Auberge du Lac, Welwyn

Jean-Christophe Novelli has returned to his haute cuisine roots at Brocket Hall, once the home of a notorious Ferrari collection. Tracey MacLeod reports

It would be easy to recast the arrival of Jean-Christophe Novelli at Auberge du Lac as a cautionary tale. A gifted chef, four times awarded a Michelin star, he found fame in the mid-Nineties as chef-patron of Clerkenwell's Maison Novelli, before accelerating his way through a chain of ever-more-optimistic acquisitions, from Notting Hill to Normandy. Then he crashed and burned. Marco Pierre White bailed him out, enabling him to return to his original kitchen at Maison Novelli. Now his services have been acquired by the Japanese leisure group that operates Brocket Hall, a stately home-cum-golf course in Hertfordshire.

An over-ambitious French chef forced to do penance by cooking at a golf club in Footballers' Wives country? Or a brilliant artist, freeing himself from financial pressures to pursue his dream of creating a destination restaurant? To hear Novelli tell it, he is passionately committed to the new project, and grateful to have been given a second chance. And Brocket Hall is certainly an appropriate setting for a shot at redemption. Its last owner, Lord Brocket, served a prison sentence for a £4.5m insurance scam involving his Ferrari collection, rumoured to be buried somewhere in the grounds. Cue the arrival of that Japanese leisure company, the golf course and the profile-raising celebrity chef.

It's an attractive spot, in so far as golf courses can be attractive to the non-golfer. The Auberge is an 18th-century hunting lodge, nestling in a tree-fringed hollow beside a fairy-tale lake, with handsome Brocket Hall dominating the scene. From the remote-controlled security gate to the orchestrated chorus of greetings, the whole place purrs with expensive exclusivity.

The dining room is more atmospheric than you might expect a former golf clubhouse to be, but only just. One corner is carved from the old cellar of the building, but most of the tables are in a modern extension. The effect is not so much ancient and modern as ancient and nouveau – with its swirly carpet, swaggering display of lilies and curly ironwork, there's more than a touch of Eighties showiness about the décor.

"It's just on the cusp of being naff," decided my guest. "There isn't one thing you want to rest your eye on." Until M. Novelli makes one of his regular forays from the kitchen, that is, at which point the view improves considerably. The lucky occupants of window tables also have a splendid vista of Brocket Hall, and can monitor the lake in case the fin of a Testarossa breaks the waters, like Nessie.

Towards the end of his time in Clerkenwell, Novelli talked about the growing Spanish influence on his cooking, but his menu for Auberge is gloriously, unapologetically French. Novelli's food, despite its high-finish flourishes, has always had its feet on the ground, and his fans will be pleased to see earthy dishes like braised pig's trotter stuffed "selon mon humeur" and braised oxtail with liquorice and cauliflower mash appearing alongside the sole meunière. There's a set lunch menu, too – remarkable value at £28 for three courses (including a half bottle of wine per person).

The dishes we sampled from the à la carte menu were as manicured and slaved over as the green on the 18th hole. A tian of crabmeat, Norwegian prawns and avocado showed expert handling of the ingredients, zingy with flavour despite being served at a Scandinavian temperature. Chubby grilled scallops had more than enough character to hold their own against nuggets of black pudding, a substance that tends to overpower all it touches, like Alison Steadman in a costume drama.

Further evidence that Novelli has found first-class suppliers came in the form of roast lamb cutlets of a Platonic sweetness and pinkness. Each wore a crown of mild Stilton soufflé, an unorthodox but entirely successful combination. My guest's dish also featured an unlikely partnership, but less triumphantly so; roast salmon and lightly cooked foie gras have a similar, slightly gelatinous texture, and the combination didn't benefit either component.

Desserts – including carpaccio-thin slices of pineapple spiced with ginger and chilli – sported Novelli's trademark spiral of spun sugar, a flashy touch that seemed at odds with the pastoral surroundings, just as wearing diamonds in the country is considered a faux pas. But caramel spirals are the kind of thing, along with ubiquitous dots of caviar, and the volley of bon appetits that launched each course, that Michelin inspectors, rather than regular punters, tend to appreciate.

So will Novelli achieve his ambitions for Auberge du Lac? Proximity to several motorways makes it easily accessible from north London, as well as Essex and Hertfordshire. But while Novelli's cooking is certainly vaut le voyage, the British, unlike the French, don't tend to drive 20 miles for a meal unless they can get a nice country walk or a bit of antique shopping into the bargain. Which means Auberge du Lac will remain a treat for locals rather than a destination restaurant. And when it comes to a chef of Novelli's talents, that's rather like burying a Ferrari under a golf course. E

Auberge du Lac, Brocket Hall, Welwyn, Hertfordshire (01707 368 888)

News
people And here is why...
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
News
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    Day In a Page

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?