Peppermint Coffee Shop

threewisesign

I am always happy to discover a new place to have coffee and cake, especially in a lovely location. You may already know about the Saddlery Cafe which is part of the Osprey Shop on Woodcock Hill, Sandridge; we wrote about it when it opened a few years ago. Peppermint Coffee Shop opened recently in an adjacent barn, and is well worth the short drive (or bike ride) over there.

Peppermint is on the ground floor of the Three Wise Monkeys Vintage & Arts Emporium, which is well worth a good look around too. I met Laura Sullivan who runs the cafe, and she explained that they opened the shop and cafe in September.

The cafe is very small, with just three or four tables inside, with a few more outside if the weather is good. All of the cafe furniture is vintage, and some of the cafe chairs were for sale! I like the cosy feel of the place; the walls are lined with kitchenalia and shelves displaying pretty tea and coffee cups.

Peppermint cakesThere is a good collection of cakes on the wood counter, including coffee and walnut, Victoria, lemon drizzle, fruit loaf and banana and walnut loaf. There is a nice range of slices including rocky road and caramel shortbread – prices start at a very reasonable 2 pounds. I noticed a few gluten-free options too.

There is a tea menu by Tea Pigs, and I liked the good choice of herbals. The lunch menu is very short, but has enough options to keep you going as you look around the shops. On the day we went there were four types of sausage roll including a nice looking veggie one containing spinach, potato and nutmeg. You could also choose toasties, soup with bread (gluten-free bread is available) or hummus with carrots and cucumber. Prices are very good; the soup is just 3.75 to give you an idea. There is a short smoothie menu too, including a great-value green smoothie made with banana, kale and mango for just 2.50.

Laura SullivanI was pleased to see I am Cocoa chocolates for sale, including little bags of dark chocolate stars and their popular bars. I hadn’t seen their boxes of truffles before – they would make a lovely gift. I am Cocoa is made in St Albans by Jackie Smith, who you might also know from the Christmas Market.

Laura told me that the cafe has already been really popular with walkers and cyclists exploring Sandridge. We sat outside in the spring sunshine next to a rocking horse, and I can imagine bikes propped up on the old barn walls, and dogs sitting happily under garden tables and chairs. As Laura runs the cafe alongside looking after her young family, the cafe is only open 10-3 during the week, and 10-4 on the weekends (closed Mondays). If it isn’t open, you can always head to the Osprey cafe which has a great selection of drinks, cakes and lunches, which are mainly gluten-free.

The vintage shop itself is very well displayed over two floors and you can find all sorts of crockery, furniture, vintage tins and crafts – it is a stylist’s paradise! Some of the stall holders have come over from the old vintage emporium on Hatfield Road, and it is great to see a new home for all these interesting treasures. Parking is fairly limited but a visit can easily be combined with a walk; and then you will definitely need a piece of cake!

 

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Laura Kate’s Cake Boutique and Tea Parlour

Laura Moyes and mum

Pretty Old Welwyn village is a lovely place to explore, and is full of interesting, independent food businesses. I am sure I will feature many more in the next few months, but I am starting with Laura Kate Cake Boutique and Tea Parlour – I am always drawn to the cake shops!

Laura Moyes opened her tea shop on the High Street nearly four years ago, and it has proved very popular with villagers and anyone exploring the area. It is in a lovely old building and beautifully decorated, with silver wallpaper and fresh flowers, and is a refreshing change from all the identikit chain coffee shops that have popped up all over the place.

I have been a few times now, and the cakes and bakes are excellent and are all home-made by Laura and her small team. They are perfectly happy if you just pop in for a coffee too. The small counter area has a lovely display of cupcakes, slices and bakes, at very reasonable prices. We shared a large chocolate brownie on one visit, and it was delicious and I loved the gold glitter and slab of white chocolate on top. The cupcakes are particularly good, and the flavours change all the time – you can buy them to take away as well.

Laura is well-known locally for her amazing celebration cakes, mostly wedding cakes, which she makes herself – the cake business was originally called Hundreds and Thousands, and the tea shop has one or two wedding cakes in the window so you can see the sort of designs she can create for you. If you have your own ideas and themes, she is very happy to help with that too, and you can go for a cake tasting to try before you buy.

Laura Kate windowLaura lives in the area and had always wanted to open a tea shop so as the celebration cake business grew she was able to open in the village. Laura also has plans to open another shop in the future, so watch this space.

The tea shop has a good loose tea menu, and our tea was served in pretty vintage-style pots and cups; my roobois was lovely, and you can get Earl Grey, Darjeeling, white tea and decaf as well as classic English breakfast.

The tea shop is table service, rather than American-style queue-up, which creates a relaxed feel. You can order toasted crumpets, English muffins and cheese scones which are lovely traditional choices, as well as more substantial paninis. The afternoon tea is amazing value at 16.95 – a great alternative to a hotel afternoon tea. Laura explained that it is best to book for afternoon tea especially for a special occasion as they make everything fresh themselves to order. Because of this Laura can help with any dietary requirements, including gluten-free and dairy-free, which many of the big hotels just can’t manage. Just ring on 07530 513466 to book a table. Laura also offers private hire in the tea room, and I can imagine this would make a lovely venue for a hen party or special family birthday.

Laura Kate tea cup

I can see why Laura Kate’s Tea Parlour has been nominated for a Hertfordshire Life Food & Drink Award for Best Independent Cafe/Tea Room; Laura has created a beautiful, unusual cafe which is also affordable.

There is plenty of free parking around the village, so it is easy to get to Laura Kate’s. It is open Tuesday to Saturday 9.30-5.30, and you can now get afternoon tea every day rather than previously just on weekends – just remember to call ahead.

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Easter in St Albans

abbotskitchenI love this time of year in our local area. The daffodils and bluebells are out and on sunny days we can head to the pub gardens; the whole place seems to come to life again. I also love Easter food; chocolate and hot cross buns – what isn’t to like!

 

It is all change at the Cathedral at the moment, as you may have seen with the excavations near the visitor entrance. The Abbot’s Kitchen cafe has relocated to a large marquee in front of the Cathedral facing toward the lake. I really like the new location; we went just after it opened and sat in the sunshine at one of the outdoor tables, and the view is really fantastic. Inside, the marquee is very smart and spacious; they have set up a full kitchen so you can get all the usual lunches, cakes and coffees, so it really is business as usual. Breakfast is served until 11.30 and you can get bacon rolls, eggs on toast etc. Lunch includes jacket potatoes, soup, salads, sandwiches and a daily hot lunch. I met John, one of the full-time volunteers at the Cathedral and he explained that the refectory is being transformed as part of the new visitor centre, so the cafe will be outside for about two years. I notice they have a fridge ready for Ice Kitchen lollies, which are excellent; I am sure these will be very popular with families out exploring the park.

If you are quick you will be able to buy Alban buns; these are the original hot cross buns and have been part of the Easter tradition at the Abbey/Cathedral for nearly 700 years. They are 1.65 each if you would like one in the cafe, and we had ours toasted with butter. Alban buns are slightly firmer than many commercial hot cross buns and have a spicier flavour. When the buns were made at Redbournbury Mill they were marked with a traditional cut cross; the buns are being made by Simmons this year, who have added a piped cross. If you want to buy a packet to take home, they cost 4.95 for a pack of four. The cafe will stop selling them after Easter, so do get there quick!

albanbuns

Over towards Kimpton, Sarah Collins’ Barn is another seasonal favourite. Look for the signs as you drive towards Kimpton from Wheathamstead, and take the road up on your left. Sarah opens the pretty barns at Christmas and Easter and sells an excellent selection of foodie gifts and kitchen items, as well as paintings, jewellery and clothes. I really liked the Easter-themed egg cosies, as well as the pretty mugs, plates, aprons and tea towels, many of which are printed with local town names. There is a nice selection of food gifts including chocolate, olives, coffee and preserves. There isn’t a cafe here but one of the lovely things they do is offer complimentary tea, coffee and biscuits as you wander around. The Barn is open until Easter Saturday at 5pm, so if you miss it this year, remember to go at Christmas.

If you are looking for interesting Easter treats, head to Rock Pop Candy on Holywell Hill. This is a treasure trove of sweets and gifts, with many international favourites too. The ‘Reester Bunny’ made by USA firm Reeses, famous for their peanut butter cups, is proving very popular and there might be some left if you hop to it. Rock Pop Candy also sell more traditional chocolate eggs, hens and rabbits, including lovely chocolate rabbit lollipops and praline eggs. I am quite tempted by the Marmite Easter egg for our marmite-loving 11-year-old, although it is quite a risky combination.

Local company I am Cocoa also do lovely chocolate, and you will find Jackie’s home-made collection at Carpenters, The Smokehouse Deli, Perfect Moment Florist and for delivery through Box Local. The lollipops, buttons and stars are a good size for a little treat, and the large bars are terrific value for money; you get far more chocolate than packaging so you can justify it as an eco-choice too!

 

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Hatfield farmers market

Hatfield farmers market seasonal veg

On a sunny spring Saturday it was lovely to see White Lion Square in Hatfield town centre coming back to life after the lengthy renovations. The farmers market has been held on the first Saturday of the month for many years now, and it is good to see the square bustling with customers.

If you haven’t been for a while, it is well worth going for excellent locally-produced groceries that are often far better value than in the nearby supermarkets. The rule of the market is that sellers can only sell what they grow or produce themselves, so you will find seasonal, fresh food, that has very low food miles.

I was really impressed by the vegetables on offer from several of the stall holders. Huge bunches of purple sprouting broccoli, kale and rhubarb looked lovely, and were very fresh. You can tell when broccoli is really fresh as the stem snaps easily; try it next time you buy some! I bought an enormous cauliflower for just 90p; for the same price in my local supermarket the cauliflowers were at least a third of the size. Nine Wells Watercress is very well known locally as they have farmed in Whitwell for 200 years. Watercress is not available for sale all year but do buy some if you spot it on the stall; it makes delicious salad and soup.

I was very impressed by the selection on the Morgan Pell Meats trailer, who specialise in home-reared beef and lamb. I chatted to owner Kevin who explained that he had been at the farmers market since it opened in 1999. The meat comes from his wife Judy’s family farm near Bedford; the couple met at agricultural college and their business name includes both their surnames. The beef steaks looked excellent quality, and I was interested to see goat on the stall as well; Kevin explained that the goats are raised by his nephew.

Kevin Morgan JonesI know Foxholes Farm Shop from their regular stall at St Albans farmers market. They specialise in pork and their chops, bacon and sausages are very good. You can also visit them at the farm shop and butchers in Hertford, where they are open every day. They also have a nice tea shop, ‘Granny Smiths’ where they use many of their own hams and eggs.

Franklins of Thorncote had an excellent selection of meats and eggs, and are well-known for their farm shop near Sandy. Their chickens are free-range, and you can also get Gloucester Old Spot pork, which is a favourite with chefs and not easy to find in supermarkets.

Local honey is always worth buying when you can find it. It is meant to be very good for alleviating hay fever, and can vary in flavour depending on what the bees are collecting! The Hertfordshire Honey Stall offers very good quality honey, and well worth investing in a pot.

Lime Tree Pantry Pies were selling fruit and savoury pies, and they are very popular at the St Albans and Harpenden farmers markets too. Pick up one of these, with some vegetables from the stall next door, and Saturday evening dinner is all sorted! The beef and ale pies are one of the bestsellers, but you can also buy salmon pies and vegetable pies. Sizes vary and can feed one person or up to six.

There are not as many stalls as there have been in the past, but with the warmer weather ahead of us, and the work completed, this should change. It would be good to see a bread stall and a good coffee maker; if you are interested in having a stall here ring the market manager Alan on 07704 404660. With plenty of free parking nearby this is a very easy market to get to, and well worth putting in your diary for the next one on Saturday 6th May (8.30-1).

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The Fleetville Larder

EdBevin

Just a short walk from St Albans city train station and near beautiful Clarence Park, Fleetville has always been an enclave of interesting, independent food shops. Santino’s Italian deli was always very popular, and when the owners decided to retire, we were curious to see what would appear in its place.

I popped in last week and met new owner Ed Bevin, who lives just round the corner from his cafe and deli. Ed explained that he used to work in London and, with a young family, had got fed up with the daily commute – I think many of us will be able to relate to that. When the Santinos told Ed that they were retiring, he decided to grasp the opportunity and change the direction of his life. A course on how to run a cafe, and lots of painting and decorating later, and The Fleetville Larder opened officially in February.

I love the new look; it is light and welcoming, with seating for about 20 inside, with funky reclaimed wooden benches and school chairs. It is a great place to pop in for a coffee and I am sure the parents from the nearby schools and homeworkers will love it here. There is a good selection of loose leaf Brew teas, and home-made cakes and fresh loaves. The reason for the name, though, is that Ed sells a great selection of British and French cheeses at the counter, along with a well chosen range of biscuits and chutneys to go with them. I was really pleased to also see some of our local products on sale too, including Dizzy Bee Granola and Virginia’s Kitchen preserves, both of which are home-made in St Albans.

cheeseboard

Ed has chosen award-winning cheeses that you won’t be able to buy in the nearby big supermarkets, and it is well worth popping in if you are planning a special cheeseboard or for a favourite. When I went in, there were large wheels of Tunworth, which is a celebrity in the cheese world, having been awarded Supreme Champion in the British Cheese awards in 2013. You could also choose Cerney Ash, which is hand-made in the Cotswolds; Vulscombe goat cheese, made in Devon; Isle of Mull cheddar; Appleby’s Cheshire; and famous Cornish Yarg which is wrapped in nettles. You can go for lunch and try a board of cheeses with chutney, bread and crackers; it is a great way to try something new. The lunch boards cost 7.50–10.50 and you can share of course. Ed is hoping to open in the evening when settled, and I can imagine this will be very popular – a bit like a Pudding Stop, but with cheese!

I tried Virginia’s Kitchen onion and caraway marmalade, which had a delicious flavour and good texture, quite unlike many over-sweet and pureed commercial chutneys. The pear and walnut chutney sounds amazing too. Apple and cobnut biscuits are a taste of Kent, so look out for those too, made by The Captains Table company. There are also pretty boxes of reasonably priced chocolates, jams and teas which would make up a lovely hamper or a treat for yourself.

I sat in for a (very good) coffee, but I was pleased to see that The Fleetville Larder have chosen to use Vegware for their takeaway cups and lids; these are made from plant materials rather than plastic so are properly recyclable. You can take your cup home and put it in your green bin. It’s great to see a new business starting as they mean to go on, with thoughtful sourcing and good-quality local products for sale. Every time I have been past the cafe is busy, so this approach evidently works. The Fleetville Larder is a great new addition to the local community.

The Fleetville Larder, 129 Hatfield Road (near St Paul’s Church)

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Bebo, Welwyn Garden City

Beboboard

Bebo has long been a favourite for locals in Welwyn Garden City; it is one of the true independents in the town centre, amid a sea of chain restaurants. If you haven’t found it yet, it is in a great location midway between John Lewis and The Howard Centre, so is a very useful place to stop when out shopping.

Bebos has an Italian feel with red awnings outside and exposed brickwork inside, with displays of panettone behind the counter. The focus is on ‘gourmet’ sandwiches and there is a huge menu on the wall, which would take many visits to read! Every time I go, the cafe is busy, the staff are welcoming and the service is chatty and quick. If you order food to eat in, you take a number and they bring the food to your table which is more relaxing than in the chains. If you just want a coffee, hover at the end to collect it; this is also where you find plenty of tap water, which I like to see in a cafe (I’d prefer real glasses to plastic disposable cups though).

There is the usual range of coffee and herbal teas at prices that compare well with the chains, and my Americano was good (1.90). Bebos are known for their cooked breakfasts, and there is a great selection including bagels and wraps with free-range eggs and smoked salmon, and plenty of vegetarian options too, including grilled tomatoes and hash browns. The toasted Panettone sounds delicious.

If you fancy a sandwich, you will find your favourite here: there is a huge selection including turkey, feta, falafel, bacon, roast vegetables as well as classic tuna, cheddar, ham etc. They do the Italian sandwiches best, and mozzarella, tomato, basil and pesto ciabatta is always good. I saw one of the team preparing an avocado sandwich with seeded bread, and it looked delicious, with generous amount of avocado. Sandwiches range in price from 2.50 to a hearty 12.99 for a ‘seafood sensation’ packed with smoked salmon, crayfish, prawns and avocado, but I am sure they will be fine if you share!

Away from the sandwiches, the menu can be less succesful; on one visit my halloumi, pear and walnut salad (7.99) was a little disappointing. The leaves and walnuts were fresh and generous, but the halloumi was not freshly grilled so was quite dry. I think the pear should be fresh, rather than canned; not having every ingredient is perhaps inevitable with such a long menu.

mezeplateI was pleased to see some very reasonably priced children’s options on the menu, such as scrambled eggs on toast; a good healthy choice.

There is a small, but appealing selection of cakes, biscuits and scones, and Bebos is popular in the afternoons too, especially on a weekend. It was good to see Rodda’s clotted cream for sale, which is from Cornwall, and is delicious with scones.

Bebo has been in Welwyn Garden City for well over ten years now, and opened another in nearby Hertford about two years ago. They also do catering for parties and events and can deliver to your local venue. It is lovely to have a good independent in the town centre, with long-serving staff and lots of loyal customers. There is a useful community board where you can find out what is going on, and free newspapers to read while you have your coffee. I think the menu is a little ambitious and tries to offer everything to everyone, but, then again, that might be the secret for its continued success.

Bebo, Stonehills, Welwyn Garden City. Open every day.

Bebosign

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Peddling Pizza

Adam c.Luc Le Corre Studio Humble

We now have a great collection of food stalls at the Wednesday Charter Market in St Albans city centre. If you head to Market Square at lunchtime on a sunny day, there is a real buzz about the place, with queues of locals buying a freshly prepped lunch. I was intrigued by the Peddling Pizza ‘stall’ that appeared recently; it really is a pizza oven on a bike, so I went along to find out more from owner Adam Atkins.

Adam has been at the market for just a few months now, and started the business to fit alongside looking after his young son Charlie. The bike and trailer is a customised design and Adam cycles the Electra Cruiser bike in to town, and fits everything you see on the ‘stall’ inside the trailer or on his back! The Roccbox pizza oven itself bakes just one pizza at a time, but it produces such a heat (over 400C) that Adam can bake a pizza in 60-90 seconds. This means that every pizza is made to order, and Adam hand-stretches the pizza dough, adds toppings and bakes it while you wait. I put this to the test and ordered a classic margarita; busy people on their lunchbreak don’t want to queue for ages, and I was really impressed: in the time it took for me to pay for the pizza, it was ready to come out of the oven!

Adam makes all his pizzas following Neapolitan guidelines. He makes the dough himself using Caputo flour from a mill in Naples, and proves it for 72 hours to develop flavour and texture. Adam makes the tomato sauce that forms the base of his toppings using San Marzano tomatoes: he explained that there is so much flavour in the tomatoes he doesn’t need to add anything to them, so there is no sugar or additives. I like that Adam uses some local ingredients, including St Albans Honey (from the Walled Garden Apiary), although of course, most are imported from Italy. He is looking for locally produced charcuterie, so do get in touch if you are a supplier.

You can choose from three variations. The margerita is baked with San Marzano sauce, fior di latte mozzarella, Parmesan, basil and olive oil. You can add Salsiccia Napoli Piccante pepperoni for an extra 1.00. The Angry Bee pizza sounds most interesting, and is topped with nduja (spicy sausage paste), red chilli, fior di latte mozzarella and a drizzle of St Albans honey. Prices are from 5.50 to 7.00 for a 10inch pizza, which makes a generous lunch, or can be sliced to share.

I like that Adam serves the pizzas on biodegradable sugarcane plates; very eco-friendly. You can take the plates home and put in your food waste bin. I am not sure what you do with it in the town centre but I think the plate could go in the paper recycling. I also like that if Adam has any dough leftover at the end of a market he bakes it into pizzas and delivers them to local charity Open Door.

pizzaoven c. Luc Le Corre

Adam was born in St Albans and has worked locally for many years as a delivery driver. You can find Peddling Pizza most Wednesdays at the Charter Market and Adam also does events and parties; if you can order 20 pizzas or more he can come along and do the food for your party, which would be very cool. We talked about the logistics of getting the bike into a garden, and Adam explained the bike and trailer are thin enough to fit through a standard home or office doorway, so he can bring Peddling Pizza into your garden without knocking down fences or bringing in a crane!

Adam is due to take the bike to Oaklands College Lambing Weekend on 18/19th March so look out for him there. He is also booked to go to the Mermaid Pub’s beer festival on 28/29th April. If you want to contact Adam, email him on adam@peddlingpizza.co.uk or ring 07971 081 189. Website is peddlingpizza.co.uk

Peddling pizza c. Luc Le Corre

Photo credits: Luc Le Corre at Studio Humble

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