“Hospitality is all about putting smiles on people’s faces”, said Ruth Hurren from Darcys and she is completely right. On Sunday, St Albans was buzzing with people enjoying our local hospitality at the Food & Drink Festival Finale. Market stalls, pop-up restaurants and live music filled the town centre and it was packed with people from the moment it opened. People walked the length of St Peter’s Street, buying groceries from the farmers’ and continental markets, and bought breakfast, lunch and cakes from the street food stalls. We had hog roast from Kashu and delicious curries from Veer Dhara for lunch. The girls loved the halloween cupcakes from Heaven is a Cupcake, and the home-made scotch egg from The White Hart Tap was also delicious. Most of the stalls sold out early in the afternoon, and were delighted to have met so many new customers and share their love of good food with them.
The music started with the choir and band from St Peter’s, and continued throughout the day with bands from The Horn. On the live demo stage The Local Kitchen, Lussmann’s, Chez Mumtaj and Meat-free Mondays entertained the crowds. I was on the stage at 11.15 with The Local Kitchen – a new business with Liz Marcy (ex-Waitrose Food Illustrated). We talked about local food and cooked British party food using local ingredients including mini toad-in-the-holes with sausages from A&C Meats and flour from Redbournbury Mill, goat’s cheese truffles (using Childwickbury goat’s cheese) and mini apple tarts made with windfall apples. I met lots of our readers and heard what you were enjoying about the festival and lots of tips for future articles! Five-year old Hannah said “It is like a big party” and I think many grown-ups would agree with her. A huge well done to Charles and Jenny the festival organisers from St Albans Council – it must have been a huge amount of work but I think locals and visitors really enjoyed it, and it showed our city at its best.
Stylish St Michael’s Manor was the location for the Festival Food & Drink Awards on Thursday evening. Guests were welcomed with Mojitos from Mokokos and Prosecco from Flagship Wines which helped to calm the nerves of the nominees. The event sold out ages ago and it was fun to see all the pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants enjoying a rare night off and meeting each other. We enjoyed a delicious dinner from the St Michael’s chefs – I particularly loved the pumpkin and vanilla soup and the impressive Croquembouche (inspired by The Great British Bake-Off?). Although there was a healthy sense of competition among those shortlisted I think people were pleased to be all together and share stories of the year.
The Mayor of St Albans Aislinn Lee introduced the awards and spoke about her charities including Women’s Refuge and HomeStart; the raffle on the night raised almost £1000.
And then the winners were announced! A full list is printed below but highlights for me included seeing Charlie from Soko and Johnnie from The Pudding Stop high-fiving each other as they both won (team work from City Station!). It was also good to see Ruth Hurren from Darcys collect the Best Restaurant award. She told me: “After the year we have had it feels like a pat on the back. Thank you to our staff and the community – this means so much to us”. I was also delighted to see Carpenter’s Nursery and Redbournbury Mill win recognition as excellent local producers. Both have many loyal customers and have been getting on with a good job for years, but it is nice to say “well done”.
The Family Friendly award went to Inn on the Park in Verulamium park. My family love going there (including husband who likes the bacon sandwiches) so we were pleased to see them win. Manager Gemma Hogarth collected the award on behalf of the team and told me: “It’s really nice to know that our customers support what we do. Inn on the Park is a real team effort and everyone works so hard, so this is for the whole team”.
The award for the Kate Darcy Outstanding Customer Service went to Sean Hughes from The Boot. Presenting the award, Ruth Hurren said that Sean won for his great customer care, love of music and wanting to give his customers a great experience. Sean was at the festival finale on Sunday cooking burgers – there is no rest, even for prize winners! There is a young team at The Holly Bush too, who won best pub: it is great to see so much fresh energy running our local pubs. Well done to all the winners.
Best restaurant: Darcys
Highly Commended: Lussmanns
Best cafe: Soko
Highly Commended: The Secret Garden Cafe
Best pub: The Holly Bush
Highly Commended: The White Lion
Best Bar: The Peahen
Highly Commended: Mokoko
Family Friendly: Inn on the park
Highly Commended: Secret Garden cafe
Local gem: The Pudding Stop
Highly Commended: Heaven is a cupcake
Local Producer: Redbournbury Mill
Highly Commended: Carpenter’s Nursery
Kate Darcy award for Outstanding Customer Service: Sean Hughes, The Boot
GROVE HOUSE POGGENPOHL NIGHT
The designer kitchen centre Poggenpohl was host to Andrei Lussmann and Ruth Hurren last Monday night, cooking a gourmet meal in aid of Grove House. Another sold-out Festival event, we enjoyed watching two of our local Good Food Guide chefs in action. Andrei cooked delicious pollock with tomato and Ruth demonstrated rolled and pressed shoulder of lamb. Pud was sticky toffee and date puddings, with each chef showing how they do it their way. All the guests tried the dishes, along with Prosecco from Flagship Wines, so it was a very lovely way to raise money for Grove House.