Harpenden Street Food Social

Published in The Herts Advertiser 7 May 2018

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Have you discovered the lovely Street Food Social in Harpenden yet? It is a pop-up event on the common in front of Lussmann’s on Saturday evenings and it has a lovely atmosphere and great food. I loved the bunting, painted fabric signs around the trees and funky trucks – it’s a small market but there is something for everyone to eat here.

I spoke to Emilio who set up the event in August last year; they are now back for this summer. You might know Emilio as he was co-owner of The Vine Leaves; he now sells the delicious falafel and shawarma they were known for from his distinctive blue food truck in Harpenden centre and at the Street Food Social. Emilio explained that he was keen to set up an event for Harpenden locals that everyone could go to including families and teens, and when I went along there was an excellent atmosphere, with straw bales on the grass for you to relax on and live music. There are about six vendors each time, including a bar and a good range of foods. There is plenty of space for picnic rugs and buggies too.

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The Harpenden Street Food Social is held on the third Saturday of each month until 9pm so is a great option to get the family out at the weekend and far cheaper than many local restaurants. There is a bar stall that sells Prosecco, beers and wine and a few soft drinks too. My girls love pancakes and the French crepes stall Pause Gourmande was doing well with their range of sweet and savoury pancakes.

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We really lack Mexican restaurants locally so the Baja Cantina truck is a good option for a fix of tacos, nachos and quesidillas – I like the menu written on a surf board. The nachos piled with veggie chilli for 4 pounds is a good-value option. You can design your taco to suit you, with salsa, guacamole, cheese, chipotle, slow-cooked chilli beef, steak, prawns with lime, chilli chicken or veggie beans for about 6 pounds.

Jack’s Smoke Shack does pulled pork, sausage, beef brisket and pitt beans, all with slaw. They also do mac n’ cheese which is vegetarian but hardly a healthier option, made with elbow macaroni, three cheeses and a cheese and panko crumb topping.

If you go along do check out the Riverford stall – getting a veg box delivered is a really easy way to cut down on your plastic consumption and they deliver to your door.

Emilio’s own van sells chicken or lamb shawarma or falafel with salad, fresh herbs, pickled vegetables and sauces (tahini and garlic) in a wrap. I used to love the falafel at The Vine Leaves and it really is lovely cooked freshly and eaten as street food as it is all over Israel and Turkey. It’s vegan as well, if you hold off on the yoghurt dressing. At around 5 each, it is a great family meal option; the grilled halloumi wraps were popular with my kids. Emilio and gang also pop up at food festivals and do private events; I last saw him at the Sustainable St Albans Know How fair. You can contact him via the Harpenden Street Food Social facebook page if you want the truck for a wedding or party.

People often say there isn’t enough to do in the town centres in the evenings around here, especially for families, so I hope you are able to go along and support this social event. The next one is the 19th May (12-9) so let’s hope for a gorgeous sunny day.

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A taste of the world

Published in WH Times 8 May 2018 (this is for archive and event has now happened)

Looking for something to do on Saturday? One of the best events in the local calendar is back – the World Street Food Festival in Welwyn Garden City, and it promises to be a fantastic day with food stalls and music for all to enjoy.

On from 11–5 right in the heart of the town (free to enter) you will be able to choose food from around the world including Mexican, Caribbean, Spanish, Sri Lankan, Vietnamese, South African, German, Italian… there are over 50 stalls so everyone in the family can choose something different. Last year we loved the churros and falafel; this year I would love to try something from the Korean barbecue as I don’t think I have tried that before. There will be plenty of ice creams and cakes for later in the day too.

One of the things I really like about this food festival is that they give space to local food producers and groups; Farr Brew, The 3 Brewers of St Albans, Crumbs n’all and Rock Pop Candy are all based locally. Look too for the Welwyn Beekeepers Association and you might be able to buy some local honey; just in time for hayfever season.

Cooking demonstrations take place throughout the day from 11 until 4.45 and are free to watch. You can learn professional knife skills and how to make perfect mayonnaise from the Oaklands chefs. At 1.15 Matt Edmonds, Executive Chef from Auberge du Lac will be cooking, and at 12.45 your very own WH Times food reporter (me!) will be presenting alongside Michelle Lake. We are the co-authors of Packed which is a book all about grown-up packed lunches. It was published last year and has featured in The Guardian, The Times, Delicious, Top Sante, Great British Food, Men’s Health and many more. If you are bored of taking the same lunch to work every day, come along and pick up some tips, and do say hello.

Grab lunch, sit on the grass and stay for The Swanvesta Social Club who headline at 3. See you there!

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Midweek munch

Published in WH Times April 2018

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If you are keen to escape your desk and get some fresh air, there is a new Midweek Munch street food market in Welwyn Garden City for you to try. It is based right in the centre on Howardsgate so you can buy lunch and sit on the grass or nab a spot at the smart white benches.

The Midweek Munch is on the first and third Wednesday of the month 11am-3pm, with one on today, the 2nd May, so if you are reading this sat at your desk – off you go!

Cafe 77 sell good-quality burgers, made from Aberdeen Angus beef; you might know them from their stall next to the Goat pub in Codicote. They also use lots of local, independent companies including Welwyn-based Katie’s bakery for the buns and rolls, Broad Oak Farm for the sausages and Oakley Brothers for the bacon. They also do a halloumi burger if you are looking for a lighter or vegetarian option.

Now Now Bunny Chow sell South African stews and curries – Bunny Chows are traditionally ‘bowl foods’ served in scooped out bread loaves and they started as lunch for surfers. The Bobotie Bunny Chow (made with ground beef) and Durban Chicken Curry are very popular at the markets; I always enjoy the Veggie Bunny which contains chickpeas, butternut squash and spinach. Sukanya Thai Food is a familiar face from the local markets and does excellent noodle dishes and curries, packed with flavour.

I spoke to Linda of Linda’s Cupcakes who sells an amazing selection of cakes including mini Victoria sponges, brookies (a mix of brownie and cookie), blondies and of course, cupcakes. Unicorn cupcakes are her bestseller but you could also try jaffa cake orange, salted caramel or chocolate, and of course, take one back to the office.

Nearby pub The Two Willows set up a stall and you can get a good range of soft drinks and alcohol too. There is more info about the stalls that appear each time on facebook.com/midweekmunch and if you like the page you can get £2 off your lunch.

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Darlish

Published in The Herts Advertiser 26 April 2018

I’m writing this on the hottest day of the year so far, so it seems entirely fitting to tell you that we have a new ice cream shop in St Albans. Grown-ups, do keep reading, as this one will appeal to you too. Darlish opened a couple of weeks ago on French Row just next to the clock tower in the old sweet shop. I went to meet owner Laura just as she was finishing work on the lovely shop (she did much of it herself with partner Jan).

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You might have tried Darlish ice cream at one of the local food festivals; the distinctive cart had long queues for it’s Persian-inspired ice creams. Selfridges also used to sell Darlish ice cream cakes before Laura decided to focus on us here in St Albans (lucky us!). The shop is a long-held dream for Laura, who has lived in St Albans since childhood. I love the sophisticated styling of the shop, with olive green walls, smart tiles and silver domes on the counter that house the ice creams. There is seating along the wall at the back where you can eat your ice cream or just get a coffee or tea. The name Darlish, as well as sounding like ‘delish’, is the nickname of Laura’s cousin – it just seemed really fitting to her.

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Ice cream is a big thing in Persian countries, and flavoured rose water was probably the very first ice cream, with history dating it back to 400BC. This really isn’t like any other ice cream – it is made by Laura and Jan in small batches by hand and contains fantastic quality ingredients including fresh milk and cream. It tastes lighter than many dairy ice creams, and is more like a gelato.

I tried the orange blossom and pistachio, which was divine, with pieces of pistachio and apricot studded through. You could buy a tub of this when you have friends over – a perfect summer pud. My youngest tried the milk chocolate (I had to try a bit for research) which was fab too and I am sure cones of this will fly out this summer. Flavours will be seasonal and at the moment include rhubarb and pomegranate, sweet cream (the most like vanilla) and coconut and raspberry. You can add chocolate chips, halva, chunks of brownie and sesame brittle and also sit in to eat a sundae. Flavours often include the ‘sweet and sour’ balance that Persian food is so known for – sour cherry will feature in ices and also in shabat juices. There will always be a vegan option and a dairy-free option, for example, using coconut milk or sorbets and as they make the ices themselves do ask if you are worried about allergies.

When I popped in there was a delicious-looking Persian Love Cake covered in pistachios and rose petals, so cake is available too. Persian tea and Turkish coffee is available, as well as good americanos, so you can just pop in for a drink. I love that Laura has chosen eco-products for straws and cups.

Think of this ice cream shop in the same way as The Pudding Stop – worth the money and calories and perfect for adults and children alike. There are plans to open in the evening which would be fab. In the meantime, join the queue, choose something you haven’t tried before and enjoy your ice cream in the sunshine near the clock tower or Vintry garden, or take a tub home. What a lovely addition to our city.

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Neem Tree

Published in WH Times 25 April 2018

The chain restaurants in Welwyn Garden City do seem to have nabbed the prime locations on the garden streets, but it is worth exploring to find Neem Tree, a local independent gem just off Howardsgate.

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Winner of many local restaurant awards, I had wanted to try Neem Tree for a while; I love the look of the bright pink and green interior and the promise of “naturally Indian” food.

The long menu has many of the classics but I was more interested to see home-style, Southern Indian dishes such as lentil and lime soup, Goan fishcakes and lime and coconut rice. In the need for healthy food after Easter, I chose a vegetable curry with roban sauce, which for 5.25 was the most generous bowlful with crisp green beans, sugar snap peas, courgette, peas, tomato and chickpeas. With the lime and coconut rice, this was a perfect balanced meal – so often vegetarian options don’t contain enough protein, so I was delighted the curry included chickpeas. I had no real need to order the black lentil dahl but it was delicious and enough for a light lunch on it own, for another time.

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The Tawa Tak-a-Tak skillet-griddled foods are a Neem Tree speciality, and you can choose paneer, vegetables, chicken, lamb, venison, prawns and duck, each cooked with fresh herbs, spring onions and peppers. My partner chose the prawns and thought them excellent – not over-cooked and with the delicious chargrilled flavour you get from barbecuing. Our naan bread was fresh and griddled too, and I am sure home-made. There is quite a lot of fish on the menu too, including monkfish and seafood biryani.

I’m not sure Neem Tree need to offer such a long menu; I guess people expect to see Indian classics in every Indian restaurant and want to order favourites. I would love them to be able to focus on fewer dishes (does the menu need venison, goat, crab and squid for example?) and play up their vegetarian and vegan options or focus on just Keralan dishes – it would make a really nice change locally.

We loved the interior; the bright pink and lime green walls, furniture and fresh flowers was welcoming, and the contemporary Indian music perfect.

We were at Neem Tree early evening and service was very good; welcoming and efficient, if a little old-school. By the time we left downstairs was full and people were heading upstairs to extra tables so you do need to book, especially for weekends. They are also very popular for takeaways and deliveries – 01707 333253 to book and order.

It is easy to see why Neem Tree has won so many awards, including Best Restaurant in the 2017 WGC BID Awards and Bob FM Best Restaurant – the food is delicious and the restaurant is very appealing – we will definitely go back!

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The Potting Shed

Published in The Herts Advertiser 12 April 2018

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For such a small village, Sandridge does very well for places to buy good food, with proper pubs, butcher’s shop, Heartwood Tearoom and farm shops. Carpenters has long had a great reputation for their own-grown vegetables and plants, and the farm shop has transformed in the last two years. The latest development is the opening of The Potting Shed over the Easter weekend.

A regular customer at the farm shop, I knew work on the cafe had been going on so I popped in just before Easter for lunch for a sneak preview. I don’t want to give too much away as I want you to enjoy the surprise, but when we walked in we were amazed at what James and the team have achieved. It is the most stunning building with vaulted ceiling and light pouring in from the huge doors looking out to the fields beyond.

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I was expecting The Potting Shed to be a good garden centre cafe, somewhere to get a cup of tea and cake after shopping, but this a huge step up from neighbouring garden centres (as lovely as some of them are). Head chef Scott Whitehead has devised a very good menu, with breakfasts, lunches and teas, using produce from the farm when he can. The farm shop already sells many of our best local products and I am delighted that the cafe continues this. Bacon and sausages are from Priors Hall, Stickleback supply the fish, goats cheese is from Wobbly Bottom, and Farr Brewery supply the beer for the beer-battered plaice.

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It’s a great place for breakfast and brunch with a menu to rival the best in the city centre: Dizzy Bee granola, juices and smoothies, pancakes, eggs, smashed avo with chilli and mint salsa, toast and home-baked muffins and full veggie or meaty English cooked breakfasts too.

I had one of the best lunches I have ever eaten locally – I know, it surprised me too! We chose from a specials menu and I had celeriac and spelt risotto with hazelnuts and goats cheese for a first course and sole fillets with carrot and barley broth for a main course. The celeriac and carrots, among other ingredients, were from the fields just beyond the restaurant – a record for food miles locally surely?

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If you want just a sandwich, don’t worry, they are available too, with smoked salmon, honey roast ham and egg mayonnaise made with Clover Farm eggs that they also sell in the shop. You can choose small and large plates for lunch which include home-made pie and quiche, a Potting Shed burger and delicious vegan/veggie options such as pearl barley risotto with leeks and charred spring onions.

Puds and cakes are interesting too, with many baked onsite; my spiced carrot and orange cake was excellent. Afternoon tea is available at 14.95 for tea, finger sandwiches, two scones and cake – add a glass of fizz for 3.95. Yes, there is a bar too, with a local beers and wine (some supplied by Flagship Wine). You can just pop in for a coffee, which is supplied by Borough Market company The Gentlemen Barista’s Union, although it is busy so book for weekend brunch and breakfast. Prices are reasonable – most main courses, for example, are under 10 pounds.

The Potting Shed is already busy, and rightly so, so if you want to book call on 01727 856995 or book online. They will try to keep some walk-in tables, and as the weather lifts, there will be table space outside too. It will be open every day 9.30 until 5 except on Sundays when they close at 4.30 (order half an hour before closing). You go through the farm shop to find the cafe; remember to leave time to stock up on super-fresh veggies to take home.

I love The Potting Shed, and am so pleased the Carpenter family have created something really special here that goes beyond expectations. It would be a lovely place to go on a summer evening too, so let’s watch this space – they are probably busy enough at the moment!

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River Cottage Kitchen and Deli, Hatfield House

Published in WH Times 2018

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Hatfield House has just opened for the busy spring and summer season, and it was a busy winter in the cafe – it has been revamped as an outpost of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage.

The famous food writer and campaigner is well-known for his ethical approach to food, with campaigns about sustainable fishing and using seasonal ingredients. The main River Cottage in Axminster is a destination for foodies, and spin-off River Cottage Kitchens have opened in Bristol, Glyndebourne, Winchester, and most recently at Whipsnade Zoo and Hatfield House.

I popped in for lunch last week: it is a beautiful space, with light flooding in even on one of our rainy days. Service was a bit muddled; we weren’t sure whether we had to order at the counter or at the table, and in the end it was a mix of the two – I think that will get smoother with time.

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The lunch menu has ‘main event’ and ‘lighter’ options, as well as a nice selection of drinks, including River Cottage IPA and elderflower cider. I chose roast cauliflower with spiced yellow split peas and charred broccoli, which was delicious and one of the nicest (and healthiest!) meals I’ve had locally in a long time. My friend chose butternut squash and walnut patties, with Moroccan-spiced blitzed carrot salad, which she loved too. It is good to see vegan/vegetarian dishes at the heart of a menu rather than as an after-thought, and is very in-keeping with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s interest in seasonal, plant-based cooking.

The meat dishes on the menu (pork burger, lamb meatballs and beef ragu) are all organic, yet are priced in line with local pub main courses, which is good to see. You can get a bowl of soup or a slice of spinach tart if you want a smaller meal, and I imagine that some visitors to the House won’t be expecting a full meal, so smaller plates are a good option. Hot food is available until 2.30 and after that the focus is on hot drinks, cakes and afternoon teas. We had pud, and the baking is good; my almond cake with poached rhubarb was lovely, although more rhubarb would have been welcome. The chocolate and beetroot brownie was excellent, with the beetroot adding a lighter texture.

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There is a small deli takeaway next to the main restaurant with a couple of benches; you can get soup, sandwiches, coffee and snacks in here to take outside. The baskets with packed lunches for children had rolls, fruit, biscuit and crisps for 5.00. I’m concerned that this takeaway will be crowded on the weekends, and most of the seating is weather dependent (maybe add a canopy?).

I can see why they have changed the restaurant; Hatfield House is the most beautiful location and the previous cafe felt a little old-fashioned, certainly compared to the cooking being offered for weddings and events. Let us know what you think.

The River Cottage Kitchen and Deli will be open Tuesday–Sunday 10am–5pm, and Bank Holiday Mondays throughout the summer.

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