I know everyone is saying “Croydon??” but bear with me on this one, okay?
At the beginning of September, Simon and I decided to go out for our anniversary dinner as we hadn’t managed to go on the actual day due to Life happening. Simon had been to Albert’s Table before, and said that we really, really had to go. Now, I am not one to argue with said chap about this sort of thing, because he does love his food so as soon as we hit East Croydon station, we hopped on a bus down to Restaurant Row. It is known as that because it is stuffed with restaurants, not all of whom last the year – or even the month in some cases – because there are simply so many of them. They have to be absolutely outstanding to last, and it is testament to Albert’s Table that it has been there for two years.
Where was I? Oh yes. We got to Albert’s at 6.30pm, but the sign on the door said ‘Closed’, so we pootled up and down the road, looking at what else was there. The Malcolm John restaurant, Fish and Grill, looked very nice, so we added that to the list of places to try at a later date, and then noticed that Albert’s had changed the sign, so we did the World’s Most Nonchalant Saunter across the road and tried to beat each other in through the door.
We didn’t have a reservation, but they took pity on two poor souls standing in their soon-to-be-full restaurant looking hungry and smiling hopefully, and seated us with no problem at all.
The place is immaculate. A long room, with pale mushroom coloured walls, and elegant, comfortable seating. The tables are spaced out properly, so you don’t accidentally have your elbow in your neighbour’s soup when you stop for a breather between courses. Nor do you get to overhear the gossip from the next table, which was a problem I have had with Carluccio’s in Covent Garden. I believe I actually joined in with one conversation when they couldn’t work out the menu and another when the chap was having girl trouble. Yes, the tables really were that close and yes, I may have written A Letter about it.
Albert’s has got the table distribution just right. Far enough away that nothing is intrusive, but close enough so that you can see what the next table’s food looks like, and add that to the list of Things I Want To Try Next Time, and there were a lot of things I Want to Try Next Time, because there will be a next time, of this we are both certain.
The photos on this post are a combination from my camera phone and Simon’s actual proper camera. Simon’s review is here:
He was much faster at getting it written up than me!
It took us a terribly long time to decide what we wanted to order. Luckily there was lovely, warm freshly baked bread and golden butter to keep us sustained. This is a sultana and walnut roll. There were also sourdough ones and spelt ones. I think we had one of each, just to check you understand.
It isn’t a huge menu, but everything just looks so good. In the end I did my usual method of menu whittling, which is to choose things that I know I won’t cook at home. My first course was a Twice Baked Keen’s Cheddar soufflé with green beans and hazelnut oil. Simon chose a plate of deep fried sprats, with watercress and tartare sauce.
My soufflé was utterly gorgeous. It looked like a mini Yorkshire pudding, the outside was so golden, but the inside was warm, yielding and beautifully creamy. The beans were crisp with a nice squeak to them, properly cooked. I was pretty much speechless until I’d finished it, except to go “Mmm! Try it!” at Simon.
I think it is fair to say that Simon very much enjoyed his starter too.
There was a decent wait between the starter and the main, and that is just as well because my main course was incredibly filling, not to mention absolutely gorgeous. Roast loin of Hereford beef, with ceps and a mini ‘cottage pie’ on buttered kale is what it said on the menu but that seriously undersells a magnificent dish. The beef was nigh on perfect, and paired with the almost meaty flavour of the ceps it was mouthful after mouthful of loveliness. The cottage pie was actually a mound of the richest minced beef I have eaten in a long time. Full flavoured, with a very winey depth to it, crowned with a delicate halo of crisped wafer thin potato slices. It sat on a bed of buttered kale which I ate all of, even though I don’t usually like kale at all. There was a mushroom reduction also on the plate that was so thick and velvety it looked like swirls of mustard. I honestly could not have asked for anything more from a plate of food.
I quite liked the addition on the menu of “If you like your beef well done, we recommend ordering braised featherblade of local Hereford beef.” because to cook this beef to well done would have been an utter crime against cowkind. I experienced Food Joy.
Simon chose Cornish grey mullet and brown shrimps, with fresh linguini, fennel, artichokes and green herb salsa. I couldn’t spot any artichokes, and the dish had ruby red beetroot pieces on it, so they may have been a substitution. The fish was perfectly cooked, moist inside with a crisped skin, and the vegetable base on which it sat was fresh and light.
We definitely had to sit and wait a decent amount of time before dessert was even thought about, but it was a special night and, darn it, we were going to have pudding.
I had a plum and apricot tart which was almost like a Bakewell tart in texture. Very light, with buttery, crumbly pastry and served with a generous spoonful of proper clotted cream. The kind of cream that sticks to your spoon. I apologise for the quality of the photo, but it had become quite dark by the time dessert rolled around and, well, I was in a hurry to eat my pud. It was delicious.
Simon’s dessert was spectacular, both in looks and in taste.
The chocolate used was bitter, so while the dish was rich, it wasn’t sickly and the hint of orange throughout lifted it perfectly. I know what I’m having next time! That second photograph made Facebook and Twitter drool. Yes, I posted from the table. No I have no shame.
To borrow Simon’s words: “I went for the chocolate option – described on the menu as “warm chocolate fondant and tart”. Which should win some kind of reward for understatement. Somehow, they’d managed to achieve a chocolate dessert plate which wasn’t actually particularly sweet (allowing for the vanilla ice-cream – which was very simple), although it was very rich. A dark, bitter, chocolate orange chocolate tart on very thin pastry, accompanying a rich, unctuous fondant, spilling chocolate sauce in a slow, sticky flood when the casing was broken open. And yes, it was definitely delicious. (And also hard to photograph – light just got stuck!)”
Lovely. All of it was absolutely lovely. The staff, the venue, the ambience, the food, even the toilets were absolutely top notch. They let us sit and talk for nearly two hours after we’d finished eating, and never bothered us once, apart from to ask if we were okay and to bring us the coffee. The coffee, by the way, is also excellent, as was the dish of mini handmade truffles that they bring with it. 2 dark chocolate, and 2 soft creamed coconut.
Would I go again? You bet I would. And so would Jay Rayner. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/jan/09/jay-rayner-alberts-table-croydon
Albert’s Table, 49b/c South End, Croydon (020 8680 2010)