St Albans Food and Drink Festival

Best Part: St Albans!

We are very lucky to live in a city that celebrates Food and Drink in such a vibrant manner. Arriving in the town centre on Sunday lunchtime, hungry and excited by the colourful array of food stalls, I felt that cosy satisfied glow that warms me at every successful St Albans cultural experience. I feel proud to live here in this Foodie city.

Lussmanns had really gone to town and set up a full restaurant under a gazebo. This would have been tempting to us had we been alone but this was a family eating experience and our children had their own ideas. Child one believed he had seen a Chinese food stall right at the start of the high street and took me on a fool’s errand to find it. I was hungry and slightly narked when after ten minutes he decided that actually he had been mistaken. “Never mind” I said “There is bound to be one somewhere.” Now it might be my dodgy eye sight and natural level of panic when faced with a buffet situation when I have to make a quick decision on an empty stomach but we could not find a Chinese outlet anywhere. There seemed to be pretty much everything else – Caribbean, Indian, Thai, Modern European, puddings and sushi.

I had my eye on some Samosas a long way away and behind an even longer queue but in desperation and wanting to coordinate lunch with Mr Midweek Lunch and child two, I purchased Sweet and Sour Chicken for the boy at £6 and vegetable noodles for me at a supremely overpriced £6. I knew I was being ripped off but felt I didn’t have a choice due to a lack of energy, sight, patience and hands. How many things am I expected to hold as a mother whilst paying and passing a tray of food to my child? As it was, he dropped most of the Sweet and Sour Chicken all over a neighbouring stall due to an itchy leg. It was embarrassing.

My noodles looked and tasted boring. It was in fact the worst lunch I have had since starting this blog. Yes, even worse than the Subway sandwich because that was at least cheap. What was left of the chicken was apparently good and Child one was “glad” he had spilt it anyway as they gave him too much.

Mr Midweek Lunch, along with child #2, seemed to have a slightly better time of it. He was directed to purchase the item that smelled the nicest as they walked past, Chicken Satay skewers from the Indonesian stall. Unfortunately, he was not alone in being enticed by the delightful charcoal and chicken smell and was consigned to a long queue, with each batch of Satay sticks being snapped up as soon as they appeared (no one wanted the poor Nasi Gorang). The constant banging of the African drums from the neighbouring tent did little to improve people’s moods.

But child #2 showed surprising patience for a 7 year old, and the nice people on the stall let us nibble on crackers whilst we waited, so all was well. The Godot-esque chicken, when it did arrive, was just about worth the wait, on a pile of spicy fried rice and with a side serving of pickle and a big gloop of peanut sauce. Especially when we compared ourselves to the other party we felt a nice warm glow of menu triumph.

There was a lot of other stuff going on, and we used the last of our kleingeld to buy some surprisingly good mini-donuts from people with a donut machine not normally found outside of piers. There was also a pub garden area that we gazed wistfully at as we were dragged past it, and some friendly farm animals. There was probably a load of other stuff but it was so packed and such a struggle to even get close enough to see the stalls that we gave up quite quickly.

I chose very badly and am not emotionally suited to pressured food environments but I am still very much in favour of the Food and Drink Festival. Next time we plan to arrive earlier before hunger strikes and with stacks of loose change. None of the vendors had any and it made the queues longer. I also hope there will be more seating next year as it was a bit tight.




Best Part: The Cake!

Now the Canteen has a lot of nerve, sitting there in the place where the Secret Garden was whilst simultaneously not being the Secret Garden. Do you remember the Secret Garden? Do you remember their Moussaka or their meatballs? Canteen doesn’t even do meatballs.

But the secret to a long life is forgiveness, so we went in with open minds to see what the Secret Garden-killers had to offer. We were hoping for good things since its sister Hatch (in the Maltings) has served us fine sandwiches but could big brother Canteen go one step further and serve us fine food inside a building?

It’s a lovely little area, off George Street through a little arch, with a nice view of the Abbey if you sit outside. As it was a bit chilly we went inside, where the style was canteeny, as you might expect. The formica table would not have felt out of place in a school. The walls had lots of holes in them, for some reason. The musical vibe was jolly vaguely alternative, and most of our fellow diners were singing along. This was very apparent as given the limit on space you were quite close to your fellow diners. Which seems a little un-British.

Drinks first, with my companion going for her characteristic apple juice (as an aside when did fruit juice become more expensive than beer? A small bottle cost £2.50, which would buy you a lot of apples), whilst being an adventurous chap I went for a ginger beer with lime and chili, which was very refreshing in a musty, spicy sort of way. Mrs Midweek Lunch had drink envy, hee hee.

For mains (from a menu that did not offer much more than little sister Hatch) I went for crushed up avocado on toast, with some poachy eggs and chorizo. First impressions were that it was a slightly sparse serving for the price being paid, but what is money compared to bright yellow yolk dripping over paprika chorizo fat? It was a tasty experience, and I enjoyed the eating of it.

My companion did not let the fact that she was a vegetarian stop her from ordering a Reuben sandwich, traditionally quite a meaty sandwich. But they took her request in good spirits, doubling the cheese and cutting the cost. And she was glad she did as she is very fond of sauerkraut and even more fond of cheese, and the flavours were well balanced. No doubt it would have been be extremely tasty with the salt beef too if you like eating cows.

Mrs Midweek Lunch tried to convince me that we had eaten enough and had no need for sweet afters. I beat her down with the power of my reasoned arguments, and we decided to share some ginger loaf. This was the high point, warm and moist with a sweet sticky gingerness, and the creamiest ice cream I have had for many a day. The spoonfuls of ice cream encrusted with ginger crumbs were so good I did not want them to end. But they did.

So much as I miss the Secret Garden life goes on, and Canteen is a nice place to spend some of that life eating food.