IF I have had a better meal out in the St Albans area in the last two years than I experienced at the Harpenden House hotel's Wine Press restaurant then it escapes my memory.

Accompanied by my partner Thami, I enjoyed a satisfying gastronomic experience in a pleasant and relaxing ambience.

To begin our meal I essayed air-cured Cumbiam ham accompanied by a rocket salad and a celeriac paste.

The piquant flavour of rocket is  - in theory - my favourite salad ingredient, but too often it proves a bland disappointment on the palate.

However this salad tasted as if it had been lifted from the a garden only hours before, its power providing the perfect balance to the delicate ham.

How a blend of bacon pieces, grated egg and croutons earned the name vicar's salad is beyond me, but Thami was unable to suppress a sensation of excessive salt.

Neither of us could fault or our main course, which we were united in choosing - slow cooked Hertfordshire pork belly.

A remarkably well balanced blend of tender and fat, this sensuous presentation was nicely set off by with apple compote and sage crisps.

I am no wine expert but  know enough to order Chateauneuf du Pape when I see it on the menu.

While not the best I have tasted of this appellation, this proved an excellent accompaniment to the rich flavours of pork overwhelming my taste buds.

Neither of us could resist finishing off our visit to the Wine Press with the treacle tart, which, with delicate pastry crumbling sensuously over the tongue rounded off the meal superbly.