The Juice Pharm

Best Part: The Righteousness

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So, if you have any knowledge of me or gender stereotypes in general you might be able to work out that it was my wife’s idea to come here. Not that I have anything against vegan juice bars, but I tend to favour those places that serve up big piles of fried meat, generally swathed in cheese of some description. But I am open-minded, and on this occasion slightly hungover, so I went for it.

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The place has a nice, laid-back sort of vibe to it. You could imagine yourself sitting there with a lap-top, working on your novel/screenplay/free-form beat poetry whilst making a single juice last far too long. Although if you were a struggling writer then you would have to eke it out as a second helping might be beyond you given that they come in at around £6 a pop. Given the price-point and the fact that they looked fairly substantial I decided to forego any solid food. The fact that there were very few options that didn’t involve avocado might have swayed the decision somewhat. At the end of the day, it was very close to Greggs in case my decision provided a rash one.

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The smoothie I went for, the Breakfast Club, featured several ingredients that I would not normally countenance, including almond milk and chia seeds, but the oats and honey made it sound substantial. When it came the presentation was reminiscent of the milkshakes you get in the classier burger joints, with a jam-jar-like glass and a large straw. It even tasted like a milkshake at first, but the aftertaste took you to very interesting places. It tasted cool, but in a way that went beyond mere temperature, but a deep refreshing coolness of the soul. Like diving into a glacial lake at sunrise. It was a lot more pleasant than I had been expecting, I polished it off very happily, and after a few bites of my partners lunch I did actually feel like this was a sufficient lunch. We did wonder as we drank when “Almond Milk” became a thing and why so named. Almonds do not have nipples after all, at least not that we have spotted.

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My vegetarian wife was more excited by the menu than I and yet being a nut allergist quite frustrated. That dratted almond milk kept popping up all over the place. Eventually she settled on a “Berry Me” with berries, coconut and Maca. However just to check she wasn’t going to consume anything weird first, went to ask the cool dude behind the counter what “Maca” actually was*. He smiled apologetically and said he would have to ask his manager. After a few minutes he returned to say “Well, it’s a sort of superfood” which didn’t really make matters clearer. My wife politely asked whether this meant it was a vegetable. He said he didn’t know what is was originally but now it was just a powder. Bravely my wife decided to go for it. She had been considering the cauliflower pizza until she saw it. Golly but it must be hard to be a Vegan – no cheese, just imagine! The Avacado and cream cheese bagel sounded much nicer. And indeed it proved to be very pleasant and along with the smoothie, very filling. This was just as well as I manipulated her into giving me a lot of it with my doleful eyes.

After my initial scepticism, at the concept and the price for a juice, I would actually recommend Juice Pharm. For those days when you want to feel lively and energised after lunch, rather than sluggish and bloated such as a visit to Wetherspoons would render you. The staff are friendly, it is light and airy and you can be pretty sure your inner harmony will be nudged in the right direction by a visit.

….I may have got a Gregg’s sausage role afterwards.

7.8/10

* it turns out that Maca is related to the turnip!

http://www.thejuicepharmacy.co.uk/

Ayos

Best Part: The flat bread!

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There are a number of restaurant premises in St. Albans that have a quick succession of identities. Ayos is one of these. Extremely well situated between the station and centre of town in a beautiful pointed glass fronted building it occupies the site formerly used by Asia and the Olive Tree. We didn’t make it to the Olive Tree, but we liked eclectic predecessor Asia and were pleased to visit newcomer Ayos in the familiar building. We had heard very positive mutterings amongst the foodie circles in which people like us move (which is to say the school gate).

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On the day of our visit, there were about four occupied tables and we got the feeling that dinner would be the ideal time to visit. That said, they had a small but enticing lunch menu at an extremely reasonable price (£9.90 for two courses) and no doubt when word gets around town further (at other school gates) it will be brimming with punters in the middle of the day too. And so it should be.

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Our waiter was polite and efficient, the food promptly delivered and the ambience welcoming. It really is a super space. Where it’s openness used to feel cold, now there is only warmth, decorated with terracotta tones and full of mid century wooden dining furniture. An unusual but successful combination. The staff were equally friendly to adults and the toddler dining in the corner with her parents. The toddler was not quite so friendly, refusing his high five. How awkward! Anyway, it makes Ayos good for the family diners as well as friends and lovers. Well toddlers live on hummus and pitta don’t they? So a Turkish eatery is a perfect place for them really!
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We decided to embrace our inner toddler and start with hummus. We were delighted. It was creamy and clearly made with high quality olive oil. The warm flat bread too, was out of this world.

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Our second shared started was Sigara Bogeri, which as I’m sure I don’t have to tell you are cigar shaped pastry filled with feta and spinach. These were superb, the pastry crisp and slightly oily and the feta salty and creamy in equal measures. There were only 3, sufficient (just) for a starter but I could happily have eaten these for starter, main and dessert. I would probably have needed about 40 though and I don’t think it would have been particularly good for my health, or the review, or society in general really.

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Unable to cook vegetarian moussaka at home anymore due to my children and husband’s strong negative sentiment towards aubergine, I leapt at the chance here. Wow, it looked and smelt amazing.

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Mr Midweek lunch had some lamb, following his general rule of thumb that if you’re in a Mediterranean restaurant then the lamb is probably worth ordering. And it was. The lamb was tender and doused in lemon once I had finished dousing it in lemon, great big chunks of flavour. It was on some more flatbread, but even flatter this time and so full of taste I wasn’t entirely sure it wasn’t cheese. Very thin cheese. It was more likely to be bread though. Once more he was pleasantly surprised by the salad.

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We will certainly be back to try out the evening menu. There is a rumour about being charged extra for apparently complimentary bread. However we did not experience this and can only conclude that our source had been sozzled by the time her bill came. I would recommend Ayos whole heartedly to those near and far. It is an alternative to Tabure or Nimats Bar Meze if you fancy a change.

Welcome newcomer! St Albans Midweek Lunch give you a high five, even if that toddler didn’t!

8/10

https://www.ayosrestaurant.com/

Chi

Best Part: The Spring Rolls

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TO BE A SIXTH FORMER…

Before I start our review, I need to get something off my chest. When I was a sixth former, allowed to leave the school premises at lunchtime this would be a once a week trip to Garston McDonalds for a milk shake or the newsagents in Abbots Langley for a bag of crisps. What I do not remember is hoards of us hitting the local restaurants for their lunchtime deals. We were not poor, if anything Parmiterians were on the affluent side but nothing it would seem compared to the clientele of the Abbey boys school who frequently lunch like kings! Whenever Mr Midweek lunch and I visit an eatery on the south side of the city centre, 1 o clock heralds the entry of many sixth formers. I simply don’t understand it and what’s more I disapprove. These teenagers seem to have more money than we do. Do their parents know what they’re up to? I’ll come clean, I’m jealous!

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THE VIBE

Being rather unobservant I have only recently noticed stalwart Chi on Holywell Hill. This coincided with the realisation that we hadn’t yet reviewed a Chinese lunch time meal deal so in we went. The front of Chi is very large and black, perhaps this combined with the shadow cast on Holywell hill at this time of day explains why it had faded into the background until now. The restaurateur initially seemed a bit grumpy when we entered but he got on with his job efficiently enough. We got the impression that Chi wasn’t best suited to lunch.

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The inside of the restaurant is quite dark yet tasteful. It reminded me of the PIER shop; full of tasteful ethnic dark wood furniture and blue and white crockery. It was cosy and pleasant. It was also very empty. We ate our starters in peace. Then we heard the clock tower strike 1 and in they started to come – those rich sixth form boys. They were obviously regular clients because they were so familiar with the menu they could order before seeing it.  Excitement – this time there was a table of girls too! They didn’t seem remotely interested in the boys and the vice versa. Let’s hope they were talking about their history coursework or something. I don’t know, I wasn’t paying attention to them at all. I was talking to my husband about this review.

 

THE FOOD

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The spring rolls and accompanying chilli sauce were light, crisp and promptly delivered. Mr Midweek lunch’s soup was excellently gloopy, almost a soup/jelly hybrid. The chicken came in nice big chunks and the whole thing was delightfully warming on a chilly spring day.

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I was excited about getting Granny’s “Ma Po” Tofu because I no longer it at home due to it ending up wet and flabby. Unfortunately readers, it was wet and flabby here too. It was served in what I can only call gravy. The rice was quite nice though.

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My husband had the Char Siu Pork and was very impressed. It was salty and sticky, and served with great piles of very nice fried rice. The sauce was great too, and he felt down with the kids when he observed that most of the younger patrons had ordered the same dish. The beer was refreshing, and it’s always pleasurable to say ‘Tsing Tao’. It just rolls off the tongue somehow.

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TO CONCLUDE

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I think Chi would be a fun place to come for dinner when it no doubt it is lively and full of lovely smells and happy diners. I wasn’t very impressed with my main course but the service was prompt, I liked the decor, my husband’s company and observing the clientele. The set menu, at £7.95 for two pretty substantial courses plus prawn crackers, was quite the steal as well. Therefore can I report and overall positive dining experience. Even if I didn’t, I know they would be kept in business by local school children. (I wonder how much pocket money they get?)

7.2/10

http://chi-uk.com/

Hatch

Best Part: The Walls containing the Restaurant

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So….. it wasn’t long ago (here in fact) that I was talking about our natural prejudice towards dining establishments that take over from previous dining establishments that we liked which notwithstanding we are able to overcome as we are big-hearted and like to give plucky up-and-comers a chance. I expressed concern about whoever was going to take over Panko‘s lease as we really dug Panko and were pretty bummed out when it closed. Well, here we are at Hatch, and it’s pretty much like a less Japanese, more Waffley version of Panko. The décor is the same, the waiting staff look very familiar, I’m pretty sure they’re owned by the same people. So well done, Hatch. You dodged a bullet there.

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Hatch, as I’m sure you’re aware, is another branch of Hatch, the popular hatch that gives you toasted sandwiches and stuff. They tried something like this before with Canteen, which was more sandwichey and then became non-Hatch affiliated. This time they’ve gone down a different path, one clearly stated on their window. Waffles! Burgers! Brunch! All fine and solid foodstuff, and no Japanese breadcrumbs in sight.

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There are still sandwiches, and mighty enticing ones. Between them and the burgers I had a hard time choosing so instead I went for bacon and waffles. It was the only savoury option on the waffle menu, although it did come with maple syrup. Is bacon inherently savoury? It is quite salty, but then so is salted caramel. Maybe bacon is able to adapt to it’s surroundings like a chameleon. Imagine if they made chameleon bacon. I wonder what that would taste like? Probably chicken bacon. Anyway, It was a beaut of a waffle, the bacon had that very thick almost solid crispiness that just drunk up the maple syrup. The waffle was probably better than a Birds Eye potato waffle, in fact definitely better. But the bacon was the star.

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As I was basically ordering a pudding for lunch, I got some chips to go with it. Funny story, my wife’s meal came with chips as well, but then it didn’t actually, but they realised their mistake and didn’t charge us for them, and the large bowl of chips was enough for both of us and otherwise we would have had too many chips. Not that they were bad chips. On the contrary, they were super excellent chips and I’ve eaten many chips in my time. In summary, great bacon and great chips, fairly awesome waffle.

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But that’s not all. My wife also ate food in addition to sharing my chips that were actually her chips. She ordered the vegan burger with a side of halloumi, but when the waiter deduced from her cheese order that Mrs Midweek lunch was far from being Vegan, she was offered a brioche bun to jazz up her burger. Now the filling was super – a well structured combination of vegetables rather than a soya splat. The halloumi made it even better. However, the playful brioche bun was not up to the job of holding it all together. In fact it fell apart and was all a bit messy. Still she was very happy overall.

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It would an excellent alternative brunch venue to Bills. My wife noted a board saying that you can book a party for 6+ people and benefit from a special menu. It is unclear whether there is a separate room for this but in any case she and her lady friends plan to try it out if only to investigate this secret menu.

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I really like Hatch, it’s a bit more laid back than most places in town, somewhere you can drop in and not have to spend too much and get some quality food quickly and not have to walk all the way across the park to get waffles. So whilst I do miss Panko I am very pleased with Hatch and will definitely be visiting again to try their Dirty Reuben, assuming it hasn’t changed into something else by then.

8.4/10

http://www.hatchstalbans.com/

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/