Peddling Pizza

Adam c.Luc Le Corre Studio Humble

We now have a great collection of food stalls at the Wednesday Charter Market in St Albans city centre. If you head to Market Square at lunchtime on a sunny day, there is a real buzz about the place, with queues of locals buying a freshly prepped lunch. I was intrigued by the Peddling Pizza ‘stall’ that appeared recently; it really is a pizza oven on a bike, so I went along to find out more from owner Adam Atkins.

Adam has been at the market for just a few months now, and started the business to fit alongside looking after his young son Charlie. The bike and trailer is a customised design and Adam cycles the Electra Cruiser bike in to town, and fits everything you see on the ‘stall’ inside the trailer or on his back! The Roccbox pizza oven itself bakes just one pizza at a time, but it produces such a heat (over 400C) that Adam can bake a pizza in 60-90 seconds. This means that every pizza is made to order, and Adam hand-stretches the pizza dough, adds toppings and bakes it while you wait. I put this to the test and ordered a classic margarita; busy people on their lunchbreak don’t want to queue for ages, and I was really impressed: in the time it took for me to pay for the pizza, it was ready to come out of the oven!

Adam makes all his pizzas following Neapolitan guidelines. He makes the dough himself using Caputo flour from a mill in Naples, and proves it for 72 hours to develop flavour and texture. Adam makes the tomato sauce that forms the base of his toppings using San Marzano tomatoes: he explained that there is so much flavour in the tomatoes he doesn’t need to add anything to them, so there is no sugar or additives. I like that Adam uses some local ingredients, including St Albans Honey (from the Walled Garden Apiary), although of course, most are imported from Italy. He is looking for locally produced charcuterie, so do get in touch if you are a supplier.

You can choose from three variations. The margerita is baked with San Marzano sauce, fior di latte mozzarella, Parmesan, basil and olive oil. You can add Salsiccia Napoli Piccante pepperoni for an extra 1.00. The Angry Bee pizza sounds most interesting, and is topped with nduja (spicy sausage paste), red chilli, fior di latte mozzarella and a drizzle of St Albans honey. Prices are from 5.50 to 7.00 for a 10inch pizza, which makes a generous lunch, or can be sliced to share.

I like that Adam serves the pizzas on biodegradable sugarcane plates; very eco-friendly. You can take the plates home and put in your food waste bin. I am not sure what you do with it in the town centre but I think the plate could go in the paper recycling. I also like that if Adam has any dough leftover at the end of a market he bakes it into pizzas and delivers them to local charity Open Door.

pizzaoven c. Luc Le Corre

Adam was born in St Albans and has worked locally for many years as a delivery driver. You can find Peddling Pizza most Wednesdays at the Charter Market and Adam also does events and parties; if you can order 20 pizzas or more he can come along and do the food for your party, which would be very cool. We talked about the logistics of getting the bike into a garden, and Adam explained the bike and trailer are thin enough to fit through a standard home or office doorway, so he can bring Peddling Pizza into your garden without knocking down fences or bringing in a crane!

Adam is due to take the bike to Oaklands College Lambing Weekend on 18/19th March so look out for him there. He is also booked to go to the Mermaid Pub’s beer festival on 28/29th April. If you want to contact Adam, email him on adam@peddlingpizza.co.uk or ring 07971 081 189. Website is peddlingpizza.co.uk

Peddling pizza c. Luc Le Corre

Photo credits: Luc Le Corre at Studio Humble

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Here Japan

HereJapan

In the second of our new food column I went to Here Japan in the centre of Hatfield, just above Market Square. It is about to celebrate its first birthday, and this hidden gem is well worth a visit if you haven’t discovered it yet.

I took a friend who lived in Japan for two years, and we both really liked the light interior; there are a few booths near the windows and beautiful lamps and table settings.

It is quite a long menu; in Japan restaurants tend to focus on one type of dish, but Here Japan includes a few options for all, including noodles, sushi and tempura. They are known for their beautiful dragon sushi rolls, which include duck and tempura prawns variations, and one of these would make a good lunch to share. I need to go back to try one, but I was keen to try something new while I had an expert with me. While Liz explained some of the dishes I didn’t recognise, we were given a delicious tray of pickles to nibble on, which included preserved tuna tail and a crunchy cucumber relish.

Our first course was the goma wakame salad (shredded seaweed) and it was beautifully crisp with a lovely dressing. We also shared a dish of agedashi tofu which was three generous cubes of tofu in a very thin, light batter. Each cube fell apart with a gentle slice of chopsticks and was soft and melt-in-the-mouth; I would go back for this alone. At under 4 pounds a dish, this is good cooking and terrific value.

Our next course was the okonomiyaki pancake which was very large and would easily be a meal in itself, as it contains vegetables and seafood too. Liz explained that there are towns in Japan that specialise in okonomiyaki pancakes, and every restaurant sells their own version. I thought the mayonnaise dressing rather overwhelmed the pancake, so this wasn’t my favourite dish. More successful for me was the tempura vegetables and prawns; the tempura batter was very light and crisp and I loved the thin slices of sweet potato and aubergine tempura. We ordered too much but we were both keen to try unagi don, which is a main course bowl of glazed smoked eel with rice. This, along with a bowl of seaweed would make a hearty meal in itself. If you have never tried eel, I would really recommend this; each slice was juicy with a delicate texture. There was a lot of rice with it so you don’t need to order extra.

Service throughout was calm and efficient and there were lots of Japanese customers when we went in, which is probably a very good sign. Our waiter wore the most beautiful jacket, and I loved the plates, chopstick rests and serving dishes: I don’t tend to comment on jackets and plates but it was all so pretty that it does help to create a memorable experience.

We think Here Japan must get lots of regular customers as we could see labelled bottles of Japanese whisky behind the counter, which Liz explained is quite a traditional approach: when customers return they continue with their bottle.

Here Japan is ideal for a delicious and surprisingly affordable lunch, especially if you focus on the sushi. There was a good selection of maki rolls and nigri (finger) sushi, with plenty of vegetable and fish options, including avocado, which is a nod to Western tastes. If you want a special evening meal out there are some sharing options too, and as everything is so beautifully presented, I think it would be a lovely experience.

Here Japan is amazing value for such fresh and authentic Japanese food, and there is plenty to enjoy for ex-Japan residents and newbies alike. They do takeaway too, but I really recommend you go to experience the Japanese style and hospitality.

eelandrice

 

 

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The Hub, Redbourn

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photo credit: Jeanette Lendon

With spring in the air I can imagine many of us will be out walking and cycling more often now, so I thought you would be interested to know about The Hub. Redbourn villagers will already know about this small, but perfectly formed cafe, which opened during Olympic year 2012. A short bike ride from the Nicky Line and en route out to the Chilterns, it is a very popular stop for cyclists right by the entrance to Redbourn village. Co-owner Simon Barnes is a keen cyclist, and the cafe contains lots of cycling magazines and memorabilia. I met co-owner Lindy Fox when I popped in during half term, and we chatted about the village, community, dog walkers and cakes over a very good cup of Fairtrade coffee.

With low ceilings and cosy seating, it is a welcoming cafe in a building that dates back to the 17th century. There is a great selection of cakes made by local certified home-workers (so properly ‘home’-made). Lindy told me that one baker is an ex-Swiss Chalet Maid and journalist who writes for a national food magazine. Coffee and walnut is a favourite with customers, as is Tilly’s carrot cake, and the Bakewell tart. They have a cake of the week and at the moment it is gluten-free chocolate and orange cake. The cafe also sell classic traybakes such as chocolate brownies and caramel shortbread which come from a Devon bakery. Lindy told me that they always have gluten-free cakes and biscuits too. There is a good range of coffees and teas, including lots of herbal teas and Allpress coffee.

The Hub does a good range of light lunches, including soups and sandwiches. They use Redbournbury Mill bread, which is always delicious and of course comes from just a few hundred metres up the road. Grain for the mill comes from Hammonds End Farm nearby too, making this very low food miles. Redbournbury baker Steven also makes the eccles cakes and flapjacks (perfect cycling food).

The Hub is quite small and was busy when I went in, so groups of walkers and cyclists will probably need to ring ahead if you want to be inside but there are tables outside in good weather. Lindy explained that they have lots of regulars who head to the cafe after a walk on the nearby common, and when I went in there were lots of families too enjoying half term hot chocolates. Dogs are welcome and I noticed they sell dog treats too.

When The Hub opened originally you could get bike spares and technical help and now this side of the business has grown, so Simon has opened The Bike Loft just up the road. You can join in with group bike rides on Sundays at 9.15 and finish back at the cafe for well-deserved cake. The cafe and shop are already planning for their big event in the summer, the Fete de Velo on Sunday 9 July so pop in to get more details about that and bike events for all ages or take a look at The Hub website.

The Hub is open every day 8.30-4.30 in the winter and later until 5 in the summer. It is the perfect cafe to visit as Spring approaches at long last!

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photo credit: Jeanette Lendon

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The White Horse, Burnham Green

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Hello reader! This is the very first in a new local food column for The Welwyn and Hatfield Times. I have been the food columnist for your neighbouring The Herts Advertiser for a few years and we thought it was about time that we gave focus to the many excellent, interesting food and drink places in this area.

Every two weeks I will be visiting somewhere in the Welwyn and Hatfield district and will be bringing you a totally independent view on what is happening. It might be a great pub, a market stall, a family-run restaurant, a great cake baker, news of a food festival…whatever I can find going on. I aim to focus on the community-minded and independents; the people that are doing something interesting and unique in our area.

To start us of, I went to a beautiful pub, The White Horse in Burnham Green, just a short drive from old Welwyn past rows of country houses. It is like stepping into the Cotswolds, as the pretty pub overlooks a village green at the front and has a beautiful garden, complete with duck pond at the back. Inside the pub is light and spacious with vaulted oak beamed-ceilings and tables tucked into windows and corners.

white-horse-inside

A huge freshly baked foccacia loaf was being cut into chunks, so we had a few slices of that with good olives while we read the very long menu. I was pleased to see Wobbly Bottom cheese and Trussels of Knebworth beef on offer; our pubs should support local suppliers. Inevitably for long menus, some things were not available; I really liked the idea of sea bream with roast beetroot, kale and walnut pesto but they had run out so I chose salmon with wilted rocket and prawn sauce; less seasonal but it was generous and nicely cooked. My lunch pal chose the ‘pie of the day’ and the turkey and bacon was a delicious combination; it had a pastry lid rather than pastry all round, which is probably all the pastry we really need, although I am sure some purists like more. The pulled pork croquettes and smoked beef hash sounded good too.

There were some good veggie options; I’d go back again to try the roast cauliflower salad. They also do plenty of pub classics such as Sunday roasts, so I am sure you will find something you like on the menu. It was busy on a wintery Thursday lunchtime when we went in so you definitely need to book ahead for weekends and evenings. I was pleased to see a sensible children’s menu, and it is the sort of pub you can happily spend an hour on your own or take a group; there are nooks and crannies for all.

It is a McMullen pub, with their good range of beers and a great gin selection. Service at the bar and in the restaurant area was efficient and friendly. It is obviously trying, and succeeding, to be a community pub and there are events planned for Shrove Tuesday and quiz nights to raise funds for Macmillan. I would have loved the fire on when we went in as it was a little chilly, but I would definitely return on a spring day to enjoy looking out over the lovely garden and views beyond.

If you know of anywhere or anyone running a fab indie food business, get in touch via news@whtimes.co.uk or me via twitter @thelocalfoodie. I’m really looking forward to sharing all the food news with you.

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Chappell & Caldwell supper club

Pop-up supper clubs are a big thing in London but this trend has taken a long while to get to St Albans. I’ve heard about pop-ups in a Peckham car park and in vacant shops, and it sounds like a brilliant way for chefs to get their food out there without committing to expensive and risky premises.

aliyoungCharlie’s Coffee & Company on London Road is quite a step up from a car park, and a lovely place to go for dinner, so I was really keen to try Chappell & Caldwell’s pop-up supper that I’d seen mentioned on twitter. As the venue is so small, tickets sell out fast, but we managed to go last week and had really delicious food cooked by Ali Young, who owns Chappell & Caldwell. Ali was a drama teacher for many years, before deciding to have a lifestyle change. She studied at Leith’s for a year, which included training at Tabure in St Albans and with Skye Gyngell at Spring in Somerset House. Ali now mostly cooks for private clients and hosts pop-up clubs when she has time. In case you are wondering, Chappell & Caldwell are Ali’s grandmother’s maiden names, as they inspired her cooking.

The ’30 Mile Supper’ really appealed to me; we produce some amazing food locally and I love that a chef is truly taking notice of that. We booked to go in January which must be the most challenging time of year to cook seasonally. The menu was to be a surprise, but Ali emailed the week before to check about allergies and to send a suggested wine matching list (it is BYO), which can be bought from local supplier Julia Jenkins at Flagship Wines. You can even get it delivered ready for you.

aliyoungsupperclubIt was a rainy night, but the venue looked amazing with candles and stylish place settings. We were given a glass of Campfire gin with rosemary along with a little snack of roast cauliflower and paté while we settled in. The menu listed the key ingredients for each course and the reverse had a hand-drawn map showing where all the ingredients had come from. I don’t want to give too much away about the menu, in case you go, but to give you an idea we had a further five courses, each one beautifully presented. You can see the influence of Skye Gyngell in the way Ali respects the ingredients and how she combines flavours. We loved all the dishes; the beef from Hedges Farm braised in Three Brewers beer was excellent. One of the most memorable dishes was a little earthenware bowl of turnip velouté; I never really cook turnips, and it was truly delicious with a surprising range of textures.

With each course the waiter brought out the wine we had taken with us, with plenty of tap water too. It was a calm, relaxed evening with excellent service; we went with friends but given the tiny tables and stools in Charlie’s, most people go in pairs. The next pop-up is likely to be ‘Brunch for Dinner’, possibly on a Sunday, which was very popular when Ali first tried it last year, so look on chappellandcaldwell.com for dates.

aliyoungdesertsIf you need someone to cook for you, Ali can come to your home or venue with a small team if needed, and she has lots of ideas. Ali does lots of private and corporate cooking. from canapes to celebration feasts. Menus are through discussion with you, and can be almost anything, from seasonal British to food inspired by travel; Ali recently cooked dinner with a Scandinavian theme. I contacted Ali about doing canapes for a school event and she emailed a range of ideas which were amazing and at very reasonable prices, considering the skill and presentation involved.

It would be fantastic if we get more pop-ups in our local area. Ali has shown is that it can be done and there is a real interest and market for it. I’m not sure about our car parks would be that great for dinner though…

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The Juice Pharm

pharm-cakes

We do love coffee shops in St Albans, but we have a lot of them, and more than enough chains. I was so pleased to find a new cafe in the city centre, just by the Alban Arena, run by a local couple who want to offer something different to the ubiquitous latte and muffin culture.

The Juice Pharm is run by Gray and Sarah, who both have a keen interest in healthy living and fitness. When they moved to St Albans a few years ago, they realised that there is a real gap for juices and nutritious vegan food. Brighton and Bristol have plenty of juice and veggie cafes and they were sure St Albans would love the same.

There is a great menu of smoothies and cold-pressed fresh juices; for example, Breakfast on the go, which contains banana, oats, dates, chia seeds, hemp powder and almond milk, which is a great option and far better for you than a croissant. I chose a green juice, as I prefer veg-based juices to high-fruit ones, and my ‘Detoxification’ juice contained kale, broccoli, cucumber, parsley, ginger and trendy turmeric. The juices and smoothies cost just under #5, but are generous. I doubt that I was detoxed after drinking it, but it tasted delicious and gave me a boost of energy for the afternoon. There is an argument that we don’t need a lot of fruit juice each day and I was pleased to see that most of the juices contain a good amount of veg to balance things out.

The brunch and lunch menu has been a big draw already, and there are lots of regular customers coming in for avocado on sourdough or rye toast, organic soup and cauliflower pizza. I really enjoyed my slice of pizza though it would have been even nicer hot. If you don’t want to eat gluten or sugar, this is a terrific place as there are so many options to choose from. Sarah makes all the cakes herself, and they look really beautiful. All the cakes are vegan and use dates and coconut oil for sweetness. I shared a generous slice of cacao and blackberry cake with a friend and it had a delicious rich flavour. Inspired by Deliciously Ella, Sarah also makes sweet potato brownies, which are a bigseller, and I will try one next time. You can also buy a decent cup of coffee; Gray’s friend supplies them with Grind beans, and there is a good range of teas too. When the weather warms up, the menu will change to include salads, which I think will be hugely popular.

Gray designed and created the cafe interior, and if you look at the photographs on the walls, each one is a special location for the couple, and have inspired their life choices and the food they like to eat and share. The cafe interior was not what I was expecting as they have chosen heavy black furniture; veggie cafes tend to be bleached wood and light places, but maybe the black is more practical? Gray told me about their love of Ibiza and the yoga retreats they have enjoyed in Esvedra, and how they plan to offer classes upstairs. I had a look at the new studio, and it is a lovely light space, which they plan to open in the evenings too. So you will be able to take a class, then head down to the cafe for a delicious juice to revive you afterwards. The Juice Pharm is a great new addition to St Albans and a great way to get a healthy boost in chilly February.

The Juice Pharm is open every day.

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The Northern (high) lights

The Great Northern, London Road, St Albans

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Right next door to the fabulous Odyssey cinema, The Great Northern pub has experienced its own resurrection. We used to live around the corner, and I was very interested to see what had changed. I’ve popped in a few times over the past year or so since the new owners Daniel, Josephine and Liam took over, and had heard good things about the food. On a snowy January Friday I went with a pal who used to be a regular in the old-style pub, for a warming winter lunch.

We sat in the dining area, made cosy with checked carpet, vintage furniture and piles of board games. There is space by the bar if you just want to drop in for a drink, and there is usually an afterwork crowd on their way home from the nearby station. Chef Toby Geneen has a very seasonal menu, which I love to see, and uses local suppliers including A&C Meats, Sparshotts, Stickleback Fish and The Cheesewheeler. I could see blood orange, hazelnuts, beetroot and savoy cabbage on the menu; it always amazes me just how few local pubs restaurants actually do change their menu with the seasons. Toby explained that he changes the menu every day: “when something runs out, I just change it to what I want to cook next”. He used to work at a restaurant in Notting Hill, and is loving running his own kitchen.

We shared pressed rabbit, beetroot and blood orange (7.00) for a starter and it was delicious; the flavours went very well together, and it was a beautifully presented plate, and excellent value. Bubble & squeak with egg was also an option, as a small plate or main, and I also liked the sound of the smoked eel with beetroot, apple and horseradish or the Jerusalem artichoke soup.

I chose the turkey curry with tenderstem broccoli for my main course, which was a very generous bowlful, packed with vegetables and delicate spicing. It was like my homemade curry, without me having to make it, and went really well with the charred broccoli. It didn’t need any extra carbs, and was a very healthy lunch – excellent at 12.00. My pal chose an open beef pie with sprout tops, and the A&C beef had been cooked slowly until very tender. It’s a short menu, as most good menus are, and I liked the sound of the veggie options too: celeriac pasta, with apple, walnuts and trompettes is far more interesting than the ubiquitous risotto. There is always a burger on the menu, as that is always popular. Puds sound good too, with the chocolate and clementine cake sounding fab and rumtopf with a porter glaze making a nod to the fact that this is a pub; I’d love to go back and try that sometime.

The Great Northern gets lots of customers heading to the cinema, and they offer a pre-order option, so you don’t worry about missing the start of your film! Just order when you book and it will be ready for when you arrive – you can go back for pud and coffee after the film if you like. Sunday lunches last until 5 and are very popular; they do classic roasts and one or two items from the main menu if you want something different too. When we went in there were families having lunch, and it is definitely a family crowd on a weekend, with a business and local crowd at lunch and in the evenings. Co-owner Daniel, who is originally from St Albans, told me that they host parties throughout the year and plan to hold a Midsummer party again, featuring Swedish food (Josephine is Swedish).

The pub is serious about its drinks too, and offer a discount to Camra customers. In fact, the local Camra branch just awarded them “most improved” pub, and it is very easy to see why. This is really good cooking, at good prices, just a short walk from the town centre. You do need to book as it is a small room. It’s a good alternative to Dylan’s, and another fab addition to this part of St Albans.

To book call 01727 730867. Open for lunch Fri–Sun during winter, and dinner Tues–Sat.

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