Deli Box

BEST PART: The View!

  In the words of the great Noel Coward, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.” How lovely it is to finally have the opportunity for a picnic lunch.     DESIGN 

We have some lovely green areas to choose from in our fair city. Verulamium park is always lovely as is the sensory garden by the Civic Centre. Today however we selected our favourite area – the Vintry Gardens for our takeaway lunch. Much of St. Albans had the same idea but that didn’t stop it being a lovely venue. This time we were less en-trend and more classical in style. The luscious leafiness provided shade and the springy verdant carpet of grass as yet un-scorched by the sun made a beautiful seat. Added to this the twittering of birds and subtle smell of rosemary and lavender had all but one of our senses enlivened. All the wonders of nature were set against the backdrop of the Abbey, such a majestic and beautiful building (you can’t see the 1980s extension from the Vintry Gardens!).

  However there is always a problem with being outside which is the ruin of festivals, picnics and loitering, which is that the ground is just not very comfortable to sit on. You start off stretching your legs out, but then your arms get uncomfortable. Then you fold your feet underneath you but then they start going to sleep. You end up continually shifting fidgeting to find the mythical position that is actually comfortable but let me tell you, it does not exist. I don’t know how cavemen managed. There are benches in the Vintry Gardens, but they are at a super-premium on sunny days and we were much too late to be in with a chance of these.

  

 
THE MENU

  But this is not a blog about the best parks in St Albans, it is about lunch and the eating thereof. There are many places in St Albans to get a good sandwich. Today we tried out The Deli Box in the Village Arcade for the first time. The selection was smallish, probably because the shop premises are pygmy but the quality of the produce was good. I gave the lady behind the counter free rein to create a nut free vegetarian ciabatta and a meaty one for my husband. She did very well. I would have never chosen hummus, mushrooms and salad together but it was quite delightful. The smell of the warm bread was amazing. 

  My companion’s Parma ham was engagingly fatty, offset by the tart saltiness of the sun-dried tomatoes. He didn’t believe me at first that I had ordered mozzarella with it (he is a distrustful fellow) but it turned up eventually. There were some nice Italian soft drinks to chose from. If I have one recommendation to Deli Box it would be to stock some artisan crisps or perhaps mini garlicky pizza style nibbles. We had to slum it with plain old Walkers. I could have done with something sweet too, even a piece of fruit. Never mind, it was all good stuff. It would definitely be worth popping in for some good olive oil and balsamic vinegar too. There were two or three small tables within the shop but with such lovely weather no one was using them today. 

 I love the village arcade; it is like stepping back in time. A barbers, alterations shop, Petra gems and Carousel (the lovely bag shop) to name but a few are quite charming. A quick local history lesson, the marble on the sides of the Arcade is from the St Albans Lyons Corner house which was demolished in 1068 by the invading Normans. 

 THE TOILETS 

 There weren’t any of course. I had to use the public toilets by the town hall, though these were still closer to our dining area than the ones at Jamie’s Deli. 

THE PRICE 

It was a fiver each for a sandwich, drink and half a packet of crisps (we shared) which is comparable with Jamie’s Deli. To clarify, this wasn’t in a lunch deal. I am sure you could get a sandwich for about £3.50. It was very good value for money for a fine sandwich but to be honest I preferred what I had at Jamie’s by a small margin and therefore we award this picnic lunch 

6.5 / 10

Advertisements

Craft & Cleaver

BEST PART: The Meat & The Beer!

 Craft & Cleaver is another of the surprisingly generous flow of new eateries that St Albans had been allowed, and it’s safe to say it is pretty en-trend. Exposed Brick Work, check. Craft Beer, present. Grey, yep. It sits pretty much at the centre of the pulsating vortex of everything that is NOW (unless you are from our noisy neighbour to the South in which case you’d probably be wondering why there are no artisanal Dairylea Dunkers on the menu, and how to get to the anti-gravity toilets). However, this does not bother me at all for the simple reason that for once in my life what society has deemed of value and what I actually enjoy have coincided and I can swank around pretending I am the hippest cat in town if you ignore the clothes and haircut.
So, as might be expected from the name, Craft & Cleaver specialises in (and excels at) meat and beer, two things that are close to my heart and stomach and liver. To start with the Craft, there were around ten beers on tap and, whilst they were mainly of the Pale Ale variety and a few were of an ABV that would not be entirely compatible with an afternoon’s work, they also had their own own label lager and a cider on offer, as well as fridges full of cans and bottles if for some reason none of those floated your boat. Most excitingly for me and anyone else who listens to ‘This American Life’, they had Lagunitas on tap. After probably years of hearing how they put the Pub in Public Radio, I could repay the implied contract of advertising by purchasing some. For those who do not understand a word of the previous two sentences, I had some nice American beer.

 Now the Cleaver. One of the reasons I was so excited about visiting this place was that I discovered that they had a burger with beef as a topping, thus perfecting life. As well as smoked brisket, the Holy Cow burger also comes with Bourbon Bacon Relish and Blue Cheese sauce, although when mine arrived the blue cheese seemed to have gone walk-about and settled under the napkin on my tray.

Yes, my tray. In one aspect of modern dining that I have no truck with the food arrived on a rectangular metallic trey such as one might find specimens on. Plates have served perfectly well for many years, so no need to ruin it all now. Also, napkins on plates? Does it save on the washing up? What it does do is it hampers any end of meal sopping up of tasty remaining sauces, that’s what it does do.

But no matter, what you want to hear about is the burger, and this was a good burger. Possibly, probably, the best burger in St Albans which, when you consider the competition includes Relish, The Meating Room, The Beech House and Harry’s Take Away is no mean feat. The patties themselves were juicy and flavoursome, and the juice soaked through to the bun so that by the end of proceedings it was a soggy tasty mush. The toppings were of a distinctive texture and the flavours really complimented each other, so much so that by my final mouthfuls I was closing my eyes to ensure I savoured and prolonged the experience for as long as possible. Sides were adequate but not mind-blowing. The fries come as a mix between sweet potato and savoury potato as a standard which they claim saves you the dilemma of choosing between the two. I have never had such a dilemma as, like all right-minded individuals, I would spurn the sweet potato and have proper chips every time. But they were actually reasonably pleasant in this case. The pickles were present and correct, and I even ate the coleslaw happily despite this being my most hated of foodstuffs in it’s school dinner incarnation. However, be careful shaking the (very good) BBQ sauces as one decided to fly out over my shirt.

Now, getting me to like a place that does fancy beers and tasty meats is like getting an office worker to enjoy free leftover meeting sandwiches, but a dicier prospect by far was my vegetarian wife. However, even here they didn’t do a bad job. She went for something from the express menu, as I probably should’ve done, though actually time was not a problem at all and we were in and out in less than our allotted hour. You would hope this would be the case as staff seemed to outnumber patrons but well done anyway.

I digress, the meat free options were surprisingly plentiful for a meaty joint (no pun intended). Although tempted on name alone by the “Thou Shalt Not Kill”, my wife ordered an avacado and blue cheese baguette. This was very tasty and was enlivened by a honey like drizzle. She couldn’t resist the chance to have proper onion rings and they were of a high quality.  To summarise, this is a good eating venue for the discerning vegetarian.Finally, the bit you’re all waiting for, the toilets. My wife was made very happy by the whimsical sketch on the door. She was happier still when she opened it and was so blown away by the design triumphs that she rates these loos higher than Tabure’s (and they were classy ). The lavatorial porcelain was everything it should be and the floor was a playful tiled design. Did it warrant a repeat visit just for the prettiness? Oh yes! So Craft & Cleaver is a very welcome addition to the St Albans dining scene, and a very pleasant lunch option (based on no available evidence we thought it might be a bit noisy in the evenings, but then we are now in our mid thirties). The price was reasonable at £27 most of which went on the double beef burger. However as usual there was a surprising delay between asking for and being given the bill, in spite of it being quietish. In a restaurant like this serving very flavoursome food we felt the offering of after dinner mints should be introduced. It need not be a posh mint, some imperials would do it. Anyway, these two grumbles aside we were very happy indeed with our experience at Craft and Cleaver. Here’s hoping it is still serving up awesome beer and tasty flesh when the trend-makers have migrated to the new gourmet eggy bread bar.

8.3/10

http:/34/www.craftcleaver.co.uk/

Tabure

BEST PART: The Tomatoes!

Warning – When did it become on-trend to say “on-trend”? Shouldn’t it be “en-trend”  like “en-route”? I am not sure but I have decided to give it a go in this review to see how it feels.

DESIGN

New arrival Tabure is like the good looking person everyone wants to be friends with. If he were a man rather than a restaurant I would certainly fancy him!  Tabure smells inviting, there is some lovely foot level tile work to welcome you over the threshold and it’s all centred around an impressive big flaming grill. Much as I mourn the loss of our favourite Japanese restaurant Sukiyaki (sorry Kimaya), I was highly impressed with the transformation of the tired peach toned 1970s interior to this smart, modern gaff. The interior was almost a fusion of the en-trend industrial looks of Jamie’s and Bill’s with the calming blue and white details of Lussmann’s.

I was a little nervous of the high level tables and bar stools by the window, favouring the standard height tables but then I am clumsy and fairly short. Lots of people like to be high up these days, one might say it is en-trend. I don’t. I don’t like the idea of falling off a stool on the way to the toilet.

And what of the toilets? They need a mention. As we all know, grey is en-trend (last time) at the moment. Tabure are aware of this and demonstrated it with a delightful mix of soft grey tones against crisp white sanitary ware. It is true they are individual unisex cubicles but even a man would want to keep such a beautiful little room tidy wouldn’t he?

THE MENU

The Menu was a challenge for my husband, possessing as he does those most male of traits, thriftiness and a refusal to ask for help. It shows a range of up-market mezze that are little unusual, but unfortunately these are smushed together with what one would hope from the price are main courses with little indication of which is which. The suggestion was that you order 3-4 dishes each, but as some of the dishes were over a tenner this would lead to you forking out over £40 each just on food. Eventually he retreated into a slight sulk leaving me free rein on the menu, which meant we tried the vegetarian options (with a bowl of chicken wings to placate his animal-destroying urges).

I was particularly excited by the idea of the battered courgette flower stuffed with ricotta. This was the first to arrive, along with the wings. This was very good but the highlight of our whole dining experience was actually the tomato on the side. I had no idea that tomatoes could be magical but let me tell you, at Tabure they are. I don’t know what they do to these tomatoes, perhaps it is a special type, perhaps they marinade them in love and kisses but what ever they do is the right thing. Oh my giddy goodness I am still thinking about them now! They were so sweet. The courgette flower itself was great too, yummy batter and stuffed with creamy ricotta and a tiny little surprise kick of chilli to liven things up. This dish was a hard act to follow, although I am informed the chicken wings were pretty special too, being juicy, spicy and smoky, though not greasy.

The avocado hommus was OK and the waiter was kind enough to get me a new one with good grace and without pine nuts even though I had forgotten to tell him of my allergy. At the end of the day though it was pretty much an average bowl of proper hommus, with the addition of avocado adding a greenish tint. I felt that the bread was a bit doughy, a flat bread might have worked better but I am nit picking. The sweet potatoes with paprika were also of a good quality but I was still thinking about the tomatoes. As if by magic though they turned up again on a halloumi skewer, this time as whole cherry tomatoes. Horray! It was a very tasty skewer. I certainly did not feel restricted as a Vegetarian in this restaurant.

We weren’t drinking booze today but I noticed they had Brewdog on the menu which is always a good sign. The fruit juices were good but costly. My husband, still smarting from the high prices, decided to stick to the water but this proved tricky, as it was provided in teeny tiny glasses that were infrequently topped up. I would have thought that we were trustworthy enough to be left in sole charge of a jug of water, but they must have suspected the mischief we were capable of.

THE SERVICE

Our waiter was well spoken, smart and professional and we wondered if he might have been a Stock Exchange boy who jacked it all in for a love of food. We felt in safe hands though could have had a bit more attention given that attendance was a little sparse. Other than the water this was only really an issue when, having asked for the bill and indeed having been given the bill we were left to consider it for a good ten minutes before being able to pay it, possibly to appreciate the font. To be fair, it was a nice font as bills go.

And yes I had to go to the toilet again, recreationally just because it was so nice.

So should you go to Tabure? Oh yes, you should and not just to be en-trend (sorry) or because of the heavenly tomatoes.  But possibly you might want to go for dinner when you can give the experience as much time as the prices warrant. Although if they ever have a lunch menu and bigger glasses we would be back in a shot.

7.6/10 

http://www.tabure.co.uk/