Dylans Kings Arms

Best Part: The Service!

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We first visited Dylan’s soon after it had opened and were impressed with the upmarket take on pub dining. The meal was slightly impaired, however, by a misunderstanding about nut allergies (and we all know how easy those are, see last week) that left me eating my baguette in solitude whilst my wife searched frantically for a pharmacist. Things have changed since then, with Craft and Cleaver also offering classy but indulgent food and a wide range of unusual beers. Dylan’s has responded by dialling down the pub side and making more explicit claims to restaurant-hood. After we were seated in the dining area at the back and handed the menus we were actually contemplating leaving as the two or three course menu was not really what we were looking for either in quantity or budget.

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Luckily the attentive (but not embarrassingly over attentive) and friendly waitress came to our rescue, offering us the snacking menu usually reserved for the front “pub” area whilst allowing us to keep our nice table with proper upright chairs. This was especially welcome as my wife gets freaked out by taxidermy and was not relishing the prospect of eating her meal under the glassy stare of a badger being ridden by a squirrel.

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I think the beer selection on tap has become less experimental since my last visit, but range is less important when what you have is top quality. I went for a glass of Brewdog Doodlebug, at 2.8% the perfect strength when you have to return to work in the afternoon. It also tasted so nice with an almost grapefruit hopiness that my wife had to order one after having a sip, despite already having a perfectly adequate pineapple juice.

IMG_1525For the food I went for the Beef Dripping Chips, with slow cooked beef and blue cheese, and I have to say in my slightly hungover state they were pretty much “the best thing ever” (though most things are in that state, so I would concede that there are other things in the universe that are at least as good). The chips were full of beefy flavour, thick but not floury and quick to fall apart. The beef was the same, if anything a trifle beefier, and the blue cheese added a richness to proceedings.

IMG_1527As a side we shared some Halloumi Fries. I know what you are thinking as it is what pretty much everyone at work said when I told them about my lunch, ‘you had fries as a side order to chips?’ Well, yes I did, but as these were halloumi fries so the only similarity was the shape and as you’d know if you were paying attention the beef dripping chips were quite thick anyway. And besides, the halloumi fries were so good that even if they had been identical to my other course I still would have ordered them. I once ordered 32 chili cheese bites at a Burger King, so I would think nothing of getting halloumi fries with a side of halloumi fries.

IMG_1530The vegetarian section on either menu was not extensive, but you really only need one good thing, and if you are my wife that one good thing needs to be without nuts. Unfortunately that was not the case here, but the nice waitress lady very kindly offered to provide the cous cous Burrito without Pine nuts. The chef had to stuff it with another filling but it ended up being really imaginative mix of flavours that we couldn’t fully pinpoint. There seemed to be squash, beetroot and cheese involved which my wife is always pleased about.

My dining and life companion has one negative comment to make, and that is about the strange dead (stuffed) animals in the bar area. Sorry to come back to this point but it needs to be said. She challenges even non vegetarians to feel relaxed with the cast of the Wind in the Willows frozen in time by her elbow. Mr Toad and his car were lacking and I do feel that their presence might have helped to ease the tension somewhat. Consequently we would not go to Dylan’s together for the pub area alone. In fact on the occasion we tried it one Saturday night it was so busy with taxidermy loving St Albanites that we couldn’t get to the bar anyway. Clearly lots of people like stuffed animals or are happy to go to the Dylan’s bar and look at them for free rather than drive out to the Tring museum.

There are enough little details (that had never been alive) to make it seem like they could be from an actual old pub, which gives you the illusion of continuity back to St Albans’ coaching inn heyday, but with a staff that are far more attentive and helpful than I would imagine the historic bar-wenches of old would have been. The final indication of just how much this gets everything right was when they bought a shot glass of mini eggs along with the bill (a bill that they accepted payment for speedily, I may add). Dylans stands proudly as one of our town’s culinary gems, and I recommend it to you as I do to most everyone I talk to.

 

8.6/10

http://dylanskingsarms.com/

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Kanuka

Best Part: The Wall of Tea!

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Readers, I love tea. I mean I really love it. I love the taste, the caffeine kick, the ceremony and the associated snobbery. I do not like coffee and the associated big businesses. How exciting therefore that St Albans is now home to a tea house. It is time tea was allowed to be cool and sexy. I have never had a problem with it being warm and homely mind you and love Abigail’s tearoom in the village Arcade for this reason. However I am happy to welcome this newcomer for its daring attitude and sole trader status. Boo to the chain coffee shops, hello Kanuka.

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Kanuka focuses on tea, not food. Having said that, going at lunchtime we found the small repertoire to be very good in quality. The goats cheese and roasted vegetable Panini was one of the best I had tasted in a long time. I like the unconventional shape of the Panini roll too; it was almost square.

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Their pudding options consisted mainly of nut related energy balls. I have a nut allergy so I could only look at them (they looked delicious) but was pleased to sample their scone with jam and cream which I found to be most satisfactory. Not as good as the Ritz but a good 7/10. I would have awarded it a higher score if the cream had been clotted and the scone fruited.

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Given the limited options Mr Midweek Lunch also had a panini, but his had cheese and ham in instead. He was similarly surprised by the quality, expecting something along the lines of what you receive when forced by circumstances to lunch in a Starbucks but instead getting an unusual but intriguing sandwich. The cheese was almost reminiscent of a welsh rarebit in its white sauce consistency, dripping out of the sandwich in great dollops.

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From the pudding options he went for a raw ginger square, probably because the presence of nuts meant he would not have to share it with me. Which was all the worse for me as it was apparently delightful, with an invigorating hit of ginger reminiscent of that first sip of ginger beer after a night on the tiles.

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Kanuka was quiet when we entered but soon filled up. It has only been open three weeks and once word has got around I hope to see it get the custom it deserves. The decor is slick and neutral with accent mustard chairs and dark wood accessories. A feature wall of tea greets you as you enter, in fact you can see it from outside. There are about 50 loose leaf tea blends to choose from and to avoid disappointment you can test a small quantity in advance. The waitress showed us how you can also pull out the associated sniffing jar to check that the bouquet isn’t too floral or indeed not floral enough. There are three types of tea, wellbeing, classic and naughty. I am a classic girl and although I was tempted by their Assam went for the black afternoon blend. Mr Midweek lunch being in the awkward position of not liking tea choose a caramel nut choc, because he is a child. Neither of us were remotely tempted by the wellbeing section. This is not just because green tea generally has undertones of urine (perhaps it doesn’t at this classy establishment) but because we already have a great sense of wellbeing in our lives. Now possibly at Kanuka they have found a way of making green tea taste nice. I am sure they have but life is too short. I shall be sure to pay a visit with mother in law midweek lunch some time. She is a connoisseur of Green tea and wellbeing in general.

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Most importantly you will want to know about the tea itself. Ladies and gentlemen, it was very fine indeed. Much better than a blend I recently had at the Lainsborough in London. Full points Kanuka. It had been properly brewed and served at the correct temperature. However, I do have a big issue to get off my chest. It was served directly to our table in a heavy duty transparent plastic mug! I am not against mugs but I am very against transparent tea serving vessels. I think Kanuka wanted to make it look cool. I suppose it is pretty in a green tea but those people choosing a classic tea are probably keen on drinking it in a classic way and should be offered a china vessel because tea honestly does taste better from bone china. I am sure you could source trendy bone china mugs or cups. I also think it is more polite to serve it in a pot with a jug of milk so that people can choose when to pour it. Proper Tea in Manchester did this with a timer so we knew when to pour it . I had to ask for milk twice and I shouldn’t have to for a classic afternoon tea blend.

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My husband’s decision to go for a chocolate bar in tea form fell afoul of the usual flavoured/fruit tea/subway curse of smelling far nicer than it tasted. However, this did lead to a comedic misunderstanding that I will relate to you now.

Hearing him complain that the taste was virtually non-existent compared to the smell I decided to put this to the test myself. I picked up his (transparent plastic) mug and started moving it towards my mouth whereupon he became agitated and said loudly ‘You can’t taste it’. This was because of my aforementioned nut allergy but I misunderstood and thought he was merely reiterating his earlier point vis a vis the smell/taste imbalance. This was repeated several times until at the point where I was actually ingesting the nutty tea he was able to express himself in less ambiguous terms.

We all laughed about it when it became apparent I wasn’t going to die, and he eventually confessed that whilst subtle the tea did have a very distinctive and pleasant taste, especially when paired with the ginger square.

To summarise, I am thrilled that Kanuka is here and would certainly go again and recommend it to friends and family. I seriously advise them to offer china cups for classic blends or at the very least a narrower lipped glass cup if they still want to look cool. The current arrangement does not do justice to the superfine taste of their superior tea. Their lunch is super too.

Welcome to town Kanuka!

7.8/10

https://www.kanukatea.com/

Cafe on the Corner

Best Part: The Little Biscuit!

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I wonder if you have considered the enormous moral responsibility of the food blogger? It is not all free dinners and hob-nobbing with Michel La Roux. One also must consider the implications of presenting your considered and accurate opinions to your legion of devoted followers. Whilst it may be acceptable to bad-mouth the absurdity of the Subway Veggie Delite, they can probably take it, it seems churlish to stick the boot into a little local eatery struggling to get by. And if, like this week’s destination The Café on the Corner, the place is a charity endeavour staffed by volunteers you really have to hope they put on a good show.

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Luckily for all concerned they did. The Café on the Corner is a café, on the corner of Catherine and Adelaide Street, so it scores points for the veracity of it’s name (unlike Jamie’s Italian, because he isn’t). The décor would be described as homely, but a home with loads of kids pictures on the wall. So, our home basically. As well as the youthful scribblings there are also proper bits of art (possibly for sale?) and weird squiggly wooden things hanging from the ceiling.

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The menu consisted of the core café groupings of sandwiches, omelettes and breakfasts of the all-day variety. Not particularly envelope-pushing, but it doesn’t matter if you do things well. I went for the big breakfast, because I was having it for lunch and lunches should be bigger than breakfasts (this is my belief but I will not judge you if you think otherwise). It had all the required elements except hash browns, and I would like to single the sausages out for especial praise, being juicy and thick and sausage-like. If I am allowed just a smidgen of criticism then the toast (which I had been looking forward to given their dedication to making their own bread) was too crispy, and was not hot enough to properly melt the butter.

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Mrs Midweek lunch was very happy to be served tea in the correct way i.e. in a pot (yellow) with milk jug. She was also very happy with her mozzarella and tomato baguette with side salad and crisps. It is getting harder to find a crispy baguette sandwich now because the Panini has taken over the world but not so today. It had a lot of gorgeous sun dried tomato oil oozing out of the baguette and she still has a watery mouth when she thinks of it.

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The prices were very reasonable, and the service was friendly if not slick. This is a lovely space to just sit around and eat and drink stuff in whilst feeling needlessly good about yourself without having really done anything to earn it.

6.9/10

http://www.camphillfamily.com/gallery/st-albans-cafe-corner