Is this the best pub restaurant in the St Albans district?
- Credit: Silver Cup
When I first visited Harpenden's The Silver Cup, shortly after moving to the district 13 years ago, it was a comfortable and charming gastro-pub, the sort of place you'd take your parents when they visited without feeling embarrassed.
It became a regular haunt until it suddenly transformed into a pack-them-in beer and burgers sports bar largely serving the local rugby fraternity, so it was with some trepidation that I returned to witness its latest transformation, not sure whether enough had changed to make a difference.
It's now run by two local boys who have returned to Harpenden to bring their experiences of working in top restaurants like The Typing Room, The Galvin Brothers and Anglo in Farringdon to their home town.
Head chef Matthew Reeder - whose dad owned the pub for many years - and general manager Michael Singleton took over the lease back in the depths of the first wave of the pandemic in spring 2020, and used lockdown to transform the old-fashioned boozer into a high-end, contemporary eatery which strives to offer exceptional food alongside the warmest hospitality.
But did they deliver? I'm pleased to say any of my initial reservations were swiftly overcome by a first class dining experience the likes of which are hard to come by outside London. There may be a wealth of decent restaurants in the district, but I don't think many pubs locally can compare to what The Silver Cup is striving to achieve.
We enjoyed the seasonal set menu, five imaginative, locally sourced courses complimented by a drinks flight of exceptional wines. Our host explained the provenance and flavours of each offering, while the sommelier brought expert knowledge of how each wine worked alongside the ingredients of the food.
The opening snacks were a mouthwatering duck egg gribiche and barley cracker, and a surprising mix of lamb, courgette and lemon, two heavenly treats to set the taste buds quivering in anticipation of what was to come.
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The sharpness of Isle of Wight tomato, horseradish, black olive and rocket was counterbalanced by a glass of Cieck Ebaluce di Caluso (Italy 2020), the white wine taking the edge off the salad to create a smooth and sumptuous fusion of fresh flavours.
The fish course was Scottish salmon served with Jersey royal, creme fraiche and caviar, served alongside a South African chenin blanc (Blank Bottle's 2021 Moment of Silence). The fish was perfectly cooked and just the right portion size to leave you wanting more, more, more!
For our main meat dish we were presented with Hereford short rib, Roscoff onion and black garlic, with a dry, medium full Georgian red (Iveriuli Saperavi 2020), a tender piece of meat which dissolved on the tongue and had a deep, intense flavour.
A palate-cleanser of pineapple, cream cheese, coconut and lime set us up for the sweet of Jerusalem artichoke, white chocolate and strawberry, complemented by a glass of French dessert wine (Domaine des Baumard Coteaux du Layon 2018). Very different, but no less delightful, this was a fitting finale to what was an excellent meal.
The transformation which this simple country pub has undergone is nothing short of remarkable. Here we have a restaurant which offers fantastic food in relaxing, comfortable surroundings where the focus is on making sure your meal is one to remember.
The staff, while still somewhat nervous, were attentive, informative and engaging, traits which are unfortunately lacking in some more pretentious eateries.
At the moment The Silver Cup is something of a best-kept secret, largely known only to locals, but having recently been named the county regional finalist in the National Pub & Bar Awards, that isn't likely to last and is sure to attract foodies from far and wide. Book a table before there's a waiting list!