On the right track

Owners Agron Ballo, Liliana Rivera and Shop Assistant Kate Simmans inside Baked Nation

Owners Agron Ballo, Liliana Rivera and Shop Assistant Kate Simmans inside Baked Nation - Credit: Archant

I’ve always thought that the area around St Albans City Station has been a bit lacking in decent food shops. Considering the amount of people who walk along the nearby streets every day it lacks really good places to buy daily essentials. At long last an excellent bakery has opened on Victoria Street; we would have loved this in the ten years we spent living nearby!

Baked Nation opened just before Valentine’s Day, and there is a love story at the heart of this business. Owners husband and wife Aron Ballo and Liliana Rivera met two-and-a-half years ago studying at Le Cordon Bleu in London, both pursuing their dreams to have their own business. Aron lived near the station and when the shop became available they were keen to start their business together. Aron worked at The Grove in the pastry kitchen, but it is Liliana who bakes all of the breads and cakes you can buy in the shop.

Liliana explained that she bakes everything herself in the morning, with many of the loaves made using her own sourdough starter, bubbling away in the basement kitchen. She bakes an impressive selection including, on the day I popped in, sourdough, rye, white, multi-seeded, five-grain and wholewheat.

Liliana uses French flour from the Ritter company, and she plans to bake baguettes too, as well as other varieties as she has time. One customer had asked for a gluten-free seeded loaf, and Liliana was happy to bake it for her, explaining that she is happy to bake more as they learn what their customers want.

There was an impressive selection of cakes, including a large heart-shaped lemon and poppy seed cake, and I really enjoyed the carrot and walnut cake. There were two gluten-free options on offer; a chocolate layer cake and peanut butter cookies, and Liliana said there always would be.

When they have settled in the couple plan to offer bread-making classes in the shop and possibly patisserie masterclasses, such as baking macaroons. So watch this space.

There are several tables inside and outside if you want to stay for a coffee or a light lunch. Aron explained that he made the tables with a carpenter friend, and the large slices of tree trunk look very welcoming alongside the bare-brick walls. I think the outside area is going to be hugely popular when the weather improves; the large planters frame the seating area and really improve the look of the street.

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Coffee is Illy and there is a good range of T-pigs herbal tea. You can get home-made soup each day; Broccoli and Stilton was on offer when we went in, and each bowl is served with croutons made with their own bread, and with a generous hunk of bread to go with.

There are hearty doorstep sandwiches made with their own bread, of course, and a savoury pastry each day, such as spinach and feta on filo pastry or a bacon tart. Prices are very reasonable, with £1.80 for a white tin loaf going up to £3.50 for a large rye sourdough and £3.80 for a large multi-seeded.

Aron explained that lots of locals are going in to buy bread each day, as well as commuters popping in for a coffee and croissant on their way to work. They are also very busy when people return home from the station, which is why they are opening 7am-7pm on weekdays. Weekend hours at the moment are 9.30am-5.30pm on Saturday and 10am-5pm on a Sunday. So if you come off the train and need a delicious loaf of bread, then you now have an excellent option. If only they had opened years ago!

n Next Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday – are you ready to flip your pancakes? The annual St Albans pancake races, including the running race and the ‘flipping walkers’ race will take place outside the town hall at 12. The Foragers at The Verulam Arms are holding their own pancake flipping competition at 6pm that evening (free to enter). The whole family is welcome with categories for men, women and children. The winner will be the one to toss a pancake the most times in one minute. The winner of each group will then compete to win a dinner in the pub as well as become Grand Champion Supreme Pancake Master. If you don’t win, console yourself with their pancake menu.