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Tastes of the town: The Harpenden Arms

PUBLISHED: 10:30 16 January 2019

The interior of The Harpenden Arms.

The interior of The Harpenden Arms.

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Food writer Becky Alexander checks out one of the town's most popular pubs...

Lunch at The Harpenden Arms.Lunch at The Harpenden Arms.

I thought I’d focus on a pub for my January column. I realise that many of you are doing ‘dry January’ so I’ve picked a pub that has a good reputation for food, The Harpenden Arms. And if you aren’t, then it’s very good for drinks too!

January is always a quiet time for pubs; many of us are trying to drink less or save money. With the recent issues with business rate hikes, this can be a tough month for pubs in our area. I like that The Harpenden Arms is trying to counter this with a special offer in Jan - if you go to their website and sign up you can get 20% off your food and drink bill. Even if you are drinking less this month, it can be good to get out and socialise, so why not treat yourself to lunch or dinner and try a new soft drink instead. When I popped in recently, the log fire was very welcoming on a grey afternoon, and we had a walk around the pretty common beforehand.

The Harpenden Arms is a large pub, and they have divided up the space well. On the left hand side is the more traditional bar area, with plenty of space for just going in for a drink or a coffee. There are comfy seating areas too, and we bagged the sofa near the fire. The interior is quirky, with funky hanging baskets and you can order bar food and lunch to eat in this area. The large room “The Orangery” to the right is used mainly for dining, and it gets very busy on weekends, especially for Sunday lunch. It has also hosted many big birthday and work celebrations; it is one of the largest and lightest dining rooms in Harpenden. As it needs to be in the town, it is welcoming to children of all ages too. There are rooms upstairs that get hired out for book events, private dining and work drinks; it is a hard-working pub!

I had a veggie chilli with rice which came with guacamole and pea shoots on top. The chilli was perfectly nice and had a good flavour. The portion size was small compared to my partner’s parpadelle and ragu and the guacamole wasn’t super-fresh, although it tasted fine. Service was friendly and efficient. I like the sound of the build your own salad, where you choose your protein (halloumi, lemon chicken or salmon) and then add a salad such as smokey aubergine and rocket or baby gem and minted pea; I would want two or three of them though! You can also get a decent sandwich for under £8, such as fish finger or prawn and crayfish. If you prefer a classic such as fish and chips, you might like to know that they use Fuller’s own beer Frontier in the batter; probably worth getting a half to go with it.

I like that the pub is also aware of the eat less meat movement that is so popular at the moment; if you are trying veganuary they have introduced some new vegan dishes such as BBQ pulled jackfruit tacos with mango salsa. Jackfruit is a fruit that grows in many warm countries including India and Australia. It pulls apart when cooked which is why we are seeing it pop up as an alternative to pulled pork and similar dishes. The puy lentil and mushroom ‘meatballs’ sounds good too. I like that they are using smaller, independent companies such as Laverstock farm to supply their ingredients; the chocolate and coconut vegan ice cream sounds good.

The Harpenden Arms is a Fuller’s pub so their beer reflects that, with London Pride, Oliver’s Island and Cornish Orchards cider (which is also vegan by the way!). If you are getting together with pals this January, you might like to know that you can get 2-for-1 cocktails between 6-9pm. They also sell a good range of gins, along with the new non-alcoholic Seedlip ‘gin’ which is well worth a try. January can be a long month to not go out, so why not treat yourself and visit one of our local pubs?

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