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Beer on the menu at award-winning restaurants

Added: Wednesday, January 9th 2013

If beer and food conjure up an image of a pint of lager with a late-night curry, it’s time to think again. Andrei Lussmann is featuring beer in his restaurants and inviting diners to treat Britain’s national drink with as much respect as wine.

Andrei has won many awards for his food at his Waxhouse Gate Fish and Grill restaurant in St Albans, with a second outlet in Hertford. He’s been listed in the Good Food Guide for the past four years and he has twice been named best local restaurant in the St Albans annual food awards.

Waxhouse Gate, with glimpses of the abbey from the open plan rooms, offers fine but affordable food. Andrei started to offer beer to customers four years ago as part of his dedication to serving food and drink of the highest quality sourced as far as possible from home-grown suppliers.

Andrei is a member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, whose president is Raymond Blanc. The SRA encourages its members to use food from producers who avoid factory farming and agricultural chemicals, recycle water and take care of such valuable resources as grain, re-using seeds from one year to the next.

The association is also against waste and urges its members to allow diners to take home unfinished food in doggy bags.

Beer fits well with the SRA’s aims, as Britain’s growing number of craft brewers buy malting barley and hops from home-grown suppliers and avoid the cheap substitutes such as rice and corn used in mass marketed brands.

Andrei tentatively introduced beer four years ago. “We got a strange reaction at first,” he says. “When we offered a beer list, people would ask: ‘Where’s the Peroni?’ but then we did some blind tastings and Freedom Lager from Staffordshire come out on top.

“Cheap lager is, of course, cheap to buy in. But we say the beers we offer are massively better and we won’t charge a big margin.” The prices for his beers range from £3.95 to £4.90.

He says the key to encouraging customers to try beer with food lies with his staff. He shies away from the notion of educating diners. “I want my staff to be able to inform customers. My people have to know about beer and pass on their knowledge. I’ve conducted tastings with them so they know the difference between ale and lager and can talk with confidence about a Pilsner or an IPA.”

Andrei, whose father came from a German-speaking canton of Switzerland, opened his first small eatery in North Kensington in London in 2002 before moving to Hertfordshire. In spite of intense competition in St Albans – Raymond Blanc recently opened a restaurant just yards from Lussmanns – Andrei reports a highly successful December, with trade up 3 per cent over the same month in 2011.

His beer list, refined and carefully considered, offers three from Meantime Brewery in Greenwich – pale ale, lager and chocolate porter – Grain Brewery’s Blonde Ash and Blackwood Stout from Norfolk, Freedom Pilsner, and St Peter’s Organic Best Bitter from Suffolk.

Andrei is reaching in to new territory by matching beer with food. He recently sourced mussels from Norfolk and served them with Grain Blonde Ash golden ale. “They’re big plump mussels and the beer was a superb match,” he says, “as good a dish as Belgian moules and frites.”

He agrees with me that beer – pale ale in particular – is a fine match for cheese and says he may follow the Irish example of serving stout with oysters. He is working with the brewers who supply his beers to write tasting notes for his menu to help customers choose the best companions for their food.

He will not be short of advice. Alastair Hook (pictured above), who runs Meantime Brewery, trained at both Heriot Watt School of Brewing in Edinburgh and the renowned brewing department at Munich’s technical university and has a vast store of beer knowledge.

There are 23 different varieties of hops grown in England, offering flavours that include spice, pepper, orange and lemon, grass, herbs and cedar – flavours that will meld well with the dishes on offer in the restaurants.

Andrei’s plan is to set up clubs for customers that will run a series of specialist wine and beer evenings in the top area of the Waxhouse Gate restaurant. His menus change according to the season and he will feature beers that accompany these seasonal offerings.

The proof, as always, is in the eating. For my part, a glass of Meantime Pale Ale with a winter vegetable hotpot was a marriage made in heaven. Roll on spring!

*Lussmann’s St Albans: Waxhouse Gate, off High Street, AL3 4EW; 42 Fore street, Hertford SG14 1BY. www.lussmanns.com.

This article first appeared in the Herts Advertiser, 9 January 23013.

Alastair Hook