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/

St Albans Christmas Market

Best Part: Christmas!

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Christmas time is here, come and celebrate. Come and celebrate at a succession of Swiss-style chalets filled with expensive arts and crafts projects. It seems that we cannot be satisfied with the large number of traditions already associated with the festive period and so need to keep on loading more and more on like some sort of Holiday Tradition Buckeroo (Sandwiches! Jumpers! Far too many Christmas movies on Channel 5!). One of the latest, in this country at least, is the Christmas Market. Long established on the continent these have now started springing up all over the country, with varying degrees of success. I am not an expert on the subject so cannot proclaim where St Albans sits in the league table (although that sounds like a great idea for a blog!), but based on it’s own merits I would say it is…. alright, I suppose.

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There is a limit to what you can actually stick in a stall at a Christmas Market, certainly if you are going to include enough of a mark-up to make it worth your while, so it tends to be booze, cheese, olive oil and wooden things. It’s quite charming but I don’t recall ever having bought anything that wasn’t for immediate consumption. One new addition this year is a nice central hub where artists can play whilst children indulge in various activities. It gives the place a nice focal point and they pipe the music around the place. It is a very scenic location, just under the Abbey, and walking around at night with the lights twinkling can give you a nice hit of Christmassyness. During the day when it’s largely empty… less so.

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The main dining options are centred around a separate ‘food court’ annex. The options are Hog Roast, Wurst, Crepes, Toasties and Chips. There was also a Mulled Wine cart, but he was not mulling on our visit. There are a few benches and tables to sit at, though you have to get a bit friendly with your fellow shoppers if you want to sit down. Which I suppose is in the spirit of the season. Between us we managed to visit most of the stalls, though we only got water from the ‘Toast Office’.

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Owing to me having consumed no less than 5 different pork products for my dinner on the previous evening I decided not to go for my usual standard of a big German sausage. Instead I got a Pulled Pork Bap. Yes, I know. Anyway, the pork itself was pretty good, though there wasn’t much of it, and it worked surprisingly well with the stuffing. I would advise against the onion though. There were large chunks and close to raw so they overpowered the combo.

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The brie and chutney crepe seemed to be very difficult to consume by my ham-fisted wife. She gets overwhelmed with street food (see our review of the St. Albans food festival 2015). It is very tricky for her to take the food handed over by the vendor, pay with the other, get a drink with a third hand, gesture to her husband with the fourth, take napkins with two spare fingers and then drop her bag, ukulele and temper at the table. Yes, she prefers table service. However the crepe was well made and filled with contrasting creamy and piquant flavours. If you enjoy watching huge crepes being made with finesse it would be worth hanging around and watching the masters at work. All in all a good choice.

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We got a large portion of chips to share, so large in fact that they drew gasps of admiration from our tablemates which is always gratifying. There was a mix of curly and sweet potato with a couple of toppings. As their consignment of American cheese had disappeared somewhere in the mid-Atlantic we went for cheddar and onion rings. I’m not a huge sweet potato guy so planned to leave them to my companion but they seemed to have absorbed the lions share of the cheese. Overall they were filling, and not offensive.

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But you don’t go to a Christmas Market for amazing food. Well, not this one at least. There is a reasonable range of choices and they will give you the energy to trudge round the vintry gardens once more if that’s what you desire. Manage your expectations and the Season’s Greetings to you all!

5.4/10

http://enjoystalbans.com/whats-on/ChristmasMarket/index.html

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/

Jon’s StrEAT Food

Best part: the beetroot!

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We were under very tight time pressure this week, so went for an option that we knew would be speedy and have no potential pitfalls around waiting for bills or nonchalant waiters. You’ve probably seen the stall at the top end of St Peter’s where Jon peddles his of the moment pulled substances and his punning name so bad it wouldn’t seem out of place on a barber’s shop.

The service was friendly and efficient.  Whilst smelling the gorgeous food being cooked and feeling almost jealous of my meat eating husband I was happy to see great attention to hygiene in this open kitchen van. Very reassuring in this fast food context.

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Once we had obtained our meals we set out to find a venue to consume them. As it was midsummer, it was of course raining so the usual options of the Vintry Garden or the nice patch behind the town hall were out. Instead as good loyal St Albanians we sat in the car and listened to Radio Verulam.

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I had been presented with a roll containing ‘Firecracker Brisket’, an intensely rich and sticky mess of beef in a lovely, slightly sweet, brioche roll. Giving a slightly firmer texture was the coleslaw which tasted fresh and zesty.  This was despite the presence of shredded beetroot. Normally beetroot is unwelcome in any context if you are not a drunken antipodean, but it was pickled here and I finally started to see the point of it.
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The falafel was good but it was the accompanying salady stuff that made the lunch special; sweet and crunchy.  As street food it worked fine in the bun but I do feel that the alternative accompaniment of cous cous would have actually tasted better with it. Of course this wouldn’t have worked anywhere without a table. Although our youngest child often proves that you can eat cous cous with your fingers it is not something that anyone else should be forced to watch in public or private! Therefore I would advise any readers to opt for the bun unless they are eating at their desks.

Now, the one issue that presented itself when we had finished wolfing down our buns to the accompaniment of local reporting at it’s best, was the stickiness that had made the beef so flavoursome. As this was street food, to be eaten on or around a street, we had neither cutlery nor a convenient bathroom to wipe our mucky paws. Therefore, potentially the inclusion of moist lemon towelettes might be a winner in future?

Otherwise, well done to Jon and his al fresco loose meat sandwich emporium!

7.3/10

http://www.blue-sage.co.uk/#!streat-food/f8i3o

Kanuka

Best Part: The Wall of Tea!

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Readers, I love tea. I mean I really love it. I love the taste, the caffeine kick, the ceremony and the associated snobbery. I do not like coffee and the associated big businesses. How exciting therefore that St Albans is now home to a tea house. It is time tea was allowed to be cool and sexy. I have never had a problem with it being warm and homely mind you and love Abigail’s tearoom in the village Arcade for this reason. However I am happy to welcome this newcomer for its daring attitude and sole trader status. Boo to the chain coffee shops, hello Kanuka.

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Kanuka focuses on tea, not food. Having said that, going at lunchtime we found the small repertoire to be very good in quality. The goats cheese and roasted vegetable Panini was one of the best I had tasted in a long time. I like the unconventional shape of the Panini roll too; it was almost square.

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Their pudding options consisted mainly of nut related energy balls. I have a nut allergy so I could only look at them (they looked delicious) but was pleased to sample their scone with jam and cream which I found to be most satisfactory. Not as good as the Ritz but a good 7/10. I would have awarded it a higher score if the cream had been clotted and the scone fruited.

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Given the limited options Mr Midweek Lunch also had a panini, but his had cheese and ham in instead. He was similarly surprised by the quality, expecting something along the lines of what you receive when forced by circumstances to lunch in a Starbucks but instead getting an unusual but intriguing sandwich. The cheese was almost reminiscent of a welsh rarebit in its white sauce consistency, dripping out of the sandwich in great dollops.

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From the pudding options he went for a raw ginger square, probably because the presence of nuts meant he would not have to share it with me. Which was all the worse for me as it was apparently delightful, with an invigorating hit of ginger reminiscent of that first sip of ginger beer after a night on the tiles.

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Kanuka was quiet when we entered but soon filled up. It has only been open three weeks and once word has got around I hope to see it get the custom it deserves. The decor is slick and neutral with accent mustard chairs and dark wood accessories. A feature wall of tea greets you as you enter, in fact you can see it from outside. There are about 50 loose leaf tea blends to choose from and to avoid disappointment you can test a small quantity in advance. The waitress showed us how you can also pull out the associated sniffing jar to check that the bouquet isn’t too floral or indeed not floral enough. There are three types of tea, wellbeing, classic and naughty. I am a classic girl and although I was tempted by their Assam went for the black afternoon blend. Mr Midweek lunch being in the awkward position of not liking tea choose a caramel nut choc, because he is a child. Neither of us were remotely tempted by the wellbeing section. This is not just because green tea generally has undertones of urine (perhaps it doesn’t at this classy establishment) but because we already have a great sense of wellbeing in our lives. Now possibly at Kanuka they have found a way of making green tea taste nice. I am sure they have but life is too short. I shall be sure to pay a visit with mother in law midweek lunch some time. She is a connoisseur of Green tea and wellbeing in general.

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Most importantly you will want to know about the tea itself. Ladies and gentlemen, it was very fine indeed. Much better than a blend I recently had at the Lainsborough in London. Full points Kanuka. It had been properly brewed and served at the correct temperature. However, I do have a big issue to get off my chest. It was served directly to our table in a heavy duty transparent plastic mug! I am not against mugs but I am very against transparent tea serving vessels. I think Kanuka wanted to make it look cool. I suppose it is pretty in a green tea but those people choosing a classic tea are probably keen on drinking it in a classic way and should be offered a china vessel because tea honestly does taste better from bone china. I am sure you could source trendy bone china mugs or cups. I also think it is more polite to serve it in a pot with a jug of milk so that people can choose when to pour it. Proper Tea in Manchester did this with a timer so we knew when to pour it . I had to ask for milk twice and I shouldn’t have to for a classic afternoon tea blend.

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My husband’s decision to go for a chocolate bar in tea form fell afoul of the usual flavoured/fruit tea/subway curse of smelling far nicer than it tasted. However, this did lead to a comedic misunderstanding that I will relate to you now.

Hearing him complain that the taste was virtually non-existent compared to the smell I decided to put this to the test myself. I picked up his (transparent plastic) mug and started moving it towards my mouth whereupon he became agitated and said loudly ‘You can’t taste it’. This was because of my aforementioned nut allergy but I misunderstood and thought he was merely reiterating his earlier point vis a vis the smell/taste imbalance. This was repeated several times until at the point where I was actually ingesting the nutty tea he was able to express himself in less ambiguous terms.

We all laughed about it when it became apparent I wasn’t going to die, and he eventually confessed that whilst subtle the tea did have a very distinctive and pleasant taste, especially when paired with the ginger square.

To summarise, I am thrilled that Kanuka is here and would certainly go again and recommend it to friends and family. I seriously advise them to offer china cups for classic blends or at the very least a narrower lipped glass cup if they still want to look cool. The current arrangement does not do justice to the superfine taste of their superior tea. Their lunch is super too.

Welcome to town Kanuka!

7.8/10

https://www.kanukatea.com/

St Albans Food and Drink Festival

Best Part: St Albans!


We are very lucky to live in a city that celebrates Food and Drink in such a vibrant manner. Arriving in the town centre on Sunday lunchtime, hungry and excited by the colourful array of food stalls, I felt that cosy satisfied glow that warms me at every successful St Albans cultural experience. I feel proud to live here in this Foodie city.

Lussmanns had really gone to town and set up a full restaurant under a gazebo. This would have been tempting to us had we been alone but this was a family eating experience and our children had their own ideas. Child one believed he had seen a Chinese food stall right at the start of the high street and took me on a fool’s errand to find it. I was hungry and slightly narked when after ten minutes he decided that actually he had been mistaken. “Never mind” I said “There is bound to be one somewhere.” Now it might be my dodgy eye sight and natural level of panic when faced with a buffet situation when I have to make a quick decision on an empty stomach but we could not find a Chinese outlet anywhere. There seemed to be pretty much everything else – Caribbean, Indian, Thai, Modern European, puddings and sushi.


I had my eye on some Samosas a long way away and behind an even longer queue but in desperation and wanting to coordinate lunch with Mr Midweek Lunch and child two, I purchased Sweet and Sour Chicken for the boy at £6 and vegetable noodles for me at a supremely overpriced £6. I knew I was being ripped off but felt I didn’t have a choice due to a lack of energy, sight, patience and hands. How many things am I expected to hold as a mother whilst paying and passing a tray of food to my child? As it was, he dropped most of the Sweet and Sour Chicken all over a neighbouring stall due to an itchy leg. It was embarrassing.

My noodles looked and tasted boring. It was in fact the worst lunch I have had since starting this blog. Yes, even worse than the Subway sandwich because that was at least cheap. What was left of the chicken was apparently good and Child one was “glad” he had spilt it anyway as they gave him too much.


Mr Midweek Lunch, along with child #2, seemed to have a slightly better time of it. He was directed to purchase the item that smelled the nicest as they walked past, Chicken Satay skewers from the Indonesian stall. Unfortunately, he was not alone in being enticed by the delightful charcoal and chicken smell and was consigned to a long queue, with each batch of Satay sticks being snapped up as soon as they appeared (no one wanted the poor Nasi Gorang). The constant banging of the African drums from the neighbouring tent did little to improve people’s moods.


But child #2 showed surprising patience for a 7 year old, and the nice people on the stall let us nibble on crackers whilst we waited, so all was well. The Godot-esque chicken, when it did arrive, was just about worth the wait, on a pile of spicy fried rice and with a side serving of pickle and a big gloop of peanut sauce. Especially when we compared ourselves to the other party we felt a nice warm glow of menu triumph.


There was a lot of other stuff going on, and we used the last of our kleingeld to buy some surprisingly good mini-donuts from people with a donut machine not normally found outside of piers. There was also a pub garden area that we gazed wistfully at as we were dragged past it, and some friendly farm animals. There was probably a load of other stuff but it was so packed and such a struggle to even get close enough to see the stalls that we gave up quite quickly.

I chose very badly and am not emotionally suited to pressured food environments but I am still very much in favour of the Food and Drink Festival. Next time we plan to arrive earlier before hunger strikes and with stacks of loose change. None of the vendors had any and it made the queues longer. I also hope there will be more seating next year as it was a bit tight.

5.9/10

http://www.enjoystalbans.com/eating-and-drinking/Food-and-Drink-Festival/

Fishy Delishy

Best Bit: The Name!


It’s Fishy, but is it Delishy? I normally end up at Fishy Delishy when I head out for lunch with no real plans, and reach the end of St Peter’s Street without inspiration hitting so settle on the chippy as a place of last resort. This time was the first time I have visited it as a definite destination. I’m not entirely sure I will again.


In previous incarnations this site seemed to spend more time shut than open, but they passed the first test today by not being locked. We love an old frontage when considering shops and eateries so this bottle green chippy presented so many possibilities. Mrs Midweek lunch was hoping for an old fashioned interior too. Once inside we were treated to cheerful newspaper print tables (as an aside, when was the last time fish and chips were actually served in newspaper? Have we all agreed that this will stay a cultural shorthand despite the actual reality, in the same way that floppy disks signify saving a file?), but the rest of the décor was a bit… naff. Vague nautical themes sit on sparkly gold walls, but it all sits in an awkward middle ground. If it had fully embraced the ship imagery to the point of absurdity, or committed to retro appeal with total diner chic then it would be something different and awesome. Currently it is not.

Mrs Midweek lunch has nothing to say about the toilets except that they were clean and not grey.

The menu went a bit beyond the standard cod/burger/suspiciously coloured sausage triptych. Not much beyond, but the did do calamari. And beer. The beer was welcome. My companion ordered a cloudy fresh-pressed apple juice that, on arrival seemed suspiciously clear.


For a main course I decided to go maverick and ordered the chicken and chips. It was.. not good. Now, I don’t hold myself entirely free from blame in this situation. I made two tactical errors. Firstly I ordered chicken in a fish and chip shop, akin to going for an omelette in a curry house. I was not playing to their strengths. Secondly, though it came with gravy as standard I said no to gravy. Because I don’t like gravy. The chicken when it arrived, though plentiful, was dry and flavourless. It also was sort of chewy, which is not a great sign when you’re eating meat. We’re both to blame, but I feel a restaurant has a duty of care to make it impossible for stupid patrons to order something that bad.


Mrs Midweek Lunch, being a sensible sort of cove, went for cod and chips. As part of the lunchtime deal this was only £5.99, which allowed her to splash out on mushy peas. She felt it was an acceptable cod and chips but it wasn’t brimming with flavour and thus she was nonplussed overall. The mushy peas were nice although she would have liked more of them. It was good value but she suspects she would have got a more delishy fishy in a pub.


Fishy Delishy is not without it’s appeal. The waiting staff have cute little green aprons and general the fishy battery smell is appealing. Although they originally tried to fob us off with little sachets of ketchup when we pushed the issue they gave us their big proper chip shop squeezy bottle. And they seem to care about sustainability, or at least whosoever wrote their menu does. So visit them, buy fish and then maybe go and sit in St Peter’s churchyard to eat it. But stay the dickens away from their chicken.

4.9/10