All change at The George of Harpenden
PUBLISHED: 12:00 14 July 2019
Food columnist Becky Alexander explores the transformation of one of Harpenden’s oldest pubs
You will have seen the building work taking place at The George on Harpenden High Street in the last few months, and at last the scaffolding is down and it's open. It's quite a transformation!
Dating back to the late 19th century, it was originally known as The George Hotel, and it now has a slightly more aspirational name: The George of Harpenden.
I hadn't been in for years, and the new look is dramatic; it's a really large pub and they have created a lovely open feel, with areas for drinks at the front, booth seating, a large dining space near the open kitchen, a conservatory area ('the garden room'), and outside seating too. And it's open all day, from morning coffee through to dinner, so I think it will be a really useful addition to the town.
Family friendly, which it needs to be in Harpenden, but you can also find a quiet corner if you want to work during the day or have a child-free drink. The styling reminds me of The Ivy in St Albans, with jungly wallpaper and swish seating; they have clearly spent a fortune. The open kitchen with a huge pizza oven and Josper grill is at the heart of the pub, which gives the place a buzz.
We went in for a midweek lunch; it isn't clear when you walk in where you are meant to go (maybe someone at the door would help?) but the bartender was friendly and helpful. The menu is extensive, with sourdough pizzas, sharing meze plates, a 'fire' menu, steaks, burgers, pub classics, as well as a brunch menu, so I am sure you will find something you like. A huge menu is usually a bad sign, but they seem equipped to handle it, with plenty of staff walking around, and a busy kitchen.
The Josper grill menu has its own introduction (400C coals, everything roasted to perfection etc) so we ordered Moroccan spiced cauliflower steak, which came with tabbouleh and saffron soya yoghurt sauce (£12.50). This was a generous, delicious lunch. Roasted lamb shank and tuna steaks sound good too, and I am sure suit the grill approach, although at £17, a bit pricey. Sides are extra.
I chose a pub classic to see if they can do that well too, and my cod and chips was lovely and well-presented, with grilled lemon, pea purée, and a tartare sauce made with samphire and pickled cucumber. At £15 it's quite expensive for the area. We sat near the bar at the front of the pub, not realising that there was a huge dining area at the back, but we weren't forgotten and service was good.
You can definitely just go in for drinks; the cocktail and gin menus include all the classics, and there is a sensible wine list too - nothing hugely exciting, but absolutely fine for a pub of this size. The beer menu focuses on bottled beers but they do have Meantime pale ale on draft, which went well with my fish and chips.
Brunch and breakfast is available 8am until 3pm (8am-11am on Sundays) and sounds great, with cooked breakfasts, granola, pastries, smoothie bowl, shakshuka, eggs benedict and bubble and squeak.
I have to mention the vegan English, as everything else is self-explanatory, and I haven't seen this elsewhere locally - you get vegan sausages, tofu scramble, Josper-roasted tomatoes, bubble and squeak and butterbeans in tomato sauce. I think that sounds amazing, whether veggie/vegan or not.
Sunday lunch will be hugely popular here, and they have plenty of large tables, ideal for groups. They serve the pub classics, and also mushroom Wellington, rib-eye beef, lemon chicken and pork belly with prune and brandy stuffing. You can book online or ring, and I think weekend booking will be essential.
A lovely transformation, and I hope it can maintain its great first impression!