The Great Northern, London Road, St Albans
Right next door to the fabulous Odyssey cinema, The Great Northern pub has experienced its own resurrection. We used to live around the corner, and I was very interested to see what had changed. I’ve popped in a few times over the past year or so since the new owners Daniel, Josephine and Liam took over, and had heard good things about the food. On a snowy January Friday I went with a pal who used to be a regular in the old-style pub, for a warming winter lunch.
We sat in the dining area, made cosy with checked carpet, vintage furniture and piles of board games. There is space by the bar if you just want to drop in for a drink, and there is usually an afterwork crowd on their way home from the nearby station. Chef Toby Geneen has a very seasonal menu, which I love to see, and uses local suppliers including A&C Meats, Sparshotts, Stickleback Fish and The Cheesewheeler. I could see blood orange, hazelnuts, beetroot and savoy cabbage on the menu; it always amazes me just how few local pubs restaurants actually do change their menu with the seasons. Toby explained that he changes the menu every day: “when something runs out, I just change it to what I want to cook next”. He used to work at a restaurant in Notting Hill, and is loving running his own kitchen.
We shared pressed rabbit, beetroot and blood orange (7.00) for a starter and it was delicious; the flavours went very well together, and it was a beautifully presented plate, and excellent value. Bubble & squeak with egg was also an option, as a small plate or main, and I also liked the sound of the smoked eel with beetroot, apple and horseradish or the Jerusalem artichoke soup.
I chose the turkey curry with tenderstem broccoli for my main course, which was a very generous bowlful, packed with vegetables and delicate spicing. It was like my homemade curry, without me having to make it, and went really well with the charred broccoli. It didn’t need any extra carbs, and was a very healthy lunch – excellent at 12.00. My pal chose an open beef pie with sprout tops, and the A&C beef had been cooked slowly until very tender. It’s a short menu, as most good menus are, and I liked the sound of the veggie options too: celeriac pasta, with apple, walnuts and trompettes is far more interesting than the ubiquitous risotto. There is always a burger on the menu, as that is always popular. Puds sound good too, with the chocolate and clementine cake sounding fab and rumtopf with a porter glaze making a nod to the fact that this is a pub; I’d love to go back and try that sometime.
The Great Northern gets lots of customers heading to the cinema, and they offer a pre-order option, so you don’t worry about missing the start of your film! Just order when you book and it will be ready for when you arrive – you can go back for pud and coffee after the film if you like. Sunday lunches last until 5 and are very popular; they do classic roasts and one or two items from the main menu if you want something different too. When we went in there were families having lunch, and it is definitely a family crowd on a weekend, with a business and local crowd at lunch and in the evenings. Co-owner Daniel, who is originally from St Albans, told me that they host parties throughout the year and plan to hold a Midsummer party again, featuring Swedish food (Josephine is Swedish).
The pub is serious about its drinks too, and offer a discount to Camra customers. In fact, the local Camra branch just awarded them “most improved” pub, and it is very easy to see why. This is really good cooking, at good prices, just a short walk from the town centre. You do need to book as it is a small room. It’s a good alternative to Dylan’s, and another fab addition to this part of St Albans.
To book call 01727 730867. Open for lunch Fri–Sun during winter, and dinner Tues–Sat.