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Restaurant review: Albion

It raises the bar, but AA Grill says the quest for the truly remarkable in Crosby isn't over yet

Written by . Published on August 29th 2014.


Restaurant review: Albion
 

 FACT: Crosby has a lot of churches. More churches, it has been said, per head of population than anywhere of comparable size in England.

It also has no end of hairdressers. If you need a wash and blow dry, or cleansing of your sins, Crosby is the place. Whether you confess your ungodliness to your priest or your stylist is up to you.

Here's another Crosby fact for you: in more than a quarter of a century that I have been properly acquainted with the place, there has not been a single really outstanding restaurant.


The front-of-house man was wearing standard UKIP-issue Union Jack dicky bow and braces and handlebar moustache, though he appeared far too civilised to give his vote to Farage


No, no, I hear you cry, that's only your opinion. But, take it from me, it's the gospel truth.

There have been – are still – okay places to eat out in Crosby  A couple of good ones. But none to stir the heart, whet the appetite, dampen the pants.

What Spire is to Allerton, say. A neighbourhood restaurant so good there's no need to run the gauntlet of the last train home from town.

When Crosby was named one of the UK's best places to live there was one glaring omission from the list of reasons why – a bloody good restaurant. It's not like there isn't enough cash in enough pockets to sustain one.

Potato PotagePotato Potage

So when chef Steve Burgess, whose time running the Camp and Furnace kitchen did his reputation no end of good, announced he and a pal were opening a place on their home turf, Confidential wondered if Albion “could be Crosby's first truly remarkable restaurant”.

So is it? The answer, like that to many of life's great conundrums (is the human brain capable of truly rational thinking? Are nuts better than crisps?) is neither yes nor no. It is closer to yes than no, certainly, but not close enough for my liking.

Ironically, the thing that marks out Burgess's enterprise as interesting and different may be the very thing preventing it from entering the realm of the remarkable.

As the ancient name for Britain implies, Albion is dedicated to the history of these islands' cuisine. But when you consider that the turnip is probably the UK's most exotic indigenous vegetable, you start to see why the food culture of these fair isles had an uphill struggle from the off.

Invading forces made occasional contributions – the Vikings, for instance, gave us kippers, the grilling of which provided householders with a foolproof method for driving out unwelcome guests.

But in the main we collected new foodstuffs the same way we did everything else; we took over another country and made them give us theirs.

Acquiring the raw materials is one thing, knowing what to do with them quite another. It's been 450 years since Sir Francis Drake plundered the potato from the Americas, and 350 years since we considered it fit for human consumption.

Since then, while the French have created more potato recipes than ways to insult the English, we haven't got much beyond boiling, baking, bashing or dousing them in fat, although Wikipedia, in its list of “notable potato dishes”, does attribute the crisp sandwich to England – enough to make you swell with pride.

Britain has struggled back to its feet since world wars and rationing brought the reputation of the nation's cuisine to its lowest point but, outside of London and Ludlow, how many fine restaurants can we boast?

The great cities of Liverpool and Manchester have managed but a single Michelin star between them. And that was 40 years ago.

Meanwhile, the nation's domestic ovens – the true barometer of a country's cuisine – reheat supermarket pizza and crinkle cut chips.

Against this background, a restaurant devoted to the best of British food through the ages may reasonably be considered a challenging project. But it's a USP they have embraced enthusisatically and good on them for that.

Mutton is servedMutton is served

Dishes are prepared according to recipes ranging (I'm taking their word for this) from 1362 to 2014, with dates printed alongside prices on the menu.

In keeping with the History Of Our Great Nation theme, the décor features a Chesterfield couch, what appears to be a mock-up of a ruined Northumberland priory, and tables and chairs representing the 90s economy flatpack boom. The latter, which may actually have been chosen for their price rather than their historical value, would look better wearing tablecloths.

The front-of-house man was wearing standard UKIP-issue Union Jack dicky bow and braces and handlebar moustache, though he appeared far too civilised to give his vote to Farage.

Cumbrian mutton and treacle bacon turnover (1929, £6), looked terrific, the mutton encased in puff pastry and rolled in a slice of bacon but was ultimately rather heavy and bland, the meat dry and underseasoned. Even a cute, sweet-sour cucumber chutney could only cut through it so far.

Local potago potage (1175, £4) was a delight. Where this too could have been heavy going, it was deep and rich with a glossy smoothness and perfect little dumplings.

PyePye

To follow, a good old-fashioned pie, so old-fashioned it was actually a pye, of the ham hock, chicken and leek variety (1362, £12). With well-made pastry and meat that was moist and tender, but far from characterless, what was there not to like. It came with two ginormous carrots, heavy with the contents of the stockpot, and a stout sauce I found oversweet but which my fellow diner thought fine. I'm right, though.

His fine-quality, precision-cooked, slow-braised beef shin (1979, 14.50) sat alongside “crispy potato” – a tidy lump with a browned top that had a strong suspicion of the Gallic about it – and Balmoral sauce, a Scottish recipe involving whisky.

ShinShin

If the sauce ought to have been richer, there was little to find fault with here, yet I couldn't help feeling the plate was missing something; another colour, another taste, a little vibrancy, perhaps. Pricing is very competitive but I'd pay a little more for a little more.

For pudding, “Poor Knights of Windsor” (1833, £5) proved an insanely heavy, unrelentingly sweet dish: big shards of cinder toffee, hot sherry jam and two fat slabs of eggy bread (never shall the words “French toast” be uttered within these walls).

On the other hand, my friend's Eliza Acton's baked rice pudding (1845, £5), flavoured with nutmeg and lemon zest, and served with "orchard jam" was a richly lovin' spoonful.

Poor Knights of WindsorPoor Knights of Windsor

Some good things are going on here in terms of technique and finesse and there is reason to hope this is the beginning and not the end product, but it's a little inconsistent and, after all, a pye is a pie and so far there is not a great deal at Albion to surprise and delight.

I suspect that would require taking British cuisine to places beyond its comfort food zone.

People have been waiting to see if Albion would raise the bar for Crosby's restaurant trade. Well, I think they have, but it's yet to reach a height that will bring home any medals.

Follow AA Grill on Twitter @AAGrill

Albion_Crosby %285%29

Albion, Coronation Road, Crosby, L23.  Tel: 0151 932 9460. Website and Twitter


All scored Confidential reviews are paid for by us, never the restaurant or a PR company. Critics dine unannounced.

Rating:      15/20
Food:
        7.5/10
Service:     4/5
Ambience:  3.5/5 

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, bars against other bars etc.  
Following on from this the scores represent:
1-5: Straight in the dog bowl
6-9: Get to the chippy 
10-11: In an emergency
12-13: If you happen to be passing
14-15: Worth a trip out 
16-17: Very good to exceptional 
18-20: As good as it gets

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36 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Paul WardAugust 29th 2014.

The average Liverpudlian defines a good restaurant as "one which gives you lots of chips" ... The Lemon Tree, by the way, is good.

14 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousAugust 29th 2014.

It's not

Through the eye of a needle.September 10th 2014.

This Liverpudlian defines a good restaurant as one in which a fish dish on the menu is a fish dish uncontaminated by crustaceans that give me the wild shites. The fancier the restaurant, the worse it gets. I check the menu, I ask the waitress to be sure, she assures me there are no crustaceans in the dish and it arrives - with unbidden mussels, prawns and Christ knows what other sewage-filtering abominations added by some show-off, narcissist chef who thinks he knows better. They can’t serve this garbage to Jews or Muslims, so why me?

Through the eye of a needle.September 10th 2014.

Crustaceans are NOT FISH.

John BradleySeptember 10th 2014.

mussels are not crustaceans they are molluscs. Crustaceans are arthropods, basically swimming insects

through the eye of a needleSeptember 11th 2014.

Tell that to my noisily-foaming arse.

through the eye of a needleSeptember 11th 2014.

And the painful stomach-cramps.

AnonymousSeptember 11th 2014.

So you ate it knowing that all this unnecessary detail might be the end result, so to speak? You must be as daft as you sound!

through the eye of a needleSeptember 12th 2014.

It's not always obvious, particularly when they are hidden in sauces. If it isn't on the menu it shouldn't be in the dish. The good thing about the current fad for serving food stacked in Lego-like constructions on an oversized plate is that I can spot them and give them away. But I shouldn't have to. None of this stuff is cheap.

through the eye of a needleSeptember 12th 2014.

I not only avoid dishes that are stated to contain these things, I specifically ask about the dishes I do order, and seek an assurance from the waiting staff before I confirm my order. and these things STILL turn up on my plate! Presumably these restaurants don't have Jewish or Muslim customers

AnonymousSeptember 12th 2014.

Repeating yourself now, quite a bit. I can't believe that "unbidden mussels, prawns and Christ knows what other sewage-filtering abominations" can be hidden in a sauce? So they arrive on the plate - why not reject them, especially if you asked for them to be omitted? You sound like the type who says nothing then gets home and spouts off on Tripadvisor. Bit of a spineless weak type perhaps? With food OCD. Solved

through the eye of a needleSeptember 12th 2014.

Oh that's a good idea. I'll try Trip Advisor. Restaurateurs might start taking some notice. Talking to the staff in restaurants obviously isn't good enough.

Ramsey CampbellSeptember 12th 2014.

I sympathise, actually. My wife is allergic to bivalves or anything derived from them, and we only recently learned that XO sauce (a staple in Chinese restaurants) generally contains dried scallops. Restaurants certainly should take care if you've specified an allergy. Maybe ask to speak to the chef?

AnonymousSeptember 12th 2014.

So here's the logic; The guy orders a meal, having told the staff no shellfish etc / It arrives, with, as he described, prawns mussels etc within / having already said he didn't want them, he apparently eats said meal and gets the trots / so why did he eat it rather than send it back and refuse to accept it? If they were hidden as dissolved components in something else, fair enough, but that's not what he said. Then he comes on here kicking up a stink!

AnonymousSeptember 12th 2014.

Tteoan, what kind of 'sauce' can so completely disguise both Mussels and Prawns. If you ate the whole meal without noticing, how do you know they were there? If you noticed they were present, why didn't you send it back?

Ramsey CampbellAugust 29th 2014.

We think both the Saffron and Da Gurkha are excellent, and worth travelling to Crosby from Wallasey for. We often have, frequently with friends who have been as impressed as we are.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousAugust 29th 2014.

Yeah but that's a pair of curry houses

Google MapsAugust 29th 2014.

And in Waterloo, not Crosby

Ramsey CampbellAugust 29th 2014.

Ah - sorry, I hadn't realised they're in Waterloo. But they're certainly restaurants. I don't see that their being Indian or Nepalese makes them otherwise.

AnonymousAugust 29th 2014.

So we've had the potato for 450 years but the potato pottage recipe comes from the 1100s? something not quite right there. Also Manchester did have a Michelin star once but that was the 70's.

1 Response: Reply To This...
John BradleyAugust 29th 2014.

According to their menu they seem to have pre invented stout as well.

SaladDazeAugust 29th 2014.

Was that mutton not dressed as lamb? And not a single use of 'perfidious'.

SaladDazeAugust 29th 2014.

PS seriously, it sounds fab.

1 Response: Reply To This...
SaladDazeOctober 12th 2014.

And it is. Quiet on a Tuesday night but v good food and service.

AnonymousAugust 31st 2014.

The food sounds a bit better than the daft concept allows. I agree entirely on eggy bread. I once hit someone for calling it 'gypsy bread'. French toast was toast done on one side when I was a lad.

5 Responses: Reply To This...
Absinthe & TurksAugust 31st 2014.

Hear hear! And cinder toffee was called cinder toffee and not "honeycomb" - which it isn't.

Chucky EggAugust 31st 2014.

Why is it a daft concept though? Three used to be an English-themed restaurant called 'The Briary' beneath Rococomodo. It seemed OK but fifteen minutes later it became 'Not Sushi'.

B. FeaterSeptember 1st 2014.

The Briary was an instant hit with me when I asked for a Dry Martini as an aperitif and the excellent waitress brought me one without fuss or bother. None of this faddy nonsense with vodka, fruit or any other impurities. Just a proper Dry Martini made correctly with gin.

AnonymousSeptember 1st 2014.

Reviving old English dishes has been very successful for Heston in London so its a perfectly decent tried and tested concept.

AnonymousSeptember 4th 2014.

Not the concept of eating old fashioned food, the concept of the restaurant. Union Jack dickie bows? Dates on the menu? Anyway where's the Starling pie?

AnonymousSeptember 2nd 2014.

Seems to me the review is saying that if this concept is to work, you have to do more than just reproduce old recipes, you have to move them on, give them a new twist. To take "British cuisine to places beyond," as Grill says in his slightly inelegant but highly effective phrase, "its comfort food zone". Matthew Fort, writing in the Guardian, suggests that this is exactly what Heston has done at his Dinner restaurant. Of the dishes on offer, he says: "They are not slavish, painstaking recreations of past glories. Using contemporary techniques and technology, each has been re-engineered for the 21st century." So, yes, "reviving old English dishes has been very successful for Heston in London" but only because he has done new and creative things with them. Dinner's "unique menu", says the restaurant's own website, has been - and this is the key phrase - "historically inspired".

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 2nd 2014.

Bit of a beatles / oasis type scenario then, and we know how that ended up

AnonymousSeptember 4th 2014.

A 'new twist'? What, like 'Nutter twist' that Andrew Nutter used to do on the telly?

AnonymousDecember 22nd 2014.

Pretentious concept and up its own arse

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 22nd 2014.

"Pye"

AnonymousJanuary 6th 2015.

Correct (um)

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