Subway

Best part: the smell!

We were under time pressure this week, and also we have been under child pressure for some considerable time to visit this week’s location; the UK’s premier franchised sandwich chain of Subway.

Now unfortunately, given the time restraints already mentioned, I had to miss out on my favourite part of Subway dining; the visit to the store. Firstly your nostrils are tickled by the delightful smell, far superior to the taste of anything inside the shop. So much so, in fact, that it makes one suspicious that they pump it out artificially to lure unwary patrons into their establishment.

Once in you are faced with a wide array of sandwich options. Again this is one of my favourite parts of the Subway ritual, the exhilarating possibilities of ranch dressing and black olives. But I wasn’t there, and Mrs Midweek Lunch unfortunately tends to get overwhelmed with all the options and start to panic. I was slightly wary of what I would end up with when I did arrive, but I found I had a passable pulled pork sub. It was only 6 inches, you would think she would know me better than that by now, but as I was late and had left her with the horror of ordering, I felt it was political to not point this out. The ordering process as well as involving the usual stresses had featured a persistent wasp and a nagging child so now she was sweaty, hungry and cross. Not a good start.

We are all grown ups, apart from those that are children or geese, and we accept that food, especially franchised fast food, is rarely comparable to how it looks in advertising. But this case did seem particularly egregious. I offer the two sandwiches as evidence.

My wife fell into a trap that I have also succumbed to, so I cannot feel to smug about it. Being a vegetarian, and faced with very limited vegetarian options, she ordered the Veggie Delite (sic). This turned out to be everything you would normally get as an extra to your sub, cheese, salad, sauce, and NOTHING ELSE. It is difficult to see what is so delightful, or in fact deliteful, in having a sub with nothing part from the usual extras. A better name would probably be the Veggie Disappoynt. You can have that one for free, shadowing council of Doctors who inexplicably run Subway.

The kids were relatively happy with their meals. They got a strange cardboard box toy with their meal, which they didn’t really care for, and a quite impressive satchel which they did. Eldest complained that his Bear YoYo was to desiccated (not the word he used) and had stuck together, but youngest was very pleased with his crisps.

So we finished our meals not terribly impressed. As I told the office ill-advisably on my return it takes more than 6 inches to satisfy me. One thing it did have going for it was the price, £12 for lunch for 4, such good value that we suspect the till might have had a slight malfunction. Not that I’m complaining, mind. But in a town which such varied and interesting options, Subway does seem like a bit of a waste of stomach space.

5.2/10

http://www.subway.co.uk/store-finder/store-detail.aspx?sid=453054700

Hare & Hounds

Best Part: The Play Equipment!

HISTORY

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very sad in writing this review. I wanted to withhold it but Mr Midweek Lunch said that we need to retain our professional integrity. We have lived in St. Albans for almost 10 years and have always been fond of the Hare and Hounds. They are friendly to dogs, children, members of the clergy and ordinary people. Only three weeks ago I have a super lunch here with a Canine and Human friend. I was so bowled over I would have rated that sandwich lunch 8.5/10. Elsa the dog really did knock her bowl over – a bowl of water that they provided for her several times (she kept knocking it over!) out of the goodness of their hearts. You see, what lovely people!

DESIGN AND FACILITIES

Their design is lovely. It strikes just the right balance between being en trend and traditional in cream and limewash green. There is a comfy sofa side and a smart dining area. The toilets and toiletries are of a very good standard. The beer on tap is superb. May I recommend their own ale? Their Menu is exciting too, it promises much and I will come to that shortly.

Anyhow, Mr Midweek Lunch, our two children and myself visited for a family friendly lunch. We were at that time the only patrons in the garden. This was great news for the boys who had free rein of the play equipment – yes, take note; you can drink while they play. Another sign of a thoughtful manager. They have a good menu and I believe it can even be ordered by texting so you don’t have to walk the short journey to the bar. I don’t really understand these things so walked there myself. It wasn’t a problem apart from walking back with a tray full of drinks when no members of my family came to my aid…as usual…

There is a marked slope to the garden, which I would imagine could be disconcerting if you have partaken too freely of their ale, but as we were in charge of small people and my husband had to return to work, this was easily navigated.

THE MENU

Initial signs were very encouraging, and there were almost too many potential options to go for. Also, can we take a moment here to congratulate the Hare & Hounds on the actual design of their menu. Too many pubs just think that by using a slightly curly font they have done enough to make their bill of fayre look enticing, but the first bite is not even with the eyes, it is with the menu. Not literally.

Having been thrilled with the cheddar and chutney sandwich last time I decided to be more adventurous and go for a burger. It had some interesting sides but not being keen on coleslaw I asked for the sauerkraut (now that’s different, isn’t it?) and sweet potato fries instead of standard. They kindly allowed this with no trouble. There is a good children’s menu. Elder boy went for sausages and chips and the smaller one opted for tomato pasta.

My husband chose the nacho dog (a hot dog with nachos, nachorally) with a side of skinny fries with sauerkraut. We had to wait rather a while for our food to come but the boys didn’t mind because of the climbing frames. Mr Midweek Lunch did, as he feared he might break something if he went climbing. When it did come the boys were fairly pleased with their food. The tomato pasta came (and was advertised) without cheese and the little fellow would have like some but he didn’t make a fuss, for him this is unusual. Boy 1 liked his chips very much and refused to share them with boy 2. On this matter Boy 2 did make a fuss. He was also keen on the sausages but “some baked beans would have been nice.” A small rant is coming… As parents I know we are not alone in explaining the importance of eating vegetables with all meals. Why then do pubs insist of just bringing the meat and potato option? A simple choice of peas, beans or crudités would be appreciated. Better still, why not have a “Mum knows best” option of carrot, cucumber and pepper sticks with hummus and pitta bread. I work with children and don’t know any who would refuse this option. However lettuce is another matter “Children don’t like salad” said Boy 1, giving me his lettuce. I don’t like it much either. The vegetable patty part of my Burger was very dull. However the bun and sides were flavoursome enough. Their sweet potato fries were good but not as good as the Smokehouse Deli’s.

The appearance of both the nacho dog and the fries were disappointing. I think the menu had probably set expectations a bit high, and the food when it eventually arrived seemed very pedestrian. Despite the exoticness of the combinations there was no flourish to the presentation. The Nacho dog was a hot dog with some smashed up Doritos and some unconvincing cheese sauce, the fries were literally a bowl of chips with a small amount of sauerkraut dolloped on top. I mean, we got exactly what we ordered, but the language of the menu had led to us wanting more. Not bad, just not inspiring.

Judging our lunch experience purely on this day I am afraid that we have to give it a 6.5/10. However, I am very sure that this was a one off bad day and sincerely encourage you all to give it a try some time. For all of our other visits it would have been nearer an 8. Sorry Hare and Hounds.

http://www.hareandhoundsstalbans.co.uk/

St Albans Market

Best Part: The base!

A slightly different approach this week, we decided to try out the food stalls at the Wednesday market and see the best they could offer. There was some initial scepticism, especially given the temperature on the day (it was July, so of course it was grey and miserable). But we persevered, and were greeted by a small but encouraging selection of stalls of street food. There was a stall specialising in healthy organic food, offering you a chance to make your own smoothie. There was a lady offering unspecified ethnic cuisine advertised on paper plates. There was a chutney stall. There was a Chinese mini-buffet and a pizza stall with it’s own portable wood-fired oven. Needless to say we did not go with the health food stall.

As it is school holidays we had the children with us (as we will for the next few weeks), which allowed us to extend our range a bit, so large people went with pizza and smaller ones with noodles.

To tackle the noodles first, there were 5 different types of luridly fried meat to accompany them, and you could choose whichever ones you wanted, with £4 buying you enough to fill a reasonable sized carton. If you are a gluttonous fool you could pay an extra pound and get the next sized container up, basically more food than any human should attempt to consume in a 24 hour period. One of those bad boys would have been enough for both the kids to share, and I would have gone for that if they hadn’t both loudly proclaimed that they could not share because they wanted different things. Before then ordering identical meals.

And it is lucky they did, as there was plenty of leftovers, enough to allow we to proclaim on the quality of the food. And, it was pretty good. The stand out was salt and pepper chicken, but for all of it the balance of salt, grease and stickiness was enormously satisfying. I did not have to deal with the afternoon’s aftermath of that level of artificial colouring consumption, but everything and everyone was still standing by the time I got back from work so it can’t have been that bad.

The chicken was almost enough to make me regret my choice of stall, but not for very long. The pizzas came from Mozzarellanation, a very jolly man who travels the world with his oven, making pizza to order. Apparently he had been in Royal Windsor the previous day, charging an extra £1 per pizza. For once it seems that St Albans isn’t over priced after all. Watching our pizzas being made meant a little more of a wait than the slopping of noodles out, but it is very definitely worth it. The menu is not extensive, there were four options on the day we visited, but the quality is so good you would be more than happy with a Margarita. The mozzarella was creamy, the tomato sauce slightly salty, but the standout is the base. It was crisp but doughy, almost melty. I have never ordered pizza from a street-vendor in Naples, none the less I am going to proclaim this as the most authentically Neapolitan street pizza in St Albans. So There.

I went for Chorizo and Chili as a topping, which through a nice bit of spice to the mix, but to be honest with the core ingredients that good I almost wished I’d kept it simple. My wife had the vegetarian pizza, as is her wont, and found it to be extremely tasty. She isn’t fond of American style pizzas with their thick stodgy bases so this lovely Italian style crisp base made her very happy. She and the children very much enjoyed watching and smelling it cook. In fact it almost felt like we had made it ourselves, so involved we were in watching its creation. The pizza man was very affable, admiring the noodle cartons I was rudely holding as I awaited my own meal.

Finally, we bought some Skips, because clearly we did not have enough food by this point. I may be wrong, but I think the kids enjoyed this part the most.

So, we got a cheap and varied meal (about twenty quid for four, not including the Skips), then had a short stroll down the hill to the Vintry Gardens where we could picnic in beautiful surroundings. It is moments like that, that make me enormously grateful that I live in St Albans.

8.4/10

http://www.mozzarellanation.co.uk/