Best Part: The Fried Cheese!
It is the fate of anyone who has lived in St Albans for a while to be reminded whilst dining of all the previous establishments that have occupied the same location. In the case of Number 23 there is at least a thematic connection, as the location segued quite nicely from Tapas to British Tapas.
Well, I say British, our meal included deep fried brie, risotto balls and Filo parcels. But they were cooked and served in Britain so I will accept them as truly British. The starters are generally my favourite part of any meal, so to try a number of those without the dull big lump of meat at the end is superb. It means that you can try a load of interesting sounding stuff safe in the knowledge that if any of the more experimental combinations fail to pay off for you, you can always retreat back to your reliable old friends.
In this case our old faithful was deep-fried brie. Back in our young and feckless days, when we would dine out in the evening more than once a year, deep-fried brie made a regular appearance on the menu to be ignored at your peril. If you dared order anything else you would be consigned to staring with unconstrained envy at any other diner who went the breaded cheese route. The offering from Number 23 brought back happy memories, the crumbs crispy, the cheese oozing and the redcurrant jelly sweet though slightly sparse. This was probably my favourite of our choices.
My wife preferred the sweet potato and carrot croquettes from the special menu. They were sweet and soft inside and had a gorgeously crunchy outer texture. Even I, often scathing about sweet potatoes was impressed. They were served with a tasty aioli which we dipped our chips into later.
Coming in with respectable mid-table mediocrity were the spinach and feat filo parcels. These had an interesting sticky substance and the pastry flaked nicely, but the interior was maybe a trifle bland compared to some of it’s dining companions. My wife on the other hand found the pastry a little tough and the inside delightful. You can’t please everyone.
I got the carnivores benefit of being able to eat all of the other offerings whilst having a special meaty treat all to myself. This was a couple of very nice fried risotto balls filled with mushrooms, goats cheese and pancetta. I don’t know if the experience was heightened by the joy of the balls being mine, all mine, but I found them very toothsome. A delightful crunchiness giving way to a lovely mix of both flavours and textures inside. Almost as good as these were the salad leaves below that had been covered by the excess fat from the frying process. Who knew that the way to make salad palatable is to cover it in fat?
The only real disappointment were the chips. We shelled out an extra 25p to get the Salt & Pepper Triple Cooked Chips with Garlic and Red Onion, and the red onion was actually nice and caramelised. The rest were potato wedges, and potato wedges that tasted slightly undercooked and floury. It was ironic that even though they had been cooked three times they still hadn’t managed to get them all the way through.
But none-the-less, if all we have to complain about are the chips then that is an enviable position to be in. The danger of Tapas of any nationality is that the bill can mount up as quickly as the little plates but Number 23 was very reasonable. We had a £5 off voucher, but these can be obtained from the entrance, and our five dishes plus drinks came to a thoroughly acceptable £25. They also do a Lunch Menu with sandwiches and chips for only £5.95 which it may even be worth a return visit to sample.
A final point. I usually leave commenting on the toilets to my wife, who seems much more interested in such things, but in this case I am moved to write of the gentleman’s convenience. For reasons best known to the management there is a picture of a scary clown laughing and pointing at a level where most men’s flies would be whilst urinating, which I can imagine some men of a certain temperament may find… off-putting. I present the evidence below.
Anyway Number 23 is a super place serving interesting and unique food at reasonable prices, just one of the fine George Street dining establishments we are blessed with. The other clientele on our visit included a nice old party of gourmets and for the second time we have visited at lunchtime a group of children from the nearby posh school. Now, in my day it was a treat to get a bag of chips for lunch but clearly time has moved on and I should be glad that the next generation has such good taste in lunch venues.