L’Italiana

Best Part: The Smug Superiority

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We have referenced this before but one rather expects, in our sleepy little city, that you can wander in to any place that takes your fancy on a Thursday lunchtime and have your pick of tables. If you expect this from L’Italiana, as many of our fellow townsfolk did, you will be sadly disappointed. Luckily we arrived early on in the lunch-hour and were able to pick up the last table for two, so were able to enjoy the frustrated faces of would-be diners looking longingly at pizzas that would never be theirs.

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You can kind of understand the imbalance of tables to patrons, as L’Italiana do have an exceptionally good lunch deal. £5.95 will buy you a pizza or a pasta, with fancy pizzas costing a little extra. Being a fancy man I went for the premium pizza, in this case an Ela which featured gorgonzola, parma ham and rocket. There was a generous pile of rocket on a nicely crisp base, but I will confess to not being blown away by it. I think when one orders a pizza with gorgonzola you would really expect to taste it, but in this case it was more of a pleasant after-thought. The basics were all in place but there was no pizazz to take it to the next level.

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My wife was happy to have 5 vegetarian pizzas to chose from. She decided on the Delizia which featured Sun Dried Tomatoes and like me, gorgonzola. On the whole she was happy with her choice,  being a great fan of both toppings. However she felt that there was a slight imbalance, with the sun dried tomatoes dominating the gorgonzola. This lead us to wonder whether perhaps there had been a cheese delivery cock up that day!

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We have had about 10 superb meals at L’Italiana over the years and while things were a little off par on this occasion this would in no way prevent us from returning or recommending it. Service is good, it is comfortable and by jove their Calzone are huge! It is also pitched in a lovely little spot, on French Row in a delightful old building with plenty of opportunities for watching the toing and froing of those town folks going about their non-pizza business. The tables are small and closely packed, but it feels nicely intimate rather than cramped. . There is a certain shadow joy from watching people trying and failing to get to the dining opportunities you are enjoying. But you do want to take them to one side and inform them that they could almost certainly get a table at La Cosa Nostra, where they would find arguably better pizzas at an even better deal.

6.6/10

http://www.litaliana.co.uk/

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Gail’s Bakery

Best Part: The Baking!

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Today we tried for the second time to visit St. Alban’s newest eatery. Last week we had to abandon the idea as Gail’s was heaving with visitors. Today it was pleasantly full – enough to know you had chosen a good café but with a couple of free tables allowing you to breathe. I like breathing, although when I enjoy eating food as much as I did at Gail’s it can be hard to prevent hyperventilating.

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The site, formerly owned by a Pawnbrokers is next to the Boot pub and overlooks the Clock Tower. It is in short a brilliant central location. It is invitingly presented with personalised floor tiles on the threshold and an array of baked breads in the window. You don’t have to eat there, if you just wanted to pop in for a loaf you would be very welcome. However I challenge any sane person to do so because everything looks so yummy you. I was sad to hear that the Bakehouse was closing but Gail’s (part of a small London chain) is a very good substitute. They have a similar menu of mouth wateringly golden pastry coloured goods – quiches, scones and cakes with imaginative sandwiches on artisan breads. They also serve a varied breakfast menu until 3pm! The staff were enthusiastic and friendly.

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Now Mr Midweek Lunch and I were overwhelmed and excited by the counter full of baked goods. Unable to choose between everything we took a tapas option and ordered four different things to share. The tables in Gail’s are small and tightly packed (my only quibble) so we had trouble fitting it all on but it was so tasty that two plate loads were emptied quickly.

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A cheese straw was a must. Now, Mr Midweek Lunch and I have tasted many of these in our time and considered this one of the finest, only rivalled by my cousin’s. However Bethany lives in Essex thus her cheese straws are not often available to us. Gail’s giant offering although rosier than a traditional straw, was so soft on the inside that my own insides jumped for joy.  Whoop!

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I thought it couldn’t get much better until I tried the parmesan and sage scone. Oh my! My natural curiosity lead me to dip it into the lemon and olive oil salad dressing that came with the mushroom and caramelised onion quiche. Oh my word, it was an amazingly creamy and tangy combination. Suggestion to Gail’s – serve the scone with a small pot of lemon butter. Our waitress told us that the quiche was her favourite and we could see why. The onions were sweet, the mushrooms surprisingly meaty and the crust was packed full of buttery niceness.

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Now whilst a normal bakery of your Greggs or Cheryl might be happy just to go with a sausage roll Gail’s look beyond the obvious and all the way to the Mediterranean with a Lamb and Pine Nut Roll that was worthy of some kind of Greek God of baking, Pastrisia or something. There was a slight quibble that I won’t go into but they dealt with it impeccably, resolving it promptly and giving us vouchers for a couple of free coffees or loaves of bread.

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We took the bread option, as coffee is for people who are have been drained of their natural energy by the multiple disappointments of life and so need to prop themselves up with artificial stimuli. Looking at the range of flour types, coatings, flavourings and styles I felt frustrated by my unimaginative children. I had to buy a standard white loaf but it looked pretty good to me. I also had some great tea.

The decor was fresh and white with nothing too gimmicky. The main decorative feature was the counter of food which is exactly as it should be. The food was of a very high standard. It is of a certain type so if you don’t like baked goods or sandwiches this might not be the right place. However for most people it would be a great lunch or afternoon tea stop.

Gail’s, you are a welcome newcomer.

8.1/10

http://gailsbread.co.uk/bakeries/st-albans/

Buongiorno Italia

AKA Tony’s

Best Part: Their forgiveness of shoplifting!

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I first came to know Tony’s Deli about 9 years ago when my toddler, Master Midweek Lunch, accidently stole a bag of pasta. When we returned it Tony was so nice about it, quoting an Italian proverb about honesty that I vowed to always give him business if I could. This has not proved to be a chore. Tony’s fresh produce is second to none and it is great to have such a choice of real Italian bottled and tinned ingredients. The deli is great place to get Christmas hamper contents for those hard to please foodie relatives. Tony always seems to keep frozen homemade pizza dough in his back room which is helpful to have in a busy household. The food and his smiley disposition are a wining combination.

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On this occasion we just wanted a smile and a quick authentic Italian sandwich. We got both. My vegetable filled focaccia bread was very flavoursome. The rich vegetables were generously marinated in olive oil and there was just the right balance of cheese. Mr Midweek lunch went for an awesome ciabatta filled with a delectable selection of meats and cheeses (the exact composition remains elusive) and a beautiful fried rice ball containing a Kinder Surprise centre of bolognaise sauce (which wasn’t actually a total surprise as they refer to it in the item description). He thought these were pretty awesome, maybe could be a bit spicier but fun and tasty like a hot dog that you could take for walks like an actual dog. I thought he had chosen too much food. I think we were both right.

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We sat on bar stools overlooking the bustling road. I find it hard to relax on high up stools because I am clumsy but it was an appropriate way to eat our lovely but quick lunch. We were both preoccupied  that lunchtime so the distraction of the food and the passers-by was a good thing.

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I know that space is an issue at Tony’s, readers of the local paper will understand why. If it wasn’t I would like to have more relaxing seating to really relax and enjoy the fantastic food more. However, I feel this isn’t really the vibe they are going for. If you are over the other side of town on Cell Barnes Lane, you will get the seating at the Smokehouse Deli where Tony’ s brother and sister in law have a similar establishment. The finest Italian hospitality clearly runs in the family.

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Tony’s is a local treasure and the next time you consider going to a boring chain like Greggs or Subway, I would urge you to walk for an extra three minutes to Tony’s to get a sandwich made by a craftsman from really fine ingredients instead of mass produced plastic stuff.

Thanks Tony’s Deli. Keep up the good work!

7.8/10

http://www.buongiornoitalia.co.uk/