Bags of potential to be city's best restaurant
PUBLISHED: 16:20 04 December 2018
The cathedral quarter in St Albans goes from strength to strength and has attracted some very good restaurants, bars and food shops recently. It always looks lovely at this time of the year, and I am sure many of you will be heading there for Christmas drinks and food.
I have been meaning to write about The Abbey for a while, as it opened earlier this year with a very smart launch, but I wanted to go when the fuss had died down, to see what it is really like. Executive chef Cat Ashton has an excellent background; she was head chef at Petersham Nurseries and at Paradise by Way at Kensal Green. Petersham Nurseries held a Michelin star and is known for its creative seasonal cooking, and Kat has brought that experience with her to St Albans. It’s also interesting to note that Kat is the only female head chef in Hertfordshire at the moment; I hope this is the start of a trend!
Set in an old, narrow building on George Street, The Abbey has a smart bar area as you go in, though space is limited so it is probably best for a quick pre-dinner drink.
The area at the back of the ground floor is lovely, with a quirky floral wall that brings a lot of character to the enclosed space. Upstairs there are two rooms, one of which is ideal for private dining, which is becoming ever more popular in St Albans. The Living Room at the front of the building has a large fireplace and views over George Street and the smaller Abbey View holds one long table that sits up to 10 people and would be lovely for a group of pals.
We were seated downstairs and I didn’t love the spot; it felt like we were in a busy corridor – I realise this is tricky to avoid in a narrow building, but they might need to rethink the room layout so every customer gets a good experience. It is busy, so you do need to book.
The menu is short and seasonal, with four starters, four main courses and four puds. I chose grilled sea bream with curry butter, corn and coconut purée, curly kale and mushrooms; it was a clever combination of seasonal elements with a nod to Kat’s Australian background. It was beautifully presented, well-balanced and delicious.
My husband chose brown sugar glazed short ribs with celeriac purée, fennel remoulade and pomegranate, and we ordered some autumn greens which went well with both, I also liked the sound of the roast pumpkin and halloumi wrapped in filo with pistachio mayo, which is more interesting than the usual veggie options. Mains range from about £15 to £22, which is pretty standard for this level of cooking.
I loved my medjool date and Kahlua crème brûlée with fresh figs and walnut cookie for pud; the date compote was a fab combination with the brûlée. I tried some of the dark chocolate torte with pear and rosemary honeycomb, and that was excellent too.
Service of 12.5 per cent is added; I prefer to add my own, but this does seem to be the norm now in many restaurants. The food arrived promptly, which shows that the kitchen is well-organised but otherwise I thought the service seemed a bit chaotic which added to the feeling of sitting in a corridor.
I have heard good things about the bottomless brunch they serve at weekends. Main courses sound wonderful, for example: cream cheese stuffed French toast with crispy bacon, blueberries and maple syrup and scrambled eggs on sourdough with chorizo, rocket salad and roast pumpkin. You can get autumn cherry Bellinis to go with it.
The Abbey has already gained a good reputation locally for great cooking and I think has the potential to be St Albans’ best restaurant; it just needs to work out how to make the best of its historic building.