We review the award-winning St Albans restaurant Loft
- Credit: Brian Arnopp
In a building where medieval monks from nearby St Albans Abbey are thought to have sold their ale, Loft is an award-winning restaurant focussed on British cuisine with a twist
After a few weeks celebrating the end of lockdown by sampling some of the various exotic dishes now available around Hertfordshire, it was time to return to the county’s roots with some British fare.
Where better than in one of St Albans’ most historic buildings? Now in business for five years, Loft replaced a former favourite eating house in the city, 4 Nations, reviewed in the December 2016 Hertfordshire Life.
Like its predecessor, which specialised in dishes from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (hence the name), Loft majors on its Britishness, focussed on ‘clean flavours and creative dishes driven by seasonal produce of impeccable pedigree’.
Part of the reason for 4 Nations’ popularity was its location. It’s still a key factor for Loft.
As I wrote in the 2016 review, if your surroundings are a consideration when choosing somewhere to go for a meal, this is a winner.
The building in the city's cathedral quarter dates from 1401, with beams to match, and is rumoured to have been used by monks to sell ale they brewed in the grounds of St Albans Abbey.
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There is a limit to what you are allowed to do with such a treasured building, so not much has changed, including the equally historic courtyard in which the restaurant stands.
Some of the names are different, but as previously noted: ‘If you want a sense of relaxation while eating, this is the place – just as long as you don’t barge into one of the beams’.
Loft, run by manager Howard Berry with head chef John Beattie in charge in the kitchen, seats around 44 in the main restaurant plus another 14 in a private dining room upstairs and there is a cosy bar to start your visit on the right note.
The restaurant's arrival has not gone unnoticed, with a raft of awards to its name including Hertfordshire Restaurant of the Year at the 2018 SME Business Awards and listings in the Good Food Guide 2019 and 2020.
Backing it all up are menus with reassuringly familiar sounding dishes. Starters on our visit included roast pumpkin soup, heritage beetroot and goat curd salad, ham terrine, and short rib croquettes.
Mains included calves liver with smoked bacon, 28-day aged organic sirloin steak, roasted pork belly, South Coast halibut and Cornish cod.
Eton mess led the dessert line-up, followed by sticky toffee pudding and chocolate tart and an option of British cheese with figs, grapes, crackers - and (of course) quince.
Christmas-themed December menus just coming in will follow a similar pattern with a few seasonal twirls added.
The heritage beetroot salad (£9) started things off. The curd accompaniment balanced the main ingredient well and the dish was further enhanced by orange pieces and seasonal leaves.
My other half chose a salad of artichokes (£9) with beans, tenderstem broccoli and balsamic onions; again, a flavourful but slightly sharper mix.
For a main course, my recent fish kick continued with the grilled South Coast halibut (£22), as meaty and satisfying as this dish usually is, with the accompanying pancetta, mushroom and artichokes more than enough to quell an appetite.
Across the table, the grilled calves liver (£22) was an automatic choice for a long-time fan of the dish.
It was a generous portion, cooked as it should be, and came with the smoked bacon joined by caramelised onions and sage with mashed potato.
The hot chocolate pudding (£9), with a melting middle and with salted caramel ice cream and shortbread, was our pick of the puddings and easily ticked all the boxes.
Loft is toward the pricey end of the market but is not alone in having to raise prices to cope with the current market supply issues.
With starters and desserts now routinely running at around £9 – more for luxury items like Loft’s hand-dived scallops with black pudding at £14 – and mains at £20 or more, the trick will be to maintain standards for an increasingly choosy audience.
On this showing, Loft with its setting and array of awards should continue to enhance the St Albans scene.
Dinner for two at Loft cost £94.50 including service and two glasses of wine. This is an independent review featuring a restaurant chosen by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
Address: 23B George Street, St Albans, AL3 4ES
Phone: 01727 865568