The Enchanted Tea Rooms

Published in The Herts Advertiser 15 March 2018


enchanted roomWe are in pretty Redbourn this week, at the newly opened The Enchanted Tea Rooms. Situated in a lovely old building right on the High Street, the cafe is full of character, with ceiling beams, paned windows and a narrow winding staircase.

Pale vintage-style furniture, green walls, tulip wallpaper and tables set with vintage crockery create a light, welcoming atmosphere. We sat in two high-backed armchairs which are exactly the same as those my 91-year old grandmother has in her sitting room, which surely can only be a good thing.

Sisters Alexandra and Andrea run the cafe, along with mum Elena, and the cafe has already been very busy with lots of locals going in to see the transformation.

Andrea, Alexandra, Elena

It is table service, so find a spot and read the surprisingly long menu – I was expecting tea and cakes of course, but they also do simple breakfasts and a lunch menu, including quiche, soup, jacket potatoes, sandwiches and salads. The superfood salad, for example, is made with spinach, beetroot, quinoa, sun-dried tomatoes, sweetcorn and peppers and is 5.00; add avocado for a little extra.

Cakes and bakes are made each day by the in-house patisserie chef and you choose from the small counter. When we went in there were brownies, banana bread, blueberry muffins and mini fresh cream buns; a freshly baked Bakewell tart was being cut up, so I waited for a slice of that. My partner chose a cream tea which came with two small, warm scones, clotted cream and either jam or lemon curd.

Pots of loose-leaf tea are a sensible price at 2.50 for one person, which gave us 2–3 cups each. There was a long tea menu, and I was surprised there was no decaffeinated black tea option, but there were alternatives including mint.

Full afternoon tea is the cafe speciality, with sandwiches, scones and cakes for 19.95. You can add Prosecco or Champagne, and gluten-free and vegan options are available with a little notice. I like that they do a smaller tea for under 12s, which include mini rainbow bagels and sparkly cakes; a lovely idea for a special birthday. Upstairs are two spacious rooms and I am sure you can book one for a special tea occasion; the room with the huge chandelier is very pretty, and they use them at weekends when busy too. Do have a peak upstairs; there is a beautiful mural in one room, painted by local artist Sarah Nicholson, which explains the ‘enchanted’ name.

enchanted tea

Alexandra explained to us that the bread comes from Yummies in Radlett, where she used to work, and they buy flour from nearby Redbournbury Mill for bakes that work well with their strong flour.

I was pleased to see a glass urn of tap water with proper glasses rather than disposable plastic, and if you want to get a takeaway coffee, their cups and lids are recyclable.

The front door to the tea rooms is kept closed, which is sensible for warmth and road noise, so do venture in; it is a deceptively large cafe. I like that there are high chairs, and sensible children’s options, which makes it a useful cafe option for the village. I did ask about dogs, and they are not allowed.

With The Hub down the road always busy, there is definitely need for a new cafe in Redbourn, and I think Alexandra and Andrea have made this a great local option, whether for an everyday cup of coffee or a special occasion. It is open seven days a week, 7–6.30 during the week, and 9–5 Sunday and 9–6 Saturday. 71 High Street, Redbourn.

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Red Lion, Hatfield

Published in WH Times 7 March 2018


McMullens brewery is a Hertfordshire institution, with its brewery in Hertford and many pubs in the area. The Red Lion in Hatfield is one of the largest, and is easy to find near the main gates to Hatfield House and near the train station.

There is plenty of parking behind the pub in a well-landscaped area which overlooks the trees of Hatfield House. Inside the pub is bright and welcoming, with cosy side rooms which are ideal for private bookings. We went on a chilly lunchtime, and the staff were friendly and found us a spot near one of the fires – electric rather than real, but still thoughtful. A group of crafters were sharing a large window table, which was nice to see; their baskets of quilting added to the homely feel.


There is space to have a drink by the bar, and there is the usual range of McMullen beers; you can just go for a drink or a coffee. We were given a main menu and a ‘sandwich and spuds’ menu, with the focus being on grilled meats and rotisserie chicken. You can add rotisserie chicken to almost any dish and also take it home. With spuds 5.50 and sandwiches and wraps around 6.25 it is a very affordable place to eat, and popular with the office workers and residents nearby. The pub is well known for its Sunday lunches and you have to book for a table for evenings and Sundays.


I chose vegetable panang curry, as I wanted something plant-based and to see if the pub could do this as well as their meaty dishes; it was well presented and had crisp green beans and mangetout in it, but I would have liked larger pieces of cauliflower. The flavour was pleasant, with a mild hint of spice, but the portion size was small and I would prefer more curry and less rice. My partner’s vegetable burger made with broad beans, peas and spinach was excellent; the patty was crisp and a vibrant green inside, and was served with plenty of salad, slaw and a generous pile of sweet potato chips. The signature health kick salad is a popular option with red cabbage, carrot, spinach, chia and pomegranate. I like that they donate to Keech Hospice for each one sold, although 10p does seem low.

The Red Lion is a pub you can take the family to, go with friends and work colleagues, and get together for an occasion; it is a useful and affordable pub and deserves its popularity in Hatfield.

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Duck pond market, Radlett

Published in The Herts Advertiser 1 March 2018


Radlett has had various farmers’ markets over the years, and I am pleased to tell you that it is back. The Duck Pond Market is now located right on Watling Street, Newberries Parade, alongside the shops, which is much better than tucked away on the train station car park. We went along last month and there was a very good choice of streetfood and food to take home; people had space to browse in front of the stalls and it was busy for a cold Sunday morning. It takes place on the last/fourth Sunday of each month, 10-3.

Laurent’s Kitchen was selling French-inspired flame-grilled lunches, and our girls loved the Scottish steak with duck fat roast potatoes, which were piled up in a huge skillet, and looked very appealing. Laurent was also selling confit duck and marinaded chicken, with prices from 4.50–8.00; an easy option for lunch if you don’t want to cook.

I chose a large onion bhaji from the Little Urban Chef stall, which was piping hot with generous chunks of onion. He was also selling salads and wraps. The Funky Elephant stall had a good choice of vegetarian and meaty curries for sale, and I bought a tub of their masala sauce to take home, which I used to make a very easy chickpea and cauliflower curry; I would definitely buy it again, as it had depth of flavour from the spices, without too much heat.


Miriam’s Munchies had a great display of cakes including vegan oreo brownies, as well as some classic bakes (the blueberry buns looked good). McCarthy’s Breads sold savoury bakes to take home or munch as you explore, including samosas, garlic breads, pork pies and sausage rolls. They also sell rum babas; perfect for a Sunday pudding. The Riverford stall had a good display of seasonal vegetables and fruits to promote their home delivery business. There were also two cheese stalls, including one by local favourite Wobbly Bottom, a Kaffe/coffee stall, and a good range of olive oils from Apulia. You could also buy olives and preserved garlic, and I liked the look of the Turkish delight stall, with the pistachio looking lovely – for another day.

Billed as an artisan market, there were also crafts, homeware and plants. I spoke to the upholstery stall, and was very impressed by a lovely chair covered in peacock fabric, but sadly we don’t have the space; I am sure it will be snapped up soon. The plant stall had lots of herbs, garden plants, and spring bulbs in pots. A small fenced area was home to some ducks, which must be the signature of the market and was drawing a small crowd of children.

I am very glad the market has new organisers and has found a base that should work for Radlett. Markets have tried in Radlett, including at Aldenham Country Park, but this central location will get more passers by. The organisers also host markets in Richmond, Highgate, Chalfont St Giles and Ruislip, so they are a good match for Radlett. They are looking for musicians to play at the markets, so do get in touch if you are interested via I like that they do not allow single use plastic and packaging should be biodegradable, recyclable or compostable; I am not sure that was the case when I went in January, with one stallholder using what felt like polystyrene, so I hope this rolls out.

Parking is easy along the road, in the station car park or near the Radlett centre. I hope the Radlett residents support this new venture, as it does add a lovely atmosphere to the town, and deserves to do well.


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Published in The Herts Advertiser 15 February 2018

One of the highlights of the year for me is judging the Young Chef of the Year competition at Oaklands College. Each year, talented 14-16 year olds from St Albans, Hatfield, Harpenden and further afield enter a savoury dish or dessert, and finalists are chosen to cook at Oakland’s College, St Albans.

It is a great opportunity for talented cooks to show what they can do, and try working in professional kitchens. The Oaklands catering and hospitality department is set in the lovely converted Stables, and the students cook under the guidance of Martin and Mark, the chef tutors. Parents are shooed away so the young chefs have to work alone, and judges wander around the kitchens seeing how they work.

My fellow judge was Group Head Chef of Lussmanns, Nick McGeown, and we were so impressed with the quality of the cooking and the presentation. We both loved Romila Khan’s butter chicken with home-made naan bread, and went back for another taste; we would have been very happy to eat this in any of our local restaurants. I also really enjoyed Aysha Saifullah’s Karahi chicken with a delicious chickpea vegetable rice with a raita; healthy and delicious and difficult to choose between the two. Ruby Shefras baked gluten-free cornish pasties and the pastry was excellent; chef tutor Martin commented how short the pastry was. Jenna Armstrong made a lovely ham and lentil soup with home-made bread, which we all enjoyed. Romila won best savoury dish; I spoke to Romila afterwards – a STAGS pupil, Romila has applied to study at Oaklands and would like to continue as a chef in her future career – I think she will be a big success.

The desserts were excellent and a tough category to judge, with a lot of discussion about technique and presentation. Jason Gyimah’s pannacotta tasted delicious, and Josh Mead’s trio of desserts was ambitious, with his lemon meringue being the stand-out on the plate. Emily Ivory made perfect profiteroles; I ate two. The Oaklands judges, Nick and I debated over Cairo Henderson Bradshaw’s Deconstructed passionfruit cheesecake and Amanda Garcia-Ghuran’s Plated fruit salad with clotted cream rolled in coconut with meringues; we loved eating both, but felt Amanda’s presentation just pipped Cairo’s. Cairo won runner up for his dessert, and Amanda was voted overall Young Chef of the Year for her beautiful dessert, which would not look out of place in a professional restaurant. I spoke to Cairo and Amanda afterwards; Cairo came from Islington for the competition and at only 14 shows real flair for food. He would love to own his own restaurant and win a Michelin star; you heard of him here first! Amanda is a pupil at St Albans High School for girls and loves cooking and is also interested in a career in bio-chemistry; a talented young woman.

Students from Oaklands competed in their own category, and were challenged to cook a dish using pork or chicken. I loved meeting the students and was impressed by their confidence in the kitchen. Our winner was Jamie Teakle for his chicken with mango and avocado salsa, which was well cooked with perfectly ripe ingredients; a nice bright lunch on a grey February weekend. Mark Sharples from Oaklands told me that the students had just been for a visit to The Shard to have lunch and tour the kitchen; the Oaklands students do go on to have great careers and I am sure Nick McGeown will keep in touch for future potential employees.

The Mayor of the City and District of St Albans, Cllr Mohammad Iqbal Zia presented the winners with their certificates. Well done to all the finalists and winners; you should all be very proud of yourselves.

Young Chef

Martin, me, mayor, Amanda, Nick and Mark

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The Country Bumpkin

Published in WH Times 6 February 2018

yellow bike

Snowdrops are out and spring is nearly here, so it must be time to get out on country walks and bike rides again! I had heard good things about Bumpkins in rural Tewin, which is a destination for lots of local walking and cycling groups who head there for the cakes and breakfasts. We drove down the winding lanes to find it, and parked opposite in the car park, before heading past stables and a bright yellow bike propped against the stone wall into the funky barn building.

We had a very warm welcome, which was lovely, and sat near the door on an old church pew. There is a large room at the back too, and more seating outside, which they need on a busy weekend. The staff were chatting to the regulars and there was a friendly atmosphere.

The menu focuses on breakfasts and light lunches at very reasonable prices, with omelettes, toasties, bacon sandwiches etc, with a full English called an “artery cleaner” which slightly put me off! We were in at lunchtime and there was a good range of sandwiches to choose from including smoked salmon and cream cheese. I chose the creamy tomato soup with two generous slices of granary bread, which was good value at 5.00. The specials board featured a halloumi salad, which my partner enjoyed. There were three pizzas available, including goats cheese and caramelised onion, and I saw one go past, and it looked great – evidently home-made and big enough to share for a mid-week lunch. They are planning a Valentine’s pizza night in the upstairs function room, with a glass of Prosecco (call 01438 718880 to book).


Afternoon teas, scones, toasted teacakes and cream teas are very popular, and if you’ve been on a long bike ride, well deserved. Afternoon tea starts at 7.50, which is great value.

The cafe has been so popular with locals they have been asked about hosting events and catering, and they now have Bucks and Does Bespoke Catering for hog roasts, buffets, picnics and celebration cakes.

The cafe is open at the moment Wednesday to Sunday, from 9-4 (closing 12.30 on Sunday). It is cash only, so go prepared – I wouldn’t want you to miss out on the cakes!


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The Bishop’s Cave

Published in The Herts Advertiser 1 February 2018



I don’t think I’ve been to a “wine bar” since the 80s; were they all replaced by gastro pubs and proper pubs? I was curious when The Bishop’s Cave opened in a former hair salon on Holywell Hill – with a picture of a glass of wine in the window, was the wine bar back?

The Bishop’s Cave opened before Christmas and is the brainchild of Dan Leak and dad Steve. They already own a branch in Bishop’s Stortford, where the name comes from. It’s a great location just across from popular Per Tutti and other restaurants in the Cathedral Quarter.


It’s a couple of steps up to the front room (so limited access) but once inside it is a lovely space, with exposed brickwork and beams and tiled flooring. It’s a shop as well, and you can buy a good choice of wine and bottled craft beers to take away. There is a large cheese counter (around 40 varieties) as you walk in, and you can buy cheese to take home, or choose a cheeseboard to eat with your drinks in-house. I’ve been a couple of times now, and the cheeseboards at 12.50 each are very good value, with your choice of three cheeses, plenty of crackers, grapes and chutney, which is ideal for two. They also do a charcuterie board or a mix of the two. If you just want a bar snack you can choose a pork pie with piccalilli, pate, or a scotch egg as well as olives and crisps.

Wine is sold by the glass in various sizes and the bottle, and I think the prices are one reason why The Bishop’s Cave has already proven very popular. You can get a very enjoyable glass of house Malbec, Shiraz and Pinot Noir for 3.95, which is good value locally. They also sell white wines, Prosecco and Champagne. The “beer corner” towards the back of the cave has 100 bottled beers to drink in or takeaway.

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Dan explained how the idea came about: “We had the idea when playing golf. We were both feeling like we wanted to do something different. We wrote a business plan and secured some funding from the government-backed, start-up loans company, and opened up in Bishop’s Stortford. Two years later we found the building in St Albans and decided to expand and open our second premises. I have friends and family in St Albans, so the town has been on my radar ever since we decided to start up. It is something we felt was missing from the town. It’s going amazingly well so far; we’re absolutely thrilled with the reception we’ve received, and the number of locals supporting us. It’s really lovely that everyone has enjoyed what we do.”

You need to book a table at least 24 hours in advance; pop in or book on their website. It is not a huge venue, and weekends are already busy.


The Bishop’s Cave is open until 23.00 Tuesday to Saturday and until 19.00 on Sunday. It opens from 12 most days, earlier on Saturday, and just in the evenings on Tuesdays. It’s ideal for cheese shopping when The Cheese Wheeler is not around. I think the service or layout could be a bit slicker; I could see people wander in and busy staff didn’t spot them, leaving them looking at a cheese counter. It might just need a sign to say “wait here to be seated”, but it’s a small thing, and once customers are settled, it is a cosy place. So, wine bars: if you add good cheese, decent craft beers, sensible pricing and a cosy atmosphere, then, yes, it works. A nice new addition for St Albans.

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Veganuary – so how did it go?

If you are a proper vegan this article is probably not for you; this is for those who are curious about eating more vegan food but think it is loads of hassle and maybe a bit earnest. Everyone else, look away.

I wrote pieces for the Herts Ad and Welwyn Hatfield Times about eating vegan food for January (veganuary), so I thought I’d report back on how it went for me.

January was lonngggg and included my birthday. I’ve eaten fish, eggs and meat for 47 years, yet reading about the egg and meat industry and watching the film Carnage, that a friend was in, started to make me feel uncomfortable (the egg industry kills all boy chicks as they are not needed etc etc). I really like eating vegetables and pulses so thought it was worth a go. A few bullet points on what I found:

1. Veg and pulse-based curries, soups and chillis are very easy to make and this was the easiest swap. I did not miss meat at all in these meals and used lots of black beans, red lentils, butterbeans, chickpeas etc this month. Our meals were more interesting for it. One big success was a mexican meal with black beans, tacos, avocados, salsas etc – easy, affordable and everyone enjoyed it.


veggie chilli 

2. Some things are easier to substitute than others. Eggs – I tried scrambled tofu which was really easy to cook and tasted a lot better than I expected. But the girls made me a cake with eggs and butter for my birthday and I wasn’t turning it down, and it was delicious. I had a nut roast for the first time in years and it was lovely – Artisan grain cashew and cranberry nut roast mix; far more flavour and texture than a piece of meat so well worth trying. Also tried Goodlife green bean and spinach and sausages – I didn’t realise they had cheese in them until they were home, so not vegan, but they were really delicious, so a good option for a meat-free easy dinner. Grated vegan cheese was very good on pizzas and the kids didn’t notice. The hard cheeses in sandwiches were not popular.

scrambled tofu

scrambled tofu – nicer than you think!

3. Eating out is easier than I expected. Eating in Thai and Indian restaurants is easy for vegan food (and cheaper). It’s tricky if you don’t choose the restaurant/cafe; I ate out a few times in Jan for work and the vegan options were pretty dull – couscous salad anyone? In one place I reviewed the only vegan choice was a mushroom burger which I did not fancy at all, so I reverted to chicken. But I did find that everywhere I went did at least offer vegan/veggie options, so times are changing.

4. It made me think about how we eat foods out of habit – it is well worth reading Bee Wilson’s First Bite on this. We use so much cows milk in the UK and I wonder how many of us really really like it? Would you drink a glassful? We have been having hemp milk instead of cow’s milk and I prefer it. It tastes lighter and fresher, weirdly, for something from a carton. In the UK we are raised on cow’s milk but there is no massive reason to carry on drinking it when there are so many other sources of calcium out there now – most of us aren’t countryside dwellers with a cow in the backyard so there’s no logic to choosing cows over any other milk.

5. I don’t like sunflower spreads so preferred to just drop butter – not tricky when eating tomatoes, mushrooms etc on toast, or jacket potatoes etc but really tough on toast so I definitely cheated there. Out of about 90 meals I ate fish/meat/egg- based meals about 5 times, which is a big reduction for me. I didn’t pass the veganuary challenge, but I might be a good example of what many people could do – cut back a lot. We don’t need to eat meat every day and eating loads of pulses and vegetables can only be good for us.


a vegan curry using a ready-made sauce – the naans had milk powder in them though

To sum up: eating vegan food is now not that difficult. But changing the cooking and eating habits of a lifetime is. I don’t like making a big fuss in restaurants and at relatives homes, so that meant a few slips. For many of us I think cutting back is a start. Whether you eat more vegan food because of animal welfare or to vary your diet, or for health reasons, it is definitely easier than you might think. Did you try? Let me know how you got on.

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