Exceptional old school cooking at local staple

A selection of dishes fromThompson's in St Albans

A selection of dishes fromThompson's in St Albans - Credit: Archant

I hadn’t been to Thompson St Albans for quite a while; I think of it as an expensive, special occasion option, so it had slightly fallen off my radar. But one of my pals was celebrating a birthday so we thought we’d go; I’d seen pics of the outside terrace on instagram so we made a last-minute booking for lunch.

The terrace is a quiet, flower-filled space, which feels like an escape from the city centre. You can sit in the room that opens out to it too, if you prefer shade; it still has a lovely light feel to it.

We chose from the midweek set menu (£18.50 for three courses, and £14.95 for two) which is a steal compared to their main menu. With just three options for each course you should probably check before you book, but we both (a vegetarian and an omnivore) were happy with what was on offer, and it was great to see the menu focusing on seasonal ingredients.

I chose end of season asparagus with confit yolk, marinated feta and watercress. The waiter told me that the asparagus came from Marianne's (Phil Thompson's partner) father's allotment, and it was full of flavour and cooked to keep its snap. The confit egg was a brilliant idea - a perfect globe of egg yolk which tasted delicious with the asparagus but without the runny-ness that I think can look a mess.

My main course was a generous plate of hake with summer vegetables. The hake was lovely and I enjoyed the vegetable stew that came with it, although I was surprised to have this on a warm day. Antonia chose butter roasted artichoke with spinach, fried duck egg and truffle dressing. Antonia has an Italian family and is an excellent cook and was delighted to see artichoke on the menu, which she told me she rarely sees in the UK. She loved this dish, which is high praise. We ordered side dishes, but they weren't really needed as each main was enough in itself.

Don't skip pud - they were delicious; my poached gooseberries with a vanilla madeline, lemon curd and meringue was divine. I tried a little of Antonia's roasted apricots with nut crumble and that was heavenly too. The puds aren't huge, but let's be honest, we don't really need them to be, do we?

Service was friendly and informed, and it was lovely to be given little tasters and fresh bread before our starters arrived. With many of the town centre pubs and restaurants now charging towards £15 for a main course (you can spend that on a pizza), this really is exceptional value. Of course the main menu served at weekends and evenings is more expensive, but I love that there is an affordable option if you want to go midweek.

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For St Albans people who are used to eating in London, Thompson's 'relaxed fine dining', white tablecloths, 'ladies who lunch' and 'date night menu' might seem a little untrendy, but the cooking really is excellent. With a decent wine list, talented front of house and cooking that you really wouldn't manage to do at home, Thompson's is old-school, but in a good way. You can see why he has picked up Michelin awards as well as local best restaurant awards.

Phil is also a familiar face at the various local food festivals and events. He and his team will be cooking at Pub in the Park with Tom Kerridge later this year (Phil and Tom are pals), when the main restaurant will be closed (September 13-15). Each dish will be £5 and the menu will be braised beef brisket with celeriac and truffle puree, crayfish burger with spiced lobster mayo, and butternut squash risotto with smoked feta, pickled squash, black olive and crispy wild rice.

So Thompson's is a lovely option if you want a summer holiday lunch that feels special, without having to hop on a train or a plane.