Restaurant Review: St Villa

PUBLISHED: 17:45 13 January 2020 | UPDATED: 14:07 15 January 2020

Fresh Burrata, a delicate cheese from Puglia served with grilled figs

Fresh Burrata, a delicate cheese from Puglia served with grilled figs

Brian Arnopp Images

There are 'igloos' outside, and inside is a two-level restaurant and bar with monochrome design. It's dining with a difference in St Albans

Eating out in an igloo is probably not something you do every day but you can in St Albans. The St Villa restaurant which took over the site of the former Kamillo's last year has five 'dining domes' on its patio. The fifth is a newcomer, brought in because of demand. Each seats up to eight people and they have proved the ideal USP to help a newish business to stand out in a crowded market place. When they arrived in time for the warm weather they quickly became known as pods; for the winter they have been rechristened igloos (truth in advertising dictates we have to admit they are not made of ice but strong transparent plastic reminiscent of the biomes at Cornwall's Eden Project, except smaller). They are fully heated and are equipped with blankets. It's a different and enjoyable way to have your meal. St Villa does not charge any extra to use one but you need to be quick as they are regularly fully booked.

Even without them, St Villa commands attention for its winter à la carte menu, the work of newly arrived head chef Wojchiech (pronounced Voytek) Krzywy. It contains some interesting touches such as black sesame, ginger and honey lamb ribs with harissa among the starters and signature monkfish wrapped in pancetta and served with asparagus on the mains list. Desserts include avocado and mango cheesecake served with a strawberry coulis. Yes, avocado.

Inside one of the pods/igloos on the patioInside one of the pods/igloos on the patio

The restaurant claims the food is becoming a big talking point thanks to Wojchiech putting a twist on winter classics to create 'a menu that tastes as beautiful as it looks', which even given the usual promotional hyperbole seems fair comment based on our experience.

For customers not quick enough to snare one of the igloos, the outdoor operation is backed by a 95-cover two-level indoor restaurant and cocktail bar, all light and airy with an open-view kitchen and noticeably well trained and uniformed staff. I've now tried both outdoor and indoor options. Igloo-style is relaxing and away-from-it-all comfortable; inside can be noisy at busy times such as the Saturday night we were there, but not enough to spoil your meal.

The interior of St VillaThe interior of St Villa

The Saturday meal chosen for this review proved a fair test of the new menu with enough variations on the familiar to show the versatility of the kitchen and willingness to experiment with ingredients. A starter of fresh burrata (£7.70), a delicate cheese from Puglia made from mozzarella and cream, was served with grilled figs for a sweet introduction, while sautéed porcini and shiitake mushrooms (£6.95) proved highly satisfying served on a warm garlic and parsley crostini and sprinkled with parmesan.

For mains, what was described as 'chef's famous' duck ragu (£15.50) was a generous portion of slow cooked duck with ribbons of flat pasta noodles served in a rich ragu sauce, ideal for a chilly evening. A more straightforward aubergine and parmigiana tortellini (£13.95), served with a white wine and shallot sauce and garnished with chervil was equally highly praised by my plus-one.

Duck Ragu - slow cooked duck with ribbons of flat pasta noodles served in a rich ragu sauceDuck Ragu - slow cooked duck with ribbons of flat pasta noodles served in a rich ragu sauce

A shared dessert of gooseberry and pear crème brûlée (£6.25) was as refreshing as its sounds to round off a relaxed evening.

Other St Villa features we like include BYOB or a 50 per cent discount on the restaurant wine list on Tuesdays. Customers can bring a bottle of their favourite wine and the team will serve it, or select one of the restaurant wines at half price when each ordering a main course from the à la carte menu. On Wednesday evenings it's 2 for 1 cocktails time.

Aubergine and Parmigiana Tortellini served with a white wine and shallot sauce, garnished with chervilAubergine and Parmigiana Tortellini served with a white wine and shallot sauce, garnished with chervil

Set menus are offered Mondays to Fridays from 12-3pm and 5.30-6.30pm with one course for £9.95 and two for £12.95 plus a dessert for £2.99. Up to 10 people per party can order off the set menu. The restaurant also has what it calls the Classic Sunday Roast with locally sourced beef, pork or chicken served with roasted vegetables and crispy potatoes and available from midday for £16.90.

The cost of this meal for two was £75.48 including two glasses of wine and service. This is an independent review by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.

Gooseberry and Pear Creme BruleeGooseberry and Pear Creme Brulee

St Villa Bar and Restaurant,

2 Marlborough Road

St Albans AL1 3XQ

01727 807222

stvilla.co.uk

3 of a kind

Richard chooses three more Hertfordshire restaurants with a difference

The Florist

Watford's the Florist features floral works of art, full-size trees in bloom and neon light installations with food ranging from salmon sushi rolls to English garden salads, steamed seabass and teriyaki lamb cutlets.

65-67 High Street

Watford WD17 2DJ

01923 901311

theflorist.uk.com

The Copper House

Opulent bar/restaurant in Berkhamsted's former historic town hall with Gothic arches, inky blues, lots of copper, plush fabrics and orchids. Modern European menu of small and large plates to share.

196 High Street

Berkhamsted HP4 3BA

01442 957111

copperhousebar.co.uk

Pircio

Different because of its size - Pircio is housed in Bishop's Stortford's former Drill Hall and caters for up to 500 covers on Friday and Saturday evenings. It has an unusual menu with Turkish, Mediterranean and Italian dishes.

Market Square, Bishop's Stortford CM23 3UU

01279 898181

pirciorestaurant.com



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