St. Albans, England. Under the name Verulamium, St. Albans was the third-largest city in Roman Britain. Its current name comes from Alban, a Christian Roman soldier who was martyred here in 250 CE.
Our first stop in this very upscale market town was the Verulamium Museum, a favorite of school groups and a repository for the many objects found here in the early 20th century when this area was being excavated and studied by archaeologists. The most spectacular items are the mosaics and wall paintings in wonderful condition, found here in the 1930’s – 50’s and dating from the first and second centuries CE.
Very nearby the museum is the foundation of the Roman theater, which also may have served as a temple. The lovely homes and school on the way must have some great secrets hidden beneath their foundations. Good to know the Romans had convenient parking.
We saw some nice bits of St. Albans before we arrived at the other main event – the cathedral.
St. Alban’s Cathedral was built in 793 CE around the tomb of St. Alban, England’s first saint and martyr. It has had many reconstructions, but it is 900 years old in its present form. It has the longest medieval nave in the country. 13th century wall paintings, brick reused from Roman Verulamium, and the shrine of St. Alban. A quite impressive edifice.
Don’s Food Corner
In an Uber from the museum to the cathedral, we spotted a very attractive restaurant called The Ivy. We had the driver let us off there, thinking that maybe the restaurant would match the wonders of the famed London restaurant of the same name. As it turns out, the St. Alban’s Ivy is indeed a branch of the London restaurant — with the same menu and similar interior decor.
What a surprising treat it turned out to be. We started by sharing a duck liver “parfait,” which came very close to replicating those wonderful thick slices of fois gras that we remembered from our week in the Dordogne region of France a few years ago.
I went on to a salmon/smoked haddock fish cake nestled in a puddle of mushy peas and fancied up by being topped with a soft boiled egg that had the most beautifully deep golden yoke I think I have ever seen, and some watercress. The refined manner of this presentation is what I think they call “Modern British.”
The same was true of Jo’s Shepherd’s Pie. This was no pub version of this classic. In fact, since it came with a gravy that was more au jus than the thickened sauce that we would call gravy (and which we love), this version was perhaps more French than British. Fine with us.
The side order of haricots verts almondine was a dead give-away that this meal was French-infused British food.
It was certainly a popular place at lunch with an obviously affluent group of well-nourished patrons.
And the decor was stunning, with leather banquets and all the finely pressed linens and silver cutlery that you would want. A great find.