A Plastic Ocean

St Albans Film Festival

I watched a film about plastic for 1.5 hours last night; it was a LOT more interesting than I expected (phew!). Here, for anyone who is curious about what it was about, but can’t see themselves watching a film about plastic for 1.5 hours, are the 5 key points:

1. We are making billions of tons of plastic stuff every year. MOST of it is not recycled. There is plastic waste in ALL of the world’s water – seas, rivers etc.

2. Plastic is broken down a little by the sun, salt and waves and becomes oily, plasticy sludge which floats in the sea. It is in every sea, including surrounding the UK, France, USA, China etc

3. Plastic sludge is now in our food chain. Fish eat it, we then eat the fish. It is in all our waterways. Plastic leaches chemicals that we eat. WE ARE EATING PLASTIC SLUDGE.

4. 90% of seabirds have plastic pieces in their stomachs. Fish, whales, dolphins, seals, turtles, prawns, cod, crabs etc have plastic in their bodies. It kills them as they can’t eat as their stomachs have plastic in them.

5. Rwanda has banned plastic bags. The UK is BEHIND Rwanda on this issue.

SO, what can we do? 5 things:

1. Buy less plastic. Do you really need more containers, water bottles, a plastic bag from the market, stuff from Tiger?

2. Don’t use ‘disposable’ plastic such as water bottles, plastic cups, straws, carrier bags. Campaigns focus on these are they are used for minutes then ‘thrown’ away. I’m thinking about the running races I’ve been too – thousands of plastic cups and bottles used for seconds then landfill. Guilty.

3. Reuse any plastic that you own. Use the water bottle hundreds of times. Use your bags again and again. Take your own water bottle to a race?

4. Ask your shops, cafes etc what they use – choose to buy from places that use vegware, recycled products etc. The cost to the cafe is pennies – they can go back to using glasses, china cups etc. They have dishwashers! Ask for your tap water in a glass. Say ‘I don’t need a straw, thanks’.

5. If you are the owner of a bar, cafe, restaurant, stall etc don’t buy plastic. There are loads of cheap, good alternatives now from suppliers and online. It makes you look good too.

That’s all I am going to write now – there is loads more on this: the health issues about eating and drinking from plastic, the cost of trying to recycle/dispose of endless plastic, the countries that have piles of waste on the streets cos they can’t afford to get rid of it etc etc but that will have to do for today.

If you want to watch The Plastic Ocean it’s a good film, with great presenters including Tanya Streeter, the freediving world champ. Well worth a break from Love Island.

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Welwyn Street Food Monthly

NowNowBunnyChowFollowing the success of the Food & Drink Festival, Welwyn Garden City are now hosting monthly street food markets on Howardsgate. Perfect for this lovely warm weather, you can buy lunch or dinner after work from one of the food trucks and picnic in the gardens; a lovely escape from the working day!

Street Food Monthly used to be near John Lewis, but it is moving to its new location on the 13th July, where there is more space to eat and relax. The trucks will be serving food and snacks 12-7 so you can pop there after work too, where there will also be a bar and live music! Rowan Patel the organiser of GoatFest will be resident DJ from 4.15pm and 5pm, and there will be a performance from rock n’ roll musician Dallenger.

I had delicious Mexican food at the last market from Cantina Carnitas, who also help to organise the event. I chose a vegetarian burrito bowl, which contained delicious guacamole, black beans, salsa piled onto tortillas. They also do very good meaty burritos. Now Now Bunny Chow is a real favourite in local food festivals, with their take on South African beach food. Bunny Chow is traditionally served in a hollowed-out bread pot; their Durban Chicken Curry is excellent, as is the ‘veggie bunny’, which is mildly spiced butternut squash, chickpea and spinach curry.

Garlic and Olive do excellent souvlaki and grilled halloumi with salads, which will be amazing on a warm day; a real taste of Greece. For Chinese-style dumplings, head to the I am Dumpling stall; they do very good pork, chicken and veggie dumplings. If you would like a buttermilk chicken burger, or chicken wings, try Uncle G’s Gourmet Fried Chicken, and try with their signature slaw; perfect with a beer after work. Gourmet burgers will be sold by Cafe 77. For pud, La Flamenca will be there with churros which were hugely popular at the Festival.

The Street Food Monthly will also be on 10 August, 14 September and 12 October, helping us to make the most of the lovely summer months.

burrito bowl Cantina Carnitas

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St Albans Street Festival

Published in The Herts Advertiser 22 June 2017

StAlbansFDF Credit Stephanie Belton FREE TO USE (62)Do you have plans for Sunday? I hope you have time to head into St Albans city centre for the St Albans Street Festival, which will be taking over St Peter’s street with fab food, funky music and gorgeous sunshine (hopefully!).

The team behind the excellent Christmas Lights Switch-on are also behind this, so it looks to be a really good event. St Peter’s street will be closed and food stalls will line the road, along with pop-up restaurants and bars; tables will be set out so you can eat lunch, have a drink and catch up with friends. You will also be able to do some food shopping to take home – there will be bread, cakes, vegetables and preserves stalls.

Free to enter, the Festival is this Sunday (25th June) from 12-6. There is a lot of great food on offer, so you can take the day off cooking; the hog roast from Hog Heaven will be hugely popular, or maybe something from Thompson’s? For something lighter, Toastlicious will be at the event with their fab toasties, which were so popular at the Christmas market; there will be something for everyone.

Favourites from the regular St Albans markets will be there, including Comida Brasil, The Pancake Bar, Chrissie’s Cupcakes, Heaven is a cupcake, The Pudding Stop and The Weeping Chef.

Farr Brewery and The 3 Brewers of St Albans will be ready to serve locally brewed beers – look out for the 3 Brewers Special English Ale; this beer won best beer in the East Anglian CAMRA awards, beating beer from over 80 breweries! I’m also very keen to see the tiki bar hosted by PoppyCock, which is the brainchild of Jas and Shane who you will know from Mokoko.

StAlbansFDF Credit Stephanie Belton FREE TO USE (86)I am always being asked about where to get decent Mexican food in St Albans, and this is your chance to find some! Cantina Carnitas have a great reputation from local festivals and events, and I love their veggie burrito bowl with black beans, avocado and salsa. Chaatit is another great veggie option: they make ‘finger-licking’ Indian vegetarian streetfood; you might know them from other streetfood events in Spitalfields, Wychwood and Paddington.

I love Moroccan food so I will definitely go and see what Marrakech Kitchen is selling. There will be real Belgian frites, Peruvian street food, South African food, falafel and hummus stalls as well as Carmen’s Caribbean food, which is always good.

If you want pud (of course) I really recommend Choux Stopper; we had pots of mini choux buns from this retro van at the Welwyn Food Festival recently. Simon Northcutt is an ex-Beaumont student and started this business just a few months ago in time for the busy festival season. La Flamenca churros is always a huge favourite at the St Albans events, with queues from when they open, so look for them too! Polar Pops are a pretty healthy option; their fruit juice lollies are great for kids and adults. A Bristol-based indie company, they are growing quickly and often appear at big music festivals, so try them while you can.

The music program should keep everyone entertained; it is spread across two stages and there will be country, jazz, pop, folk, barbershop singing, DJs and African drumming. There will be a communal ceilidh at 4pm so grab your partner for a dance in the street! Ahead of their big weekend festival event, Meraki will be hosting a pop-up mini festival; my family loved their silent disco at the Christmas street festival! See you there!

StAlbansFDF Credit Stephanie Belton FREE TO USE (87)

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Codicote Village Day


Pretty Codicote is busy preparing for the annual Codicote Village Day on Saturday 15 July; this lovely event is a real highlight of the year, drawing people from all around Hertfordshire!

Last year over 6000 people attended the Codicote Village Day, and it sounds like another fantastic day is planned, with the procession, fun fair, lawnmower racing, treasure hunt, live music and amazing food. The theme is Under the Sea, and the fair will be opened by local singer Gabz, who was a finalist on Britain’s Got Talent.

I will be helping to judge The Great Bake Off Competition, and the cakes last year looked amazing, so I am really looking forward to it! There are three categories: small cakes (such as cupcakes), big cakes and showstoppers. Just take your bakes to the marquee in the morning (or just after the parade) for judging at around 2.30. The competition is sponsored by Kitchenaid and they have donated some very smart pieces of kit for the prizes. Your cakes can be any design you wish, or have a go with the Under the Sea theme.

The food all day sounds very good, with plenty of local businesses taking part. The Goat and Globe pubs will be looking after the beer and Pimms tents. Codicote Butchers will be doing a hog roast stall and festival regulars I love Sausage will be doing a barbecue. Afternoon tea will be available, with lots of locally made cakes; is there anything nicer on a summer afternoon?

There will be a farmers market again, with a good range of stalls selling breads, preserves and cheeses for picnics and to take home. There is still time to have a food stall at the event; register at codicotevillageday.co.uk. Local sellers are particularly welcome and the organisers have said they will make sure there is a range; they would particularly love some more vegetarian food options.

Live music and food will continue into the evening, and you can camp if you want to! All the info is on codicotevillageday.co.uk; see you there!


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The 3 Brewers of St Albans

Published in The Herts Advertiser 8 June 2017


The 3 Brewers of St Albans is quite a young brewery, but it has already made a real impact locally. I am sure you have seen and tried the beers at our various pubs, restaurants and festivals; it is hard to believe that the company is still only five years old. I was delighted to hear of their latest success; their Special English Ale has just won Gold in the CAMRA East Anglian regional finals, beating beers from over 80 breweries. I went to meet the team at their barn brewery in Symonds Hyde, in the woodland beyond the Osprey Shop.

The 3 Brewers are co-founders Mark Fanner and Pete Zivkovic and head brewer Matt Sutton. Mark and Pete came up with the idea for The 3 Brewers in the Garibaldi, and they moved to the Symonds Hyde Farm barn in August 2012. The business is now a 7 days a week job, as the trio do all the brewing, deliveries and festivals.

The team are delighted, and surprised at their win, as they were up against some big names. The award was presented to the team a couple of weeks ago by the local CAMRA group at the Lower Red Lion. The Special English Ale now goes through to the Champion Beer of Great Britain final at the end of the summer, so the decision will be made in time for the Alban Arena beer festival. In the meantime, if you want to try it, it is being sold in lots of local pubs and is for sale at the brewery too.

The trio have a very busy summer coming up first; they will be selling selections of their seven beers including a new summery option Blonde Ale at local events, including the Folk Festival in St Michaels, the St Albans Street Festival and the St Albans Food & Drink Festival. Mark told me that they plan to do a special beer for the local events, so look out for that. They are also hosting an open day at the brewery on September 9th, and they plan live music, a barbecue and plenty of beer tasting. I tried the Blonde and it was delicious, with a good grapefruit flavour that will go well with barbecues and, I think, fish and chips.

The brewery is on a lovely farm location and as we sat outside on the grass, Mark explained that all the water they use for the beer comes from a borehole on the land, which is 100ft deep, and which helps to give the beer its distinctive flavour. The waste grains go to Sandridgebury Farm nearby, and the waste hops are used on the compost heap at Symonds Hyde farm.

The 3 Brewers beers are available in many pubs in the local area, including the nearby Plough at Sleapshyde, The Six Bells in St Albans and The Beech House, to name just three. They are also sold at The Odyssey cinema, The Alban Arena, Carpenters farm shop, The Lovely Little Wine Shop and the Beer Shop.

It is great to hear that The 3 Brewers sell to so many restaurants too, including 4 Nations, Prime and many others; until very recently beer was an afterthought in restaurants. If you want to buy beer direct from the brewery, and this is very popular for parties and weddings, you can visit Mon-Fri 8–4; head brewer Matt is usually there, even if Mark and Pete are out doing deliveries. As well as draft in pubs, the bestselling Classic, Golden and IPAs are available in bottles, and Classic, Golden and Special English Ales are available in 5 litre mini kegs. For large parties they also do 36 pint and 72 pint casks.

The 3 Brewers, Symonds Hyde Farm, Symonds Hyde Lane, AL10 9BB

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Hatfield House Food Festival

(published in Welwyn Hatfield Times 31 May 2017)

Fabulous Baker BrothersIf you are looking for something to do this weekend (2–4 June), why not head to the beautiful grounds of Hatfield House for the Food Festival? With over 150 stalls, and demonstrations from well-known chefs, it should be an excellent day out.

The street food avenue is where to head to for lunch; the choice sounds excellent, and I know my family will be keen to head to the Duck n’ Bite stall for crispy duck wraps and the Smoke Shack for BBQ. I prefer veggie food so will be checking out Camp Halloumi or the Thai food stalls. The pud choice looks good; there will be a churro stall, which is always hugely popular, but I am keen to try the Whipsmith ‘Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Factory’, which sounds very Heston Blumenthal. There are several bars, selling everything from beer to whisky, and the double-decker bus bar will be a huge draw, as will the I Love Bubbly Champagne bar. If this weather continues, it will be a fab place to spend time and enjoy a drink. There is a local producers marquee for take-home cheeses, preserves, charcuterie etc as well as lots of kitchen items such as Polish pottery, hand-made spoons and glassware.

Running from Friday to Sunday (10-5), there are demonstrations and workshops every day at the festival, and these are free to attend to ticket holders. There is also live music all weekend.

The Fabulous Baker Brothers aka Tom and Henry Herbert will be appearing on Friday and Saturday on the Social Kitchen stage and the BBQ theatre. Their series on Channel 4 of the same name was a big success, and they are known for baking and barbecuing; Henry is the butcher and chef and Tom is the baker.

On Sunday, Rosemary Shrager, who you will know from her recent appearances on ‘I’m a Celebrity’ and ‘The Real Marigold Hotel’, will be demonstrating on the Social Kitchen stage. As well as appearing in many TV shows over the years, Rosemary also owns a cookery school and patisserie in Tunbridge Wells and has written many books.

There will also be appearances from Paul Jagger, who was a quarter-finalist in The Great British Bake Off in 2015; he made the amazing bread lion! Paul will be leading baking masterclasses. Clover Hutson will be leading the workshops about family cooking in the Social Kitchen. You will also be able to go on Foraging Walks led by Mark Lloyd, who was head chef at River Cottage and has appeared on Market Kitchen, Hairy Bikers and BBC Breakfast. There are also classes specifically for children including making vegetable cupcakes and pizza fom scratch. The kids’ Food Lab sounds great too; watch out for Jelly Explosions! The Hatfield House website has a full list of all demos throughout the weeked, but you can juts turn up and see whatever you like the sound of!

Advance website tickets cost 9 for adults and 5 for children. If you buy on the door, tickets are 11 for adults and 7 for children. Under 5s are free. You can reserve a place in some of the workshops in advance for no extra cost, or check for space on the day.

Hatfield Food Festival

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Bistro Gautier


Guy, Liana and their father Mark

Guy, Liana and their father Mark

I’ve been taking French lessons again, in an attempt to improve my rusty school French, which is how I discovered Bistro Gautier in Harpenden. We meet each week there over café, and my French teacher kept telling me that the food is excellent, and that I really must try it. You may know Bistro Gautier as the old Amble Inn pub on Station Road; it has now been transformed into a modern French bistro by the Gautier family.

Siblings Liana and Guy Gautier set up the bistro with their father Mark Gautier last year; Liana explained that Bistro Gautier has always been a family-run business. Mark was a classic French chef who worked at The Savoy and The Dorchester, and together with wife Corinne started a catering company specialising in French food, which is how Liana and Guy got to learn about hospitality. Liana explained that they loved working with their parents, cooking at events and festivals, including Glastonbury. The family have lived in Harpenden for many years, and Mark and Corinne used to help run The Amble Inn in its previous guise as The Dolphin, so when it became available, the family jumped at the chance to establish a permanent base, and Bistro Gautier was born.

It is a true bistro, in that it has a very relaxed atmosphere, and you can pop in at any time of day, whether just for a drink or for a meal. Liana explained that it still very much a pub, and that they have lots of regulars who call in for a drink at the bar or head out to the garden. The menu starts with brunch, and continues through into the evening with a la carte.

I really like the exterior and interior of the bistro; it is light and modern, with a pretty, well-tended terrace and garden. The copper penny wall by the front door was Mark’s idea, and see if you can spot the sparkling lights in the ceiling too. The giant fairground-style sign outside looks fantastic and I imagine was inspired by their festival travels.

I went in for lunch to try the prix-fixe menu, which is available midweek 12-5, and must be one of the best deals locally: two courses are 10 pounds and three courses are 13 pounds. I had a delicious and generous bowl of cauliflower soup, flavoured with truffle oil, and a beautifully cooked piece of trout on ratatouille. My glass of French Sauvignon Blanc was excellent. I took a French friend who is an excellent cook, and she explained that much of the menu was typical – she was pleased to see snails with dill sauce. Her starter of beetroot and avocado looked beautiful; there was a slight muddle as she had asked about gluten-free options, and her starter then came with toast, but replacement gluten-free toast was brought quickly. The beef boulette (meatball) was good, although we thought it would have been lovely with my ratatouille. We didn’t want dessert, but enjoyed a generous pot of mint tea and a good espresso. Service is added to the bill automatically, which is a little unusual – I prefer to add it myself.

Trout with ratatouille

I want to go back and try the a la carte menu; the baked aubergine with caramelised lemon sounds lovely, and you will find French classics such as magret de canard, moules mariniere and poulet au citron, as well as many others. The Bistro is very busy at weekends, so do book ahead. The brunch menu looks really good too, with mimosas, eggs on brioche, croque-monsieurs, omelette Arnold Bennett (in a nod to The Savoy), as well as cooked breakfasts. With the sun streaming in from the garden this would be a lovely place for a relaxed weekend brunch. Liana explained that they recently celebrated the Bistro’s first birthday outside with a barbecue and cocktail bar, and they plan to hold more events through the summer, so do look out for those too.

It is lovely to hear about a family-run restaurant in our local area, and the Gautier family have done a fantastic job of creating a welcoming and affordable bistro. It is a modern taste of France, right in the heart of Hertfordshire.

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