Holly (head chef), Adam and Chris (co-owners)
The newly named Cathedral quarter has seen some great new businesses open in the past year. The latest is Panko on Holywell Hill, just up from Per Tutti, which we featured a few weeks ago. If you haven’t explored around this area in a while, I recommend you step away from the tourist chains in the centre, and try some of the independents doing something unique to St Albans.
You may already know co-owners Chris Evans and Adam Jones from Hatch, and from Lussmann’s and Pudding Stop from earlier on in their careers. They both know a lot about what St Albans customers like, and I was very interested to visit their new restaurant.
Panko is “a little piece of Tokyo”, a relaxed diner with a short menu that focuses purely on Japanese comfort food. There are just five main courses: chicken katsu curry, pork katsu, prawn katsu salad, chicken katsu burger and a tofu burger. You can swap elements around, so can opt for chicken, prawn, courgette or tofu with anything. As Adam explained: “Generally restaurants in Japan specialise in one cuisine and do it really well. We wanted to bring this to St Albans and create the best dishes we could. Katsu simply means breaded and in Japan it’s a staple comfort food, much like bangers and mash here.” Chris’s mum is Japanese, and he went on research trips to see how katsu places work. I really like the simple, light interior, with walls lined with plywood (Adam did lots of the work himself), with small tables and benches and funky copper lighting.
I chose the classic katsu, but swapped the pork for chicken. It was a generous plateful, with light, crispy chicken in panko crumb, with a crunchy slaw to cut through the richness. The sticky rice was perfectly cooked, and the whole meal was very more-ish. If you want something light, the prawn katsu salad includes asparagus, baby gem lettuce, sweetcorn and cucumber. I took the teen with me, who loved her chicken katsu curry, and said it was “as good as” a well-known Japanese chain (that’s strong praise). Panko can use gluten-free crumbs if you like, and there are veggie/vegan options with the courgette and tofu.
This is a relaxed, informal place where you don’t order three courses and sit for two hours. It is ideal for popping in for lunch, after work, or during a night at the local bars. I think it would also be a good place just to go for a drink, if not too busy, as the cocktails are a great price and sound delicious; I’d like to go back and try the Yuzu Punch, with vodka, apple, mint and yuzu. Get a few “nibbles” and a side if you don’t want a full meal to go with your drinks. Panko sell Hakushu and Suntory whiskeys and Asahi beer, which go well with the food (ideal with the chicken katsu burger).
There are no puds on the menu, but you get a complimentary sorbet after your main course, which was a nice touch. We had apple, which was delicious. Adam said that if anyone wants a bigger pud, they will send them over to the Pudding Stop, which is just a few minutes walk away.
Panko doesn’t take bookings, but if they are busy, they will take your number, send you to the pub, and ring you when your table is free. If that doesn’t work for you, you can order through Deliveroo, and get your order within an hour. Panko is open Tues-Sunday, from 12 until 10ish.
Special offer for Herts Ad readers: Bring in a copy of this article from the Herts Advertiser to receive a free cocktail when you order a main course.