Baked Nation

Best Part: The Bread!

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One needs their wits about them when they enter Baked Nation. Here you are not allowed to consider the various options of the menu, ruminating over the relative merits of a sausage roll versus jam on toast. Before we had even started to consider such weighty matters, before we had even closed the door, we were being subjected to an interrogation about out purpose and desires.

‘Coffee?’ they barked.

We certainly did not want coffee, but felt the need to quickly qualify what we did in fact desire.

‘Anything else?’ followed quickly. And so we quickly scanned the wall-mounted menu to determine our desires, acutely aware of the penetrating gaze of the baristas on us at all times. We felt a bit panicky and hot and dare I say it, not very welcome.

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To be fair to Baked Nation they get a lot of take-out business, and probably assumed we were there for that purpose, but it did lead to both of us slightly regretting our choices, which we might not have gone for otherwise. Anyway, at least it was all over with very quickly, and today’s rendezvous was by necessity a speedy one. In this respect Baked Nation were ideal as everything came to our table almost as soon as we had ordered it.

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With the pressure on I reverted to form and went for a bacon sandwich. It was simple, bread butter and bacon as you would expect, no hint of brie or cranberry jam thought they did provide me with a catering size bottle of ketchup. I enjoyed the big bottle of ketchup, it made me feel like a ketchup king. I also enjoyed the bacon sandwich. The bread was absolutely gorgeous on its own, and when covered in butter melted with bacon ooze and a big splodge of ketchup it was as fine as a car parked outside of a marked bay in the Westminster Lodge car park.

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Mrs Midweek Lunch ordered a goats cheese, eggplant and zucchini sandwich with caramelised onion. To English people, this was a grilled aubergine and courgette sandwich with red onion chutney. It was not the heavenly sweet caramelised slices of red onion she was expecting. However, she too had a superb experience with the sour dough bread and even ate the crusts which is unlike her.

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We had some tea/hot chocolate, and as the lunch was delivered and consumed so quickly we decided we had time for something from their cake selection for finishes. We were planning to share something, but wife wanted Eccles Cake and I wanted Bakewell Tart, and as she is allergic to nuts and I am intolerant of anything or anyone from Eccles we each settled on our respective Northern towns. My tart was moist enough, but jam levels were minimal (it took me half a slice to find any) and it really was lacking the flavour of a good Bakewell Tart.

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My wife had her Eccles cake at home later with three other people as it was extremely large. All four parties believed it to be a fine quality, in spite of it getting slightly squashed in her handbag. The pastry was gorgeously flaky and the middle sweet and tangy. All four parties wanted more of the Eccles cake but not four times as much. We conclude that the Eccles cakes are big enough to share and probably should be but if you are ever having a bad day and need a bun or something to cheer you up, pop into baked nation, have a giant Eccles cake and hang the consequences!

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After the initial intimidation the service was smiley and friendly. It was a bit chilly in there, especially right at the back by the fridge. Also the tables seem roughly hewn from tree trunks which gives the place a nice rustic feel but means they are not much use for balancing your plate on (see illustration).

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However there was a well-stocked book case and as you know books do furnish a room. Baked Nation certainly excel at baking, and I have been known to pop in on my way home for my Daily Bread. I would say, though, that like the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks if you face Baked Nation with imperfect knowledge of their menu options it will utterly annihilate your soul.

6.3/10

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The Juice Pharm

Best Part: The Righteousness

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So, if you have any knowledge of me or gender stereotypes in general you might be able to work out that it was my wife’s idea to come here. Not that I have anything against vegan juice bars, but I tend to favour those places that serve up big piles of fried meat, generally swathed in cheese of some description. But I am open-minded, and on this occasion slightly hungover, so I went for it.

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The place has a nice, laid-back sort of vibe to it. You could imagine yourself sitting there with a lap-top, working on your novel/screenplay/free-form beat poetry whilst making a single juice last far too long. Although if you were a struggling writer then you would have to eke it out as a second helping might be beyond you given that they come in at around £6 a pop. Given the price-point and the fact that they looked fairly substantial I decided to forego any solid food. The fact that there were very few options that didn’t involve avocado might have swayed the decision somewhat. At the end of the day, it was very close to Greggs in case my decision provided a rash one.

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The smoothie I went for, the Breakfast Club, featured several ingredients that I would not normally countenance, including almond milk and chia seeds, but the oats and honey made it sound substantial. When it came the presentation was reminiscent of the milkshakes you get in the classier burger joints, with a jam-jar-like glass and a large straw. It even tasted like a milkshake at first, but the aftertaste took you to very interesting places. It tasted cool, but in a way that went beyond mere temperature, but a deep refreshing coolness of the soul. Like diving into a glacial lake at sunrise. It was a lot more pleasant than I had been expecting, I polished it off very happily, and after a few bites of my partners lunch I did actually feel like this was a sufficient lunch. We did wonder as we drank when “Almond Milk” became a thing and why so named. Almonds do not have nipples after all, at least not that we have spotted.

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My vegetarian wife was more excited by the menu than I and yet being a nut allergist quite frustrated. That dratted almond milk kept popping up all over the place. Eventually she settled on a “Berry Me” with berries, coconut and Maca. However just to check she wasn’t going to consume anything weird first, went to ask the cool dude behind the counter what “Maca” actually was*. He smiled apologetically and said he would have to ask his manager. After a few minutes he returned to say “Well, it’s a sort of superfood” which didn’t really make matters clearer. My wife politely asked whether this meant it was a vegetable. He said he didn’t know what is was originally but now it was just a powder. Bravely my wife decided to go for it. She had been considering the cauliflower pizza until she saw it. Golly but it must be hard to be a Vegan – no cheese, just imagine! The Avacado and cream cheese bagel sounded much nicer. And indeed it proved to be very pleasant and along with the smoothie, very filling. This was just as well as I manipulated her into giving me a lot of it with my doleful eyes.

After my initial scepticism, at the concept and the price for a juice, I would actually recommend Juice Pharm. For those days when you want to feel lively and energised after lunch, rather than sluggish and bloated such as a visit to Wetherspoons would render you. The staff are friendly, it is light and airy and you can be pretty sure your inner harmony will be nudged in the right direction by a visit.

….I may have got a Gregg’s sausage role afterwards.

7.8/10

* it turns out that Maca is related to the turnip!

http://www.thejuicepharmacy.co.uk/

Ayos

Best Part: The flat bread!

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There are a number of restaurant premises in St. Albans that have a quick succession of identities. Ayos is one of these. Extremely well situated between the station and centre of town in a beautiful pointed glass fronted building it occupies the site formerly used by Asia and the Olive Tree. We didn’t make it to the Olive Tree, but we liked eclectic predecessor Asia and were pleased to visit newcomer Ayos in the familiar building. We had heard very positive mutterings amongst the foodie circles in which people like us move (which is to say the school gate).

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On the day of our visit, there were about four occupied tables and we got the feeling that dinner would be the ideal time to visit. That said, they had a small but enticing lunch menu at an extremely reasonable price (£9.90 for two courses) and no doubt when word gets around town further (at other school gates) it will be brimming with punters in the middle of the day too. And so it should be.

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Our waiter was polite and efficient, the food promptly delivered and the ambience welcoming. It really is a super space. Where it’s openness used to feel cold, now there is only warmth, decorated with terracotta tones and full of mid century wooden dining furniture. An unusual but successful combination. The staff were equally friendly to adults and the toddler dining in the corner with her parents. The toddler was not quite so friendly, refusing his high five. How awkward! Anyway, it makes Ayos good for the family diners as well as friends and lovers. Well toddlers live on hummus and pitta don’t they? So a Turkish eatery is a perfect place for them really!
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We decided to embrace our inner toddler and start with hummus. We were delighted. It was creamy and clearly made with high quality olive oil. The warm flat bread too, was out of this world.

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Our second shared started was Sigara Bogeri, which as I’m sure I don’t have to tell you are cigar shaped pastry filled with feta and spinach. These were superb, the pastry crisp and slightly oily and the feta salty and creamy in equal measures. There were only 3, sufficient (just) for a starter but I could happily have eaten these for starter, main and dessert. I would probably have needed about 40 though and I don’t think it would have been particularly good for my health, or the review, or society in general really.

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Unable to cook vegetarian moussaka at home anymore due to my children and husband’s strong negative sentiment towards aubergine, I leapt at the chance here. Wow, it looked and smelt amazing.

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Mr Midweek lunch had some lamb, following his general rule of thumb that if you’re in a Mediterranean restaurant then the lamb is probably worth ordering. And it was. The lamb was tender and doused in lemon once I had finished dousing it in lemon, great big chunks of flavour. It was on some more flatbread, but even flatter this time and so full of taste I wasn’t entirely sure it wasn’t cheese. Very thin cheese. It was more likely to be bread though. Once more he was pleasantly surprised by the salad.

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We will certainly be back to try out the evening menu. There is a rumour about being charged extra for apparently complimentary bread. However we did not experience this and can only conclude that our source had been sozzled by the time her bill came. I would recommend Ayos whole heartedly to those near and far. It is an alternative to Tabure or Nimats Bar Meze if you fancy a change.

Welcome newcomer! St Albans Midweek Lunch give you a high five, even if that toddler didn’t!

8/10

https://www.ayosrestaurant.com/