Best Part: The Chips!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.