Looking back on a tumultuous year for our local food venues with a sense of optimism

Becky goes on a bun hunt...

Becky goes on a bun hunt... - Credit: Becky Alexander

It’s been another rollercoaster year for our local food and hospitality businesses, but looking back over 2021, there have been some wonderful new places open, and excellent events to enjoy, so let’s look back with a sense of optimism, that spring will come and we will all be out enjoying ourselves soon.

With fewer of us commuting into London, we have eaten lunch locally, gone out for coffee with neighbours instead of colleagues, and had drinks ‘after work’ without the hassle of late night Thameslink trains. Outdoor spaces opened, markets and food trucks thrived, and many have told me that they had a very good year.

Several new businesses opened in 2021 – let’s see if there are any that you need to add to your ‘must try’ list. In St Albans, the new openings included Al Farid, Havin, Leafy, Co Natur deli, Deli on Verulam and Tavah. I had delicious food in all of them, and I am now a regular customer at Leafy, for their ever-changing salads that you mix and match yourself. Love that place!

Over in Harpenden, Pudding Stop opened a swish new café, which is already a big hit. Brad & Dill’s, just up the road, does great bagels and coffee and draws a regular lunch crowd. Silver Palate had a lovely refresh, and Tabure extended into next door, as it has proved so popular, and rightly so.

The team at West End Barns.

The team at West End Barns. - Credit: West End Barns

Wheathamstead has become a little foodie hub, with the excellent Brewhouse café selling such lovely bakes, Nonnos opened a new branch (check out the impressive pizza oven), and West End Barns in Nomansland being a big draw to walkers – I probably had more questions about this excellent little café than any other place this year. I hope you all found it ok!

Ben Quinn and Olia Hercules of Woodfired & Friends

Ben Quinn and Olia Hercules of Woodfired & Friends - Credit: Woodfired & Friends

Over in Elstree, the very stylish Home Farm became a destination for cool Londoners and locals for glamping, yoga and outdoor dining. I loved dinner under the vast oak tree, cooked by Ben Quinn and Olia Hercules. I hope Woodfired & Friends will be back, if they can fit us in among their festival commitments.

The Outdoor Kitchen Collective.

The Outdoor Kitchen Collective. - Credit: Becky Alexander

We learned to make the most of our outdoor spaces, with outdoor eating and drinking staying popular long after restrictions changed. I had a great barbecue lunch at the Outdoor Kitchen Collective at the Osprey shop. JJAM have done a fantastic job of the café there too, with events all year in their pretty courtyard space. We now have our first rooftop bar at The White Lion, and pavements and alleyways everywhere have crammed in tables, making our city and villages more sociable and inviting.

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Home food deliveries, markets and street food events are still very popular, and I have talked to lots of chefs who have now set up their own businesses, with the improvement in life/work balance that can bring. I had lovely vegan food from Mungos, delicious Caribbean food from Mama Cynth, Malaysian food from Lime Face and incredible meringues and cakes from Double Yum.

Caribbean food from Mama Cynth.

Caribbean food from Mama Cynth. - Credit: Becky Alexander

The area caught the attention of national media, and we had visits from the BBC to check out our Alban buns, and it was great to see so our market, pubs and restaurants appear in lots of ‘Best” lists in weekend newspapers. More national chains noticed what a great area it is, and we now have branches of Love Brownies, Five Guys, Honest Burger and Giggling Squid. Do the signs have to be so SHOUTY?!

St Albans vegan market.

St Albans vegan market. - Credit: Becky Alexander

The Food and Drink festival was outstanding again, and remains one of the largest in the country without an entrance fee. Gin and Jazz on George Street spread out over two nights, which worked beautifully – that really has become one of the best places to go out.

I recently had an excellent negroni in SuckerPunch and delicious wine and a meze plate in Must. Pub in the Park drew big crowds, and I noticed how much better the veggie food was this year – they also had really good alcohol-free options, leading the way with this new trend. All these events were lucky with kind weather, which was great for everyone.

So, who knows what the next few weeks will bring, but I am optimistic that there will be happy and sociable times ahead. Our area is seen as a good place to open a food business, and with your continued support, we will be able to enjoy them for years to come. See you there!