To say I was pretty damn pleased when I first discovered the George Street Canteen would not be an exaggeration. As a long-time St Albanser, I was happy to see that a fashionable yet unpretentious and accessible socialising joint had opened in the centre’s midst. I’ve long been worried about this historic city losing its character, and the almost simultaneous openings of a Pret and a Costa – side by side on the main shopping street – a few years ago had only served to cement my negative feelings.
The George Street Canteen is everything Pret and Costa are not. It is family-run, characterful and hidden. A homely secret you’ll only know about if you look for it.
In summer, the courtyard is bustling with people and their dogs munching at the picnic tables. In the colder months, the courtyard is still sometimes bustling, thanks to a marquee with patio heaters. Inside, the Canteen is divided to a kitchen and room with a serving counter to the right, and a cosy dining room to the left. These multiple rooms give the place its homely and retro feel; the latter effect is multiplied by the peg walls and diner-style tables.
Food wise, you’re in for a treat whether you’re a meat eater, vegetarian, or gluten-free. Thanks to a previous visit before my vegetarian days, I can report that the ham-hock and wholegrain mustard sandwich, served on fluffy brown bread with crisps and coleslaw, is divine. My most recent visit involved a Mediterranean breakfast, but with the chorizo swapped for halloumi. The perfectly-cooked salty cheese and soft sweet potatoes provided a varied backdrop for bursting twin bubbles of poached eggs and juicy, roasted cherry tomatoes. These were served with a pot of avocado mash for good measure. This came in at £7.95 on its own, or £9.95 with fruit juice and a hot drink.
More importantly than anything, though, the home-made dog biscuits were absolutely delicious. Well, so my pooch’s face suggested.
Overall, the George Street Canteen does a great job at bringing a cosmopolitan but individual feel to a small city whose chain stores can sometimes make it feel like a smaller copycat of the ginormous capital city that is its neighbour. Considering how so many of its residents are commuters to the metropolis, the more places like this that St Albans can sprout, the more it will feel like a quirky and fashionable destination in its own right.
9a George Street,
+44 1727 831540