Cocktails, coffee and casual dining
The Beech House in St Albans opened in November last year and I’ve been looking for a reason to head over ever since. Hearing that it had just won Best New Pub/Bar at the national Publican Awards was excuse enough for me, so I asked my friend Lucy to join me (she needed so much persuading…) and we booked in for lunch.
We got there just as the morning’s mums were packing up their small people and heading home – and looking like they’d had a lovely time, too. Some good big table that could accommodate lots of people and the sofas at the front meant there was room to spread, if that was what you were there to do. If I’d been there that early, I think I’d have been tempted by the hot chocolate – giant Kokoa choccie buttons melted into hot milk – and it takes quite a bit to make me choose something else instead of coffee first thing.
Lunch was a much more grown-up affair. There was a good buzz to the place, even though it wasn’t that crowded, but properly relaxed – no rushing to get you in and out again. We took our time and they couldn’t have been more ok about it. We could quite happily have sat there most of the afternoon, to be honest, and I don’t think anyone would have batted an eyelash. (Well, except my kids’ teachers when I didn’t pick them up…)
There was loads of choice – everything from virtuous (and enormous) salads to proper comfort food: pulled pork and slaw, smoky chicken chorizo and white bean chilli with sweet potato fries, steaks, pizza, the lot – even though the menu didn’t seem huge, and there as a very tempting list of specials as well.
We went for the Tempura Vegetables and Pickles sharing platter to start. It was more than enough for the both of us, with a lovely Marzanino salsa and a chilli and paprika mayo to dip the veggies in. The pickled bits of the tempura were really good, too, and a tasty contrast to the ‘normal’ bits.
Hot on the heels of my recent detox, I was oh-so-good and chose the Salmon Guacamole Salad for my main course – lovely salmon, with proper crispy skin, perched on top of a great big salad and a huge scoop of guacamole. My friend’s Market Cobb Salad looked delicious – chicken, smoked bacon, eggs, avocado and gorgonzola over mixed greens and slathered in a blue cheese dressing – and she wasn’t sharing, so I’m assuming it was.
I managed to maintain my attempt at virtue into pudding going for the Mojito Fruit Cocktail – lots of fruit, right? Never mind the rather delicious mojito syrup that it was wallowing in. I did manage to snaffle a bit of my friend’s Toffeed Fig Tart, though – purely for research, you understand – and it was appropriately gloopy and delicious.
There’s a whole range of teas and coffees for you to choose from, and tea you can buy to take home and make yourself if you want to. I went for the Genmaicha Popcorn tea, which smells exactly like popcorn – hence the name – and is made with toasted brown rice and green sencha (it’s a sort of Japanese tea – I had to look it up).
We also took a quick squizz at the drinks menu (well, it would have been rude not to), and there’s plenty to look at, with eleven brands of gin and five gin cocktails, as well as loads of choice when it comes to other spirits and classic cocktails. We reckoned we could make quite the night of it –except that it was lunchtime. Another day, for sure, though.
The Muddy Verdict:
Good for: lunch with (or without) the family (the children’s menu is a cut above lots of other places), casual dinners, cocktails and coffee. Looks like a great, child-friendly place for a morning with friends, too.
Not so great for: really special occasions, date nights (although it would be a perfect pre-Alban Arena or pre-Odyssey place to meet up – or somewhere to chat over cocktails about what you’ve just been to).
££: On the main menu, starters are roughly £5-£8.50, with a couple of sharing platters at £9 and one great big sharer at £18. Mains range from about £8 to about £13 or so, except the steak which is about £25 – and a main to share at £40. Puds are all around £5, and look delish. The Bar Snacks and Breakfast menus also look reasonable; and there’s a Sandwich menu, around the £5-£8 mark. It’s just about right for what you get, which is great.