Quirky café's flexible choice of quality fare
PUBLISHED: 11:49 03 August 2018
I feel quite emotional writing about the new St Albans Museum + Gallery - the transformation is, at last, complete, and we now have a terrific cultural space right in the centre of our city.
I had been to the old café in the Town Hall, as it was known then, over the years and it was always busy, especially on market days when people would sit outside, but I think it looked dated with the swirling fans and dark panelling everywhere.
The new café space feels very different. As you walk into the Museum + Gallery, the counter and kitchen occupies the right-hand side of the entrance, leaving space opposite for tourist information and the shop (with the poshest tea towels ever). Queue up with a tray along the smart, marble counter, and order lunch, cakes and drinks as you move along to the till.
Seating is either outside under the four large umbrellas, or you take your tray into the courtroom, which now has seating. I love the new use of the courtroom – when I went in people were really exploring it, sitting in the judge’s chair and standing in the dock before heading down to the cells. Tables are located as you walk into the courtroom so there is flat and easy access if you need it (café staff will help you with your tray if you need it).
You can also sit at benches that wrap around the courtroom or sit in the ‘pit’ area; light floods the room and there are fresh flowers on the table.
Surely this must be one of the quirkiest cafés in the country? The loos are in the old cells so go and check those out!
We went in last week for lunch and the café has a short and seasonal menu that changes most days. The chefs you see working in the kitchen make all the food (save a few baked goods) so they can vary the menu easily.
There is usually a soup (good value at under $£5 a bowl), a couple of cooked options and hearty sandwiches. I chose stuffed pepper with two salads for under £8; I thought the watermelon salad was delicious. The potato salad was pleasant but together they were an odd combination. The pepper was very good but I would have liked both halves for the cost. The feta, rocket and chutney sandwich looked lovely and generous, and I saw a few people choose the sausage turnover with date and ale chutney (a nice British touch). The queue moved along quickly and the staff were smiley and keen to help.
I’ve been in twice for cake; the first time was towards the end of the day and they had run out of nut-free cakes (for my partner), but the second time the selection was excellent.
Bakewell tart, pistachio and blueberry buns, carrot cake, raspberry and oat slice, chocolate brownie, and with prices from £2.50 to £3.95, good value. I shared an almond and raspberry cake, which was divine and you could pick up a free recipe sheet if you want to make it yourself.
Coffee was very good and I like that you can get a mug of tea for £1.50. The herbal teas were a little pricey at £3, but you get enough for two cups.
There are jugs of tap water with proper glasses (yay, no plastic). It was easy to find somewhere to sit, and there was a lovely atmosphere outside on market day, with music from a nearby stall.
Keep an eye out for the late night events at the Museum + Gallery; the bar will be open and the plan is to offer food specially themed to the touring exhibitions.
I love that the café team run by Leafi (who also run a cafe at Somerset House, Turner Contemporary and Burgh House in Hampstead) can offer this flexibility – the large chains just can’t. I look forward to going again.