"It's not much but it's ours"

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


A few weeks ago, Hermano Primero visited J Sheekey. He has not written about it yet for reasons I can only put down to mediocrity. On their part that is, not his.

However, he did share one story with me. He was there with our sister and attempted to take a picture of one of his plates of food before he was leapt upon by one of the waiters who informed him

“ please could you not take pictures in the restaurant? It annoys our VIP guests”

To translate

“ thanks for your money you ugly person who has not appeared in at least two episodes of Holby City, now fuck off”


I thought about this when I went to have supper at St Alban owned of course by Corbin & King, the former owners of Sheekey's and caterers in chief to the luvie fraternity

That being said, when HP went to visit a few weeks ago he had an enjoyable meal and, as I already had a reservation, I thought it may be the place to have supper with my good chum, Susanna.

I arrived early and was shown to a table in Siberia as far away from Paul Burell and Richard E Grant as it was possible to get without being in the uber swish bogs.

Service though was friendly and I ordered a Martini which came in a measure so small I am surprised it did not evaporate on the way to the table. Horribly made too.

Some bread arrived which, while not being close to that I had recently at Locatelli, was pretty good and served with some fantastic green olives and excellent olive oil.

By then, Susanna arrived and ordered a Manzanilla which was served at room temp which is pretty pointless and careless. Why have it on the menu?

Considering the location and the provenance of St Alban, the prices do not at first seem horrendous. However, when you sample the food you soon realise why. If they really charged any more for food this ordinary they would be ridden out on a rail by the B list celebrity brigade of London.

It really is that blah ranging, in fact from ordinary to down right, well, yuk.

For Susanna a starter of a small bowl of shellfish which included three razor clams, some non descript mussels and a few palourdes. Nothing here showed any indication that it could not be cooked in the home kitchen much more accurately.

My starter was “ crispy deep fried squid with a green mayonnaise” Deep fried it certainly was. Crispy? Nope. The green mayo was tasty enough but for £9.50 you would have thought they could at least get a staple like this right. Apparently not.

Main courses were scarcely better. Susanna ordered one of the more expensive main courses which was a sea salt baked sea bass. Much show was made of removing the salt crust. If only as much attention had been made to getting a decent ingredient. As bland as bland can be.

Worse was my “ wild rabbit stew” If I had been cooked this badly, I would have been fricking wild too. Quite awful. The meat was stringy and dry and showed not inkling of having been cooked in a stew. It was white throughout. It came topped with a fierce reduction and a few onions of such acidity I thought they had been served by Kenneth Williams.

Somewhere on the menu, in letters so small you needed to have a magnifying glass they offered “ Potatoes, Vegetables and Salads” as a side. I had not noticed them and had not been asked if I wanted them, so was surprised when the dishes came with nothing to them but the main ingredient. Susanna asked for and got a bowl of spinach. I notice, now, on looking at the bill that we were charged £5 for it. Apparently they have found the secret for turning spinach into gold.

We were still hungry enough to need pudding and ordered a place of Picos cheese with honey & country bread a pistachio ice cream with a zabaglione sauce.

Nothing to report here. Except that a waiter turned up with our tea and coffee before our pudding and seemed most disconcerted when we told him to take it away.

The puddings were unmemorable and the coffee and tea, when it did arrive at the right time came with some truly terrible macaroons wrapped in cellophane like little sweeties.

With a very decent bottle of Albarino and a glass of Priorat the bill came to £153 for two which included service.

Let’s stop to think about the service for a moment. It has always been the thing that helped this group stand apart from the crowd. At Sheekey’s and even The Ivy with its silly booking policy, you could always depend on attentive service throughout your meal. Not so at St Alban. They are obviously going for a new record trying to see how many servers can deal with one table in a single evening. I counted at least sixteen different people who came to visit us. From the guy who brought the first bowl of bread to the woman who brought the bill. This includes a man who came to crumb the table who was supported by another who held a place into which he could brush the crumbs.

For all of this manpower and hustle and bustle, the service was as inept as I can remember. They could not recall which wines we ordered ( simple trick, write the buggers down ) they brought the wrong wine by the glass. They brought the tea & coffee before pudding even when specifically asked not too and there were more examples.

The last thing you would expect from a restaurant in this stable is for the service to be so laughably inadequate.

Mind you, so was the food so I guess it hit a balance.

I think I will leave this place to Richard E Grant. Not so much Withnail & I as just Withnail.

I’s going to be going somewhere decent
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having just got back from Collettes at The Grove, Chandlers Cross and realising I'm going to have to work Christmas Day to pay the bill, I’m still up on Hermano Dos. Given the choice of £150 for less than mediocre at St Alban and 100 sobs per head for exquisite food and service in Watford – I’ve (almost) got a deal! True, it’s over-priced by a mile. However, I never feel ripped off when I visit Collette’s. The experience is always memorable in the most positive way. Melly Clissmas mister Lawrence.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006 1:39:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am really shocked that they asked HP not to take photos. I have never tried to take photos at Sheekey but they've always been so laid back about other things (including completely unreasonable food requests that almost made me want to sock my own food companion).

After all, how does a discreet little digital camera annoy anyone, and why are VIP guests craning their necks to see what other people are doing anyway?

It's not as if HP set up an old-fashioned tripod+camera with hood and external flash.

The only acceptable response would of course have been "your VIP guests are annoying me. Would you kindly tell them to stop."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006 10:09:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny, Charles Campion quite liked St. Alban. Maybe they recognised him and tried a bit harder.

Friday, December 22, 2006 9:47:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suspect the deal with the VIP guests and other people's cameras is that the precious VIP guests are worried that people will be taking pictures of them while they're eating their lunch.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007 5:01:00 pm  

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