Looking back on a year of food and drink

PUBLISHED: 12:23 03 January 2019 | UPDATED: 12:23 03 January 2019

The Pudding Stop team at the Meraki Festival. Picture: Danny Loo

The Pudding Stop team at the Meraki Festival. Picture: Danny Loo

Danny Loo Photography 2017

Festivals, street food, coffee shops, vegan food, disposable plastics, the chef crisis – there has been plenty going on in the food world in 2018. How and where we eat does reflect where we are as a community, so here are a few of my findings over the past year:

St Albans George Street Gin and Jazz event. Eaters outside L'Italiana. Picture: Stephanie BeltonSt Albans George Street Gin and Jazz event. Eaters outside L'Italiana. Picture: Stephanie Belton

One in three adults are trying to reduce the amount of meat they eat, so vegetarian and vegan food is on the rise. I have noticed that pretty much every menu now has good non-meat options; this just wasn’t the case a couple of years ago. It’s good news for restaurants and cafés as meat is expensive and doesn’t keep for long, so I am sure this trend will continue to grow locally.

Festivals and street food has been a big thing this year. The standard of street food has really improved and I love that there are more outdoor events to bring people into the centre. The gin and jazz event in George Street was excellent; creative and well-presented by all the businesses taking part. The pop-up Harpenden Social is lovely too, and I like that there are a few more foodie vans in Harpenden centre on a regular basis. The Tom Kerridge event planned for September shows that we are now thought of as a foodie destination, which just wasn’t the case until fairly recently. It should help to bring even more visitors to the city.

No shows were a growing issue in our local restaurants – if you book a table and then don’t show up that has a huge impact on the restaurant’s profits. Taking credit card details at booking are going to become the norm. If you book and really cannot go, at least call them!

Disposable cups, straws, plates and other one-use items became big news and there was some effective campaigning. Plastic-free St Albans, Refuse the Straw and Sustainable St Albans made a difference and it is a win-win for local businesses too, as they save money buying items that few of us need. St Albans Council installed one water fountain. I noticed that some local events tried to be more eco-aware, with reusable cups and wooden forks but there is still a VAST amount to be done. The plastic water bottle and cup situation at the Half Marathon is a shocker for example; can we just try and take our own water out with us more often next year? The Refill Pantry on London Road opened and offers a great alternative to endless supermarket packaging.

St Albans George Street Gin and Jazz event. Patrons by St Albans Clock Tower. Picture: Stephanie BeltonSt Albans George Street Gin and Jazz event. Patrons by St Albans Clock Tower. Picture: Stephanie Belton

If you or your kids is interested in becoming a chef, there really has never been a better time! I have heard from lots of local businesses that Brexit has already had an impact and it is hard to get trained staff. As a country, we are woefully unprepared for the loss of hospitality people caused by Brexit.

Can businesses, already struggling with ridiculous business rates take time to train up the people they need? The one positive is that chefs can pick and choose their jobs at the moment and need to be paid well. Oaklands does a fantastic job of training chefs, but they often get snapped up by the big London hotels – we are going to need more training facilities.

I was pleased to see that lots of our indies are thriving; Tabure, 50nine and The Pudding Stop-mobile have been so popular in St Albans they are now moving into Harpenden too. I think it shows that if you offer something special, people will support you.

I often hear ‘there are too many coffee shops’, and yes, we have had some more open! I am actually pro the indie coffee shops; I think they offer an affordable place for people to meet and help to keep people in the town centres for longer. I also see that they bring friends together, offer a place for meetings, provide a quick chat for the person who lives alone and are somewhere for the new parent to take their baby, and all for the price of a coffee. We probably need them more than ever.

St Albans George Street Gin and Jazz event. About 5,000 people attended. Picture: Stephanie BeltonSt Albans George Street Gin and Jazz event. About 5,000 people attended. Picture: Stephanie Belton

We also need our pubs! The business rates car crash – I should say scandal – threatens to close some of our pubs in 2019. If you want them to stay open, please go in January, February and March, which are usually quiet. Have lunch, do a quiz, watch a band, have an orange juice if you must, but please go.

And hopefully the Tory government will find time between their in-fighting to save our fantastic pubs.

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