The Fleetville Larder
A knowledgeable cheesemonger, excellent coffee and delicious food. The Fleetville Larder is a very good place indeed.
Fleetville is a busy, buzzy area in the east of St Albans. It’s only a matter of time before it’s featured in the Guardian’s Let’s Move To spot. Popular with young families, it feels a bit Kensal Rise or West Hampstead before they became as chichi as they are today. It’s close to Clarence Park, with a parade of shops that goes on and on, split by turnings into residential roads. The arrival of The Fleetville Larder was a sign – if one were needed – that this is a great area. A bookshop would be a good addition, although this is unlikely. But there is an art gallery, Nude Tin Can, that is definitely worth a visit.
Stripped back, pared down, with painted floorboards and furniture made from upcycled scaffolding boards. Pendant lighting. This is your cool, comfy and welcoming local village deli. As soon as you walk in, you think to yourself, ‘I will do well here’, and that’s not just down to the array of cheeses. Everything about this place is good. It’s more than home to a cheesemonger – the shelves are laden with real food, much of which you won’t find in your local supermarket. The Fleetville Larder is a very happy hub for the Fleetville community and I predict that it’s about to become a destination for people who live outside of Fleetville but who make a special trip. As I did, on the late-opening Friday night.
Owner Ed Bevin swapped life as a city trader to become a cheesemonger. He signed up for a course on how to run a deli with The Guild of Fine Food. He’s so good at it that he’s now one of the Guild’s judges for the Great Taste Awards. His first love is cheese, but there are a lot of other things here too. Ed has scooped some awards since opening last year, including Best Deli in the Muddy Awards 2018.
You’ll find the usual local suspects: granola from Dizzy B Kitchen, beer from Farr Brew, the coffee (which I’ve tasted here and it’s excellent) from Tiki Tonga and lots more. The emphasis is on good and real food above all, rather than truffling out local producers just because they are local. It’s open from 9-5 during the week and on Friday nights it stays open until 10pm. It’s fully licensed and now that I’ve been here by day (for the coffee) and by night (for cheese and wine) I approve of Ed’s natural approach to hospitality – he loves what he does and it shows – and he also has an innate flair for creating a mood. In the evening the lights are dimmed and the music cranks up a few notches. It feels good to be here whatever time it is. On Friday evening there were some neighbours and a group of school mums. Some of us were inside, and there are also some tables on the pavement – because this is June in St Albans and the weather is conducive to al fresco eating without the need of a blanket.
Ed brought me a glass of house white (Los Tres Curas Sauvignon) which hit the spot. It’s from nearby Flagship Wines. He urged me to try the bruschetta and I’m so glad I did. It was joyously zingy. Ed marinates the olives himself and the bread is from Dolce Forno, a St Albans baker favoured by some of the best cafés and restaurants in town. And then the board arrived. Ed is a gifted presenter of cheese. He talked me through the selection, and then I scoffed my way through Colston basset, Capricorn goat’s cheese, Comté and Brebirousse d’Argental. There was more Dolce Forno bread, Peter’s Yard crackers, some fig jam, Milan salami and chorizo. Oh and some piccalilli, not something I would usually embrace but this one was exceptional. Ed says that he tends to ‘change things up’ when it comes to the cheese and charcuterie platters and given that you could call one section of this shop Tracklement Towers, I think it’s a cheesemonger’s prerogative to surprise with dollops of different jammy and saucy delights.
While eating it’s easy to check out the shelves. Some of the other cheese eaters bought more of what they were eating and drinking to take home. Other people came in to buy Friday night provisions. On the daytime menu there are also toasted sarnies, Fleetville Larder-style. How about The Alpine? Raclette, salami, onion and caraway jam. The salads looked amazing. Beetroot, peashoots, almonds and goat’s cheese or roast butternut, feta, pine nuts and rocket with a tahini dressing. Meatier, cheesier salads are also on offer. I moved on to the house red, Chico Norte Merlot, a treat with all that cheese, but you could also go for Farr Brew beer, or there’s a range by Redchurch Brewery: Hoxton Stout, Shoreditch Blond and Brick Lane Lager. The whole experience was a delight, and I’ve got a list of people I want to bring here. I found it hard to move after all that cheese but you could go for Saffron ice cream, from over the border in Saffron Walden. And of course during the day there are cakes galore and also cream teas.
There are regular and also one-off events. Tasting evenings with wine, beer and gin (these are separate evenings) which sell out quickly, so keep an eye on the Facebook page. There’s a screening coming up that’s part of the St Albans Film Festival, and other salons and storytelling nights are being planned. There’s also a Death Café once a month, where you can celebrate the life of people you miss. These are cathartic, often uplifting and enjoyable evenings.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Three cheers for The Fleetville Larder! I like this place a lot. It’s a simple concept: deli with café, but to make a success of something like this isn’t so simple. This is a success story. The quality of food is wonderful; you can taste quite a bit of it; and then buy it to take home.
Good for: Daytime coffee and cake and general hanging out and skiving off. After school treats. Cream teas. Easy and casual evening catch ups. Perfect for couples after a busy week of work. Easy night out with friends; school mum events. Anyone who appreciates excellent cheese and wine in a relaxed environment that feels pleasantly urban and in the know.
Not for: Anyone who fancies a daytime fry up or an evening steak and chips.
The damage: Excellent value. Salads £5.50; cheese platters from £7.50; house wine by the glass £3.75.
The Fleetville Larder, 129 Hatfield Road, St Albans, Herts AL1 4JS 01727 863237