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)

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Anna Smaill’s debut novel, The Chimes, is a fusion of fantasy and romance
booksMan Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Arts and Entertainment
One of the Pyongyang posters, the slogan of which reads: ‘Let the exploits of the northern railway conductors shine!’
art
Life and Style
Linguine with mussels and fresh tomatoes
food + drink
News
Actor Roddy Piper attends the world premiere of 'The Death of 'Superman Lives': What Happened?' at the Egyptian Theatre on April 30, 2015 in Hollywood, California.
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Recruitment Genius: Network Executive - Adrenalin Sports - OTE £21,000

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for an exciting...

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
    RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

    RuPaul interview

    The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
    Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

    Secrets of comedy couples

    What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
    Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

    Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

    While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
    The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

    The best swimwear for men

    From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer