The stifling hot weather of late has forced many a punter outside for their grub, which might explain why the dark, somewhat uninviting, interior of The Albany in St Albans was noticeable lacking in customers when my sister and I first arrived one balmy Thursday evening in June. The slightly nightclub feel to the red leather wall boards and chairs in the back didn’t much appeal either, especially as from the outside one would expect the restaurant to be courting soft furnishings with a homely vibe to complement the Grade II listed Tudor building.

The rest of the evening became a lesson in how not to judge on first impressions, as, after spying a small but perfectly formed sunny outside area, we were relocated from our window table to one of only two in the fresh air (the only other diners in the restaurant were on the other table), with even a view of St Albans Cathedral over the kitchen wall to enjoy.

Next, our formal waiter (a man of few words) presented us with a selection of smoked salmon and cream cheese canapes to stave off the hunger as we mused over the impressive and well-balanced set menu offering modern European cuisine, with seasonal produce well represented and the emphasis on French cooking.

As the intensity of the sun slowly ebbed away form the courtyard, our starters arrived, all the more enhanced by the very nice bottle of chilled Argentina Chenin Blanc we had ordered. Delicate, fresh and with a delightful sprinkle of fennel, my crab mayonnaise with avocado and pickled cucumber was the perfect light opening to a meal and was equally matched by my sister’s risotto of mediterranean vegetables and smoked cheese.

My pan-fried fillet of gilt head bream was just as subtle in flavour and expertly executed, but sadly, while the accompanying saffron risotto was a good idea, my shrunk sweet chilli tiger prawns were somewhat tasteless and far too over-cooked to add any real addition to the plate. On the other side of the table, my sister’s Gressingham duck breast with vanilla mash was beautifully presented and got the thumbs up.

Rounding off our evening at The Albany, which at this point had noticeably started to fill with well-dressed diners, we decided there was enough wine left to warrant the 20 minute wait for the apple tarte tatin, a wait that clearly paid off when the soft crumbly desert arrived, and also ordered a selection of sharp and fruity homemade sorbets.

With our coffees we also received a saucer of luxurious chocolates, and it is these little touches, along with the impeccable service and ambitious menu, which makes The Albany a destination well worth visiting, even if it does mean coming in from the sun.

The Albany set dinner menu is available all evening every Tuesday to Friday. Two courses cost £15.95 and three courses are £19.95.

Details: The Albany, 7 George St, St. Albans, 01727 730888,