Best Part: It made us feel so young! (comparatively)
Now, while St. Albans Midweek lunch has generally focused on city central dining opportunities, we decided to open things up a bit. Hopefully in going a little further out than the city station, we will discover a range of exciting new dining opportunities and tap into a wider reader base. We will of course still eat in St Albans and only during the week!
This time, we decided to try a very popular luncheon avenue; the garden centre cafe. What? Yes, you heard correctly, we are going full on garden centre this week. My husband does not like garden centres and therefore I have generally only lunched in such establishments with my retired parents and my then pre-school children. It turns out that since those days, the client demographic has remained stable. To make a cursory observation, if the diners were not over 55 years of age they were generally under 2. Mr Midweek Lunch and I are pretty much the average of those two ages but most people had the good manners not to stare.
Ayletts garden centre is conveniently situated off the North Orbital, only a short walk from a pet supermarket, a shed emporium, the fish place and more excitingly the new Loaf store (which we did not visit). As well as selling a range of garden goods and boasting a popular sinister moving Christmas display, it has a large cafe offering a range of hot and cold food. Keeping the horticultural theme this is named the Dahlia Coffee House, but I would be surprised if it has ever been referred to as anything but the Ayletts Café, other than by the most dedicated of garden centre marketeers. Although I would generally visit for afternoon tea I was pleased to see plenty of very reasonably priced lunch options on the menu.
Mr Midweek Lunch had a Homemade Grannie’s Bake. Whether the Granny or the Bake was homemade was not clear from the menu, though thinking it through it does seem much more likely that it was the former (people having a much greater sense of propriety back in those days). Putting such matters to one side the dish was a sort of cross between a Moussaka and a Gratin (possibly the Granny in question hailing from Greek/French parentage, which does maybe undermine my previously reasoning on the location of her conception). It was gratifyingly cheesy, possibly gratin-ifying, but was rather let down by a limp side salad. A good stodgy choice when the weather gets brisk, anyway.
I had a toasted goats cheese ciabatta slice with side salad which was pleasant but not exceptional. It needed a little piquancy to offset the cheese, perhaps a sweet chilli jam. However, while we may not have made the best choices on this occasion, I must point out that our lunch was extremely good value for money, the total bill coming in at around £16, and therefore I was well satisfied. Remember of course that Ayletts is not just a cafe. It provides a happy afternoon out for those who get their twisted thrills from browsing round plants, planters, garden structures and interesting gift ideas. It is a great place to take pre-schoolers who like to climb inside the larger planters while their poor parents have paused to consider the polyanthers. The Christmas display will also be a draw for those wishing to traumatise their children.
The Ayletts cafe is worth a lunch time visit if you have garden/leisure business to attend to. It won’t break the bank and you can be sure of a proper cup of tea served from a pot. This alone is a draw for me.