George Street must be one of the loveliest streets in our area and is always worth an explore. There are a number of excellent restaurants including St Albans’ institutions Koh-I-Noor and Thai Rack that locals return to time and again. Tucked away in a pretty medieval courtyard area along with a vintage clothes shop and a craft shop, Number 23 has been attracting very positive reviews in the year since it opened. On their first birthday, I went to meet brother and sister owners Glyn and Ceri to find out more about the British-style Tapas that they offer.
The building that houses Number 23 dates back to the 1500s and the entrance is set well back from George Street. Many guests have told Glyn and Ceri that they have lived in St Albans all their lives and never knew the restaurant was there! Inside, the restaurant opens into three rooms built at different levels, creating a cosy, contemporary feel. Glyn and Ceri explained that they did much of the work transforming the restaurant themselves calling in every favour they could from friends and family for decorating, electrics, plumbing, equipment, carpentry, design and marketing. It has been a real labour of love and they have been delighted with the positive reviews and regular customers they have attracted over the year. Glyn and Ceri are local and went to Beaumont school and they know the area really well. Their background is in hospitality and they both worked at Sopwell House, and Ceri also worked at The Grove and they clearly enjoy the business.
Glyn is often found front of house and Ceri tends to look after all the background work that goes on with running a restaurant though both help out in the kitchen when head chef Dan Robinson needs it. They explained that the idea behind the British Tapas menu is to bring sharing back to eating together. Guests choose a number of dishes to share, and everyone gets to try what they like, “getting rid of food envy”. Each dish costs from £3 to £8 with a fab selection of meat, fish and vegetarian options. BBQ pulled pork (£4.50), Scotch Egg made with a duck egg (£5) are two of the most popular dishes, and there is plenty to choose from. I tried some new dishes: Sea Bass with braised fennel and pernod sauce (£6.50) which was perfectly cooked and Crab-stuffed Sweet Peppers (£4.50) which were lemony and had a good crunch which worked well with the crab. There are plenty of gluten-free options – the Halloumi, tomato and roasted pepper tapas and the Vegetable Stack sound lovely. Ceri suggested that 3-4 dishes per person is about right, and you could start with 3 and order more, or if you prefer to take your time, start with 2 dishes. They aim for quick tapas-style service so you can add more if your party love a particular dish. As Dan and his team make everything to order if you need to adapt a dish then do ask; they will try to help. Ceri told me that they have been popular with families early evening as children especially like to be able to choose from dishes in the centre of the table; they can see what it looks like and become more adventurous. Large groups like the cosy room at the back and they have hosted many birthday parties and buffets that enjoy having their own private space.
In March Number 23 will open for midweek lunches again. At the moment they are only open for lunch on a Saturday, as well as being open in the evenings from Tuesday to Saturday. They offer a special lunch menu which has included pulled pork, fish cakes and mushroom risotto for £5 which is very popular, and terrific value. As the weather improves they will also have seating in the courtyard again which was very popular in the lovely summer we had last year. Outdoor eating space is rare in the town centre and I can imagine sitting outside here on a warm evening with tapas after a walk in nearby Verulamium Park or along Fishpool Street would be wonderful.
The team at Number 23 celebrated their first birthday on Sunday with a surprise party organised by Glyn’s girlfriend Saskia. Everyone who helped set up the restaurant was there to say well done on surviving a hectic first year! I wish Glyn and Ceri every success as they go into their second year.