Café Rouge

Best Part: The Building

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Café Rouge (or Red Coffee) has been a St Albans institution for longer than I have been. The beautiful glass structure half way up Holywell Hill is distinctive and enticing as you walk past. When you are inside it is even better, especially on sunny days, which today was (briefly). The rays glint of the glass roof and looking up you can see the clouds racing past.

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It seems almost a shame that such a wonderful space is filled with a chain restaurant, but Café Rouge make a pretty good stab at it. The bar at the back is beautifully high and mirrored, though I do worry about what happens when someone orders the particularly high up Pimms. It probably won’t be an issue for a few months now, anyway. The rest of the decorating is passable, non-glass surfaces are filled with art that I took to be non-objectionably until my wife objected to it. Our companion was a particularly lazy water colour.

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Café Rouge are boasting about their new Autumn menu so we decided to put them to the test. There was a Prix Fixe (or Repaired Prize) menu, which was reasonably good value, but we had come into possession of a 25% off voucher (and then subsequently a 30% off voucher which sadly could not be used in conjunction), and I am sure with the minimum of effort you could to. We therefore decided to venture onto the A La Carte (or On The Card) menu, which ended up a similar cost but gave us more choice. Ironically this stopped me ordering what I really wanted as it was also on the Prix Fixe and would have seemed like a waste.

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But let us ignore my irrational whims and focus on the food. Both of us showed enormous restraint and resisted the breaded camembert reasoning that it was readily available all over town. Instead I went for the Egg Meurette (or Oeuf Meer Cat), a delightful and hitherto unexperienced combination of a poached egg, some toast and a lovely gloopy mushroom and bacon sauce that complimented the chilly weather perfectly.

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La Dame De La Déjeuneren Milieu de Semaine went for the French Onion Soup (or French Onion Soup), with the teeny tiny little croutons and cheese. It used to be slices of standard sized French bread with melted gruyere on top. Now it is piddling little croutons with  small pot of raw grated cheese. It was rather confusing and messy. Presumably if you don’t like cheese you can ask for it to be omitted entirely. If you are expected to add it to the crouton yourself it might be prudent to go back to the large ones. As it was my wife had to perform a sort of circus act getting it all to balance on top. If it had been a tight rope walker, the cheese would have died but at least would have drowned gulping down some very delicious onion soup.

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For my main I went for Merguez, described as a spicy artisanal sausage but literally translating as ‘a bit like chorizo but thinner and juicier’. It was gorgeously flavoursome, and left a nice fatty paprika residue that I could sop up with my frites. These were thin and crisp as French fries should be, probably even superior to Cote’s offering. There was also a little saucepan filled some sort of thin gravy, but as this did not seem to add much to either the sausage or the chips I largely left it to it’s own devices.
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Ma Petite Femme had quiche, and remarked on its creamy, crumbly ricotta texture. Interestingly I don’t think it contained any ricotta but there was something about the way they had fused the egg and spinach that gave it this playful lightness. Mrs Midweek Lunch is no stranger to quiche and declares this was one of the best she had ever tasted, even compared to her own. Of course the French claim to have invented it so perhaps it would be.

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We have been coming to the Café Rouge for years, and will continue to come for years barring bankruptcy (on either side) or invasion from the French. The reason is that it offers quality but distinctive food in a beautiful and unique surroundings for a reasonable cost. So as the French say, de grandes choses viennent à une girafe tenace.

7.4/10

http://www.caferouge.com/locations/st-albans

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St Albans Beer Festival

Best Part: The Beer!

img_1869I love St. Albans. I particularly love being a part of the city’s cultural heritage. From the Literary, Food and Street Festivals to all the wonderful Museum and Cathedral Events I think buzzy community events are something we do well. So when beer fan Mr Midweek Lunch and I found that our weekly slot coincided with the CAMRA Beer Festival, there was no where else we could possibly go at midday but the Alban Arena.

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I was slightly worried that the catering outlets would be tailored more to pork loving, round bellied beer lovers than health conscious young(ish) lady vegetarian beer lovers as myself. However I was wrong. I had several choices for food and about 1000 for beer. My beer in commemorative glass was a wheat beer which I liked well enough. My food choice was a wood fired pizza which I didn’t. The base was too floury and the topping a sort of vegetarian supreme lacked flavour. The green chillies helped a bit but on the whole I prefer flavour to heat and felt that a bit of oregano, basil and black pepper in the passata would have helped matters enormously. Talking of which, the pizza itself was vast. See picture.

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My husband had a kasewurst, a suitably long German sausage with a surprising centre of cheese. Despite the slightly worrying oozing out of the cheese centre when you bite into it, it was a lovely sausage, and not too pricey. He enjoyed being able to honour the Bavarian roots of the festival, and the sausage and beer combination is one that continues to entertain for obvious reasons.

I was pleased to spot friendly local LibDem councillor Geoff Harrison enjoying a pint. I was watching out for other local celebs too but given that I was only there for an hour the chance of seeing Bob Golding, one of the Three Brewers and Sir Frances Bacon were remote.

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While I was ploughing through my pizza I amused myself by looking at the standard clientele which at this time of day consisted mainly of jolly men of a certain age and weight with their friends. I amused myself by predicting what Mr Midweek Lunch would look like when attending the beer festival in twenty years time. Incidentally he went on Friday night too where I believe the standard clientele were still jolly men of a certain age and weight with their friends, its just that they were just a bit drunker and joined by women this time. And why wouldn’t you be jolly – how wonderful to have CAMRA in your home town.

If you didn’t make it this year, I strongly encourage you to visit in 2017. If you don’t like Beer, they serve Cider and even cups of tea. I like beer though so I was very happy. Long may we continue to host this wonderful celebration of Ale and to a lesser extent midweek lunches.

7.5/10

http://stalbansbeerfestival.org.uk/

Relish

Best Part: The Milkshakes!

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Now, if you have worked in an office that is located anywhere but the most derelict and distant business park you will know that occasionally your colleagues will settle on one location as the only viable lunch venue, and will visit it remorselessly until they decide to move on to the next place. We have recently passed out of our Relish phase and as such I was not particularly keen on returning. However, when we visited Relish we were in the now painfully distant Summer Holiday phase, therefore we needed to go to somewhere that would both accept our children and be acceptable to our children. Relish was one of the few places in the sliver of this Venn diagram so back to Relish I went.

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They are very good with children in Relish. The waiting staff are friendly and engaged our two in conversation about the difference between Transformers and Bionicle, which can be quite obscure to all but the most knowledgeable. They have games and other distractions to keep them entertained whilst they wait, but the wait was minimal anyway so we didn’t have to partake. The youngest members of the Midweek Lunch clan were very happy with their meals, which were very good value at £5.50 for a main course and a milkshake. Being post-millennials they did not object to their food coming on a metal tray, which I might have in their position, and they even got some little cucumber and carrot pieces to make you feel less bad about feeding your children fried meat, chips and ice cream for lunch.

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My wife was also thrilled with her food. She often complains about vegetarian burgers being offered instead of vegetable burgers. By this she means that she doesn’t much like pretend meat burgers but does get very excited when people get creative with mushrooms, squash, feta and halloumi. Relish had got it just right by serving her halloumi, peppers and other gorgeous juicy bits in a brioche bun. It was a flavour sensation. She was also very happy with her milkshake, although this proved to be too filling for the middle of the day in conjunction with the generous helping of burger, chips and other bits. She is a small lady and sometimes forgets this when she is feeling greedy.

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Now personally I have never been an enormous fan of the burgers at Relish, which is slightly unfortunate as they are their raison d’etre. I find that they are lacking the indulgent juiciness of, say, Craft & Cleaver, and the toppings are not enough to make up for it. The buns don’t maintain their integrity until the end, but that is fairly standard these days. They are obviously of quality, but I think they need some zing to make them able to compete in the crowded burger market. My peanut butter milkshake was very nice, maybe a bit too crunchy for a milkshake but lovely none-the-less.

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We ordered a side of onion fries, basically chips with very crispy onions on the top. I object slightly to having to order sides separately when it seems unlikely that anyone would order a burger on its own. Given all the food and thick milkshakes available on the table, though, one portion between us was more than adequate, and the onions were a very welcome and rare twist. The presentation was such that is was difficult to get to the chips without working through the strata of onions, and as they were a shared portion I could not mix them up too much.

So I had a generally positive experience, with a few pointers. But the rest of my family had such a lovely time that I am a wise and gentle enough soul to look beyond my own disappointments and enjoy the happiness of my companions.

7.4/10

http://relishrealburgers.co.uk/