The Beehive

Best Part: Saying ‘Oh Beehive’ in the style of  Austin Powers

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When young, my sister and I had an idea of opening our own honey themed cocktail bar called the Hive. We never got round to it. Despite living in St. Albans for 10 years it has taken me this long to venture inside the Beehive. While there were no honey based cocktails or pictures of Winnie the Pooh, I was excited by the range of beer on offer and the nice smelling lunches.

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THE MENU
The menu was small but well balanced. Sadly Mr Midweek Lunch and I were not feeling particularly hungry so we were restricted by the lighter bites. I chose a stuffed mushroom dish while he went for Nachos. We washed it down with a half a pint of Adnam’s Ghost Ship which was not in its prime. As for the mushrooms, what arrived was very flavoursome but was not construed as per my expectation. It was more posh mushrooms and cheese on toast . Really tasty though. I was greedy to choose onion rings too. I didn’t need them but the batter was good and the overall experience good. Nor did we need the big pile of chips. I think it’s fair to say our quest to dine lightly that day was in vain.

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The nachos were fairly standard, of the type you would expect to find in a suburban Australian pub called something like the Crocodile Farm. Or in a suburban St Albans pub called something like the Beehive. To give two examples of the type of place you might find nachos like these nachos. The chips seemed Dorito-esque and the salsa was just a shade too sweet, whilst the scoop of soured cream plumped on top was crying out for a chocolate flake. But they were still nachos and so will end up in the plus column when the final judgement comes.

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DECOR
I liked the interior of the Beehive. It very definitely celebrates its status as pub. There were no allusions of grandeur yet it was decorated smartly with neutral greys. Not the in your face trendy grey variety either. It was perfect. Well done Beehive. Yellow and orange honeycomb probably would have been too gimmicky I suppose. You probably made the right choice not dressing your bar staff as giant bees. Probably.

THE SERVICE
No complaints at all. The food arrived a timely manner and was delivered by a friendly bar maid. We didn’t manage to finish everything and a polite enquiry as to the quality of the food was made. In this case it was our full tummies, not a bad lunch. The bill came to under £20 and the fact that I was able to pay it at the beginning meant there would be no frustrating waiting for the bill and being late for work issues later, we could simply relax.

I would return here for lunch or a drink. But not both.

6.6/10

http://www.thebeehivestalbans.co.uk/index

The Mermaid

Best Part: The beer and pies!

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CAMRA have rated the Mermaid, South Hertforshire’s best pub. Let’s see if it also gets a high rating from St Alban’s best food blog…

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Being a comfortable, traditional pub doesn’t mean you have to be set in your ways. The Mermaid has its tail pointing towards modern dining preferences and its scales nestling together in happy cosiness. By juxtaposing traditional pies with tapas in its small but perfectly balanced menu the Mermaid grabbed my attention. They are not quite modern enough to embrace paying by card but I was prepared with a purse full of cash. This was handy as Mr Midweek Lunch had two whole pints of beer. In the middle of the day – how reckless! Why should every pub have a card machine? It was actually rather nice to have this act of defiance.

Had I been a meat eater and not in the mood for pies, I would have been tempted with the ‘build your own ploughman’s’ idea. This being the option of having a pork pie and adding cheese and crackers. However the vegetarian Heidi pie proved to be a great choice. See the cross section photo for the beautiful colours and textures. It was creamy, crunchy and sweet. The home made (possibly) mushy peas were zesty and comforting.

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My husband ate a matador (in this context a type of pie). It was a delightfully Spanish affair, with chorizo, olives and sherry. He had some mashed potatoes instead of mushed peas and was happy with the option. There are a number of foods that work well with beer, because beer is super-awesome, but pies have to be way up there. There is stodge, pastry and big sweet chunks of meat. Also, unlike some charlatan ‘pies’ that you get in certain establishments the pastry went all the way around. Put a pastry hat on a bowl of stew if you want but don’t try and tell me this is a pie.

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And talking about beer, this is in the upper echelons of beer pubs in St Albans. They have a range of colours on offer, with a handy little pot in front of the pot so you know exactly what it will look like. There are some classic breweries represented, as well as some of the young upstarts. And best of all, being a pub, they don’t mind if you order crisps which some of the classier restaurants would possibly look down on you for.

 

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The service was great. There was a jolly bar man who seemed to know most of the punters and welcomed new faces. Our pies were brought within 20 minutes which showed they had been cooked properly but not sitting around for ages. Serving Pieminster pies seems sensible because it means the proprietor doesn’t have to overstretch his kitchen ambitions. It keeps things simple so that the focus can be on providing a good service with the focus on good beer, reliably good food and a relaxing environment.

 

Well done Mermaid. You are thoroughly deserving of your CAMRA award and we give you

8.5/10

https://www.facebook.com/mermaidstalbans/

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks

Best Part: Being in a pub on a Monday

So first of all, to clear up a misapprehension, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is actually pronounced Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, rather than Ye Olde Fighting Cocks. Hopefully this will avoid you looking foolish when discussing it with your learned friends.

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We visited the Cocks on my birthday, following a lovely if slightly drizzly walk to Gorehambury. As such, we had worked up quite an appetite by the time we arrived, and were eagerly waiting for the doors to open and let us in. On the other hand I was aware that I needed to leave a level of room for my birthday dinner treat that evening (KFC).

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So we were after something that was both light but filling, and surprisingly were both able to get something that fulfilled these paradoxical demands. I went for the hot buffalo chicken wings. In deference to my later chicken plans I only had 6, but actually that was more than enough. Clearly the chickens had been working out as they were hefty wings. The saucy crispiness contrasted well with the cooling blue cheese dip, and I was happy to really go for it despite the saucy face and fingers I ended up with.

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My birthday companion had a warming slightly spicy pumpkin soup. She was very excited by the croutons which seemed to be more like cheese on toast. Wow. That’s basically two lunches in one go. Naturally she didn’t end up keeping that cheese on toast to herself because  I felt I needed some too.

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We shared a very generous and crispy bowl of chips, and this together with a starter of a bag of crisps (we were very hungry when we arrived) was more than enough. This meant that the bill was more than reasonable despite me indulging in two pints of their lovely house ale (a dark affair that made the afternoon shopping for trousers maybe a little trying). Mrs Midweek Lunch doesn’t like drinking in the middle of the day because too many people rely on her organisational skills so she went for the “Nanny state” low alcohol beer by Brew Dog. This was brilliant because it actually tasted like real beer. We have tried to buy some since but it doesn’t seem easy to find, she will just have to get drunk at lunch time after all!

Despite it being a Monday (which is a slight stretch on the concept of midweek I confess) the Fighting Cocks was buzzing through a combination of graduates celebrating and a well to do wedding party. This gave us much amusement from determining the poshest shade of trouser, but even without this the pub has character and atmosphere to spare. Long may this St Albans landmark maintain it’s mastery on the banks of the stinky lake.

And it is definitely the oldest pub in England.

8.4/10

http://www.yeoldefightingcocks.co.uk/

The Peahen

Best Part: Dipping things in other things!

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So the concluding entry in the battle of the Peachickens. The Peahen has ruled the Pea family roost for a number of years, but will the newly greyified Peacock regain the crown with it’s long nachos? Based on our slightly disappointed review it seems unlikely, but we go in with open minds, as always.

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In fact, I don’t have a completely open mind as I still bear the Peahen a slight grudge from the time they refused to serve me solely because I was dressed as an old man as part of a fancy dress pub crawl. This strikes me as ageist, because if I had been an actual old man dressed as an old man then they would surely have no problem supplying me with Jagerbombs. It seems like their high standards for entry have continued as on our visit they almost immediately turned away another party due to the presence of some small, inoffensive and sleeping babies.

However, I possess an almost supernatural capacity for forgiveness, and actually being allowed to stay there gave us a nice little buzz of exclusivity. In addition, having visited a few times in the last few months I was gratified to see that they had a new menu. Very new, as our waiter explained to us, having only come on in the last couple of days. So new, in fact, that apparently half the ingredients had failed to turn up.

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This caused some problems for my meat-eschewing mistress, as pretty much all of the vegetarian main courses were off. However, we had already been considering sharing a selection of the starters, mainly on the promise of the awesome sounding cheese and beer croquettes. However, and you might be ahead of me on this one, these were also out of stock.

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Luckily there were enough options left to fill our table and faces, mainly along the theme of dipping one thing into another thing, an action I am entirely comfortable with. Firstly, to ensure pea-pub comparability we went for the nachos. These have always been a speciality of the Peahan, but in their newest incarnation they have been widened but shortened (though they are still substantial), and arranged artfully around what can only be described as a big pile of melty cheese and beans. This works so much better than the usual cheese on doritos affair, and spares you the final bites where everything is squished up and the chips are welded together.

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Next we went for some red pepper hummus served with flat-bread. I came slightly late to hummus appreciation following some traumatic early experiences with my parent’s attempts at home-made chick-pea boiling, but this managed to banish all of these memories. It had a lovely olive-oil flavour, and was surprisingly probably my second favourite dish.

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Next came the pork crackling. Now, long-time readers may be aware of my need to have at least some meat on the table but actually I could have quite happily done without these. They weren’t unpleasant but suffered in comparison to the other dishes, being a bit too crunchy for my taste and lacking that lovely salty tang. However, we were very grateful for the red onion marmalade it came with, for reasons that will become clear.

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We finished off with a whole baked camembert. This was super as only a big lump of melted cheese can be, however the only accompaniment was bread. Luckily we had our afore-mentioned marmalade but we both felt that some redcurrant jam would have elevated proceedings.

The pub has a range of beers that in most surroundings would be impressive but felt slightly lacking in St Albans. They also had some interesting fruit juice combinations, and the tea was loose leaf and presented as it should be (see pictures) We were served by an impressively bearded and deliberately spoken bar-man/waiter, who explained the menu situation and the remaining options very clearly and even ended up giving us IT support. Mrs Midweek lunch was impressed that he really cared about our experience of the food to the extent that he asked if there was any space to improve the new menu.

So the Peahen maintains it’s crown. It has a classy demeanour that predates the recent rush to gentrification, and it feels more authentic for that. The food is interesting and a cut-above most pub dining, and the service is more that just pouring you pints. We were very happy to be one of the first groups to try out the  fantastic new menu and will certainly return when their suppliers have provided more ingredients. Long may the Peahan continue to strut it’s stuff.

8.2/10

http://www.mcmullens.co.uk/peahen

The Peacock

Best Part: The Chips!

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Reader, I would like to start this review with a question. If you were to order chips in a pub, what condiments would you expect to be offered? Ketchup, salt, vinegar perhaps? Think about it. We shall return to this point later.

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Mr Midweek lunch and I were pleased to hear about the Peacock’s re-launch. Firstly because we idly wondered whether it might paint itself in a smarter colour other than grey (see our review of The Crown, Craft and Cleaver, Tabure) and secondly because in the past when we ventured into the garishly yolk yellow Peacock it was a little like a down-market O’Neills, which is pretty much as down as you can get. Let’s take the decorating point first. Unsurprisingly the Peacock did decide to go over to the grey side. It was a smart choice (hah) because it is what St Albanites expect now in the up-market gastro pub/café/restaurant. Yes 50 shades of grey is a safe bet to entice the right type of patrons. The Peacock now looks great! If I have one criticism it is the pub sign which is also monochrome. However this is reflective of the disturbing UK wide movement to get rid of the traditional pub sign. Perhaps in  this case Peacocks are considered too flamboyantly coloured for the grey scene. Those naughty birds with their flashy blue and green tail feathers, how dare they look decorative! In this case I think a bit of vibrant Peacock blue in the sign would provide a welcome accent colour. Before too long, the Grey Movement will be touring the country looking for pub namesake animals with a paint-box of black and white dye. Goodbye fun, bright creatures such as foxes and dragons and hello white swans, grey goats and beige mermaids. The Robin Hood has shown how to do it, smartening up but retaining it’s traditional inn sign.

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Let’s get back to the Peacock. Does it manage to look slick and smart inside as well as out? Well to be fair, it is a difficult space. It is naturally gloomy and I feel they have done what they can. Possibly a few more or brighter lights in the back half but on the whole it did look much better than before. However it had an overwhelming feeling of not quite readiness. One of the wash-hand basins in the ladies was already out of action. The pleasant bar/waiting staff looked slightly surprised to see us and the menu didn’t seem to be finished yet. It only had about 4 things on it (there is slightly more on the evening menu, but that is none of our concern here). They have “St Albans’ finest…real ales” written on the side of the pub in large grey letters yet one of the only things they had on tap this particular day was Stella, which is neither fine nor a real ale. However I did feel like getting a bit drunk because I was recovering from a surprising hair cut. Given the limited choice I went for the vaguely exotic Estrella Damm. My husband ordered the only ale they had, which was flat.

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The menu was very small but what it produced was surprisingly pleasant. I was very happy with my homemade fish finger sandwich. Good bread, good batter and I liked the sour cream dressing very much. I also approved of the presentation. Like the Craft and Clever they went for the little frying baskets on a sandwich board idea. I thought it trendy and cute.

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Mr Midweek lunch likes cuteness but doesn’t care for trends and just got cross about the lack of a rim on his wooden plate. It simply isn’t practical for him. He had a steak sandwich. He was cross because he didn’t want it but neither did he want a burger and there the menu ended. The chips were crisp and glistening and tasty, but the steak was overly chewy and would come loose from the sandwich in large barely digestible chunks.

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As a side we had nachos. These were very, very good. A crazy long shape (a bit like the Peahens so it must run in the family) and the salsa was tasty. Now, do you remember me asking you that question about condiments for chips? So we asked for ketchup but this obscure sauce was too much for them. We had a bit more success with the vinegar, being offered red or white wine vinegar instead of the traditional malt. Slightly taken aback we asked for red but when it came it had magically transformed itself into balsamic and lay inside a little dish, not an easy to drizzle dispenser. Whilst balsamic was surprisingly quite a pleasant accompaniment to the lovely chips it might not be to all tastes.

To give credit where it is due, the Peacock has re-launched itself well. It really looks the business in its smart grey but the next step is for it to possess the self belief necessary to establish itself as a desirable competitor to all the other grey pubs. Dare to be a bit different in your range, and be proud of the quality of your food (except the steak). A positive mental attitude can convince anyone.  A piece of friendly advice would be to continue developing the food menu incorporating at least two rather than one vegetarian dish and bringing in more local ale and more cool bottled lager. It is what people expect now. I cannot help comparing it to the Crown which also needed time to settle down after re-branding. We have revisited the Crown and found their menu to be improved and the place bustling. I hope this happens to the Peacock too. It is not quite there yet but has its foot on the ladder to success.

5.9/10

 

The Horn

Best Part: The Evening

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Readers, it is sometimes difficult to write these reviews. When I had to be honest about an isolated bad experience at the Hare and Hounds I was very sad. Today I am sad again. Let me start by saying that we are  very lucky to have the Horn in St Albans. It is a superb live music venue and well situated as a night spot being close to the station and town. It boasts friendly staff and a cute pub dog. It has also been recently been rebranded with shades of grey and it looks smart.

 

However the focus of these reviews is purely on whether our chosen venues can deliver a good midweek lunch. So here we go, is the Horn as good at lunchtime as in the evening? Well, firstly I must say that Mr Midweek lunch and I were very happy with the available beers and surprised at the extensive menu and specials. It was a cold day so I opted for the vegetable soup to warm up body and soul. My husband chose chicken wings and potato skins because he felt he had to make up for my calorie deficiency.

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We had to wait a tiny bit longer than we would have expected considering at this early point we were one of the only groups of patrons. While we waited the barman told me that the vegetable soup actually had chicken in it. Being vegetarian this wasn’t acceptable but they let me chose something else from the menu which was in fact worth more than I had paid for the soup. I went for the Halloumi salad. The confusion over the soup had only been realised when my husband’s meal was almost ready so I had about 10 minutes of food envy while I waited for my own.

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While sitting there and looking at the cool music prints on the walls I felt transported back to my happy student day when I used to go out regularly in the evenings without suffering the consequences for a week. I had an overwhelming feeling that the Horn didn’t really want to open at lunchtime at all. That on the whole it was waiting until the evening to really shine.  While I was pondering this and whether a pub can have human feelings (I think it can) the salad arrived. It was presented very well indeed and looked well balanced and structured. Personally I would have favoured a small amount of carbohydrate e.g. crouton or doughballs but perhaps I should have ordered these separately. The portion of halloumi was extremely generous. However on eating it I discovered it was covered in a rather aggressively mustardy dressing. Had it been more of a discreet drizzle or a less powerful dressing it would have worked. As it was I felt it overpowered the dish and gave me a sore mouth for the rest of the day.

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My husband’s dish was resplendent with fat and grease, which is obviously a good thing, but didn’t feel like a lot of love had been laboured on it. The Potato Skins were actually Potato Wedges, which is obviously not a huge deal given that you actually get more potato in the deal and don’t need to worry about the potato innards being wasted. But he wanted the crispiness of the skin smothered in melted cheese, and what he got was slightly underdone potato. The wings were piled high, but had a touch of rubber to them. All these things would be swell to accompany your third pint, but as it was midday that would seem excessive.

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To conclude we liked the staff and the dog and the décor. The toilets were clean and as they should be. The menu promised much. However we wouldn’t rush to go there at this time of day again. We feel that the Horn still needs to do some work to capture the St Albans Midweek lunch market. There is certainly potential. At the moment it feels to us that it does the evening thing much better than the day time thing. Don’t give up Horn, we are sure you can nail both markets soon. As we know from our old friend the Boot, it is possible to be a pub in St Albans with a four letter name that does great lunches and is a fun evening venue.

5.2/10

http://thehorn.co.uk/

 

The Boot

Best Part: Just being there in our comfortable old shoe!

Mr Midweek Lunch had a morning off work and we decided to drop into the Horn Public House for a few games of pool and a nice lunch. They didn’t open until 12 and we had time constraints so we decided to try to new Billiards club in town. Alas, they were also shut. The commercial world clearly believes that the denizens of St Albans don’t want to play pool before noon and I dare say in most cases they’re right. All was not lost, though, as we got to look around a tile shop instead.


We were so eager to enter the Boot that the barman hadn’t finished opening all the doors. Keys in hand he was rather surprised to see us. However there were many others hot on our heels and what a range of customers too, businessmen, musician types, friends and lovers. This popularity is not surprising. The Boot is my favourite pub in the city centre. They have some wonderful Ales on tap, a cosy traditional pub feel, good food, good toilets and a really cute pub sign. Pub signs are important to me. The Boot is also in a good central location. Easy to meet your friends at the Clock tower, have lunch and be close to Christopher Place or the Maltings for post lunch shopping.

 

THE MENU


Phew, the Menu was pretty extensive for a standard pub. They claim to do the best Ploughmans in town and I decided to put this to the test. Mr Midweek lunch was still sad about the tile/pool incident and wanted to share a deep fried Camembert for a starter. The problem was that all the Vegetarian options were cheese intensive. This is a good thing, I love cheese but I didn’t really think I could stomach half a gooey Camembert and a Cheese Ploughmans/Macaroni Cheese/Cheese tart at midday. In the end I didn’t want him to be depressed so relented on the Camembert with the idea of having a fish finger sandwich. I didn’t want the fish finger sandwich but compromise is what a marriage is all about. Somehow though I still ended up having the Ploughmans and he didn’t get the Camembert. Which proves that what marriage is really all about is the wife getting her way at all times. The Cheddar and Stilton were out of this world, the Cheddar being rich and slightly sweet. I couldn’t eat it all so sneaked it out in a napkin. To throw that in the peely bin would be a crime. The accompanying Ploughmans bits were great too. Crusy baguette, a jazzy salad and suberb beetroot chutney. They also served me with a great pot of tea with a jug of milk and cup and saucer. Full marks.


My companion had the ‘Fire Engine’ Chili, which disappointingly was served neither with nor in a fire engine. It was however a more than generous helping of chili, which overwhelmed the modest potato. Luckily he was able to barter some of his excess butter for my surplus baguette and all were happy. The chili was spicy without being super-flavoursome, but did go very well with the beer. Speaking of which…

 

BEER

Having seen Breakaway Theatre’s wonderful WWI poetry performance the previous night (well done Breakaway), I was in a patriotic mood and chose “Remembrance” Ale. It was flavoursome without being overpowering. My husband had every other type of beer on tap and had a slightly glazed smile by the end of proceedings.

 

DECOR

This is a warm, woody, comfortable  English Pub. Nothing fancy but everything it should be. I love the Boot. The Toilet was I think cream themed rather than grey, with fake books to disguise it’s true disgusting purpose.


Mr Midweek Lunch left the Boot feeling cheerful again, yay! The food, beer, ambience and situation were perfect. Thank you Boot.

8.4/10

http://www.thebootstalbans.com/