We collected siusaidh from the airport shortly before noon and, after a brief detour to a closed pub, located the Lemon Tree in Bishop's Stortford. It was a good thing we'd called ahead: we had the comfort of knowing that it was open, the security of knowing we had a reservation, and the usefulness of directions. Wedding toasts were in full swing at the bar, but the rowdy cheer didn't disturb us once we'd found the restaurant wandered on through several more rooms knocked through between once-separate buildings. The decor was somewhere between homey and chic, the walls a pale lemon yellow above bare wood, with an assortment of paintings by local artists decorating the walls.
The menu's emphasis is on local sourcing, with all dishes labeled as to how far their ingredients came to arrive on the plate. (l=local; uk=UK; eu=EU; and while there was a symbol for the rest of the world, it wasn't present on the menus we read.) We had a choice between order off of the light menu and the full meal menu, but we were all both hungry and tempted by appetizers, so the light lunch menu went untried. The wine menu featured plenty of things by the glass, and included a "Hidden Gems" section, highlighting good-but-more-obscure wines. I had a glass of the Sauvignon Blanc de Touraine (Alain Marcadet, Loire, France), a reasonably full-flavored dry wine.
To begin, I had the apple and stilton salad: solidly sweet caramelized apples were lovely, the stilton rich and well-chosen, the croutons made from fine bread, the salad decent - but the pieces never came together into more than the sum of its parts. C. was a fan of the pickled onions that came with his ham-and-fois gras terrine, but would have liked more fois gras to improve what should have been the course's start attraction. siusaidh was pleasantly impressed by how robust her mushroom soup was, deepened and thickened with lentils.
My main was a flavorsome baked fillet of smoked haddock, resting on a bed of wilted spinach, and topped with the lightest, most delicate hollandaise sauce I've had in years. The little potatoes accompanying it were perfectly tender. C. too was impressed with his main, the chicken tasting nicely of chicken (as he put it), finished with peppercorns, and accompanied by potato and fried sticks of other root vegetables. siusaidh's vine tomato tart with roasted aubergine was the loveliest main to arrive at our table, a layered cylinder of elegance.
Desserts were a highlight. My favorite was siusaidh's. The vanilla pannacotta with rhubarb compote was unexpectedly floral, while all being very light, very delicate. The others were good too: my honey mascarpone cheesecake was enlivened by poached apricots, while C.'s sticky toffee pudding with black treacle ice cream was good, if rather too heavy on the treacle taste for my liking.
Service was friendly, if occasionally absent-minded (they did have a wedding party in-house). The tasting notes on the wine menu made up for the waitress' inability to give me further advice on it. The ingredients were all good and well-chosen. They didn't always come together into one cohesive dish, but they usually did, occasionally hitting real high points. All in all, a successful experiment for a nearly impromptu lunch location - and very conveniently located if you have a car and need to pick someone up at Stansted.