Summer is here, at last, and it is time to be outside as much as possible. We took a break from watching the Olympics one evening and went for a walk in beautiful Verulamium Park. The park is at its best early in the morning or evening: quiet except for the occasional dog walker, and we were delighted to hear the bells at the Cathedral ringing out Chariots of Fire as yet another Brit won Gold.
Inn on the Park
We walked through the park, along the lakeside to dinner at Inn on the Park, one of my favourite independent cafes. We had heard that it was opening late on Thursday and Friday evenings in the summer. We go regularly in the day with the children, particularly at the weekend, when its popularity tends to mean a queue. The evenings are calmer and have a grown-up vibe, with glasses and cutlery set on the tables with fresh sunflowers. Music was playing and there were couples and groups of adults enjoying table service and drinks on a warm, summer evening. We sat outside where the hedging protected us from an enthusiastic sailing breeze.
We chose a bottled beer from nearby Tring Brewery, Side Pocket for a Toad. Apparently the name comes from a Hertfordshire expression meaning “of no use” – I haven’t heard that one, but the beer tasted great.
The menu is good pub/bistro food and feature a few favourites from the day time menu such as their excellent home-made soup. Delicious butternut squash soup is just £4.65 for a generous bowl, and my chicken liver and madeira parfait was very tasty and could have served two, but I managed to eat it all. The home-made chutney that came with it was fab, and I could have eaten it with a spoon.
I chose a very healthy chicken and avocado salad, which was exactly as you would wish, with perfectly ripe avocado. I nabbed a few chips as they looked so appealing and they were great: fat, fluffy and crispy. Worth going for on their own. Most main courses were under £10 so very good value, with just the rib eye steak being more costly. Goats cheese risotto with garden peas and spinach with parmesan crisps (£7.85) would be a seasonal, summery choice. The house slaw made with fennel, carrot, and beetroot sounds fab too. I was too full for pudding, but the Eton Mess and Cornish icecreams are good choices for this location: summery and light. Service was friendly and efficient.
The plan is to continue the late night openings throughout the summer and early Autumn and perhaps also into winter, where I imagine they would make it cosy with candles and very rewarding of course after a brisk walk.
Inn on the Park won the award for Best Family Friendly at the St Albans Food and Drink Festival last year and they welcome children in the evening too, with a children’s menu and some of the items on the evening menu suitable for half or sharing portions. I quite liked that adults could reclaim the space for a couple of hours, but there is plenty of space for all, with space inside and out.
The Inn on the Park would also like live music in the evenings, so if you are a local acoustic musician, playing jazz, soul or lounge music, then contact Matt at the cafe. For an hour or two you don’t get paid but you do get a delicious dinner and the chance to play to a local crowd.
The cafe will take bookings up til 8pm, and then you can stay as long as you need to: call 01727 838246.
Another St Albans favourite The Waffle House is also opening late in the summer. This again is very busy at the weekends, although this has improved over the years as there are now plenty of covered outside tables. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday it will stay open until 8pm so you can head there after work for a sweet or savoury waffle. Some are suitable as main courses, with ratatouille or chilli on top, although I always choose the fruit spiced waffle (£3.65).
It opens early too, at 9 am so you can have a quiet start to the day and sit alongside the River Ver in one of St Albans prettiest spots. You can have a breakfast waffle with eggs, mushroms or organic smoked salmon, for example, and the organic, fairtrade coffee is excellent. I am sure many of our readers know The Waffle House, but for those new to the area, the Belgian waffles are made with flour from Redbournbury Mill, just a few miles up the river, and they also use free-range eggs and organic ingredients where possible.
I hope you get to make the most of our light summer evenings and enjoy these local gems. Perfect after a walk in the park, especially after a busy day at work or cheering on the champs!