Looking back on 2017’s food news in St Albans and Harpenden

PUBLISHED: 18:00 18 December 2017 | UPDATED: 11:50 19 December 2017

St Albans food and drink festival.

St Albans food and drink festival.

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Herts Ad food columnist Becky Alexander takes a look back on the year’s food news. What opened and what closed, and what were the trends in St Albans and Harpenden? With national news being full of shop closures and Brexit, how were things in our (fairly) affluent area?

Michelle Lake and Becky Alexander, authors of Packed, at the St Albans Food and Drink Festival.Michelle Lake and Becky Alexander, authors of Packed, at the St Albans Food and Drink Festival.

Grab a coffee and a mince pie, take a break from present wrapping, and let’s take a look back at some of the food news from 2017. With national news being full of shop closures and Brexit, how were things in our (fairly) affluent area?

The main news story has to be the danger facing our fantastic pubs. It has been a horrendous year with the Conservative government failing to address the issues with raised business rates; 80 per cent of the pubs in St Albans will see their rates rise by 72 per cent, which is about £27,000 a pub. The Save St Albans Pubs campaign saw Sean Hughes from The Boot and Dylan’s and Christo Tofalli from Ye Olde Fighting Cocks lobbying Westminster.

Sean has calculated that he will need to sell 22,000 more pints a year to afford the increase. We have a very talented group of pub landladies/lords at the moment; the pubs are the best they have been for many years, with great food and drinks and social events. Anne Main needs to make this a priority, else we will lose pubs in 2018.

In more positive news, I think 2017 was the year independent businesses fought back against the chains. We have had more independent cafés, coffee shops, restaurants and food stalls open than I can remember. George Street has just welcomed Loft where 4 Nations used to be, and The Abbey should open soon.

St Albans food and drink festival.St Albans food and drink festival.

Landlord rent increases mean that popular Number 23 is closing in the new year, but I hope the owners find somewhere else. The Bishop’s Cave on Holywell Hill proves that the wine bar is not dead – more on that in the new year. Fleetville saw several new openings including Nonnos, The Fleetville Larder and 50Nine, all of which have proved very popular.

Heartwood Tearooms opened in Sandridge, and Bistro Gautier flourishes on Station Road in Harpenden. Carmellos in London Colney is very busy as is The Street Café on Catherine Street, both showing that sometimes we just want the basics done really, really well.

Are we getting healthier? The Juice Pharm next to the Arena and Hiit on Chequer Street think so; they both opened this year, offering good ranges of juices, salads, things on toast, vegan cakes and plant-based meals. I really like the cauliflower pizza in Juice Pharm and I had a great salmon and rice lunch in Hiit.

People have commented on the prices in both to me; it’s interesting as we seem able to pay 12 quid and over for a mass-produced pizza but balk at £8 for salmon and vegetables – is food considered more valuable on a plate rather than in a box?

A close up of bread being sold at the St Albans Food and Drink Festival 2017

Picture: Craig ShepheardA close up of bread being sold at the St Albans Food and Drink Festival 2017 Picture: Craig Shepheard

Talking of boxes, the food street markets are flourishing. The St Albans charter markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays now have a great selection of regular food stalls; I do wonder if the smoke from some annoys the clothes shops nearby though. The farmers’ markets continue to thrive in both Harpenden and St Albans, and Radlett is hoping the new artisan market will do well.

Food at the St Albans Food & Drink Festival and Christmas Lights switch-on was excellent. Harpenden continues to ‘debate’ their involvement in the Food & Drink Festival; I hope they work out how to join in again.

Parker & Vine are showing Harpenden that indies can thrive if you give people what they want (salad and cake!). I hope Zero Juice and Sushi survive Waitrose opening a sushi bar right opposite – thanks Waitrose...

Turkish food seems to be a trend locally, with Tabure continuing to be one of the hardest places to get a table! Saute (Adelaide Street) and Ayos (Beaconsfield Road) both opened, offering more traditional grills.

Visitors tried out the free cheese samples at the St Albans Food and Drink Festival 2017

Picture: Craig ShepheardVisitors tried out the free cheese samples at the St Albans Food and Drink Festival 2017 Picture: Craig Shepheard

So, we have plenty of good news – our indies are excellent and we are lucky to have such choice. I hope rising food costs and losing staff to Brexit won’t be a massive problem for them. I have been delighted to see the success of the refusethestraw campaign with 27 places reducing their use of landfill plastic. But there is still loads to do to make our food offering more sustainable; we are lightyears behind Bristol and Brighton and are drowning in single-use coffee cups and plastic wrapping. Let’s hope we get better at that in 2018.

Visitors tried out the free cheese samples at the St Albans Food and Drink Festival 2017

Picture: Craig ShepheardVisitors tried out the free cheese samples at the St Albans Food and Drink Festival 2017 Picture: Craig Shepheard

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