My first job after university was in an office opposite the Prince Albert, fielding phone calls about our flagship artist, Peter Andre. Well, it was 1997. In my lunch hour I’d take shelter in the pie and mash shop and watch pensioners sink chips into ketchup, or hirsute musicians hold court over mugs of tea and roll-ups.
The boss’s idea of a meeting was a few pints in what he jovially nicknamed the ‘Pierced Dick’ (geddit?). In those days a humble Irish boozer, it was the scruffy old uncle to the hip Mac Bar (now a Grand Union) and the comfy Camden Brewing Company (Colonel Fawcett). Yet a decade later, the Albert’s inevitable gastro-ization revealed a beautiful pub was lurking there the whole time: original Victorian panelling, a perfectly scrubbed exterior, leaded windows now a star feature.
Late last year the pub had another spruce-up: the stairway to the imposing first floor dining room (beautiful but always empty before) has been opened up, and they’ve chucked in a mishmash of Victoriana, industrial and 1970s decor touches.
But on the busy Friday night we visited, the most overriding factor was the noise. ‘Braying suits,’ Mrs Kentishtowner announced rather haughtily, sipping her gin through a straw, ‘don’t give one the sharpest appetite.’ (We were, however, kindly warned that there was a function upstairs in the dining room).
The menu is less interesting than previously. We’re in cosy gastropub territory – fish and chips, rump steak, gammon – but it’s done well enough. We enjoyed starters of ham hock with pickles, and a beetroot, goats cheese, broad bean and red chard salad (below left). Nicely seasoned, but minus points for serving broad beans in March, surely? Or is the season early this year?
A main of chargrilled pink Colne Valley lamb cutlets had real flavour, but was a little tough, and Mrs Kentishtowner would argue in a court of law against the existence of unadorned new potatoes on a menu.
The other main, however, a perfectly simple dish of salmon with wilted spinach and dill (below left), was winningly luxurious. Buttery, comforting, more-ish.
We left as a quite glamorous large table cranked up the volume to maddening levels. But who are we to judge? The Albert feels like a rowdy Soho pub with a decent menu, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all (contrast the more neighbourhood foodieness of the Fawcett and elegance of Meribel Brasserie). And wine (a good Pinot Noir) and service were perfect, although we should add that we were invited by general manager Kasia.
All in all, it points to the Royal College Street/Camden Road junction becoming an ever more foodie destination. Which is a Good Thing for any myopic Londoners who still dismiss Camden as ’emo’, ‘over’, or mere ‘touristville.’
Words & Pics: Stephen Emms