Wednesday, 17 August 2016
REVIEW: Great Northern Pub, St Albans
When I went off to university, I noticed something. And it wasn't until I came back for that first Christmas holiday that one of my friends voiced it. "Haven't you noticed that you have a much higher alcohol tolerance than everyone else?" We all had. And that night, in the pub - of course - we pondered why. And we came to the conclusion that it was coming from St Albans, a town with more pubs per square mile than almost anywhere else in the country. Possibly.
There sure are a lot of pubs in St Albans. I have my favourites and my least favourites, and then a list that's bigger than both of those of pubs I've never made it to. There are many. So it's easy to lump a lot of them in together as 'old man pubs' or 'scary local pubs' and completely miss it when they have a much needed makeover.
That's exactly what's happened to the Great Northern Pub, which is one of several pubs up London Road. It's right next to The Odyssey, the recently refurbished cinema, but I'd never even realised it was there until I noticed last year that they'd had a lick of paint and were featuring some tasty looking food on their Instagram. I mentally made a note to pop in at some point, but they beat me to it a few weeks ago when they invited me to their new menu tasting. Everything was absolutely delicious - like, so, so, SO good and also with loads of unusual but great flavour combos, like lemon drizzle cake with fennel - that I couldn't wait to go back for a full meal. Luckily for me, they invited us back. Hooray!
ARGH THE FOOD HERE IS SO GOOD YOU GUYS. The team behind the Great Northern (or GN if you're lazy like me) have totally transformed this formerly run-down boozer. They've put loads of exciting beers behind the bar, like Neck Oil, Grimbergen and Curious Brew (which Matt cheerfully worked his way through) and have recruited a head chef with a gourmet background who has turned this menu into something really special. It changes daily and currently looks like this. So. Bloody. Good.
So what did we have? All the good things. I've already run you through Matt's beers, but I had a fruity Thatchers (who knew?) and then moved onto the gin, served with their very own elderflower syrup. Amazing. I'm not a tonic fan, but I could get seriously into gin and elderflower.
Then the food! To start, I had the Wild Garlic Risotto, which I'd also sampled at the menu tasting. Look at it. That colour! This was perfectly cooked and full of flavour, perfectly creamy and cheesy with spring vegetables like baby courgettes and tenderstem broccoli included to add a bit of texture. It was amazing - rich but fresh at the same time, with a definite garlickyness which wasn't overpowering. You can also get this as a main, if you ask nicely.
Matt had the Ox Heart, which came with walnuts and grapes. It was the first time both of us had tried ox heart (obvs I stole some of his) and found it quite a rich cut - super tender, and it contrasted beautifully with the caramelised walnuts and the burst of sweetness from the grapes.
Sidenote - the playlist was awesome, like a best of 2009 wonder with people I hadn't thought about in years like Miike Snow and the Sunshine Underground, plus people I had like Bloc Party and Maximo Park. Good playlist work, guys.
Mains! I had the Panisse, which came with tomato, artichoke, hazelnuts, pinenuts and truffle. Noticing anything? That's right, I went veggie for the evening. I just couldn't resist. I'm a card-carrying carnivore, but all the vegetarian options sounded so good and I had absolutely no regrets. My main, in particular, was great - and really unusual, too. I love eating a combo of flavours that I wouldn't usually put together. Panisse is basically a small potato rosti, which was served with a rich, slightly sour tomato sauce and smoked artichokes. The crunch of the different nuts worked really well and occasionally there'd be a hit of flavour from the truffle - it was so different, and so tasty.
Oh, and I had it with chips. Their chips are so freaking good. Matt is not a massive chip fan (weirdo) but he couldn't stop raving about them.
Matt went for the Pork Chop Milanese, which was a much simpler meal but no less delicious, as it had been fried in seasoned panko breadcrumbs atop freshly made egg tagliatelle, with a heritage tomato sauce. It was very yummy (but mine was better). It just showed though that they can do simple and they can do fancypants - I'm actually pretty keen to try their burger at some point. There's nothing wrong with a simple menu as long as it's done well, and this was done very well.
And I haven't even got to desserts yet - which were out of this world. Matt had the Smoked Chocolate Torte. I'd never had smoked chocolate before and now I don't want to go back - it was rich and decadent and incredible. It came with a ginger cream, cherries and an almond crisp and the combo of flavours was just exceptional.
I had the White Chocolate Mousse with raspberry sorbet. White chocolate can often be a bit sickly in desserts, don't you find? But this mousse was subtle and creamy and delicious. The raspberry sorbet was tart and full of flavour, although a tiny criticism - I actually preferred them as two separate entities. The raspberry sorbet was incredible but overpowered the mousse a little, but both were really good. I loved the sugar work too - how beautiful is that plate?
It's not the cheapest menu in the world, but for the quality of the food and the level of service (this is the friendliest pub in the world), it's worth a lot more. And I wouldn't call it expensive, as such - starters were around the £7 mark and mains ranged from £11 to £17.50. Desserts were around £6. Like I said - not the cheapest in the world, but not breaking the bank either, and worth it for such a special meal. They also do roasts, which I'm excited to try. And there's a quiz! Meet my new favourite pub, basically. It's just a damn shame we're moving to another part of Hertfordshire in a few months. I'll miss you, risotto!
The Great Northern is at 172 London Rd, St Albans AL1 1PQ. The pub kindly paid for our food and drinks in exchange for this honest review.
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