo and team regularly serve Sunday lunch to over 200 people and the barbecues in the summer are legendary. But Christo has now taken the food to a new level with the appointment of Ian Baulsh as head chef.
Ian first trained under Ruth Hurren at Darcy’s and has more recently worked for Michelin-star winning Andrew McLeish at Chapter One. Ian has just returned from working in Australia and is delighted to be leading the team at Ye Olde Fighting Cocks; his connection goes back to his childhood – when he was born his father celebrated his birth in the pub!
Christo told me: “Ian is a perfect fit for us: he knows St Albans and its people inside out, and has a great knowledge and affection for the pub and our beautiful area.”
Ian has already made a good impression in his first three months. The menu has exactly what you want from a traditional pub; you can choose a bowl of homemade soup, a Ploughman’s, sausage and mash or a great burger, and here you know the sourcing is good and every element of your meal will be cooked properly. I went in one Friday evening and we had the most delicious food. My husband chose one of the day specials – rack of lamb cutlets with shepherd’s pie and parsnip purée. The lamb was excellent, and an amazing price for the quality of cooking. Fish (coley) and chips was generous and perfectly cooked and the smaller plates for children were the same high standard; the gravy with the sausages is made with veal bones and had an incredible flavour.
On a return visit I chose grilled pigeon breast with kale, apple and walnut. The pigeon was juicy and plump and felt like an appropriate choice in a pub which was once used as a pigeon coop! Ian takes great care sourcing his ingredients and you will spot other seasonal, locally sourced ingredients on the menu, which varies according to what he chooses from his butcher. The pub has a plot at Earthworks and grows herbs in the pub garden, which appear in the dishes. The cheeseboard contains Brit favourites Stinking Bishop, Cornish Yarg and Cropwell Bishop and all the puds are homemade. If you are lucky you may still be able to get a table for their Christmas menu (just a quick mention that the wild mushroom, lentil and stout hotpot with sweet potato gratin sounds a delicious veggie option).
It is clear that Christo takes the responsibility of looking after this historic pub very seriously and has found the right person to share his vision. It is amazing to think that we can visit Ye Olde Fighting Cocks just as Oliver Cromwell did 400 years ago, although I am sure the food has much improved since then.
6 Abbey Mill Lane, St Albans, 01727 869152. Very limited parking – best to walk to the pub.