Panko

Best Part: The Sorbet!

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It’s always nice to welcome someone new onto the St Albans dining scene. Whilst we have a couple of nice Japanese restaurants already (Kimaya and Wagamama), there is a gap left by the late lamented Sukiyaki so let’s all say hello to Panko. With a slick Tokyo-diner style and a small but interesting menu, we felt at home early on. The friendly waiter’s greeting only strengthened this feeling.

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As the place was empty when we entered, we got to sit by the window. Being on Holywell Hill this meant we mainly got to watch slightly grumpy drivers trying to not crash into the cars behind them. It also meant that if there was an old or sickly motor on the car outside then we got to experience the fumes, but we could’ve shut the door if we wanted and at other times the slight summer breeze was very welcome. We also felt that having such a glamourous couple dining at the front of the restaurant could only be good for Panko’s business, and everyone who did make it in that lunchtime was undoubtedly enticed in by the aspirational lifestyle that we represented.

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The menu as I say is fairly straightforward. Though there are starters and side dishes to flesh things out, effectively you can have a variety of meat/veggie options in one of three styles – Katsu curry, Tonkatsu and salad. Being an adventurous cove I went for the Tonkatsu in the suggested pork format, and was glad I did. I’m still not entirely sure of what Tonkatsu is, but I got an nice breaded escalope or similar accompanied by some sticky BBQ-like sauce and rice. Best of all, surprisingly, was the PANKO slaw (capitalisation is the restaurant’s own). As someone who detested school coleslaw so much I had convinced myself that I was allergic to it this was a nice burying of the hatchet between myself and shredded vegetables. They were varied, colourful and tasty, and offset the sticky breaded pork nicely.

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Midweek Lunch-Chan had the Tofu Katsu Curry, which was slaw-less. The tofu was presented as a rectangular pankoed (like a nicer bread-crumbing) slab in a very good Katsu sauce. It was topped with pickled ginger. As my wife loves picked ginger she would have preferred a bit more of it or perhaps some pickles too. Also just to nit-pick, it would have looked prettier if the tofu had been laid out in strips. However the point was that it tasted very good. We also suppose that it is more versatile to have a quirky slab which could be used in burger format too. This helps the service to be quick and certainly doesn’t inconvenience the diner in any way so why not!

We went for the lunch-deal, which is maybe on the higher end of reasonableness at £10 for a Katsu and soft drink. I ordered a ginger beer with my meal and was relieved when it arrived that it was in no way botanical or artisanal but a good old can of Old Jamaican. I’m not entirely sure how this is marked up to £2.50 normally, potentially this is the impact of the new sugar tax. At any rate it is definitely the best ginger beer, at least since Idris disappeared, so I hope Panko don’t succumb to the temptation to classy it up.

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We were digesting and admiring our meal as a solid high 7, when unexpectedly we were offered some complimentary sorbet. This was lovely, the taste of fresh berries closing off the meal in a light but refreshing way and by the time it was finished we were feeling well-disposed towards the restaurant, the traffic jam and just about everything else. The service throughout had been exemplary. Friendly without being overly familiar, attentive without being in your face and quick without being suspiciously microwaveably quick. The décor was stylish, though the large slab of plywood along one side made the whole place seem slightly unfinished, which to be fair it may be. The interesting light fittings more than made up for it anyway.

For the first time ever we were recognised as bloggers, though it had no impact on the service and they didn’t offer us any free stuff (bah). It’s a lovely place, anyway, and we have already recommended it to friends. We plan to visit again soon, and you should too!

8.2/10

http://pankodiner.com/#home

Cafe Alfresco

Best Part: The Drinks were quite nice

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Time was not on our side this week. Mr Midweek lunch was hemmed in by meetings so we were forced to eat very close to his office on Victoria Street. To save time it was decided that the children and I (Easter holidays) would go on ahead and order his lunch for him. We too were up against it; we had a bus to catch to another appointment. We therefore truly put this café to the test. Our hour time limit was shaved to 50 minutes. Could Cafe Alfresco rise to the challenge?

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Well, in short no. I have rarely waited so long for a meal. This wouldn’t have mattered so much had we not been short of time but the slowness of the service was not imagined due to this restriction. Cafe Alfresco is a bustling friendly venue offering a good range of cafe style food and some main meals. The children were excited by the milkshakes and the extensive menu of lunchtime favourites. It had a similar menu to JK Palmers two weeks ago but unlike them felt homely rather than modern and well organised.

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I chose an omelette; a simple and comforting meal I am not allowed to have often at home. One boy had a beef burger and the other a fried egg sandwich. They have these particular meals often so are quite the connoisseurs. We chose a Chicken Kiev for my husband and when he arrived, tetchy and hungry he was pleased with this idea. Long years of marriage have granted me such insights into his soul.

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After half an hour of Mr Midweek Lunch’s arrival we were still waiting for our food. Throughout the whole wait  I couldn’t quite ignore the possibility of there being a small fire in the kitchen. It was a least very smoky and there seemed to be a rather stressed vibe coming through the door. One fed up looking couple advised a new customer to turn around and go out again if they wanted to eat in a hurry “We’ve been waiting forty minutes” they moaned. We were honestly on the verge of cancelling our meal altogether, as Mr Midweek lunch had five minutes left of his lunch hour and we would definitely miss our bus, then suddenly it came; our food, hooray!

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To break things down into their base components, the fried egg sandwich scored a 6.5/10 and my omelette 7/10. The beef burger didn’t seem to be of a good quality being rather too flat to look wholesome. The kiev was juicy and garlicky, reminding you of how good a dish this could be when it escapes from the cheap Sun Valley supermarket trappings.

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However, we didn’t have time to finish our food. It was actually quite tasty and was welcome after such a long wait. I hate leaving food. I had to apologise to one son as I removed him from a quarter eaten beefburger. I paid without leaving a tip but they didn’t seem to notice or if they did felt it fair.

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I think Café Alfresco were having a bad day. It was very busy due to the school holiday and they were possibly understaffed and possibly undergoing problems in the kitchen. The food was fine and I think I had a positive experience when I last dined here. However it was a pretty bad overall experience for us and therefore I am sorry to give it:

5/10

http://cafealfresco.webeasy.io/