I’m sorry but the term ‘gastropub’ gives me the ick. So last century. It wasn’t always so. Once upon a time it was a badge of honour — with chefs breathing new life and proper food into tired boozers.
But over the years it has been hackneyed — diminished by the large chains jumping on the bandwagon. Identikit dining rooms churning out bland menus (more often than not) cooked off-site and reheated. Too much use of tin buckets for either cutlery or triple-cooked fries.
The Silver Cup is none of these things. The cosy (36 cover) watering hole on the outskirts of smart commuter town, Harpenden demonstrates all the best bits about a posh pub restaurant. Top notch food in an environment that doesn’t make you feel out of place in your trainers. Not that you can’t dress up to eat in here but the room’s relaxed and the vibe is chill.
I popped in with a friend for a Thursday night supper (in my smartest trainers paired with a fancy flowery top) and was blown away by their seven-course tasting menu. At 7.30pm the dining room (lit perfectly for a woman of a certain age as I and my guest were/are) was already almost full. The bar was buzzing.
Co-owners Matthew Reeder and Michael Singleton are childhood friends who both have backgrounds in hospitality. Chef, Reeder’s grandfather and father were both publicans, but he always wanted to cook, so headed to catering college after school. After some time travelling, he worked at several Michelin-starred restaurants before returning to Harpenden where he ran sell-out supper clubs.
Serendipitously, not only was his father (and predecessor at The Silver Cup) was looking at retiring and had put his pub on the market, but Reeder also bumped into Singleton, who’d studied hospitality management at uni and a new restaurant was born.
This was all just prior to the pandemic and saw them opening in June 2020 — which cannot have been an easy start. The pair have (more than) weathered the storm and were recently recognised in the latest edition of restaurant guide, Michelin. Not an actual gong, but a recommendation which means the inspectors have spotted a chef using quality ingredients cooked well. Not quite ready for a star, but in the firmament.
Putting them squarely on my radar — especially being 20 minutes from my front door with an unfussy vibe.
An evening meal there is not for the faint hearted — nor abstemious diner — as there’s a set seven course menu (for £70) with no a la carte. Vegetarian options can be subbed in for non-meat or shellfish eaters — best to let them know in advance. If you’re up for an even bigger night out, you can go for the accompanying wine flight at £50 per head.
Canapes which included Duck egg gribiche (a posh and more delicately done egg and onion-ish schmear on paper thin barley crackers) and sea bass ceviche were no more than flavour-filled mouthfuls — gone on minutes.
Less aesthetic (as my teen would say) but punching way above its weight in flavour was salt-baked beetroot (a purple patty loaded with toasted chopped hazelnuts) under a cloud of horseradish-flavoured snow. Doorstep slices of warm sourdough arrived with yeast butter to slather — and with it being one of our seven courses we were duty bound to finish the lot.
After the basics of the bread, it was back to cheffy presentation for the Cornish cod, which shared plate space with a tiny artichoke, sweet confit lemon slices and Jerusalem artichoke puree. Non-fish eaters would have had artichokes and lemon confit slices before sage and pumpkin ravioli, which subbed admirably for the aged Hereford Sirloin on the menu — which comes with hot pickled cucumbers. Why has no one thought to heat pickled cucumbers? Genius.
Every set menu needs a dessert warm up, in this meal, lemon sorbet in chilled, on-trend, cut glass mini-trifle dishes. Dishes so cute that one might have made its way into my bag had I not been such an upright citizen and had Michael not explained that the few they own were inherited with the pub.
Prettily pink - seductive rhubarb and custard Victoria Sponge Photo: Victoria Prever
The showstopper pudding is reason enough to head north of St Albans. Insta pretty and ten times tastier, delicate pink rhubarb sorbet sat in a rose-hued consommé-like pool with a Victoria Sponge rectangle of perfect proportions filled with light custard and accessorised with yet more pink bling — tiny slices of poached rhubarb. I was utterly seduced by the pale pink tart and its sidekick glass of sticky sweet Chateau Fayau Cadillac.
The Silver Cup is currently only open Thursday to Sunday (with a proper Sunday lunch on the last day of the week) but will undoubtedly increase its hours. It’s well on the way to putting Harpenden at the centre of Hertfordshire’s gastronomic map, so get your table booked.
More info here