Best Part: The Sorbet!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!