The Almeida, an attractive restaurant in a former warehouse just off Upper Street, has been around for so long it’s slipped off many a foodie radar. Perhaps it’s too closely associated with pre-theatre set menus for silver-haired Islington luvvies. However, we have just one claim to make: this was a sensational meal, one of the most memorable all year.
Maybe it’s because we’re of a certain age, but entering The Almeida (upon invitation) felt quite glamorous in an old school 1950’s kinda way: a masculine bar, big leaded windows, an open kitchen, the purr of a satisfied dining room.
Negronis were swiftly mixed, with apologies for a lack of orange peel; a winning substitution was just a dash of home-made rhubarb syrup.
We sat down just after the pre-theatre crowd had fled, leaving the place initially a little quiet, other than the occasional clink of champagne bottles in coolers. ‘It’s a bit like still being on that bloody cruise liner,’ whispered Mrs KT, ‘when they’re all fighting for the boats upstairs.’
But she was silenced by a luxurious starter of South west crab (presumably not from Brixton) with avocado and lemon creme fraiche. Even better was new season asparagus, from Greg Wallace’s gaff in Kent, served with the most explodingly perfect poached duck egg and delicate truffle salad. A solemn pledge was made over summery glasses of Cotes de Provence to return for another ASAP.
An intermediary portion of wild mushroom and truffle risotto ‘gave me goosebumps,’ remarked Mrs Kentishtowner later, its taste lingering luxuriously. In fact, it was enough to convert the hardest carnivore to a life of shoots, roots and leaves.
Winning dishes kept on coming. Newhaven brill was lightly poached with samphire and a wonderful buttery foam, crushed jersey royals, spinach.
Slow roast suckling pig belly (below left) was like sticky toffee, its deep flavour kicked around a bit by a spiced jus. The signature dish from award-winning Head|Chef Alan Jones, who has been at The Almeida since 2007, the only dud note (in fact, in the whole meal) was a slightly bland pommes puree.
The sommelier then disappeared to match a couple of wines to our desserts: a prosecco soup, poached rhubarb and pannacotta was lifted by an elegant Riesling, whilst the creaminess of a creme brûlée was massaged by the vanilla and peach notes in a Hungarian Tokaji (at a whopping £15 a glass). The result? A double act that sang like those two out of The Voice.
Eventually Mrs Kentishtowner put her knife and fork down as she tried to work it all out.
‘Everything is pop-up or rough luxe these days and it’s sooo boring. But this is a restaurant I can relax in. It’s how they used to make them.’
Understated elegance, invisible but delightful service, wine by the 460ml pot (try the good-value Carignan) and no gimmicks means The Almeida is all about food and drink; nothing else. A standout meal of the year to date, all things considered.