“Everything’s nice here” - The couple at the next table.
Set back from the road behind arched doors and filled with art and greenery, The Courtyard Cafe is a hidden St Albans gem. It’s popular with young mothers and their prams, nonetheless the atmosphere is generally peaceful and relaxed. As for the food, it offers a wonderful range of freshly cooked breakfasts and lunches. Not to mention the cake! Across the board, the emphasis is on quality ingredients, daily specials and home-cooking. They offer a range of organic teas, fair-trade coffee and on Friday and Saturday you can buy bread baked at Redbournbury Watermill. Light and airy, with Bill Withers on the stereo, it’s fast becoming one of my favourite places to work. However there are a few things to note. It’s cash only; it opens Tuesday to Saturday; it closes at 4:30pm and, as a warning to my fellow millennials, there’s not an avocado in sight. (Do not fear though, there’s certainly enough choice here that you won’t miss the pleasures of a mortgage-preventing Persea americana (!) ).
I decided to forgo my usual chorizo and poached egg salad, instead plumping for one of the daily specials. Hot and just-toasted-enough ciabatta makes a gorgeous base for a deeply satisfying stew of tomatoes, aubergines and beans. The whole thing is lifted by coriander and the piquant sweetness of balsamic. The vinegar is drizzled over bread and salad alike, adding flavour to crunch and crumb. This is hearty homemade fare. However it’s served in moderate portions that satiate rather than over-face. This is important as you want to have room for cake afterwards.
The cake is moist with a defined crumb. You can feel the lemon rind rolling around on your palate giving the resulting bolus a delightful rough texture. The sharpness of the raspberries is somewhat buried due to their uneven dispersion towards the bottom of the cake, but it almost doesn’t need them. The generous use of lemon rind prevents the cream cheese frosting from becoming cloying and it’s definitely the best part of the cake. It all hangs together beautifully; crumbly enough to break apart easily in the mouth, but firm enough to be eaten daintily with a fork. Overall a delicate geology of a cake; distinct strata ready to be pleasurably plundered by foodie archaeologists. Oh, and it’s gluten free!
All in all, I have to agree with the remarks of the couple at the next table. Everything is nice here. Cute-vintage-crockery-and-St Albans-prices nice. Succulents-and-green-glass-bottles-on-the-windowsill nice. Sells-art-from-local artists nice. Lots-of-vegan-and-vegetarian options nice. To be honest it’s I-come-here-all-the-time-and-I-will-again nice. So that’s that. Recommend.
The Lunching Intern ate:
Rustic aubergine, feta and mixed bean stew with ciabatta and salad. – £7.65
A pot of breakfast tea – £2
Gluten-free lemon and raspberry cake with cream cheese frosting – £3
The Courtyard Cafe, 11 Hatfield Road, St Albans, AL1 3RR