Now and then a food business comes along that I wish I owned myself. For years I have walked past the Cathedral on my way into St Albans town centre and wondered why the space underneath the excellent Lussmann’s was not a cafe, and now, at last, it is.
The Bakehouse has arguably, the best location of any cafe in St Albans. It has a stunning view of the Rose window of the Abbey, and is next to the beautiful Vintry garden. Visitors to our lovely city can walk from Verulamium park and up to the Clock tower, try this stylish cafe and get a taste of how much the St Albans foodie scene has moved on in recent years. And for locals, it is a complete breath of fresh air from the ubiquitous chains. You can enter The Bakehouse opposite the Vintry garden, or upstairs next to Lussmann’s, and as soon as the weather lifts, the garden will also be open which is a gem of a spot away from busy streets and chain stores.
Opened in June by four St Albans residents, Jim, David, Kirstin and Pauline, Jim explained why they wanted to open The Bakehouse: “We live in St Albans and for us this is about where we would like to eat ourselves. We wanted to create exceptional food in a lovely, informal and friendly environment”. The team have a solid background in hospitality, with Jim and Pauline having worked for Warner Leisure Group and David for Costa Coffee. On the morning I went there was a real mix of people, including lots of happy families, some people working busily (wifi is available), and a smattering of food bloggers that I recognised, keen to report on the new opening. George Fredenham from The Foragers popped in to buy Monmouth coffee, telling me it reminds him of London. Monmouth coffee hails from Borough market and any cafe that sells it has to be barista-trained to their high standards. I think it is the first cafe in St Albans to sell it (Jay’s deli in Southdown is the only place in Harpenden, I believe). At a very reasonable £2.00 for an Americano, it’s a very good price for the quality of the coffee.
Hannah Coome, the chief baker, is based in the cafe and produces a delicious selection of breakfast pastries, tarts and cakes. Hannah used to work at The Hummingbird Bakery and her lemon drizzle and simple, pretty cupcakes have proved very popular with the customers so far. Liam Fowler is the pastry chef and used to work at the House of Commons, so they have an interesting mix of experience. Each day they offer a range of freshly baked cakes, all made in-house and they are keen to listen to customers too. In their first week they were asked for more gluten-free options, and almond and citrus cake went on few days later and sold out quickly. Look out too for the delicious salads, piled high on the counter. Fennel, caper berry and pomegranate, and courgette and cucumber with mint and chilli were two of the choices on the day I went and you can have a plate of salads or have it alongside hot baked goods, such as home-made pork and chorizo sausage rolls (the best I’ve ever eaten) or roast beetroot and goats cheese tarts. You can also choose a more substantial hot lunch, served hot from the oven. I tried the baked ham hock in mustard sauce which came in a generous hotpot dish and looked very rich but I really enjoyed it, and the ham was delicious. Matt the head chef knows his stuff.
The chefs try hard to buy local, seasonal and British and the meat is supplied by A & C meats and the bread from Flour Power who also sell in Borough Market. I was really pleased to see fish2fork salmon on the menu and seasonal veg such as courgette and beetroot. A generous bowl of soup with a wedge of bread was just £4, so I think this is excellent value. Sandwiches looked generous and were made with good quality bread, for example, Glastonbury cheddar with pear and sultana chutney on Walnut and and apricot bread. You can take them away too.
Pauline has done an amazing job of the interior and has opened the space out with huge windows to make the most of the location. Light and bright and with cake baking tins for lights, it is like stepping into a more spacious, relaxing Ottolenghi. The huge bowls of salads in the window and the well-presented cakes continue the similarity. There is plenty of space between the table if you are trying to get your buggy or shopping in, and local mums and dads will be pleased to know that Mondays downstairs is for them, so you can bring in your babies and toddlers and not worry about the laptop crowd glancing over if baby squeaks. And if you need a glass of wine, local company Cellar Door is supplying a short, but perfectly formed wine list.
It is brave to open a new food business, but sometimes it really is worth the gamble and hard work. The Bakehouse deserves every success and we are lucky to have them.
Open every day.
17 Heritage Close, St Albans
The Bakehouse team (left to right) Ollie, Harry, Lenka, Liam, Janine, Matt and Carmen.