Photo caption: from left to right: Amy Laverick, Carmelo, Kristiina Mjazina (business partner), Costin Nicolae (head chef), Thomas Evans (coffee master)
Tucked away in an old-school ‘parade’ of shops down a side road, you have to be in-the-know about Carmelo’s, a new cafe in London Colney. When I popped in mid-week for a late lunch, nearly all the tables were full with a mix of families, friends, retirees and office workers so the word has definitely got out. There was a warm hello when we walked in for the first time, and during lunch I could see that there were plenty of regulars who know the team. So many people had suggested I go and try Carmelo’s, and I was keen to see what the fuss is all about.
Carmelo Giallombardo opened his cafe about six months ago, and you may recognise him from the Beech House and Pret in St Albans. He had been wanting to open his own business for a while and was delighted when the shop on Haseldine Road became available. The interior is very smart, with funky graphic wallpaper, blackboards and large windows that let in plenty of light. There are high chairs so young families are welcome, and there are magazines and stools by the counter for anyone popping in for a coffee on their own. Parking nearby is fairly easy and it is also a short walk from the local schools for post-drop-off parents.
Carmelo explained how the menu has evolved since opening, adapting to what is most popular with the regulars. The menu focuses on breakfast and brunch options, with a healthy approach; the classic breakfasts are baked rather than fried. I was also pleased to see avocado on toast, salmon and eggs which has helped to broaden the appeal of the cafe. Carmelo told me that the vegetarian breakfast is one of the most popular choices. You can order breakfast at any time of the day, which is great – cafes that have strict time cut-offs for parts of the menu can feel a bit unfriendly.
The ‘veggie’ breakfast is very popular.
Coffee is a delicious Italian blend made by an old friend of Carmello’s, who also supplied coffee to the family cafe back in Bologna, Italy. Carmelo told me that they plan to offer barista-training with Tom Evans (the resident coffee expert) and sell their own blend – it’s just a matter of having time! It is good to see that soya and almond milk is available, at no extra cost. You can also get Tea Pigs, smoothies and milkshakes – a lovely after-school treat. I’m sure the waffles are popular with children too.
I really like the lunch menu; I chose a baked sweet potato with feta, avocado and salad, and it was perfectly cooked and generous. The teenager chose a Greek salad, which was good value at 6.50. There is usually a home-made soup of the day, and a man sitting near me had a very generous bowl of mushroom which looked delicious. Bread is supplied by Dolce Forno in north London and the Italian bruschettas on the menu are very popular, and make a lunch in themselves. Local supplier Sparshotts deliver the fresh salads and vegetables.
If you are popping in for tea and cake, there is a nice selection at the counter, with many made by the cafe staff. Flapjacks, rocky road and brownies looked good and prices are sensible, and lower than in the chain cafes.
In such a short time Carmelo has made a real success of his cafe; regulars come from St Albans, Radlett and Shenley. Carmelo told me that the reason he thinks the cafe is doing well is the team working there, which includes his partner Kristiina, who he worked with at Pret. The staff know the customers and all work hard to keep standards high. I think it is also to do with Carmelo having worked in family cafes all his life; his Dad came over to help in the early weeks too. Carmelo has plans to open in the evenings at weekends, and to extend the Mediterranean menu with tapas and sharing plates. It is a very welcome newcomer to London Colney, and I am sure I will return!