Foraging at Brocket Hall for Auberge du Lac

Matt Edmonds forages for watermint on the Brocket Hall estate.

Matt Edmonds forages for watermint on the Brocket Hall estate. - Credit: Archant

I was intrigued when Matt Edmonds took over as head chef of Auberge du Lac earlier this year, leaving Searcys at the Gherkin; was Hertfordshire’s well-known restaurant about to get a new shot of London energy? What would this mean for the classic French approach they are known for? I was even more intrigued when Matt invited me to go foraging on the estate and to talk about his new direction for the Auberge.

Salmon with elderflowers.

Salmon with elderflowers. - Credit: Archant

I went to meet Matt and sous chef Anthony Raffo (from Texture and Pied a Terre) at the old hunting lodge on the Brocket Hall estate; it is a short drive from Wheathampstead, through gates and along the pretty drive until you reach the Auberge, opposite the main house.

Matt explained that his menu focuses on British, seasonal ingredients, and that he often forages for ingredients on the estate. He showed me the watermint growing by the lake that they use for infusions for crème brûlée and cocktails (blanched of course). Just along, there was a patch of nettles, which they have used for soup.

The Auberge sits in over 500 acres of grounds, with a huge variety of trees, and as we explored, Matt pointed out that they use Douglas Fir pine needles with one of their pork dishes, and whole branches for the canapé displays. They also use some of the tree barks for syrups, taking inspiration from modern Scandinavian cooking.

Blackberry bushes edge the estate and are in flower at the moment, and the chefs use these for salads and to flavour gins. When they fruit, the chefs will collect berries for compotes, to go with desserts and meats. The elderflower shrubs had just finished flowering, but we found a few sprigs and plenty of elderberry capers, and Anthony explained that they will deep fry the capers until they puff up, to go with fish. We were also able to pick wild cherries from the trees that line the golf course. We could see poly tunnels on the estate that are no longer in use, and Matt explained that he would love to bring them back to life, and grow more of their own ingredients, as at Le Manoir Quatre Saisons, and I can see the potential here to take this beautiful restaurant in that direction.

A set lunch of three courses for £24.50 is a steal; it is available Wednesday to Saturday and if you haven’t been to Auberge before, do book for this. When I went, the menu included South Coast Plaice with cauliflower and watercress, and Saddle Back Pork Fritter with apple, Secret Farm Leaves and Douglas Fir Pine.

Auberge du Lac has always been popular for special occasions and you have to book well ahead at the weekend: the eight course tasting menu looks amazing, and at £85 a head, will need to be! I spotted nasturtiums and chickweed on the menu, along with the very best British ingredients such as Portland scallops and Belted Galloway Beef, so Matt is true to his vision. He is unfazed about allergies and dietary requirements, and can adapt his dishes for you so do talk to your waiter if you need any changes.

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Back at the restaurant Matt cooked me a dish using some of the ingredients we had found, and my salmon with elderflower flowers, bronze fennel, apple and elderflower vinaigrette was truly beautiful; I felt very spoilt. Matt and team use their classic French training and presentation skills to showcase seasonal, British ingredients, and it is a delicious combination.