Paprika, a chic bistro in St Albans

After 15 years in the UK without owning a car and mainly because the capacity of the bike is such that you can hardly carry the building materials that the business requires, last autumn we purchased one  at our favourite treasure hunting ground : EBAY.

It has been an incredibly useful purchase that has only been used when needed. So much so that the battery had gone flat for lack of usage a couple of times! (By the way, for those who own a car, here is a useful piece of kit! )

We were told that part of the problem was that we had not driven the car between the two charges for long enough in order for the battery to catch up. And it is because of this that a couple of weeks ago, we felt that we should have our first excursion.

St Albans Cathedral

St Albans Cathedral

I must admit that St. Albans may not be the first place that comes to mind when one looks at organising an excursion, despite its rich history, however, Welwyn Garden City and PRP’s best scheme (in my opinion ) at The Ryde are near enough, so with the car, we could visit all three of them on the same day.

St Albans was an iron age settlement that became one of the largest towns in the Roman Empire. As it happened to most of the country, the town fell into decay following the departure of the Roman empire… speaking of which, if you have a chance watch this fascinating documentary : Border Country in which  historian and MP Rory Stewart, explores the similarities between the Roman empire invasion of the country and more modern equivalents that help illustrate why after years of cultural enjoyment an a good quality of life, the islanders quickly forgot everything they had learnt from the Romans following their departure. As I said, fascinating .

Back to topic: the history of St Albans contains historical uniqueness that includes amongst others, the change of name from  Veralanium/ Verulamium to St Albans following the  execution of St Alban’s, the earliest known British Martyr…. or the fact that its Abbey was home to the drafting of one of the most defining documents that lead the way to constitutional law in England and beyond: the Magna Carta. 

The city (it has a cathedral, after all) is beautiful and feels like a collage of architectural styles. I have to say that it is a visit worth doing. More on St Alban’s here .

Paprika

Paprika, unassumingly chic

It was mother’s day that we chose to visit St Albans and as one can imagine the restaurants in the high street were busy with families determined to , as a friend put it , rather than making an effort and cooking for mom, go out and have someone else cooking for them instead.

I had looked up on TripAdvisor , as you do when you are adventuring on to an unknown land, and concluded that this little place sounded like the right choice for us : European, unassuming and off the beaten track /ish (definitely off the high street).

From the moment we approached the restaurant menu, the owner opened the door and reassured us that despite being late (around 3:30) it was still ok for  us to have lunch, should we want to.

We went in, and began to fully appreciate the effort that has gone to making this place stand out from the crowd in a positive way:

  • The decoration, an eclectic mix of European stiles that included shelves full of books, bohemian lamps, and desert trolleys.
  • The Menu, a four (starter) / four (main) / four (desert) simple, yet delicious with something for everyone.
  • The service, welcoming, attentive, and generous with their time.

Paprika chic Interiors

The interiors are a mix of contemporary materials with traditional pieces that give the restaurant a welcoming feel.

We sat by the window and made our choices.

The restaurant does not have a license to serve alcohol, which given that they opened in September, may be a temporary thing. One may still bring their own and pay the cost of the corkage.  In my opinion this could be an area for future improvement, however, as we were driving anyway, it made no difference to us.

We had a good chat with the owner, who  explained that they had decided to open a restaurant that they would like to visit: a place that felt intimate, offered a good service and had a good seasonal menu.

It was interesting to see how well they understood things that many take for granted. He spoke about making individual customers feel welcome by not having spaces that were too open around the smaller tables, or how having a small radio could be enough to break the feeling of distance.

The choice of tables was very interesting too: there was a combination of tables on wheels for him to reconfigure as smaller or larger tables and fit around the customers’ needs, as well as fixed booths were couples of small groups could have more privacy. They worked with two coal businesses to design the interiors and you can see that the results are worth the effort that they have put.

Bread basket

An ambitious bread of basket

The first surprise was the bread basket which was very ambitious. It had 4 bread types and three butters. I cannot help but thinking that one type of bread would have made me as happy.

The butters were: Garlic and Chili, Parsley and chill and sundered tomato. I cannot have butter because of the fat content but I was informed by my trust husband that the chill one was fantastic.

Russian salad

Russian salad

We only had one starter to share. Bearing in mind that we were driving, it was not meant to be a heavy meal, but when we saw the Russian salad, we had to order it.

Ever since the first trip that my husband made to the Basque country, when we worked together , he has developed a slight obsession for Russian salad. It was 205 and we happened to travel on the same plane . He was gong with a friend of ours to Bilbao, I was going home for mother’s day (the first sunday of May). During his stay in Bilbao, he found a place which made menu of the day, and the starter he chose was Russian salad.

The Russian salad at Paprika was humble and delicious. The ingredients were good and you could taste each one of them separately as well as jointly.

Squash Risotto

Squash and wild mushrooms risotto with crispy sage.

My main was a vegetarian risotto. It was not advertised as such and I liked this about it. Many restaurants make allowance for vegetarian dishes by separating them from the menu, however, at Paprika, they form part of the menu adding a different choice. I really like this. There is no “V” next to it because it clearly says what it is. Refreshing!

The mushrooms were simply delicious. Woody and with a texture than complemented that of the squash.  The risotto was topped up with crispy sage that gave it an interesting touch.

The food was not chef-ie but home made and respectful to the ingredients.

Barramundi

Barramundi on seasonal vegetables and parsnip pure , topped up with parsnip crisps and a wine reduction

My husband went for the fish, which was very well cooked.

It came on a bed of delicious vegetables and a parsnip pure . Parsnip was also used in a crispy form to accompany the fish and a surprising red wine reduction finished the dish beautifully.

It could have been very sweet but it was beautifully balanced and felt like a good main course dish.

fairtrade coffee

A cup of Fair Trade espresso… in fine china.

After all that food, we could not have eaten more, despite the tempting appearance of the amazing desert plates that kept appearing from the kitchen. We therefore ordered two delicious expressos and I have to say that I was impressed even with the choice of crockery for it. So fitting!

You can really tell that this is a family business by the care that has gone into every detail, and we would happily return . I really wish that more places took as much time to understand and appreciate the client’s experience ,and acknowledged how important good considerate design is in the overall experience.

Photographs by Cristina Lanz-Azcarate (with the mobile)
Text by Cristina Lanz-Azcarate

Please feel free to use this story for your own personal use, not commercially. All images are property of the author as specified and all rights are reserved. If you wanted to share any of the information provided, post a link to the website but do not extract/copy the information without prior permission