Best Part: The CrepesPrice for 2 diners: £20In and out within 1 hr: YesWhere: Opposite the MuseumRating: 6.1/10
Best Part: The DownstairsPrice for 2 diners: £20In and out within 1 hr: YesWhere: The Cursed Corner by the Vintry GardensRating: 8.3/10
St Albans midweek lunch tried to review the Mad Squirrel its first day of opening but timings didn’t quite work out as they were originally only serving food from 1pm. This week however they were ready to serve us early bird customers with a very enticing lunch deal- 1 pizza and a half of beer (really all you need at lunchtime, whatever your sozzled brain might tell you) from the standard menu for £10 each.
For those of you not familiar with The Mad Squirrel, it is on possibly the unluckiest restaurant spot in St Albans, previously home to the Bakehouse, La Vista and No Moo Moo (which didn’t even stick around long enough for us to review it). However we think that the Mad Squirrel might be the one to crack it, and here’s why.
Firstly it has tapped in (pun fully intended) to the trendy love for craft beer. The pedant in me would like to point out that it isn’t true tap room as it is not physically attached to a brewery. However it is attached in spirit (I am a pun machine today) to the actual brewery in Berkhamsted, which is at least only 9 miles away.
The décor is modern and moody. They have updated the lovely bright space to look very en trend but in my opinion should have stuck to using the grey and maroon as accent colours only as it felt quite dark. Unlike the Slug and Lettuce, this establishment is probably aiming for the masculine end of the market. All the same, I am a woman and I really like beer, and I would have appreciated a little bit more frilliness. A little more standard level dining seating downstairs might also be useful, as it seemed a bit sparse. This is potentially the issue that continually does for the residents of this spot. The upstairs and downstairs are very separate, and I know of a few people (myself included) who have assumed it is not open when they look at the completely empty upstairs. Balancing this, however, is the lovely garden with a smashing view of the Abbey and the Rose Window in particular. I can see this being quite the hot spot during the 6 days of the year when outside drinking is possible.
The fabulously shiny menu was short on food but rich on beer and spirits. The food was not an issue – there were only 5 pizzas but one of these was a build your own option called “Save the Squirrel” (for reasons that weren’t entirely clear, unless they are relying on punters not choosing squirrel as a pizza topping). The final option, which changes monthly, is a locally sourced seasonal choice. We fully applaud this yet neither of us fancied goats cheese this time. I built my own including mushrooms, rocket and pine nuts and was thrilled with my choice. The base was thin and crispy, just as I like. Overall it was almost as good as the authentic Italian pizza from Bellaccino’s two weeks ago. Mmmm, I love pizza.
Mr Midweek Lunch also used his expert pizza designing skills to come up with a masterful effort, with jalapenos and pink onions that were out of this world in their sweetness. The beer was as good as you would expect, given that this is their main focus. There was a great selection on tap (although only 3 cask beers) with more still in their well-stocked beer fridge. They were also served in very pleasing glasses that were so good we enquired about buying our own set (then retracted our enquiry very quickly when we heard the price).
Overall we had a great lunch. We were in and out within the hour, having been well fed, watered and served and only spent a total of £20. The vibe was cool, a bit hipster but not in a way that alienated us. It was quite quiet on our visit, an odd selection of babies, old people and dogs, but when we have passed it since it has been heaving with customers and we hope our review will only add to this.
A few teething problems, certainly, but it was very early days and they’re off to a great start.
Best Part: Of the two, I’d have to say the lettucePrice for 2 diners: £18.24In and out within 1 hr: YesWhere: Victoria Street, by the bus stopRating: /10
Our own personal female clientele chose the halloumi and avocado wrap with a side helping or gorgeously crisp fries. The wrap could have benefitted from the contrast of some sweet chilli dressing or perhaps a red onion chutney. Otherwise she was very content.
Best Part: The MutabilityPrice for 2 diners: £23In and out within 1 hr: Pretty MuchWhere: French RowRating: 7.8/10
Now the truly devoted reader might reproach us as we have reviewed Bellacino’s before. However, given that they have recently refurbished themselves and displayed a very reasonably priced lunch deal outside, we felt we had to give it a try. Quire frankly we were very lucky to get a table. The place was absolutely buzzing and this was at the very beginning of the lunch hour. Possibly we should have come here for brunch as many of these people had gone by 12:30.
So what makes this long-standing St Albans haunt so very popular?
Well although the refurbishment is smart it is not a modern look. There was not a touch of grey in the place. But shock horror, it turns out it is possible to run a very good eatery without towing the trend line. It is ironic that last time we reviewed this place we focussed on the fact that it was changeless and unchanging, like the Cotswold. Then it goes and changes a bit, like Leeds. But it hasn’t mindlessly chased the new, it is a classic look and thus they can probably leave it for another 30 years. The counter has now been moved to the back and this certainly allows a more welcoming flow to occur throughout.
We both took advantage of the pizza and a drink deal although we were also very tempted by the pasta. I chose the vegetarian pizza with added cheese as it seemed to default without. They are obviously trendy enough to consider all those St Albans vegans. It was a very delicious pizza. My only gripe was that the standard knife and fork we were given to eat with was not up to the job and consequently my pizza kept shooting off my plate as I tried to cut it.
The lovely caring family vibe of the place meant that within a minute the proprietor had notice my trouble and delivered me a sharper knife. After this I have no further trouble. The pizza is delicious and while I would usually leave most of the crust I only left half of it. Praise indeed.
My husband and dining companion went for a pizza the Bellacino’s Special, and it lived up to it’s name. There was a normal melty pizza in there somewhere, but it was covered with a generous mountain of rocket and great creamy lumps of goat’s cheese. The flavour contrasts were superb, with each mouthful having a great contrast of crispy base, melty cheese, peppery rocket the final goatiness. There was something missing, and I realised it could really have done with some heat to undercut the goat’s cheese. So I asked for some chilli oil and that really took it to the next level. Once again the service really complimented the food.
In conclusion this is an absolutely top place to come for a good value lunch which is expertly prepared by some really delightful people. This is why it is such a bustling eatery and why we will keep coming back, whatever colour it is.
Best Part: The Grape Fanta I got from a newsagentsPrice for 2 diners: £6In and out within 1 hr: Oh yesWhere: Everywhere, especially in ScotlandRating: 6.6/10
Best Part: The ProteinPrice for 2 diners: £35
In and out within 1 hr: yes
Where: Chequer Street
We were not expecting food let alone such a range. Yes, smoothies were definitely present, but the café also boasts healthy sandwiches and a variety of substantial meals e.g. salmon and roasted veg cous-cous. We didn’t have room for any of this but both went for a burrito. We had walked past Benito’s Hat on the way and so clearly had Burritos on the mind.
Feeling as unhealthy as I was I was tempting by the vitamin boost shot at £3. It was luridly orange and I expected it to sate of turmeric and chilli. It was in fact a surprising punch of ginger that left my throat on fire for a few minutes. After my eyes had stopped watering I couldn’t wait for my final glug. My word, I felt WONDERFUL! My sore throat had disappeared and I felt to take on any of the nonsense that I usually have to manage on a Thursday afternoon. Wowzers.
For our main drinks we opted for various fruit juices at £4ish. They were similar to a Wagamama juice in taste and price. We also shared some egg white crisps which were interesting and probably had some arcane health benefit but are not going to usurp the potato from it’s crispy throne anytime soon.
After the high note of my vitamin boost shot, my burrito was an anticlimax. It was fine but not as good as Benito’s. Mr midweek lunch was very pleased with his Pulled Pork affair, the crispy cabbage was not something he would purposefully add to a burrito but the textural counter-point made the whole thing less unremittingly squidgy. It was certainly substantial, and though logicially it doesn’t seem like it really could be a particularly healthy option he still left the place with a sense of smug self-satisfaction.
The overall price was higher than we were expecting. In fact our drinks bill was almost the same as the food. The service was fine and the ambience non-descript. The interior is a little dark but sitting by or along the window benches provides good people watching possibilities. I would not feel self conscious eating here alone but it is a quiet enough to be a good venue for a catch up with a friend without having to shout.
We would go again buut noot in a hurrrry.
Best Part: GingerLocation: Christopher PlaceCost: Less than £30Website: https://www.wagamama.com/