Thursday, August 29, 2013

Terence Conran's Albion Bankside

The All new Albion at Neo Bankside - As fresh as it gets…

Restaurant number 105 for Sir Terence Conran is the Albion at Neo Bankside, just a 5 minute walk from Blackfriars.  Thankfully nothing about this café, from the renowned designer and dining connoisseur, was stale – in fact very pleasantly quite the opposite!

We were lucky to visit the Albion during our heatwave of a summer, and as you’ll know if you’re a London local, there’s nothing better than the Southbank on a warm July evening.

Nestled in the Neo Bankside apartment complex is the newly opened café / restaurant – a stylish space with an outside terrace complete with plentiful heaters for when the weather turns.   We opted for a table inside so we could soak up some of the atmosphere and get a feel for the place.

We were greeted by the manager Peter, and taken to our table which was a cosy two seater by the huge glass windows next to the outdoor terrace.   From here, we had a great view of the open kitchen, buzzing with activity as the head chef Brian Partridge and his team got to work on our meal.

A tantalisingly placed hunk of fresh gammon on the kitchen counter along with countless baguettes and loaves of bread straight out of the oven, made us mouth-wateringly hungry as soon as we sat down and we savoured the smells as we perused the wine list and ordered a very reasonably priced bottle of Viognier.

The menu offers a selection of traditional British hearty fare, from fish and chips with mushy peas, to sausage and mash with onion gravy and steak and ale pie.  I decided to go for the carrot and cumin soup followed by the gammon (it just looked too good to pass up…), while my guest opted for mushrooms on toast, followed by chicken and ham pie.

With the ingredients coming fresh from some of the best (and local) food producers and retailers including Borough Market, what we really wanted to taste was exceptionally ‘fresh’ food… which is, exactly what we got.

A well presented juicy and succulent selection of wild and portobello mushrooms generously topped the ciabatta, prompting food envy from me, (which was thankfully only momentary), until my carrot and cumin soup appeared, bursting with flavour and bowl-scrapingly tasty.

Between courses, we marvelled at the freshness – even the ciabatta had come straight out of the oven and onto our plates.  The piece de resistance (that huge cut of gammon I’d seen in the kitchen on my way in), arrived soon after.  Generous cuts of delicious meat cooked to perfection and accompanied by colcannon potatoes and Devonshire scrumpy gravy which came with its own little pouring jug – so scrumpy that I polished off the lot!  My guest’s  chicken and ham pie didn’t disappoint either.  Big chunks of meat swimming in a thick (if very slightly bland gravy), but topped with a perfect golden pastry.  I tried just the tiniest bit and wanted to dive in for more, but I’d already spotted my favourite desert on the menu and was determined to fit some in!

Apple and blackberry crumble.  Ahh writing this now, I can taste the sweetness of those fresh apples and blackberries, and the crumble…. Well… possibly the best to date;  sweet, crunchy, crumbly – just as a crumble should be.  And loads of it! It’s not often you get a huge bowl which comes with crumble and fruit in equal measures, but this was perfect.  With a huge appetite normally, I was surprised to find I could only eat half!  That might have something to do with the amazingly smooth and perfectly warmed custard which accompanied it.  My guest went for the special which was poached pear in mulled wine, with homemade vanilla ice cream.  Not something I would ever choose myself, although as a self-professed none pudding person, I think he was pretty pleased with his selection!

So 10 out of 10 for the food, but what about the all important ambience?  Well, don’t let the fact that it’s a café put you off.  I felt like I was in a huge farmhouse kitchen; wood flooring, farmhouse style tables and of course, the open plan kitchen.  A really lovely atmosphere,  meaning you could come with your laptop and get some work done with their free wifi, or you’d feel equally at home grabbing a coffee with friends mid-afternoon or coming for a romantic evening meal.  You can make the Albion suit your every need, and I really liked that about this place.

To the back of the café, there’s also a ridiculously well stocked  farm-style shop selling organic milk, fresh chickens, cumberland sausages, black truffle butter and even dandelion and burdock!  There was also fresh bread, hamper baskets and sandwiches stuffed full of various fillings which looked delicious.  It’s worth mentioning too, that everything on the menu is available ‘to go’, so if you wanted to take some freshly baked food and sit by the river at lunchtime, then the Albion is a great choice.

Open from 8-11pm Monday to Friday and 9-11pm on Sundays, this would make the perfect stop off for a trip to the Tate Modern or some sight-seeing around St Pauls.  But then again, there’s really no excuse needed to pop in and experience truly delightfully fresh food at its best and at any time of the day or night.  It might be Conran’s 105threstaurant, but it definitely rates as one of my top 10 in our fabulous city.

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