By George, look what I’ve found!
Best Cafe in Herts? You decide!
What lies behind the pale green doors? A secret courtyard, that’s what. And a secret garden. Oh, and a host of other delights that deserve to be shared. Come on in, the George Street Canteen is ready to welcome you.
George Street is in one of the oldest parts of St Albans. It has a long history of hospitality dating back to the days when St Albans was the first coaching stop between London and the Midlands. At one point there were more inns on George Street than anywhere else in the city. Today it is a brilliant street to explore, crammed full of interesting and independent shops. If you walk to the bottom of George Street and turn left into Romeland, hey presto, you’ll be greeted by St Albans School on the site of the Abbey gatehouse. It’s one of the oldest schools in the country, dating back to a jaw-dropping 948. The Abbey itself was originally a monastery – the foundations date back to 793! If you don’t know St Albans, you absolutely must go and have a look around, even if only from the outside. George Gilbert Scott, the architect who designed the Great Midland Hotel at St Pancras, restored the Abbey. Today’s Cathedral will loom up in front of you. Go and have a look! And even if you don’t, you can also enjoy a unique view of the Cathedral from the garden of the George Street Canteen. But don’t tell anyone.
What can I say? This is a special place, with a wonderfully unique atmosphere. This is partly down to the location and the building, but mainly down to the owners and their sustainable business practices and community-focused ethos. This is a laid back, make-yourself-at-home kind of place. It’s perfect for all seasons: courtyard, garden, outdoor shelter and inside it’s as cosy as can be. Your hosts, Julie and Kevin, will come and have a chat. (Although Kevin won’t always be able to do this; he spends quite a lot of time in the kitchen). George Street Canteen has only been open for eighteen months but already it is valued by loyal regulars and it never fails to delight people who discover it for the first time. Everyone who works here is equally friendly and they all seem to be enjoying what they are doing and the service feels naturally hospitable. They are keen that you enjoy every moment – and every morsel.
Kevin and Julie left their respective jobs at Lussmanns and The Waffle House to embark on this labour of love. They haven’t stopped working since they opened, and they’re gradually transforming the place. I’ve completely fallen in love with it and have already recommended it to several people. When I posted something on ‘social’, before I knew it, or the very next day, Katherine, aka Bibliomaniac, who I’ve yet to meet, had visited with her family. People seem to like to share the secret.
My official visit to review George Street Canteen was a little while ago and I have to admit I have been back since, and more than once. But on the morning of my review, my partner in crime is Mary, and before I’ve even had a chance to look at the menu, her eyes land on the Mediterranean Breakfast. Chorizo, sweet potato, avocado and eggs. We can’t have the same, because it’s a review, so I go for the Full English. Both are gluten free and there are quite a few gluten free and also vegan options from roast butternut squash salad to halloumi wraps and avocado on sourdough. The menu is interesting to read and everything is very clearly highlighted. There is also a wide range of bread and drinks, including juices from Owlet and Cawston Press. The Belgian hot chocolate is luxuriously rich.
Our breakfasts are cooked to perfection. This is food with real flavour. Mary wants to know where the chorizo comes from and wonders why on earth she isn’t having chorizo for breakfast at home? I rave about the sausages, the eggs, the bread; all of it. I’m already hatching a plan for my next visit. And yes, of course this is thanks to the skill in the kitchen but it’s also due to the fact that the ingredients are chosen with care. This is a place that believes in sourcing quality ingredients from local suppliers. So the meat comes from A & C Meats in Catherine Street. Fruit and veg come from Sparshotts. The coffee, which is delicious, is from Gentlemen Baristas. The bread – what a taste! – is from Dolce Forno. Ice cream and halloumi are from Lewis of London in Barnet.
And there’s other stuff too: granola from Dizzy Bee Kitchen, goats cheese from Wobbly Bottom. Mary and I have apple juice from Highfield Park Trust. What started as a pop up deli is now a permanent fixture, selling many of the ingredients and other local food. George Street Canteen is already on the map in St Albans for its Christmas tree shop.
Very. Everyone is made to feel welcome here. Kevin tells me that they’ve already started planting herbs and tomatoes and they’ve got plans to have a proper kitchen garden and will invite local schools to come in and help. There is also a kids’ menu.
It’s a big paws up. Dogs couldn’t be made more welcome, although at the same time, I wouldn’t want to put off people who are not in love with our canine companions. It’s not packed with dogs; you won’t feel that you’ve landed at Crufts. And although an unwritten rule, only well behaved dogs are welcome. But there’s loads of room in the courtyard so you can sit outside. And the kitchen bakes three batches of dog biscuits a week.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Anyone who appreciates delicious food of real quality, prepared with love and care. Perfect for post school run treats and midweek lunches. Great for weekend, let-it-all-hang-out treats. There’s something holiday-ish about the place if you sit in the courtyard. Inside, it’s oh, so cosy. Go there hungry. Bring your children, bring your grandparents, bring your dog. There’s an upstairs room for meetings, and regular groups meet here, including a French conversation class.
If you’re thinking of a long boozy lunch, you might have to go elsewhere. There is no licence and this is very much a daytime place.
Astonishingly good value, particularly given the quality of the ingredients. Mediterranean and Full English breakfast is £7.95, or £9.95 including fruit juice and a hot drink. See blackboard above for examples of other prices.
George Street Canteen has just won Best Cafe in the Muddy Awards 2017. Congratulations and well deserved!