The Peahen

Best Part: Dipping things in other things!

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So the concluding entry in the battle of the Peachickens. The Peahen has ruled the Pea family roost for a number of years, but will the newly greyified Peacock regain the crown with it’s long nachos? Based on our slightly disappointed review it seems unlikely, but we go in with open minds, as always.

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In fact, I don’t have a completely open mind as I still bear the Peahen a slight grudge from the time they refused to serve me solely because I was dressed as an old man as part of a fancy dress pub crawl. This strikes me as ageist, because if I had been an actual old man dressed as an old man then they would surely have no problem supplying me with Jagerbombs. It seems like their high standards for entry have continued as on our visit they almost immediately turned away another party due to the presence of some small, inoffensive and sleeping babies.

However, I possess an almost supernatural capacity for forgiveness, and actually being allowed to stay there gave us a nice little buzz of exclusivity. In addition, having visited a few times in the last few months I was gratified to see that they had a new menu. Very new, as our waiter explained to us, having only come on in the last couple of days. So new, in fact, that apparently half the ingredients had failed to turn up.

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This caused some problems for my meat-eschewing mistress, as pretty much all of the vegetarian main courses were off. However, we had already been considering sharing a selection of the starters, mainly on the promise of the awesome sounding cheese and beer croquettes. However, and you might be ahead of me on this one, these were also out of stock.

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Luckily there were enough options left to fill our table and faces, mainly along the theme of dipping one thing into another thing, an action I am entirely comfortable with. Firstly, to ensure pea-pub comparability we went for the nachos. These have always been a speciality of the Peahan, but in their newest incarnation they have been widened but shortened (though they are still substantial), and arranged artfully around what can only be described as a big pile of melty cheese and beans. This works so much better than the usual cheese on doritos affair, and spares you the final bites where everything is squished up and the chips are welded together.

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Next we went for some red pepper hummus served with flat-bread. I came slightly late to hummus appreciation following some traumatic early experiences with my parent’s attempts at home-made chick-pea boiling, but this managed to banish all of these memories. It had a lovely olive-oil flavour, and was surprisingly probably my second favourite dish.

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Next came the pork crackling. Now, long-time readers may be aware of my need to have at least some meat on the table but actually I could have quite happily done without these. They weren’t unpleasant but suffered in comparison to the other dishes, being a bit too crunchy for my taste and lacking that lovely salty tang. However, we were very grateful for the red onion marmalade it came with, for reasons that will become clear.

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We finished off with a whole baked camembert. This was super as only a big lump of melted cheese can be, however the only accompaniment was bread. Luckily we had our afore-mentioned marmalade but we both felt that some redcurrant jam would have elevated proceedings.

The pub has a range of beers that in most surroundings would be impressive but felt slightly lacking in St Albans. They also had some interesting fruit juice combinations, and the tea was loose leaf and presented as it should be (see pictures) We were served by an impressively bearded and deliberately spoken bar-man/waiter, who explained the menu situation and the remaining options very clearly and even ended up giving us IT support. Mrs Midweek lunch was impressed that he really cared about our experience of the food to the extent that he asked if there was any space to improve the new menu.

So the Peahen maintains it’s crown. It has a classy demeanour that predates the recent rush to gentrification, and it feels more authentic for that. The food is interesting and a cut-above most pub dining, and the service is more that just pouring you pints. We were very happy to be one of the first groups to try out the  fantastic new menu and will certainly return when their suppliers have provided more ingredients. Long may the Peahan continue to strut it’s stuff.

8.2/10

http://www.mcmullens.co.uk/peahen

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JK Palmers

Best Part: The Window Seats!

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JK Palmers is not particularly ostentatious in it’s persona. It’s easy to sort of miss it, or not quite remember it’s name. In fact, for the last year or so I have been referring to it as JK Simmons, mentally conflating in my mind Simmons the bakers and the psychotic drum tutor from the film ‘Whiplash’. Before that I may have called it JB Priestly. But it always seems busy and exudes a sort of clean sandwichiness that makers it an attractive lunchtime destination.

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What the office workers and shop assistants grabbing their quick panini before going to sit in the Vintry Garden may not be aware of is that if you sit down at one of the clean and sandwichy tables inside and open a menu you are presented with a range of options that goes beyond even their massive and far-reaching wall of sandwich combinations. JK Rowling is not a place to go if you are suffer from choice paralysis.

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The first thing that greets you on entering JR Hartley are the drinks, varied and colourful and slightly too expensive. Myself and my frequent dining companion both went for a bottle of the Cowboy Cocktails of Arizona. I’m not sure what made them particularly Cowboy, neither Sippin’ Sarsaparilla nor beans being key ingredients, but they were incredibly refreshing. She preferred her Mucho Mango as she found my Watermelon too sweet, whereas I found her choice not sweet enough, but like Jack Spratt and his wife we drank our respective bottles clean, and were much refreshed for it.

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I was caught up in the general sandwichiness of the place, so decided to have a sandwich. A New York Club Sandwich to be precise, but in keeping with the theme of far too much choice there were six different types of club sandwich. I was not allowed to have the Indian Club Sandwich despite the tantalising cross-cultural fusion so went for a classic chicken and bacon. When it came it was pleasant enough, but the chicken was grouped together in the middle so that after the first bite you were left with pretty much just a bacon sandwich. But I’m down with bacon sandwiches. The chips were pretty awesome anyway.

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Mrs Midweek lunch found the fascinating idea of a vegetarian all day breakfast with HALLOUMI too good to miss. In reality this piece of protein paired happily with the fried tomatoes and mushrooms but had an argument with the baked beans. Tomatoes and mushrooms are happy in either the traditional full English Breakfast setting or the robust and tasty Mediterranean one. Baked beans are a favourite of ours. They are versatile  in the full English breakfast context, on toast, in a baked potato, with bangers and mash but next to halloumi on the plate….sorry, no. It did not work. The soupy orange sauce seemed to say “do you mind if I hang out with you?” And the halloumi said “no, I am just too cool!” However we thank Palmers for daring to be different. We are sure that some people love the crazy combination.

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So there was plenty of food, it was all very nice and pretty cheap (apart from the Cowboy Cocktails), and we were there early enough to grab the prestigious window seat. We could gaze at the clock tower and imagine all the historic people that had been late for appointments through the years. The décor was actually pretty cool and you could eat there every day for a few years and not repeat yourself. So if you need a nice sandwich just remember to visit JD Salinger.

 

6.7/10

http://www.jkpalmers.com/

The Peacock

Best Part: The Chips!

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Reader, I would like to start this review with a question. If you were to order chips in a pub, what condiments would you expect to be offered? Ketchup, salt, vinegar perhaps? Think about it. We shall return to this point later.

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Mr Midweek lunch and I were pleased to hear about the Peacock’s re-launch. Firstly because we idly wondered whether it might paint itself in a smarter colour other than grey (see our review of The Crown, Craft and Cleaver, Tabure) and secondly because in the past when we ventured into the garishly yolk yellow Peacock it was a little like a down-market O’Neills, which is pretty much as down as you can get. Let’s take the decorating point first. Unsurprisingly the Peacock did decide to go over to the grey side. It was a smart choice (hah) because it is what St Albanites expect now in the up-market gastro pub/café/restaurant. Yes 50 shades of grey is a safe bet to entice the right type of patrons. The Peacock now looks great! If I have one criticism it is the pub sign which is also monochrome. However this is reflective of the disturbing UK wide movement to get rid of the traditional pub sign. Perhaps in  this case Peacocks are considered too flamboyantly coloured for the grey scene. Those naughty birds with their flashy blue and green tail feathers, how dare they look decorative! In this case I think a bit of vibrant Peacock blue in the sign would provide a welcome accent colour. Before too long, the Grey Movement will be touring the country looking for pub namesake animals with a paint-box of black and white dye. Goodbye fun, bright creatures such as foxes and dragons and hello white swans, grey goats and beige mermaids. The Robin Hood has shown how to do it, smartening up but retaining it’s traditional inn sign.

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Let’s get back to the Peacock. Does it manage to look slick and smart inside as well as out? Well to be fair, it is a difficult space. It is naturally gloomy and I feel they have done what they can. Possibly a few more or brighter lights in the back half but on the whole it did look much better than before. However it had an overwhelming feeling of not quite readiness. One of the wash-hand basins in the ladies was already out of action. The pleasant bar/waiting staff looked slightly surprised to see us and the menu didn’t seem to be finished yet. It only had about 4 things on it (there is slightly more on the evening menu, but that is none of our concern here). They have “St Albans’ finest…real ales” written on the side of the pub in large grey letters yet one of the only things they had on tap this particular day was Stella, which is neither fine nor a real ale. However I did feel like getting a bit drunk because I was recovering from a surprising hair cut. Given the limited choice I went for the vaguely exotic Estrella Damm. My husband ordered the only ale they had, which was flat.

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The menu was very small but what it produced was surprisingly pleasant. I was very happy with my homemade fish finger sandwich. Good bread, good batter and I liked the sour cream dressing very much. I also approved of the presentation. Like the Craft and Clever they went for the little frying baskets on a sandwich board idea. I thought it trendy and cute.

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Mr Midweek lunch likes cuteness but doesn’t care for trends and just got cross about the lack of a rim on his wooden plate. It simply isn’t practical for him. He had a steak sandwich. He was cross because he didn’t want it but neither did he want a burger and there the menu ended. The chips were crisp and glistening and tasty, but the steak was overly chewy and would come loose from the sandwich in large barely digestible chunks.

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As a side we had nachos. These were very, very good. A crazy long shape (a bit like the Peahens so it must run in the family) and the salsa was tasty. Now, do you remember me asking you that question about condiments for chips? So we asked for ketchup but this obscure sauce was too much for them. We had a bit more success with the vinegar, being offered red or white wine vinegar instead of the traditional malt. Slightly taken aback we asked for red but when it came it had magically transformed itself into balsamic and lay inside a little dish, not an easy to drizzle dispenser. Whilst balsamic was surprisingly quite a pleasant accompaniment to the lovely chips it might not be to all tastes.

To give credit where it is due, the Peacock has re-launched itself well. It really looks the business in its smart grey but the next step is for it to possess the self belief necessary to establish itself as a desirable competitor to all the other grey pubs. Dare to be a bit different in your range, and be proud of the quality of your food (except the steak). A positive mental attitude can convince anyone.  A piece of friendly advice would be to continue developing the food menu incorporating at least two rather than one vegetarian dish and bringing in more local ale and more cool bottled lager. It is what people expect now. I cannot help comparing it to the Crown which also needed time to settle down after re-branding. We have revisited the Crown and found their menu to be improved and the place bustling. I hope this happens to the Peacock too. It is not quite there yet but has its foot on the ladder to success.

5.9/10