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.