Acclaimed Restaurant Auberge Re-Opens At Brocket Hall


Hertfordshire favourite Auberge du Lac is back with a highly acclaimed Head Chef at the helm. Absolutely Hertfordshire heads to Brocket Hall to dine out on the news

Lockdown hit hospitality hard and Hertfordshire wasn’t immune to this, with local favourites Auberge du Lac shutting their doors. Now, though, those restaurant doors are back to welcome us all into the refreshed Auberge. With a focus on locally sourced sustainable ingredients – many grown on-site by their own kitchen gardener – new Head Chef, John Barber, has created a seasonal, modern British menu.

John fell in love with cooking at a young age and at just 32 years old has already had an incredible career. Influenced by spending time in the kitchen with his mother, an inspiring and creative home cook, John found his calling. 

At 16 he went to study at The UCB College of Food before landing his first role – leaving his Staffordshire home to work at The Belfry Hotel. An apprenticeship at the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge, London followed, and after a period working at the Mandarin in Thailand, John joined Bar Boulud (part of the Mandarin in London) and within just three years became Executive Sous Chef and then Executive Head Chef.

Stints abroad in Paris with famed chef, Charcutier Gilles Verot, and New York at Bar Boulud, Café Boulud & Boulud Sud followed, before John joined D&D Group and opened 14 Hills at 120 Fenchurch Street, London.

John joined the Brocket Hall estate last year to work on the re-opening of Auberge, so we sat down with him to discover the ingredients that have gone into the grand unveiling.

John Barber
John Barber

What inspired your love for cooking?

Food and cooking were always a part of my upbringing. There was always home cooked food for dinner from scratch and cakes, pies etc and always a roast on a Sunday. I guess that’s how my mum was brought up and I was always happy to help her. 

When did you realise it was the career for you?

It was around the age of 14 I decided I wanted to be a chef. At 15 I started washing up at a local restaurant, shortly after that I went to an open day at University College Birmingham, loved what I saw, and at 16 I left school and started there.

Of your positions pre-Auberge, which ones have you learnt the most from?

Probably the 10 years I spent at the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge, London. The first three years there I was on an internal rotational program, which saw me spend 6 months in each outlet, and it gave me a massive overview of the whole operation at a young age. It really was the foundation for my career.

Are you able to describe your style of cooking?

I don’t like to put a specific style on my cooking as I like to try different things. I was classically trained at college, worked with Asian flavours at the Mandarin, worked with French influences at Bar Boulud with Chef Daniel Boulud… it really is a mixed bag. At Auberge we will cook a modern British style of cuisine, but all my experiences will come into play with the menu. 


What attracted you to coming to Brocket Hall and overseeing the re-launch of Auberge?

After lockdown and spending a lot of time with my young family, I wanted to find something closer to home. I had been commuting into London from Hitchin for five years, early starts and late nights mixed with delayed trains and replacement buses was no fun at all! So, I decided to find something nearer and I came across the restaurant Auberge, which had been closed since lockdown. I approached Brocket Hall who asked me to come up with a vision for the restaurant, and a few months later I started at Brocket Hall.

How much work has gone into things behind the scenes?

The hospitality industry is very hard at the moment, finding the right staff is the biggest challenge of all. For our pop-up events that we have been running for the last few months we have had to use staff from across the estate, but now we are building our own team for the back and front of house who are focused on Auberge and who share my vision. 

As a venue, what do you make of Brocket Hall?

The thing that really did attract me to Brocket Hall was the amount of potential it has. The grounds are stunning, and even for someone who doesn’t play golf the courses are amazing. It really is a special location. 

Why did you want to hold some pop up events pre-opening and how did they go?

I had never seen Auberge open before and honestly hadn’t heard of it, not being local to the area. Once I had seen the potential, I started to look at its history and saw the success and the almost cult following that it had previously enjoyed. 

I chose to do the pop-up events to test people’s opinion on the food I was cooking and to see what people’s expectations are of Auberge now. To get an honest reaction we gave out feedback forms for guests to leave suggestions on their experience and we have tried to work on their responses. All in all, we have received very positive and constructive feedback. 

What can we expect from the menu at Auberge?

We will be running a 5 x 5 x 5 a la carte menu to start, then implementing a tasting menu option for the evenings and a set menu at lunch. Sunday lunch we will also do a set menu, a roast style offering. 

We are lucky enough to have a kitchen garden that has been established from scratch by Lucy Hawkins, our amazing kitchen gardener (who is from nearby Letchworth) and her team. Lucy is working hard to grow as much produce for the restaurant as possible, which is a stone’s throw from Auberge as we focus on a soil to plate approach. The provenance of ingredients is very important not only from a sustainability perspective, but taste too. We are also trying to use as many local suppliers as possible as well such as Rodbournbury Mill, Farr Brew Brewery and The Cheese Plate in Buntingford.

Brocket Hall

How do you work with Lucy Hawkins?

I see Lucy as very like-minded to myself, she is a grafter and has transformed the kitchen garden from a patch of rough ground into a working garden. As time goes on, I can see the plans she has put into place working wonders for the estate and the restaurant. Together we have gone through the year and laid the foundations for the future, and now we have a plan for the crops that she will grow over the next 6-12 months. 

Are there particular dishes you are loving right now, or ingredients?

Spring is upon us, and wild garlic is right up there as it’s in season right now. We pick it from the estate and it features on the opening menu. Asparagus is another ingredient which I am loving at the moment. 

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope to have Auberge running as a destination restaurant that people enjoy coming to not just once a year or for that special occasion, but more frequently. The menu will change seasonally, and the vibe will be a little more relaxed and accessible, so it will be somewhere you will want to visit for the great food and the great service in an amazing setting on a regular basis.


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