Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Festive Fun, St Albans

Anyone (or the one) who has read this blog with any regularity will know my perfect Sunday roast criteria; red meat should be rare, white meat not dry; yorkies should be both crisp and squidgy, there should be plenty of suitable condiments; a dish of bronzed cauliflower cheese and roast parsnips. Always roast parsnips.

For our lunch at The Fighting Cocks, I wasn’t really expecting any of the above. For a start I had chosen it primarily because I knew it and it was central, meaning we could go for a wander around the lake beforehand and Christmas market by the cathedral afterwards; and while I was curious about its claim to be the oldest pub in England, it also made me more doubtful it would actually be any good.

Unusually, however, I was completely unperturbed about the idea of tough beef and lumpy Bisto as the real reason for our visit was to see the lovely Maz, wedding witness, and the less lovely Stealth (only joking Mrs, P). When you’ve already got a good amount of juicy gossip to digest you tend to care far less about what’s actually on your plate.

One way the Cocks immediately impressed was with the snack menu, a list so appealing I had to send a picture to my crisp fiend sister, banished in almost completely decent potato-snack free Sydney. Any pub that offers Quavers, peanuts, posh crisps and pickled Onion Monster Munch is already onto a winner.

They also had Great Heck Treasure, on cask – a brewery whose beers I’ve recently been enjoying – and this thumping IPA was no different. Perfect with our selection of pizza flavoured crisps and pork scratchings. Whilst Stealth got stuck in to her first of five gins and everyone else battened down the hatches for the long afternoon ahead…

By now I’ve accepted that ordering roast beef in a pub means an assumption of overcooked (at least for my liking). This is not always based on surroundings, previous experience or even prices – downward of a tenner and expects sisal carpet- but by employing the pessimist is never disappointed approach. Grey beef? Well, that was to be expected. Rare beef? Well, what a lovely surprise.

I don’t know if it was because we were eating early, whether it was because we specified ‘as rare as you’ve got’ or if the Cocks just always nails the crowning glory of an Englishman’s Sunday dinner, but the meat was spot on. As, indeed, was everything else from the roasties to the yorkie, via the blob of fearsomely hot horseradish adorning each plate. The belly, with its shard of crackling (no, Maz didn’t share, despite a pleading look or two) went down equally well.

After a surfeit of gin, another beer, two - surprisingly poky with the festive spirit (there was certainly some in there…) - mulled wines and the unbridled excitement of seeing the picture that hung in my childhood bathroom in their loos, it was time for my promised reward for being so well behaved, a visit to the, snappily monikered, Beer Shop on the London Road.

Like the Chesham Brewery Shop – I’m seeing a theme with the names here – they offer a range of four or five keg beers to drink in or take away, alongside a big selection of bottles and cans. Stealth and I raced ahead and got in a round of Moor Brewery Revival (big hops, low ABV, very nice), while the drivers lingered behind, making do with digesting more gossip.

The range of beers here is pretty special; there are local beers from breweries including Leighton Buzzard and Tring, alongside a good UK showing, including a vast selection of Marbles, Buxton and Dark Star as well as a whole wall of well-chosen Belgians and Americans, with the odd Kiwi and Dane thrown in for good measure.

A few quid lighter and with a haul including Flying Dog Gonzo porter, Green Flash Triple IPA (an invalubale help when wrapping presents the following week) and a bottle of Sorachi Ace for Stealth’s New Year celebrations, we decamped for a delayed pudding, in the form of an ‘ultimate’ hot chocolate from the Hatch stall at Christmas market in the Cathedral gardens.

While not normally a big fan of hot chocolate, preferring my cocoa in cakes, cookies or ice creams, and despite the absence of mini marshmallows on top, this was perfect sugary salve for frozen fingers and burgeoning hangovers; providing the metaphorical (and literal) whipped cream that topped a lovely day.

While I take a break to sit about eating Toblerone and drinking sherry in my dressing gown, here's to a very Merry Christmas to all. Eat, drink and tolerate your in-laws and I'll be back deliberating, cogitating and digesting some more in the New Year.

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