Sopwell House in St Albans is all set to introduce Omboo, which is sure to spice up the dining scene in Hertfordshire
For visitors enjoying afternoon tea at Sopwell House in St Albans recently, they would have been intrigued by an on-going evolution of the dining space. Here, at Absolutely Hertfordshire, we too have been hearing snippets of a new restaurant concept arriving at the luxury hotel, and at the time of going to print the wait is almost over: Omboo has arrived.
For as long as I can remember, Sopwell House has been the pinnacle of hospitality in the county. For the uninitiated, Sopwell House is nestled in 12 acres of Hertfordshire countryside in St Albans, and is a 4-star Georgian country house hotel. It’s a family-owned luxury hotel that takes rest, relaxation and warm hospitality seriously.
The hotel boasts 128 rooms and suites including 16 individually designed stylish Mews Suites. There’s also 15 event spaces perfect for meetings, conferences and spectacular weddings, and it is home to Cottonmill Spa, a vibrant haven featuring cutting edge fitness, beautiful facilities and world class treatments by the very best British brands. It has also long made a name for itself for its food and drink offerings – so why the desire to do something new?
“For the past few years, we had considered moving away from the traditional ‘fine dining’ restaurant and an opportunity arose in the summer of 2021 to do a comprehensive review,” explains Sopwell House’s David Petitt. “We sent out a survey to our past hotel guests as well as our local clientele to find out what is their preferred dining experience and cuisine when they choose to go somewhere for dinner. We have observed the trend over the past few years moving away from the course-by-course formal dining to a more relaxed dining experience with a communal aspect of sharing, and our survey confirmed our observations that sharing plates and Asian-inspired flavours featured very highly as favourites from our guests’ feedback. From there on, our Omboo journey began.”
Once hospitality opened up again to the public, work continued behind the scenes on the new dining concept. “The restaurant finished its transformation back in March 2022, with a very fresh and vibrant look to the restaurant,” Petitt explains. “Since March it has been used for afternoon tea, so many people have seen the new design already. In fact,” he adds with a chuckle, “we have even had a few hotel guests postponing their stay to after our opening in July!”
Just as day turns to night, at Sopwell House as the sun sets there will be something entirely new to enjoy. “Omboo’s design is sympathetic to the history of the food, resembling an eclectic burst of colours and flavours intertwined,” Pettit says. “The transformation from day (afternoon tea) to night (Omboo dining) will be quite something. The lights will go down, the tablecloths will disappear from the tables and Asian lounge/chill out music will accompany the hubbub of our dinners, creating a completely different feel to the space.”
Chef Derrick Chen will be the man behind the cooking and Omboo will adopt a “when ready” service policy. “In Asia, unless it is a ‘formal’ dining occasion, dining is seen more as a communal aspect of social life,” Petitt says. “The flowing food, drinks and conversation will encourage a convivial feel to the restaurant space, fostering the vibrant, elegant and laid-back atmosphere we wanted.”
What can we expect on the menu? “Inspired by the spice routes of Asia and the Far East, Omboo will serve up mouthfuls of fragrant Asian flavours,” Petitt whets the appetite. “The menu is designed to be shared and experienced with friends and family. We wanted to have lots of choice of both small plates for guests to try new flavours and big sharing platters to allow everybody in the party to enjoy. The menu should be flexible to suit most moods, you can come and pick and try, or just completely indulge in your favourite dishes.
“The duck salad is bursting with flavours and colours, it is simply beautiful,” Petitt continues about some of the dishes he believes will be huge hits. “The fried salmon (sushi) roll, with strawberry, cream cheese and teriyaki sauce is a personal favourite and very moreish. Our hot stone Japanese grade A5 wagyu will definitely be a hit, as well the spiced jumbo prawns.”
Drinks, too, will be key. “The cocktail, wine and beer offerings have been carefully curated to complement the dishes without getting lost in the punchy flavours that run throughout the menu,” Petitt says. “From an Omboo Mojito, featuring sweet Japanese plum wine and Havana 3 rum, to a Lemongrass Old Fashioned and For Sake’s Sake, a twist on the 007 favourite Martini, there’s a cocktail for every taste preference. In addition to a selection of palate-cleansing sake, Omboo will feature four beers chosen specially from around the world, including a local beer from Tring.”
A year in the making, Omboo certainly has all the ingredients to be a big hit. And, as Petitt adds, it’s not just about the food. “Omboo is the place to go when you want to try something a little different, when dining out requires more than just a meal, when it involves new experiences, laughter and sake shared with good friends.”