I have lots of news for you this week. September is such a busy time as the towns return to life, students return to school and college, trees are full of fruit (look out for Discovery apples), and new and old businesses get ready for their busiest months.
New owners have taken over Cafe Paprika on Catherine Street, St Albans, and I think it is a real gem. You may know Aivaras and Elizabeth Grazulis from when they worked at The Bean Tree in Harpenden. This dynamic young couple have transformed this cafe into a stylish, comfortable Parisian-style bistro, where you can pop in for excellent Union Hand-Roasted fairtrade coffee and cake, or have an excellent value lunch or early supper. Tables are squished together in cosy booths, lined with bookshelves. Light floods into the cafe through the huge windows at the front, where you can sit and watch the world go by. All the crockery is vintage, with silver spoons and sugar tongs, which Elizabeth explained came from a vintage-themed wedding; they simply bought the whole collection!
When I popped in early on Saturday morning, Cafe Paprika had only been open for three weeks and it was already busy, with visitors enjoying cooked breakfasts and muesli. Coffee is delicious, and very reasonable at £1.80 for an Americano, and to give you an idea, muesli with fresh fruit, honey and yoghurt is £4.95, and Eggs Benedict £6.95. Chef “Slon” Mensikobs used to work at Oka in Harpenden and is cooking exactly the sort of thing you want in a bistro. Chicken leg confit with bean cassoulet is a very reasonable £8.95, Autumn vegetable risotto £7.95, and I know the ingredients are local where possible, as he had just been to St Albans market around the corner to buy fresh vegetables! One of the specials was corn on the cob with chilli and lime, reflecting seasonal availability. How many local restaurants and cafes can do that? If you want to pop in for an afternoon treat, cakes such as lemon drizzle and chocolate with pistachio are £3.95 and are beautifully presented.
What I think makes this cafe stand out is the excellent service. Both Aivaras and Elizabeth have worked in high end restaurants, and Aivaras has many years experience working on 5 and 6 star cruise ships, including time as a personal butler. While I was there customers were served quickly and with warmth, and there is obviously real passion and hard work going into this business.
Cafe Paprika is open every day except Monday, until 7pm – they have applied to the council to open later in the evenings, so look out for that. The pretty tiled steps by the front door make this tricky for buggies or wheelchairs but otherwise this is sure to be a new local favourite.
YOUNG CHEF OF THE YEAR
If you are a budding cook aged 14-16 (school years 9-11), then the deadline for this year’s Young Chef of the Year Competition is fast approaching. Last year’s competition was a huge success, with entrants from schools across the region competing to make the best starter, main course, or pudding. I judged last year’s competition with Andrei Lussmann, and we were so impressed by the standard and dedication shown by the students. Oaklands College have just opened their new training kitchens, so finalists will be working in the wonderful surroundings of the renovated stables, kitted with brand-new, state-of-the-art kitchen equipment. You need to enter at the very latest by Thursday 3rd October by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 01727 737303 for a form and more information. The date of the final is Saturday 5th October. My top tip – we had more entries for puds and desserts than anything else last year, so if you have a great idea for a starter or main course you might have a better chance of making the final. Shhh don’t tell anyone!
FOOD WRITING WORKSHOP
Shameless plug. I will be leading a Food Writing Workshop on Tuesday 1st October 7.30-9.30pm in the Club Area in Lussmanns St Albans as part of this year’s Food and Drink Festival. I am often asked how I got into this, and this is the chance to find out! We will be looking at how food book publishing works, writing for magazines and newspapers, blogging, and there will be a short practical exercise in writing a restaurant review. Tickets are £25 and include a glass of wine or something soft. Places are very limited – if you are interested please email me on email@example.com.
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