THE ALBION: A SLIGHT RETURN
I had originally planned to visit The Sands End, a gastropub not far from the rather wonderful Harwood Arms but my foodie friend Scott pooh-poohed my idea. “It’s where Wills and Harry go” he said. He really didn’t need to say anything else. What’s the point of sitting down to eat the porky treats promised by the menu when you’re surrounded by braying hoorays and inbred, racist, parasites ?
Then one day whilst idly browsing my favourite Selma Blair websites I happened upon a link to The Albion in Islington. I last visited this neighbourhood GP almost two years ago where I ate an unfeasibly large Rump of Beef in an empty dining room that made me feel I’d travelled back through time to the 18th Century. They now had a new chef, Liam Kirwan, who coincidentally used to work at The Sands End. So I could get to eat his food after all, except this time I would be surrounded by the civilised inhabitants of N1.
Pitching up one Saturday lunchtime I didn’t expect it to be so busy – nearly every table was reserved – but they squeezed me in near the bar (believe me, no easy task) and I supped a decently kept pint of Black Sheep while deciding on my plan of action.
First up: Pork Crackling. I’ve eaten quite a lot of this in various places, the most recent being a St John–style cheffy variation in Hix Oyster and Chop House. It was good but not a patch on the version here. Hot, thick strips of scratching induced a looping mantra in my brain (“crunchy, chewy, porky, salty” and repeat). The Bramley Apple sauce was pleasantly tart.
Even better were the Cruibini which were a more butch version of the Crubeens served at Corrigan’s. Trotter meat had been cooked and mixed with some mustard then breadcrumbed and deep-fried. They were a little oily but with a some tomato relish as an accompaniment they were the ne plus ultra of bar snacks.
I’m not saying the menu description for some Pork Belly Terrine was long but it had good characterisation, plot development and a surprise ending. It was also a lot more interesting to read about than to eat being a bit polite and lacking a good porcine kick. In truth, it may have suffered coming after the support act.
Arbroath Smokie Cakes were the weakest of the dishes. The idea was an interesting one but needed more skill and refinement to bring the dish together. The cakes themselves suffered from a surfeit of large lumps of potato and undercooked onion. The fish overpowered everything else in the dish and its smokiness left an odd aftertaste and a sensation at the top of the mouth akin to getting too close to a fire and inhaling. A shame especially as the Duck egg was perfectly cooked and what I could taste of the sauce was good. I suspect that I would have had more luck with the simpler main courses.
Chips were mis-advertised as triple cooked but were more of the fat variety. It’s so very telling that I didn’t finish them. In the greater scheme of things it’s a minor irritant but I just wish restaurants wouldn’t do it.
I would have liked to have tried a pudding but a sudden influx of football supporters made things difficult. If there’s one thing worse than a bunch of middle-class, thirty-something men, talking mockney and all bonding furiously over football it’s having to eat Cambridge Burnt Cream whilst hot air is blasted at you from the aforementioned’ backsides. Not nice.
Still, if you avoid Arsenal home games you could probably have a decent bite to eat at The Albion. If I visited again I’d choose from the Snacks/Starter section of the menu and stick to Beer as oppose to being upsold from the dull wine list. Oh and give the chips a miss.