Proof is in the pudding
PUBLISHED: 11:47 30 December 2013 | UPDATED: 11:47 30 December 2013
It has been an interesting year for the local food scene. On one hand we have seen new independent businesses such as Marlowe and House and The Beer Shop open and thrive, but we have also seen the chains moving into St Albans and Harpenden, keen to capitalise on the charm of our beautiful towns and villages.
The first Christmas market has been very popular (open until 8pm tonight, closing at 6pm on Saturday) and I am sure this early success will encourage even more stallholders next year.
I have some very exciting news for you, just sneaking into the end of the year, as a Christmas present to the lucky people of St Albans. At long last, The Pudding Stop shop has opened!
Commuters at St Albans City Station already know what the fuss is all about as they have been buying delicious puds from Mr Pud, aka Johnny Shepherd for almost two years on their way home. But you can now buy them all day, and every day, at Johnny’s new bakery and shop on Verulam Road. No more sinking heart as you leave the train, a little later than usual, and see that all the puds have gone. You can now head to the bakery at any time you like!
We first heard about Johnny when he appeared on the first series of The Great British Bake-off. He has also been a finalist in the prestigious BBC Radio 4 Street Food Awards. Johnny had been baking his award-winning puds at Redbournbury Mill bakery but he has needed more space for a while now. The new shop will be his bakery, which means he can now make more puds and cope with demand.
Johnny told me that without the support of Mandy and Justin James at Redbournbury Mill his business would never have happened. He is now employing a team of bakers and front-of-house staff, including past students from Oaklands College, as well as local teenagers to help out. It’s fantastic to hear about new jobs being created, and when I went in I met helpful, enthusiastic team members who are obviously enjoying their new jobs.
But of course you want to hear about puddings! Johnny’s puds are classic Brit favourites such as treacle tart, sticky toffee pudding, brownies and all the treats you have come to love from the pudmobile. I chose a mincepie, and it was exactly what you think mincepies should be: crisp pastry, packed with boozy, juicy mincemeat, with a tiny star on top. I enjoyed it so much I went back two days later for another!
Johnny explained that they made their mincemeat in the summer and have been feeding it with brandy, hence the flavour. Christmas puddings were available at the start of the week (just under £10 for medium and £20 for large) so go in quickly if you would like one. Johnny has been feeding them since the summer so they should be amazing!
Puds and cakes will change with the seasons as they do on the pudmobile, so it is worth popping in frequently (any excuse). You can also buy them whole to take home (pre-order 01727 830357 to be on the safe side).
The shop is Shoreditch-funky with long benches to share. You can pop in at any time of the day, and coffee, teas, beers and wines are available. Start the day with toast (white, sourdough or malt loaf) – help yourself to jam, marmalade, honey or peanut butter from the toast station or opt for the house porridge.
From 12 until closing you can choose from a range of British cheese including a Whole Baked Hampshire Tunworth with toasted sourdough. Perfect with a craft beer or a glass of wine from the carefully chosen wine list.
Puds and cakes are available all day, but if you are calling in after 6pm you can get the puds served with Bermondsey ice-creams and custards (look out for the cornflake ice-cream and the Cambridge burnt cream).
We took the children early evening on Friday and it was full with groups of friends, a couple, and another family group enjoying puds and drinks. It would be ideal to visit after dinner if the puds on the menu don’t interest you, or if you want something after the theatre or pub.
The shop stays open quite late on the weekends – up to 11pm depending on how much is left and how busy it is. The large table at the back of the shop seats 10 and you can book it if there is a group of you.
Coffee is single origin Daterra or Doi Chaang, roasted by Climpsons & Sons in Hackney. Johnny has chosen Doi Chaang for the opening month as it has flavour tones of ginger cake, caramel and nuts, making it a delicious seasonal option. You can’t get the usual espressos and lattés here; coffee is served in generous cafetieres, encouraging you to sit down and take your time. You can get small jugs of hot, frothy milk to go with it.
The teas are well chosen from the Rare Tea company, and include China Green Tea, Lemon Verbena and RAF English Breakfast.
Two fortified wines are available, by the glass or bottle, to go with your evening pud: Emilio Hidalgo PX Sherry and Dows LBV Port. Both are delicious with a mince pie. I noticed that you can buy £20 gift vouchers for the shop or the pudmobile; so if you have left it all a bit late this year, how about that for a Christmas present? Good luck to Johnny and his team – you deserve every success. And thank you on behalf of the pud-lovers of St Albans!
A quick tip for you: if you need a cheerful burst of energy head to The Courtyard Café, 11 Hatfield Road, on Saturday at 12noon for the Christmas Ukulele Sing-a-long with the Ver Players. There is always a fantastic atmosphere when the Ver Players are in, and the cakes and lunches are great too.