(This restaurant is now closed)
The centre of London throngs with life on a mid-week summer’s day and it’s just as thronging on a Sunday. Streets are filled with both visitors and locals taking advantage of everything this cosmopolitan city has to offer. Chinese restaurants for brunch of aromatic dim sum, American burger chains for the timid, and Spanish bars with their tapas and sherry all vie for attention.
But this is Britain and the tourist as well as the local sometimes craves some old-fashioned sustenance. Something iconic and traditional and preferably not Chicken Tikka Masala. On those occasions only a real Sunday Roast will do.
Deciding what to eat is the easy end of the lunch-seeking project. The more difficult element of the exercise is actually finding the aforementioned traditional meal. Where to go? How far off the beaten track must one trek? Well, not far at all if you are anywhere near the tourist hub of Trafalgar Square.
This open space with its tall monument to Lord Nelson and its attending lions is a draw for every tourist. The square, always photogenic and bustling with tourists, is easily accessible by public transport and is within walking distance of the majority of sights that no self-respecting traveller would want to miss; and one of those attractions should be the Albannach restaurant and whisky bar.
It’s set on Trafalgar Square and has a superb view of Horatio on his column. Albannach is housed in a former bank building so has all the exterior class of the National Gallery opposite, combined with the charm of a private club. Step across the threshold and a surprise awaits. It’s a spacious and contemporary space which gives just a nod to its Scottish heritage.
It would have been tempting to have executed an over-themed restaurant with all the trappings of heavy Victoriana, or much worse, to present a cliché of the Highlands with tartan, heather on every table, and stags heads on the walls. Well, there are indeed stags’ heads and a whole Monarch of the Glen, but all worked in wire armature and covered with white tissue paper. The antler chandeliers are all gleaming white and my dear vegetarian reader will be pleased to learn that those antlers were all gathered after they were shed by their previous owners. No animal was harmed during the decoration of this restaurant.
Albannach (the name is Gaelic for Scotsman) boasts a high ceiling and a mezzanine fine dining area. It’s a vision of warm chocolate brown walls and mellow polished wood floors. The bar area has a stone floor divided by oak planks punctuated by metal reliefs of Celtic motifs. The whisky bar boasts an unrivalled collection of Scotch whiskies – at the last count they had 130 different varieties. Contemporary chairs and tables furnish the ground floor dining space which is used to full capacity for Sunday lunch.
On this occasion we were serenaded by a delightful duo who offered much-loved standards and gentle jazz. The well-chosen music fitted the ambiance of subtle sophistication. Ella Rooke has been described as “an impressive singer” and she lived up to that accolade. She was ably accompanied by Rick Simpson whom I would describe as an impressive jazz pianist.
The Sunday Brunch menu isn’t long but it offers the most traditional of British fare. Fish and Chips, English Asparagus Salad for vegetarians, and burgers for those who might have withdrawal symptoms were all listed. The Haggis is also well worth trying – the one at Albannach is from Macsween and is, in my humble Sassenach opinion, one of the best.
The Sunday Roast on this day was ribeye steak served with Yorkshire pudding, duck-fat roast potatoes, roasted mixed vegetables and gravy. This dish is unbeatable when done well and the chefs here presented one of the best. The meat was cooked to pink tenderness and the slices were generous. The gravy was flavourful and rich and the sort that one’s grandmother would recognise. The peppers and other vegetables added colour and sweetness. There isn’t much to say about a well-executed roast dinner but the word “right” comes to mind. Albannach has a meal that visitors would hope for, and with which Londoners would be delighted.
The dessert menu is tempting for those with a small chink of space still vacant. Cranachan is a classic highland dessert of roasted oats and cream and the Albannach version includes mixed berries – the fruit compote was punctuated by clusters of the crunchy cereal. Red Wine and Whisky Poached Pear is an international favourite. The pear was thoroughly coloured and perfumed by the wine and spirit, and was served with ginger ice cream which was a triumph. A light finish to a substantial meal.
Albannach is a gem. It has an enviable location but has maintained high culinary standards. Its prices are surprisingly reasonable when one considers its competition. It’s a flexible space which offers both fine and casual dining, as well as whisky masterclasses – but more of this later. I’ll return with friends for the food, the music, and a bill that any Scotsman would be happy to pay.
Albannach restaurant and Whisky Bar
66 Trafalgar Square, London. WC2N 5DS
[This venue is now closed]
Ella Rooke www.myspace.com/ellarooke
Rick Simpson www.ricksimpson.com
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018