BEST PART: The Boxes!

In our family we love Kimaya so much that we have a song for it. It goes ‘Kimaya, Kimaya aya’ to the tune of ‘The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane’. And it was the full family contingent that were partaking of the St Albans Midweek Lunch this week, leading to a very different dining experience. Rather than semi-leisurely adult conversation there was desperate bargaining with colouring pencils to try and prevent meltdowns, and constant questionings on if the food had arrived yet. But in the interest of balance I will try and give the same considered review and marking as other restaurants where there hadn’t been a small person climbing all over me whilst I finished my pickles. But I’ll probably fail.

There is no children’s menu at Kimaya, but the deals are so good that it doesn’t really matter. And the move important element, the reason why we keep going back, is available to humans of all ages. The is the fact that they serve your meal in a box. And not a flimsy cardboard box, threatening to disintegrate at any moment from the weight of it’s own grease, such as you might get from H+H Chicken. A proper solid compartmentalised bamboo affair, such as you used to get on planes in your childhood (and possibly still do, we haven’t do many long-haul flights since the kids came along).

75% of the party, myself and the boys, took this option whilst my wife went for the newly offered sushi lunch deal. Both offer extraordinary value, the box gives you a started, main course, salad and pickles plus a drink for only £5.99 with the Sushi deal giving you a starter and a goodly portion of sushi, but no drink, for £5.99. In fact the whole shebang for four of us cost only £28, a good tenner less than lunch for two at the Cock last week.

And it’s good quality food as well The starters were slightly sparse but tasty, and due the youngest deciding he didn’t want the chicken satay we had very clearly explained to him when orderin, I got double portions. The pickles are a lovely little touch and the salad is un-offensive, unless you are a young boy in which case it is  more offensive than the film ‘Frozen’. My main was Tamarind Duck, which may surprise anyone who has read last week’s review but I man aged to circumvent the duck embargo by ordering very quietly. It was worth the subterfuge, with generous juicy chunks in a rich sauce. The compartmentalisation means it can be tricky combing the rice and the sauce with chopsticks, but this just forces you to take your time on the meal.

The sushi was attractive and filling. There was a decorative piece of avocado on the side. My wife thought there were two and ate the second with some gusto before screaming slightly and with eyes watering announced that it was in fact wasabi paste!

The service was prompt and friendly, the meal easily fitting into it’s allotted 3 score minutes, and was topped off with after dinner mints for all. So why am I not raving about it to all and sticking it at the top of the lunch league? Possibly a couple of years ago I may have, but it does feel like it’s no longer at the top of it’s game. The giant fish that used to swim around the wall seem to have departed or shrunk, and they have started serving Thai as well as Japanese food which is never a good sign. But it leaves you feeling full, happy maybe but not with the deep and sublime contentment of a really good meal.  Possibly I come here too often and it has just lost its sparkle. My wife thinks I am being unfair because our usual criteria were altered by the addition of our children who did give the place 10/10 and ‘9…erm… maybe 8’. However we are in charge not them (if we say this often enough they might believe us) and this time it didn’t escape from the upper bounds of mediocrity.



The Cock Inn

BEST PART: The Food!

Those diners who are happy to walk to the top end of town will be justly rewarded by a lunchtime visit to the Cock Inn. Like Lussman’s it has a superbly good value set lunch at £11.95 for two courses. The similarities do not end there. It is smart, buzzy and has an interesting and well executed menu.

Our waitress was a chirpy, transatlantic young lady who impressed us at the outset with her knowledge of all the beers on tap and their different characteristics, even if she did not know the proper British name for a zucchini. They had Goose Island on tap which was sublimely awesome, if unnervingly £6 a pint. Throughout the meal the waitress managed to strike that difficult balance between attentiveness and intrusiveness. We had a little chat about my 5 Ukuleles but thankfully no over familiar remarks were made.

 Like Lussman’s, the starters were brought promptly. I always find it hard to resist Deep Fried Camembert so now consider it my duty to compare and contrast between establishments. I was not disappointed today;  the outer batter was crisp, the berry coulis tart and the cheese not too highly flavoured. One of the best i have tasted.

   My husband chose the Bubble & Squeak with Bacon, Egg, Hollandaise Sauce and probably something else I’ve forgotten. It was breakfast, without being too breakfast, and so worked thematically as the start of the meal. Narrative consistency is always important in my dining experiences.

 I wasn’t blown away by the idea of the one (check) vegetarian option on the set menu and would have preferred to have two choices. However I do eat fish and there were three possibilities here. I chose the poached haddock and egg on a delicate bubble and squeak patty, which was pretty much the same as my husband’s starter, but larger and in a different section of the meal. It was creamy and lovely but I couldn’t help feeling food envy when I looked across the table at my husband’s beer battered cod.

 He was only eating that because his first two choices, Pork Belly and Steak and Ale Pie, were off, meaning that there was also only one carnivorous option as well. And that option was duck, and when he suggested having that I gave him my Paddington hard stare until he reconsidered. Pigs and Cows are fair game, Ducks are out of bounds. But it’s good to be outside of your comfort zone sometimes, and I am assured he did not regret his choice. The batter was thick and light and the chips had been cooked three times, which is apparently the number of times it takes them to get it right. Surprisingly, the best bit was actually the mushy peas, which were fresh and of a perfect consistency, with just a hint of mint.

The toilets weren’t a long way away this time. However I felt the experience could have been smartened up slightly with a more elegant hand soap and possibly lotion too. Just a tiny little touch that impresses people quickly and matches the otherwise classy vibe of this gastro pub.

 How did it fare for timing? Not quite 50 minutes but extremely close. My husband was almost late for work but this was largely our fault for talking when we should have been asking for the bill. When it did arrive (promptly after our request) it nearly brought tears to our eyes. Not because of the reasonable price (about £35 with a pint each), no, but the fact that on top of it sat two shiny chocolate mints. Oh joy! Why have so many establishments stopped offering these after dinner digestive aids? Not only do they settle the stomach and make you slightly more likely to round up the service charge favourably but they end the meal on a sweet note even if you haven’t had pudding (which despite the very tempting selection our already strained stomachs refused to consider). The ultimate full stop to a meal. Well done the Cock Inn! And well done us, for writing the entire review without making a single joke about the name of the pub!


The Waterend Barn

BEST PART: The Price!

The Waterend Barn, for those who don’t know, is the sole surviving Wetherspoon’s in St Albans. It is also an actual old barn that someone decided to move from their farm to the centre of St Albans for reasons best known to them, but it is the Wetherspoon’s aspect that I want to talk about.

There is a slightly unseemly air that hangs around the chain, a cheap punch-line, the pub equivalent of Lidl, but in my experience they are ace (Lidl might also be ace, I’ve never been there).

They are cheap, certainly, but this should only be used as a black mark against them if it denotes a lack of quality and that is not the case here. The food might not be troubling Darcy’s or Chez Mumtaj in the classiness stakes, but it is solid, plentiful and varied. You can spend a good ten minutes just reading the menu before you even start deciding what to have. On top of that there are the themed days (we went on a Thursday, Curry day, when there are 7 different curries available), and the Managers specials (half rack of ribs and chips for £2.99! How is that even possible!). When you add calories to the menu as well you get such an explosion of numbers and data that you need an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of it.

The excellent well-thought out range extends to the beer, with possibly the best selection in St Albans (after maybe the Boot) and exclusive brews from Brewdog and Devil’s Backbone. And these are pretty cheap as well (cheaper still when they’re in the bewildering range of meal deals available). The Waterend Barn is an attractive space, the high ceilings and rustic feel of the place are somehow make you feel more carefree. Due to the sheer space it is also a good place to bring young children for a midweek lunch; their noise gets lost somewhere up in the rafters. The Wetherspoon’s children’s menu and colouring pack are very thoughtful too.

Anyway, we weren’t dining with our children today. We had our weekly challenge of finding a lunch venue that could serve us a prompt good meal in our 50minute lunch hour slot. A pint of very pleasant Reverend James, a massive chilli burrito and a side of tortilla chips/dips set me back £5.50. My wife went for a Superfood Salad and, possibly thinking this too healthy, added a side order of fried halloumi cheese. She reports that it really was super; a colourful array of fresh ingredients that complimented eachother well. It wasn’t just the salad that was colourful either for Waterend Barn serve their wares on vibrant blue and white Moorish style crockery. It just makes everything jolly. White plates are classy and draw attention to the beauty of the food it is true. They also stop us confusing a balsamic dressing for a swirl on the plate but white plates are also boring! Bring on the blue, that’s what we say. Admittedly my food was probably too well acquainted with the inside of a microwave, and I would hate to delve into the supply chain savings that made the low price possible, but the same criticisms could be made about pretty much any pub that had no pretensions to the prefix “Gastro-“. Our bill came to under £15 which was more than reasonable for our eating experience.  We had to provide our own after dinner mints but alas this seems to be the way of things nowadays.

So, why are people so down on Wetherspoon’s? Admittedly the clientele can run to the price conscious but in today’s credit hungry, live beyond your means society surely this is to be applauded. Why are people down on a place with an extensive (possible slightly too extensive) range of good value and well presented meals, complemented by a thoughtful and intriguing range of beers? My conclusion?

People are jerks.


Jamie’s Deli

BEST PART: The Chilli Jam!

 Our time restrictions were no problem during this weeks lunch. Not only did we enjoy a tasty and good value meal but we also had time for a round of Penguins Top Trumps! Not alas a game that let you pit Lady Chatterley’s Lover against Body in the Library, but it did feature Pingu. Anyway, this is not a Blog about Top Trumps (although…), so let’s talk about the food.


There was much for the discerning vegetarian to chose from; flan, frittata and an array of sandwiches. A Deli Counter always makes me excited though slightly stressed at the overwhelming options and the pressurised decision period. On this occasion I made the right choice of a yummy crusty granary roll filled with vintage cheddar, green stuff and oh so sweet and spicy chilli jam which left my lips tingling without being aggressive. My husband whose taste buds were impaired this week by a gushing head cold chose the salt beef sandwich, and any taste it did have for him was at least a nice taste. We also got a classy fruit juice and posh pack of crisps for £6 each. Very good value.


The décor is of the modern industrial style which I like I in spite of it becoming the new norm. It was marred only slightly by the shelves of Recipe Books featuring large images of Jamie Oliver’s face which looked down on us as we ate like a collection of cheeky mockney harpies. The Deli is quite dark though so it wasn’t as disconcerting as it might have been and although it was a little on the empty side  on this occasion I don’t think this was the reason why. We chose to sit on one of the sofas, which was very cosy but did mean that the only practical way to eat your lunch was from your lap. As neither of us had soup, however, this was no hardship. My only criticism of the interior was that a quick trip to the loo proved impossible given that you have to walk from the Deli, through the Jamie’s Italian Restaurant, upstairs and round lots of corners. I did get a little lost on the way out and my  husband had almost forgotten we had been eating together. A single unisex loo just for the Deli would be a good idea, maybe with a Jamie Oliver themed toilet bowl.


As we paid at the start there was none of that annoying waiting for the bill nonsense. The staff were friendly, polite and efficient and did not try to steal my husband’s credit card.

This is the ideal place for a quick, casual good value lunch with friends who favour really good fresh ingredients over frilly presentation.