We were looking online for a restaurant in South Hertfordshire for my mother’s birthday and stumbled across St Michael’s Manor Hotel in St Albans, with it’s Lake Restaurant, and quickly decided this would be the perfect location. It is a traditional hotel (apparently the building dates back more than 500 years) with a contemporary feel, situated close to the city centre and St Albans Abbey but within 5 acres of beautiful gardens. The restaurant, which has been awarded two AA rosette’s, is in the Orangery – overlooking the lake. The ambiance was very pleasant and the staff were attentive (but not obtrusive).
I chose the beetroot gravadlax to start, and the dish was well presented with a good balance of textures and flavours. I am quite partial to rocket with gravadlax (or smoked salmon) and agree that sourdough is probably the most appropriate bread. Having been skeptical about the beetroot gel I was pleasantly surprised, it was an excellent addition to the plate. My only criticism would be of the cubes of soft cheese – which had no flavour whatsoever.
As a fish lover I ignored the various roasts on the menu and turned my attention to the two fish options – the ‘taste of the sea’ or the roasted cod with chorizo. I opted for the ‘taste of the sea’, concluding that this was the more interesting of the two (after all I could easily prepare roasted cod with chorizo at home). I certainly did not regret this decision as the ‘taste of the sea’ was a delightful main course with two pieces of sea bream with wonderfully crispy skin (which had clearly been sprinkled with sea salt during the cooking), the soft shell crab which had an excellent texture and the beignet of mussels (two pieces) – crispy and very moreish, though they could perhaps have contained more mussels. Samphire works well with many white fish dishes (my cousin first introduced me to it with sea bass) and I very much enjoyed it with the bream. The ‘texture of lemon’ (the five dots at the front of the plate) however was most peculiar. Yes it did taste of lemon, but in a highly artificial way and I could not work out what else it had been made with. Although it contributed towards the appearance of the dish I could not complement the taste, which rather detracted from the fish, and I wonder if a lemon mousse might have worked better?
The apple tarte tatin had been made with very little pastry – just a thin pastry base, so I think it might convert even those who claim not to like pies or pastry. The texture was good, however it was a little too sweet for my liking (I don’t tend to use a lot of sugar when I cook with apple) but the caramel jus was certainly tasty. The slightly surprising stand out element of the dish was the cinnamon ice cream, when I had it once before at another establishment I wasn’t overly enamoured but this was superb, and I liked the use of the cinnamon stick in the presentation. Overall it was a delicious way to end the meal.