Sunday, February 15, 2009

Lunching in London: Albion at the Boundary Project

My first meal in London turned out to be a lesson in British "cuisine". My friend MC, who lives near the Shoreditch area in east central London, took me to this lunch at this new place called Albion at The Boundary Project. The Boundary Project is essentially a refurbished building in a pretty run down looking but trendy neighborhood in London which holds 2 restaurants, a food and bakery shop and a small hotel. It was the creation of Terence Conran who is a well known British restaurateur and designer. Albion where we ate is the more casual of the two restaurants and focuses on a nostaligic, retro British menu which apparently is the hot food trend in town.

The design of the place felt very light and open. You walk into the food shop and bakery first and are welcomed by mounds of pastries, breads, cookies and cakes and a small produce section. Already you are starving and you haven't even seen the dining area. Walk past the temptation and you will arrive in a fairly plain rectangular room with a massive open kitchen to the right. Actually feels very much like a cafeteria and indeed this place is referred to as a British "caff". Service was quite delightful and friendly and I didn't realize until later that this is a actually a rare thing in London.

Anyway, we sat down, starved, expecting to know very quickly exactly what we wanted to order. But we were not at all familiar with British "cuisine" so found ourselves reading an all-English menu but not understanding anything written on it. MC who just moved here from NYC has only been in London for 2 months. So we did what any modern day jet setter/ex pat would do: we pulled out our iPhone/Blackberry and started googling items on the menu. A Welsh Rabbit or Rarebit is a brown cheesy sauce served over toasted bread. A Gammon, Eggs and Chips is a pork chop or ham steak with a sunny side egg on top and fries on the side. A Kedgeree is a Scottish fried rice of sorts, with flaked smoked white fish, eggs, butter and rice. There were the usual suspects like Fish and Chips, Shepherd Pie, Beef Stew. Lots of savory pies overall. We mulled over the menu with a Bloody Mary each and then decided to go for Chicken Pie, Mushy Peas, Cauliflower Cheese, Chips (with beef drippings, duly noted in the menu) and a Walnut, Stilton, Celery Salad. The mains I thought were OK. The Chicken Pie had a tasty crust and succulent tender chicken, but was too watery. The Salad had great Stilton but they were a bit stingy and gave me only a few crumbles. The vinaigrette was very nice and subtle but the walnuts were not even toasted. Maybe this is the way it in more traditionally. I should have gotten the Fish and Chips, which I was eyeing on the table next to us. The sides were great, the Mushy Peas perfectly mushy and well seasoned, the Chip very much benefited from the beef drippings (and the large amounts of HP sauce I slathered on them) and the cauliflower cheese was perfectly cooked and just cheesy enough (not like in the US where it would have been coated in velveeta). Didn't have room for dessert but the bakery looked amazing so next time my friend MC knows where to get some sweet snacks for himself.

Overall, a great little place, great service, simple basic food. And I got to add some new food vocabulary to my repertoire. Next time, I won't ask the waiter if the Welsh Rabbit is with or without bone.

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