Aqua

aquarestaurant

Old Welwyn village has a good choice of independent restaurants and cafes for its size. I had heard good things about Italian restaurant Aqua on the High Street, so took an Italian friend along for lunch last week.

I liked the friendly welcome when I rang to book, and it was a good job I did as the restaurant was almost full on Friday lunchtime, with quite a few small groups. There is a small village car park next door, and this gives you the best view of the restaurant which overlooks the river to the side; it is a shame that the restaurant isn’t able to make more of its location as you actually enter from the road at the front. Painted in greys and purples, we found the restaurant quite gloomy for a lunchtime and I think it would suit an evening more.

aquastarter

A board outside advertised a lunch offer of pizza, pasta, salad or sandwich and a drink for 10.20; it would be helpful to have this on a specials menu inside too as we were given the main menu and were not sure what the lunch deal included. We wanted to try one of the anti pasti, which included a large ball of mozzarella, red pepper dip, aubergine dip and a delicious chunky caponata. It was all lovely; my friend really liked the mozzarella, and it was enough to share between two of us. My friend was able to chat in Italian to the waiter and ask questions about the main courses, and she chose a Quattro Stagioni (four seasons) with mushrooms, goats cheese, aubergine and pepperoni for us to share, with a rocket salad. The pizza was served fresh from the pizza oven that you can see in the open kitchen, but it wasn’t the best pizza – the base was chewy rather than crispy and the aubergine and mushrooms weren’t cooked enough. The pasta and fish dishes going past for nearby tables looked much more appealing, and certainly generous in size.

pizzasaladaqua

Service slowed down while we were there and we waited a while to pay our bill; it was busy in the restaurant but for lunchtime, when many people need to get back to work, this could be improved. Aqua is a busy and popular local restaurant, and with more attention to detail could be great.

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Tealicious

Published in WH Times 4 October 2017

tealiciousshop

The shops around the green in Brookman’s Park are that rare thing; a useful collection of local and independent businesses. There is a good butcher, baker and fishmonger, and all just a moment’s walk from the train station. I love that the cafe, Tealicious Tea Rooms, is a thriving independent rather than a chain, and it seems the locals do too, as when I popped in for a late lunch on a Tuesday it was very popular, with most tables full.

Known for it’s home-made cakes and traditional afternoon tea, Tealicious is a great place for tea, as you would expect, and the window is filled with cake stands and tea pots. It also does very good breakfasts and lunches too, and is open from 7 on most days, making this a useful place for any time. If you prefer coffee, don’t worry; we had very good coffee, and I would go back for the proper Greek coffee (just 1.20) which I failed to spot before ordering!

tealiciouscakesLunches included a home-made butternut squash soup (the daily soup changes with the seasons), sandwiches, jacket potatoes and salads. I chose a halloumi salad, which was very generous, with plenty of olives and halloumi. It was slightly old-school, with all the little gem lettuce, but at 5.45 very good value. My partner chose a Greek breakfast for lunch, which came with lountza ham, Greek sausage, grilled tomatoes, eggs, halloumi and plenty of toast.

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The large counter is filled with home-made cakes, scones and pastries, and I was interested to see lots of classic Greek/Cypriot favourites including baklava, koubes, spinach and feta parcels, all at very reasonable prices – koubes are just 85p each. We bought excellent sultana scones and flapjacks to take home, although the cupcakes and gluten-free blueberry cake also looked lovely.

Tealicious is table service, with two rooms and a few tables outside in good weather. Service was quick and friendly throughout, with the owners Vas and Andrea (sisters) on hand to welcome and look after customers. Just last week Tealicious celebrated it’s second birthday, and I am sure it will continue to thrive; it is exactly what you want in a neighbourhood cafe!

Open: Tues–Fri 7–5, Sat 9–4, Sun 10–3, closed Mondays.

 

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A taste of the future

Article published in The Herts Advertiser 12 October 2017

chefcookingI love visiting Oaklands College; their catering and hospitality department is one of the best in the country and it is always interesting to see what they are up to. It is also always humbling to see what amazing food 17- and 18-year olds can produce – including far better pastry than me!

Last week we had dinner in The Stables restaurant to celebrate the start of the new academic year. As you drive into the college through the pretty grounds, The Stables is the first main building you reach, and you enter through a cobbled courtyard. The kitchen is open plan so you can see the students at work, and they can see the paying guests – it must train them to be fearless! The college trains front-of-house as well, so you are welcomed at the door (bookings are essential) and service is excellent throughout.

On the evening we went, the level 3 (most experienced) students were cooking a “fine dining” menu: I chose salmon mi-cuit, with cucumber jelly and pea shoots; steamed cod with mussel broth and root vegetable tagliatelle; and lemon and poppy seed tart with raspberry sorbet. The salmon was delicious – perfectly cooked using the sous-vide method, and went very well with the cucumber jelly. The cod was also excellent, and I loved the tart (great pastry as I mentioned before). The wine list was sensible and served well. I sat with the Deputy Mayor of St Albans City and District, Cllr Jamie Day, and he was pleased to be able to order a local beer (The 3 Brewers). The Stables has just been awarded its first AA College Rosette for fine dining, so very well done to all tutors and students.

salmonmicuitStudents go on to work in fab places, including many London restaurants, including Michelin-starred. I was impressed to hear that one current student had negotiated work experience at Tom Kerridge’s Hand and Flowers in Marlow, which is quite a coup. Locally, chefs have gone to St Michael’s Manor and The Grove, among other places. Last week, Harry Lumsden, a former student and former Young Master Chef of Great Britain, and now head chef at The Great Northern, picked up an award at the Food & Drink Festival Awards.

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If you would like to book for dinner, The Stables is open on most Thursday evenings. They do themed nights such as Asian cooking and Steak night as well as fine dining, and the Christmas menu starts at the end of November. Menus for three courses cost 15–19.95. Call 01727 737357 or email thestables@oaklands.ac.uk to book.

You might have seen Oaklands college at the Street Feastival two weeks ago; their tractor and pop-up farm were very popular. “Showing the upmost respect to the meat we use” was the theme of the Butchery Demonstration led by college Master Butcher Kev Speed; the demos were well-attended and the meat was packed and sealed for sale. The students really do get to learn about the whole food process, which is needed more than ever in the UK; we are getting too used to not thinking about where our food comes from.

The next big event for the college is the Young Chef of the Year competition held in February. This is open to secondary school students and is an excellent chance to check out the college facilities, especially if you are thinking of food as a career. If you are interested, email competitions@oaklands.ac.uk to register (there is still plenty of time). Who knows where it might lead you?

petisfour

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Coffee with a kick

Published in WH Times 20 September 2017

BradJustinbags

Brad Barritt is well-known as the captain of Saracens rugby club, having lead the team to back-to-back Champion’s Cup victories. You might not know that he also has a passion for good coffee, and has recently started a new coffee business, Tiki Tonga, based in Welwyn Garden City.

The name Tiki Tonga comes from the New Zealand team song which is sung by rugby players all over the world. We met the TT team at the Meraki Festival in Redbourn this summer, where they were holding a pop-up coffee shop, and were keen to find out the story behind this new local company.

Brad set up the business with partner Justin Stockwell, who has a background in the coffee industry. They met at various Saracens matches, bonding over coffee rather than beer; a healthier option!

Brad explained: “I have always had a love for coffee. It has played a huge part in my career and remained a constant trigger for my happiness and enjoyment both on and off the pitch. It helps improve mental wellbeing, enhance performance and most importantly, it is a way to bring people together. It’s natural and can be consumed with a healthy conscience.” Brad recently completed his Masters in Business Management, and they are keen to sell the coffee into sports clubs around the country, local cafes and restaurants and to appear at local events.

coffee cupThere are four blends, 2, 8, 9 and 12 and the tasting notes and strengths play on rugby terms, so their Number 8 is “strong, yet smooth, with a powerful liquorice kick, throwing in a cocoa finish”. Number 12 is a milder blend, made with 100% Arabica beans, yet “puts in a powerful hit”. The coffee was very popular at the Meraki festival, keeping energy levels high!

You can buy the coffee online at tikitonga.co.uk and it is available as beans and as ground filter coffee; they are working on a pod coffee at the moment. As they tend to sell to businesses, you can’t buy just single bags but you can buy a taster pack (227g) of each blend, along with a t-shirt and tasting notes for 38.00, which would make a great present for a Saracens fan!

BradJustin

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It’s Gin O’Clock

festivalstaff

It’s back to school and work after the summer and I am sure we all need a large glass of something delicious to ease us back in. Gin has become a huge thing in the UK in the last few years, with new independent distillers popping up everywhere, and with it we have all become gin experts. Any bar that takes itself seriously has a gin menu, and our love of gin has been duly noted – we now have, not one, but two gin festivals taking place this autumn in St Albans.

The Alban Arena hosts the famous CAMRA beer festival each year, and this September sees the first gin festival at the same venue, taking place over the weekend of 15th and 16th September. Organised by GinFestival.com, the event will showcase over 100 gins and gin cocktails. The idea came from Jym and Marie Harris, who wanted to create an event where people could try new gins and meet indie distillers. The first release of tickets sold out very quickly, showing that St Albans is definitely ready for this kind of event. A few more tickets were released last week so do check their website ginfestival.com for last minute availability.

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Jym told us: “We’re delighted that this event has been so popular, especially as it’s our first time in St Albans. Our cocktail manager Peter Barrett has been working hard developing six new incredible cocktails and we have some new gins to try including White Rose from Leeds, Addingham Cranberry and Orange and Zymurgorium Rose.”

Each festival-goer gets a copa glass and a gin explorer book which you take around the event, making notes. Fever Tree will be there with their full range of tonics (do try the elderflower) to dilute the alcohol and you can choose which garnish to go with your gin too.

Entertainment will be from The After Hours Trio, a 20s-style Gatsby swing band who perform jazz, jive and electro swing. Hog roast will be available from Striped Pig. The Friday and Saturday evening sessions are 6.30–11pm and the Saturday afternoon session is 12.30–5.

ginfestival

If you need more gin after this, head to the first Gin and Jazz Festival on George Street on Friday 6th October which is being organised by the new St Albans BID (Business Improvement District) team. The road will be closed from 7.30–10pm and you will be able to buy drinks from Dylan’s, Suckerpunch, ThirtyNine10 and The George Street Canteen. The shops will be open too, and music is being organised by local company Headliner. Glitterbox will be there to make everyone look fabulous. I’m delighted that we have two such great events coming to St Albans: cheers!

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Turkish Kitchen

Published in Welwyn Hatfield Times 6 September 2017

Turkish food is hugely popular in our local area at the moment, with several new restaurant openings. I had heard good things about Turkish Kitchen near the University; it is a mini-chain with Hatfield being the latest in four restaurants, with another in nearby Hertford.

We went on a Monday lunchtime and it was very busy for so early in the week, with families, friends and work groups having lunch, which was a good sign. You would have to book for a weekend evening.

We had a warm welcome and service continued to be good throughout. We asked for tap water and this came in a large bottle, along with a generous bowl of warm lavas bread with a chilli and carrot relish and a garlic dip. These were all delicious and almost enough for lunch in itself.

I ordered a plate of mixed meze from the set lunch menu (6.45) which included warm, crispy and perhaps a little oily falafel; they went well with the yoghurt, cucumber and mint dip and slices of cucumber. The hummus was thick with good texture and was lovely with the olive oil and sumac sprinkled on top. The halloumi could have been grilled for longer, and the aubergine and pepper Imam Biyaldi seemed a bit sweet. The chicken skewer was excellent value for the price, with large pieces of nicely grilled meat and red cabbage and tomato salad. The fries were a little undercooked but as the chicken came with more lavas bread they weren’t really needed.

The main evening menu is very long; the stand-out dishes are from the charcoal grill or the kofta. There are plenty of dips and aubergine dishes for non-meat eaters. They do a platter for four people for 50 pounds, making group ordering very easy!

The restaurant is in a large glass-fronted unit next to Aldi so they have tried to add character with a ‘barn’ area at one end, complete with thatched roof, and an open kitchen where you can see the chefs behind plumes of smoke. It’s not as sophisticated as it’s neighbours in St Albans, but for a great value meal out, The Turkish Kitchen is a good alternative to the chains in the nearby Galleria.

turkishkitchenfood

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Wild Honey and Rye

Ren Behan

I’m very excited to be able to tell you about a new cookery book by local writer Ren Behan; you might already know Ren from her blog, her many magazine articles, or because she lives in St Albans with her family.

The beautifully titled Wild Honey & Rye is a collection of modern Polish recipes. Inspired by the food of her childhood and by the new wave of flavours to be found in cafes, restaurants and farmer’s markets, Ren’s book will open your eyes to Polish food today. She focuses on the fresh, seasonal ingredients that are used widely; if you have taken a city break to Poland recently you will know about the fab outdoor markets and trendy coffee shops. Ren includes photos from her own travels, and the book works as a travel guide as well as a recipe book.

You will find classic Polish dishes in the book, but given a lighter touch. There are chapters on main courses, preserves, salads, bakes and drinks. The ribs braised with honey and vodka sound amazing. You might also like to try the sauerkraut, especially as we now understand the benefits of fermented food. There is a recipe for vegan pastry rolls, and no book on Polish food would be complete without pierogi, the classic dumplings; Ren gives you ideas for both sweet and savoury, and pierogi with honey are on the cover of the book.

9781911216216A love of good food and pride in her Polish heritage are the two things that inspired Ren Behan to write this book. Her parents and grandparents came from Poland and her father fought with the 1st Polish Armoured Division during the Second World War before settling in England.

After a career as a criminal lawyer, Ren moved into food writing and has made a real success of her new path. Her recipes have been featured in BBC Good Food and delicious magazine and on JamieOliver.com and she has thousands of followers for her blog (see renbehan.com for more info). Wild Honey & Rye is published on 7th September and available in local branches of Waterstones and online at Hive and Amazon. Ren will be appearing at the St Albans Food & Drink Festival, and will be hosting a pop-up supper club at the new Street Cafe.

Apple Mash

APPLE MASHED POTATOES

Apples are Poland’s largest export and the Poles are very fond of apple recipes. This apple mash goes really well with Polish meatballs, pork dishes, fried liver and onions, or with roasted duck.

Serves 4

800g potatoes, peeled and chopped into quarters

1 tsp vegetable oil

2 tsp butter

½ white onion, finely chopped

2 large apples, peeled and cubed

pinch of salt

Place the potatoes in a large pan of water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10–15 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked.

Meanwhile, heat the oil and half the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and fry gently for 10 minutes until soft and translucent.

Add the apples and fry for 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of water to the pan to prevent the mixture from getting too dry, then continue to cook until the apples are soft.

Drain the potatoes, put them back into their pan and mash until smooth – or push them through a potato ricer. Stir in the cooked apples, add the remaining butter and the salt. Serve hot.

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