La Vista

Best Part: The Omelette!

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First of all, an apology. When we reviewed the Bakehouse I made a big song and dance about how they had managed to overcome the curse that had previously blighted that spot. Well, with the benefit of hindsight and a greater appreciation of the universal concept of entropy it appears that for the Bakehouse the inevitable destiny was just slightly longer in arriving. But still, that is all in the past, now we have La Vista who will be here for ever probably.

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So the décor is pretty much the same, which is fine because it was nice before so therefore it’s still nice. There’s even the old Bakehouse sign, only now it doesn’t have the letters saying ‘Bakehouse’ which were fairly integral to the sign but whatever. The menu is new, anyway, and pretty extensive. If I had to categorise it I’d say it’s like a café menu. There are sandwiches, jacket potatoes, even burgers if you can believe it. I was made to photograph it, so impressed was my companion.

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However, it was so large that when the waiter came to take our order my co-author was still undecided and so requested a little more time. This was a mistake, because it was the last we saw of him for a goof long while. When he did return I went for a panini, filled with meat in the shape of balls and also cheese. Then there was another very long gap before the food actually arrived. I was beginning to feel somewhat perturbed, but luckily the food when it arrived was spot on.

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The chips I will single out for special attention, they were all chips should be. Crisp on the outside, and greasy on the interior. They interacted superbly with the mayonnaise, it may have been artisanal hand mixed or it may have been Hellmans, my mayonnaise palatte is not so developed, anyway the end result was awesome food interaction. The panini was pretty good also, maybe it could have done with more interesting tomato sauce and more cheese, but it was good.

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But, most importantly, the omelette. Light and fluffy like a good fish batter and yet also creamy. Mrs Midweek Lunch was so thrilled with it that she declared it the best omelette she had ever had. Bless her though, she had forgotten what flavour it was supposed to be and was surprised at the lack of spinach. The correctly roasted vegetables were very nicely done.

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So there are some teething problems to resolve (when I paid by card we had to conduct the transaction halfway up the stairs as the only place with reception), but overall this is a good effort, well suited for a lunch-time excursion. No need to rush to experience it, though, you have all the time in the world! Bwah Ha Ha to fade.

6.9/10

http://www.lavistarestaurant.co.uk/La_Vista_Restaurant_and_Sandwich_Bar.html

Per Tutti

Best Part: The Lunch Deal!

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Now, we’ve been down this route before, complaining about a place because it has stepped into the shoes of a beloved but now departed restaurant. In this case Per Tutti is occupying the space that in our hearts is forever Singhli, the Indian Street Food restaurant. That we never proclaimed our love for Singhli in these dispatches is due to the fact that they were not open at lunch-time (possibly why they are no longer here?), but it was ace, and it has taken us a long time to work up to visiting it’s replacement. Heaven help whoever moves into the late lamented Panko’s pitch.

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Still, I’m glad we put all that behind us, as Per Tutti is a pleasant addition to Holywell Hill. Now, St Albans needs another Italian restaurant as much as it needs a new Thai place, but Per Tutti claims to have ‘The Best Lunch Deal in Town’, so we would be remiss in out duties if we didn’t check this out. This is quite a claim when you realise it is up against L’Italiana, La Cosa Nostra, Zaza and (shudder) Jamie’s Pizzeria, just considering other pizza-based lunch deals. You could theoretically have pasta as well, but for us they remained a theory.

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None of the starters particularly appealed to us, but we did bump up the deal with a shared bread basket. This was properly lovely, but hot chunks of bread seemingly fresh from the oven and perfect for a chilly winter’s day. What is more, they trusted us enough to leave us with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar bottles, meaning we were spared that annoying moment when you are jousting with your companion’s bread to sup up the precious last few drops of oil.

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For my main I went for a Diavola pizza, the toppings including chicken, pepperoni and chillies. I do think that you can tell at first glance of a pizza whether you are going to enjoy getting to know it or not, and when I saw my intended I knew I was on for a treat. The cheese was an inviting molten yellow, collating into occasional glistening pools around the chunks of chicken or pepperoni slices. The base was doughy and crispy without tasting burnt. The tomato sauce maybe let down proceedings somewhat, being a trifle bland and lacking in bite, but overall I would rate this as the best pizza within a meal deal (without necessarily being the best meal deal).

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Mrs Midweek lunch was delighted with her Fiorentina pizza which she chose without the egg. She felt it lacked something, probably the egg in fact. Overall she had a slight preference for the Cosa Nostra pizza but still rated it one of the best in town, certainly streets ahead of Jamie’s pizza, even though Per Tutti is physically lower down the street.

The look of the place was fairly standard referencing to Italian landmarks with a few nice touches, we especially enjoyed the lampshade made of corrugated cardboard, and being early we were able to nab the prize seat by the window. My wife admired the black and white toilet decorations but would have preferred there to be more than one. For most of our meal it was just us and the waiting staff, which can be awkward but they handled it well. Then, of a sudden, it seemed like the entire population of the nearby school came in together. This was slightly unnerving, I don’t think school children belong in any dining establishment that expects the diners to sit down, but they all seemed well behaved if a trifle loud. I would recommend visiting this place early in the lunch hour, but I would certainly recommend visiting. I for one would be very happy to return, hopefully for their intriguing looking steak night.

And one final thought. If anyone wants to open a new restaurant in St Albans could you consider not making it an Italian or Thai restaurant. We are pretty set for those. How about considering the cuisine of the Americas? A nice Cuban joint could do very nicely, or some Creole or even Alaskan. Just a little bit different. Might be nice. Anyway…

7.9/10

http://www.pertuttirestaurant.co.uk/menus

St Villa

Best Part: It just fills a niche really nicely!

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Newcomer St. Villa occupies the building formerly used by Kamilo’s restaurant. To go back decades it was once a public toilet but those days really are far behind us . There now stands a beautifully refurbished modern European restaurant. We have a lot of reasonable Italian restaurants with £5.95 lunch deals, this was something a little classier. I was excited before I even saw the  menu and how beautiful this building now looks.

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DECOR

The inside was classy, white and bright with split level dining. There was a polite nod to the en trend grey with the use of certain accessories but St Villa shows the self confidence to do something different with the palette and go paler. I love open airy dining establishments and wondered how different it would feel in the evening. I expect it will somehow manage to be cosy as well.

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THE BEER

It is very unusual for a restaurant (aside from gastro pubs) to offer such a range of guest beers on tap. We were delighted by this, often finding wine too heavy for the  middle of the day. In fact I usually find beer makes me sleepy at this time too but as I was half asleep anyway it didn’t really matter on this occasion. I had a Honker ale which has not only a good name but a refreshing yet round bodied flavour. My husband had some beer as well, though it must have been good as he can’t remember what it was.

THE MENU

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We only looked at the set lunch menu this time which was fairly priced at £12.99 for two courses with an option to pay £1.99 for desert. Mr Midweek lunch felt the menu which featured four choices for each course was very well balanced. As a pescatarian I had a vegetarian and fish option to chose from which both looked lovely. I chose the cod with sautéed potatoes and green beans in a herby dressing.

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For my starter I was unable to resist halloumi with roasted vegetables. This was superb and I particularly enjoyed the unusual pureed roast carrot or squash. My main was certainly good but not so very different from something I would cook at home. I fear I peaked with the starter on this occasion. Having said this the accompanying roasted vine tomatoes were expertly cooked – there is a tendency to overdo or char small tomatoes but these retained their sweetness and juiciness without all the carbon bitterness.

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Mr Midweek lunch started his eating adventure with a mackerel pate, delightful in it’s creamy horshradishiness. But his favourite part, or so he says, was the sourdough toast. It had that inherent magical warmth that only top quality home made bread has. There was also a bit of green stuff on top, but it seemed half-hearted.

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For his main he went burger. You may be feeling a bit disappointed in him, as it seems like every other week he is either ordering a pizza or a burger, not very imaginative really especially as he has already claimed that the menu had a good range. However, he would respond to you thusly (and you will have to take my word for this as he is not in the room at the moment). Parmesan Fries. Parmesan Fries, what is more, that are St Villa’s signature. And they were good, my yes, as only deep fried potato covered in cheese can be good. The burger was competently done, better than Relish, but it did fail to match the flair seen in some of the other dishes and you wonder if their heart was really in it.

THE SERVICE

The service was absolutely perfect. We were treated with the correct balance of friendliness and respect from knowledgeable waiting staff. We didn’t have to wait too long for food or the bill in spite of the restaurant being busy with a large Christmas party and other ordinary diners such as ourselves.

While it is true that St. Albans has many restaurants we feel that there aren’t many in this mid range group – that being a really good smart place to go for fine food without a really high price tag. This is not Thomson’s level (yet) but it is a fair competitor for Lussman’s and St. Michael’s. It is the perfect place for a date, a ladies/gentlemen’s luncheon or a celebratory meal with friends and family…just about everything really!

Well done St. Villa. You are a very welcome newcomer and we look forward to our next visit.

8.3/10

http://stvilla.co.uk/

Jamie’s Pizzeria

Best Part: The Other Pizza

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Another week, another pizza restaurant with another lunchtime deal. This one is dearer than L’Italiana, though, with pizza and a salad coming in at £9.95. If I’m brutally honest I could have done without the salad, but as it effectively cost negative £1 I went for it. Another key point of difference to L’Italiana was that whilst they were fit to bursting with diners Jamie seemed to be unable to convince many people to take a chance on his pizzas. The emptiness was aggravated by the great distance between tables and the high, echoing ceilings, so it felt somewhat like dining in a Victorian station in the early hours of the morning.
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We have reviewed this space and this gurning mockney before when it was Jamie’s Deli, and the emptiness and the epic trek to the toilets remain the same, even if the menu is slightly less interesting in a town already fairly well serviced for pizza. The options were limited but not in a way that made you struggle to find something you wanted, more that it spared you the agonies of indecision that can strike in some venues. I ordered a meatball pizza, as it contained both meatballs and pizza and thus should be a slam dunk.
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When it arrived (and it took longer than you would expect from a restaurant with no competing patrons and a limited menu) I very quickly noticed that something was missing. A pizza at its most basic comprises a base, tomato sauce and cheese. There was no doubting the first two but I really had to squint to make out the cheese. I should not complain as the menu does specify that it featured parmesan, and there were a few flecks here and there, but to my mind mozzarella is such an integral part of a pizza that it should be assumed. If a pizza menu failed to mention a base I would still feel entirely justified at not being best pleased if I was presented with a squidgy mess of tomato and cheese only. After the initial disappointment the pizza was fairly disappointing, with a burnt base and sporadic toppings. When the waiter asked us how our meal was it was all I could do to make a vaguely positive grunting noise. Mrs Midweek lunch however was very happy with her Mushroom pizza. The base was perfectly thin and crispy and the topping was a really imaginative slant on a pizza standard. As well as ordinary mushrooms it was drizzled with a sort of creamy truffle tasting sauce. I thought it was revolting but I’m glad she was happy.
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The financially beneficial salad was also a bit of a let-down. I ordered rocket and parmesan, a dish that usually delivers great flavour hits despite being largely greenery. When it is done well, peppery fresh leaves and great shaves of parmesan with a slight tangy balsamic undertone, it can be almost as good as a dish featuring meat. In this case, though, rocket was in the minority in a collection of leaves reminiscent of a supermarket bag that had been left open for too long. Once again the cheese was present as the faintest of accent flavours, far less noticeable than the strange grittiness. We were left wondering whether Old Mother Hubbard was in the kitchen realising that the cupboard was bare of parmesan save for a tiny crust. In a panic all they could do was make the  most of it and give each diner 2g each. Here’s another idea – they could have been honest and asked us to make another choice.
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The waiter was as absent as the other clientele when it came to bill-paying time, which meant I had to dash back to work and leave my wife to cover it. On the plus side the range of beers was OK, though mine tasted slightly stale on arrival. Finally, I spilt tomato sauce down my shirt and was roundly mocked on my return to work, though I can’t really blame Jamie for that one.
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I really cannot think why you would want to visit Jamie’s pizzeria, unless you had been turned away from L’Italiana, Cosa Nostra was too much of a walk and you had an aversion to restaurants that begin with the letter ‘Z‘. In that situation I would almost recommend going to Pizza Go-Go. At least you would get some cheese there.
On the whole this has been the worst dining experience of our entire blogging career.
4.4/10

L’Italiana

Best Part: The Smug Superiority

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We have referenced this before but one rather expects, in our sleepy little city, that you can wander in to any place that takes your fancy on a Thursday lunchtime and have your pick of tables. If you expect this from L’Italiana, as many of our fellow townsfolk did, you will be sadly disappointed. Luckily we arrived early on in the lunch-hour and were able to pick up the last table for two, so were able to enjoy the frustrated faces of would-be diners looking longingly at pizzas that would never be theirs.

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You can kind of understand the imbalance of tables to patrons, as L’Italiana do have an exceptionally good lunch deal. £5.95 will buy you a pizza or a pasta, with fancy pizzas costing a little extra. Being a fancy man I went for the premium pizza, in this case an Ela which featured gorgonzola, parma ham and rocket. There was a generous pile of rocket on a nicely crisp base, but I will confess to not being blown away by it. I think when one orders a pizza with gorgonzola you would really expect to taste it, but in this case it was more of a pleasant after-thought. The basics were all in place but there was no pizazz to take it to the next level.

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My wife was happy to have 5 vegetarian pizzas to chose from. She decided on the Delizia which featured Sun Dried Tomatoes and like me, gorgonzola. On the whole she was happy with her choice,  being a great fan of both toppings. However she felt that there was a slight imbalance, with the sun dried tomatoes dominating the gorgonzola. This lead us to wonder whether perhaps there had been a cheese delivery cock up that day!

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We have had about 10 superb meals at L’Italiana over the years and while things were a little off par on this occasion this would in no way prevent us from returning or recommending it. Service is good, it is comfortable and by jove their Calzone are huge! It is also pitched in a lovely little spot, on French Row in a delightful old building with plenty of opportunities for watching the toing and froing of those town folks going about their non-pizza business. The tables are small and closely packed, but it feels nicely intimate rather than cramped. . There is a certain shadow joy from watching people trying and failing to get to the dining opportunities you are enjoying. But you do want to take them to one side and inform them that they could almost certainly get a table at La Cosa Nostra, where they would find arguably better pizzas at an even better deal.

6.6/10

http://www.litaliana.co.uk/

Gail’s Bakery

Best Part: The Baking!

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Today we tried for the second time to visit St. Alban’s newest eatery. Last week we had to abandon the idea as Gail’s was heaving with visitors. Today it was pleasantly full – enough to know you had chosen a good café but with a couple of free tables allowing you to breathe. I like breathing, although when I enjoy eating food as much as I did at Gail’s it can be hard to prevent hyperventilating.

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The site, formerly owned by a Pawnbrokers is next to the Boot pub and overlooks the Clock Tower. It is in short a brilliant central location. It is invitingly presented with personalised floor tiles on the threshold and an array of baked breads in the window. You don’t have to eat there, if you just wanted to pop in for a loaf you would be very welcome. However I challenge any sane person to do so because everything looks so yummy you. I was sad to hear that the Bakehouse was closing but Gail’s (part of a small London chain) is a very good substitute. They have a similar menu of mouth wateringly golden pastry coloured goods – quiches, scones and cakes with imaginative sandwiches on artisan breads. They also serve a varied breakfast menu until 3pm! The staff were enthusiastic and friendly.

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Now Mr Midweek Lunch and I were overwhelmed and excited by the counter full of baked goods. Unable to choose between everything we took a tapas option and ordered four different things to share. The tables in Gail’s are small and tightly packed (my only quibble) so we had trouble fitting it all on but it was so tasty that two plate loads were emptied quickly.

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A cheese straw was a must. Now, Mr Midweek Lunch and I have tasted many of these in our time and considered this one of the finest, only rivalled by my cousin’s. However Bethany lives in Essex thus her cheese straws are not often available to us. Gail’s giant offering although rosier than a traditional straw, was so soft on the inside that my own insides jumped for joy.  Whoop!

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I thought it couldn’t get much better until I tried the parmesan and sage scone. Oh my! My natural curiosity lead me to dip it into the lemon and olive oil salad dressing that came with the mushroom and caramelised onion quiche. Oh my word, it was an amazingly creamy and tangy combination. Suggestion to Gail’s – serve the scone with a small pot of lemon butter. Our waitress told us that the quiche was her favourite and we could see why. The onions were sweet, the mushrooms surprisingly meaty and the crust was packed full of buttery niceness.

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Now whilst a normal bakery of your Greggs or Cheryl might be happy just to go with a sausage roll Gail’s look beyond the obvious and all the way to the Mediterranean with a Lamb and Pine Nut Roll that was worthy of some kind of Greek God of baking, Pastrisia or something. There was a slight quibble that I won’t go into but they dealt with it impeccably, resolving it promptly and giving us vouchers for a couple of free coffees or loaves of bread.

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We took the bread option, as coffee is for people who are have been drained of their natural energy by the multiple disappointments of life and so need to prop themselves up with artificial stimuli. Looking at the range of flour types, coatings, flavourings and styles I felt frustrated by my unimaginative children. I had to buy a standard white loaf but it looked pretty good to me. I also had some great tea.

The decor was fresh and white with nothing too gimmicky. The main decorative feature was the counter of food which is exactly as it should be. The food was of a very high standard. It is of a certain type so if you don’t like baked goods or sandwiches this might not be the right place. However for most people it would be a great lunch or afternoon tea stop.

Gail’s, you are a welcome newcomer.

8.1/10

http://gailsbread.co.uk/bakeries/st-albans/

Buongiorno Italia

AKA Tony’s

Best Part: Their forgiveness of shoplifting!

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I first came to know Tony’s Deli about 9 years ago when my toddler, Master Midweek Lunch, accidently stole a bag of pasta. When we returned it Tony was so nice about it, quoting an Italian proverb about honesty that I vowed to always give him business if I could. This has not proved to be a chore. Tony’s fresh produce is second to none and it is great to have such a choice of real Italian bottled and tinned ingredients. The deli is great place to get Christmas hamper contents for those hard to please foodie relatives. Tony always seems to keep frozen homemade pizza dough in his back room which is helpful to have in a busy household. The food and his smiley disposition are a wining combination.

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On this occasion we just wanted a smile and a quick authentic Italian sandwich. We got both. My vegetable filled focaccia bread was very flavoursome. The rich vegetables were generously marinated in olive oil and there was just the right balance of cheese. Mr Midweek lunch went for an awesome ciabatta filled with a delectable selection of meats and cheeses (the exact composition remains elusive) and a beautiful fried rice ball containing a Kinder Surprise centre of bolognaise sauce (which wasn’t actually a total surprise as they refer to it in the item description). He thought these were pretty awesome, maybe could be a bit spicier but fun and tasty like a hot dog that you could take for walks like an actual dog. I thought he had chosen too much food. I think we were both right.

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We sat on bar stools overlooking the bustling road. I find it hard to relax on high up stools because I am clumsy but it was an appropriate way to eat our lovely but quick lunch. We were both preoccupied  that lunchtime so the distraction of the food and the passers-by was a good thing.

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I know that space is an issue at Tony’s, readers of the local paper will understand why. If it wasn’t I would like to have more relaxing seating to really relax and enjoy the fantastic food more. However, I feel this isn’t really the vibe they are going for. If you are over the other side of town on Cell Barnes Lane, you will get the seating at the Smokehouse Deli where Tony’ s brother and sister in law have a similar establishment. The finest Italian hospitality clearly runs in the family.

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Tony’s is a local treasure and the next time you consider going to a boring chain like Greggs or Subway, I would urge you to walk for an extra three minutes to Tony’s to get a sandwich made by a craftsman from really fine ingredients instead of mass produced plastic stuff.

Thanks Tony’s Deli. Keep up the good work!

7.8/10

http://www.buongiornoitalia.co.uk/