Sunday, 22 November 2009
Our Worst Lunch of the Year at The Albany, Thames Ditton
Inspired by our successful gourmet cycling expedition to Lewes, we embarked on a more local mission across Richmond Park for Sunday lunch at The Albany. The restaurant’s website and reviews inspired confidence. In particular the prospect of a rotisserie and wood fired oven made pedalling seem less strenuous.
Our cycle ride was not without incident. A diversion in Putney sent us on a comical route around Roehampton back to the same place in some sort of Winnie the Pooh-esque hunt for Heffalumps in 100 Acre Wood. But in general the route was a doddle. The highlight was a safari ride through Richmond Park where we dodged deer and half spotted mushrooms that reminded us of the time we almost poisoned ourselves.
The Albany is slick. Too slick. It’s all gloss and marketing without the substance to back it up. As the old marketing director at P&G would say – it’s all sizzle, no sausage. Whilst the first impressions and river frontage were encouraging we soon found that beneath the veneer was an inept kitchen and service that would make Basil Fawlty cringe.
Things started well, with two glasses of refreshing white wine and a decent, shared antipasti served on top of a micro thin pizza base. But there were warning signs. By this point we’d already moved tables having been dumped initially behind a pillar that made the Berlin Wall look friendly and sent back stale bread that was then served to the next table. We also should have read more into the innumerate construction of the menu. Dishes were described by adding the ingredients. But why would you write this: “Porcini Risotto + Arborio Rice + Mushrooms + Marsala + Truffle Oil”? And why would you then write “Antipasti – Cured Meats + Dolcelatte + Roasted Vegetables + Parmesan + Rocket + Stuffed Peppers + Green Chillies + Baked Flat Bread” etc.? If you’re going to use mathematics on a menu then at least make it logical. Also, given that I work in booze marketing, I should have also paid more attention to the fact that the drinks menu was riddled with advertising.
We had cycled for 2 hours to enjoy ourselves so didn’t let these minor issues get in the way of us enjoying ourselves. Cowie beat me to it and ordered a Romano lamb shoulder flavoured with anchovies whilst I ordered spit roasted duck with sweet potato mash. And given our energetic endeavours we decided to have some chips with aioli as a treat as well.
Either the kitchen is incompetent or they went out of their way to see if we would actually eat the stuff they sent out. My duck had not been spit roasted as promised. It was tough, flabby and if it had been seasoned at all, I’d be shocked. But it was like ambrosia in comparison to Cowie’s lamb. It had the texture of beef jerky and flavour of pilchards. If someone had told me it had been cooked in Sizewell B’s nuclear reactor I’d have believed them. Even the shoulder blade was burnt, and that takes some doing. The chips we had indulged in were cold and topped with the most astringent aioli that had me gagging for a new mouth.
We sent the lamb back in exchange for cod with Tuscan beans. In their haste to get the food out to us they had cooked the cod far too fast that resulted in the flesh feeling clenched rather than flaky. Cowie tried to add some flavour to it with a few twists of pepper only to realise that the mill was full of white pepper. Maybe it’s just our peculiar taste, but why use white pepper when black pepper is far more appropriate? White pepper drags me back to the horrid pepper we had at school that just seemed to make the food taste even worse.
We shunned dessert in favour of the bill. I asked the waitress whether they might consider taking Cowie’s main course off the bill given that we hadn’t had the chance to eat at the same time. She said she would ask the manager. And then a bad meal turned into a shocker. He stood above us spent the next few minutes shrugging his shoulders, telling us he wasn’t being rude and generally making us feel like we’d just weed ourselves at primary school. So I escalated things and complained about the cold chips and foul aoili, the stale bread, my un-spitroasted duck and the feeble cod. I was at pains that we weren’t the kind of people who normally complain (we’re British afterall) and that we weren’t trying to wangle a free meal. We were simply making a point that their food was sub standard. He eventually yielded and gave us our wine on the house – which is about as farcical as the +s and –s on the menu.
This sort of experience leaves a bad taste in the mouth. So bad in fact that we headed straight to a petrol station to buy some chewing gum. On top of that I couldn’t bring myself to eat until lunch the next day. If that’s not a scathing indictment then I don’t know what is.
We zoomed back through an empty Richmond Park as the sun dipped down behind the deer park behind us still fuming. The Albany is definitely not worth cycling to, no matter how close you are to it.
So we’re now looking to our next place to cycle to for lunch. If know of a relaxed, fun place that does a decent lunch within a 3 hour cycling distance of South London leave a comment below.