Dominic Stevenson on The Albany, Great Portland Street

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The Albany at Great Portland Street has undergone a paint job since I was last there. As an NHS worker in 2011 I used to occasionally pop into The Albany for after work drinks with colleagues. It’s now smarter, with its imposing inner columns holding up the high chandelier-adorned ceiling, and this makes the pub look very impressive indeed.

The fridges behind the bar are packed full of London brewed beers, and their wine list looks intriguing enough to please most, but I was there for the food. They’ve recently released a new menu and like all pubs that are turning to food to sustain the drinking side of the establishment, they have focused on fresh, seasonal and rotating.

I had a look at the new menu and quickly decided on a selection of the tapas style starters: pan-fried chorizo with sourdough bread, spiced cauliflower, and vegetable croquettes. For our mains my dining partner and I chose a spinach and lentil burger with avocado and sweet potato fries and short rib with fries, summer coleslaw and the delicious sounding ginger ale ketchup.

I’m a one for a curious condiment, and the last time I tried something like that was bacon jam, so I figured I’d be onto an easy win with ginger ale ketchup.

I took the bottle of house red back to the table and sat down to talk with my dining partner. As soon as the conversation started I realised why I stopped coming in The Albany when I worked just around the corner. The deafening din of already drunk office workers bouncing and echoing back from the high ceiling made conversation almost impossible. As far as I could see there wasn’t a separate dining area, and our two person table was surrounded by groups of standing drinkers which made for a quite claustrophobic experience.

While the pub was busy, I didn’t see many people waiting for food, and so it was a shock that after 40 minutes our starters and main courses arrived together.

The starters were substantial, but already lukewarm by the time they arrived. The vegetarian spiced cauliflower and croquettes were delicious, inventive and showed that a great amount of effort had gone into menu equality. The pan-fried chorizo was absolutely fine, but it came with mysterious sourdough bread. It wasn’t the bread itself that was the enigma in the situation, but rather the fact that there were just four dry lightly toasted slices and seemingly nothing to dip them on, or spread on them. I asked for some butter, but by the time it arrived I’d finished most of my main course.

As the starters and mains came together, both mains were cold by the time we got to them, but meat is supposed to rest and they eat cold food on Masterchef so I figured there must be something in it.

Despite the atmosphere, my short rib was incredible. The meat fell off the bone and was as good as any specialist meat restaurant I’ve been to. The summer coleslaw, with pomegranate, was a perfect accompaniment to the meat. Sadly the bit I’d looked forward to most, the ginger ale ketchup, wasn’t present but given the time the butter took to arrive I thought it was best to cut my losses and just finish my dish.

The spinach and lentil burger looked incredible, and the fact that it was even there was a positive. However when it was picked up and bitten into, it was undercooked and so squelched in the bun. It tasted nice enough however, and the game we invented to describe vegetarian burgers, ‘splattie or pattie’, will bring much merriment in the future. The sweet potato fries were a real find though and are worth upgrading to.

For dessert we had a blood orange cheesecake and profiteroles. Both were perfectly fine, but at £6 each I’d not be rushing back to them.

The place lacked the ambience to spend time in with a close friend, family, or loved one. It’s too loud, and has always been too loud, and although it’s not the fault of The Albany, their mainstay of custom don’t care that people are sat down trying to enjoy a meal when they’re stood there drinking.

All together the meal and wine, three courses and a bottle of house wine, came to around £70. I consider this, given the magnitude of choice in London, for a pub meal with some plus points, to be excessive. The Albany, to me, is somewhere you can go for drink and maybe a bit to eat with friends after work, and in hindsight I’d have ordered five of the starters for £20.

The Albany

240 Gt Portland Street, London, W1W 5QU

020 7387 0221

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