Saturday 29 May 2010

Royal Albert revisited

Myself and the geezer patronise the Royal Albert in New Cross fairly regularly (at least once a fortnight for dinner) - I've written about it before, way back in 2007, but felt it was time for a new review three years on!

A recent interview with the new manager on Brockley Central blog promised improvements to the areas I felt were lacking, especially guest beers. A new chef and new menu with more seasonal food was also on the cards. So what, if anything, has changed?

First, beers. Well Richard promised that the 'troublesome fourth pump' would be repaired and brought into service to allow more frequent rotation of guest beers. I recall that it was, temporarily, although the last few visits it seems to have gone back into retirement. It's great that they offer Brakspear's bitter at £2.50 a pint - it's a reliable and inoffensive beer that keeps the price of a round to a respectable level. There is almost always Landlord on offer, and almost always a Purity beer (Gold last time I visited). But I'm saddened to say that the guest beers have been fairly evasive. For a brief, glorious period they were offering Doom Bar on tap but now, after several visits with no guest beer in sight, I'm starting to wonder if I hallucinated it!

Perhaps there have been recurring problems with the hand pumps, or perhaps I have just been unlucky in turning up as the guest beers were drained, but I would love to see a better balance between guest and regular ales. Why not two regular and two guest? Or even one regular and three guest?

I am lucky enough to work close by the fabulous new Cask pub in Pimlico. Until fairly recently this was a fading and failing bar that was lucky to attract a handful of punters even at lunchtime. On Tuesday night it was rammed with customers, many of them sampling one of the TEN or so real ales that were available on tap. Although it offers food, only a few people were there to eat. 'Build it and they will come,' I thought to myself - even on a Tuesday night!

But I digress. If you are a lager or wine drinker, by the way, you will also find a reasonable choice of drinks.

As to food, the menu has definitely seen an improvement - it changes quite regularly and does include several vegetarian and seafood options. I chose the 'couscous and roasted squash salad with grilled halloumi' while the geezer had the seafood tagliatelle.

The salad was tasty, fresh and good value for money - but nothing like I was expecting. Call me old fashioned but when a dish contains multiple ingredients, I expect the description to start with the ingredient that makes up the biggest proportion of the dish, and continue downwards - a bit like food labelling.

So I was expecting a lot of roasted squash and couscous, a few slabs of halloumi, and a bit of green stuff. They got the halloumi proportion about right, but I certainly wasn't expecting masses of rocket, green beans and other green stuff with a scattering of couscous.

As I said, it WAS tasty, I just felt a bit cheated and might have chosen something else if I'd known - although there's the possibility that I would have been equally as disappointed.

Luckily I didn't choose the seafood tagliatelle - the geezer is remarkably tolerant, some might even say too tolerant, and very averse to complaining. If I'd been served this I would have taken it back.

I'm sorry guys but this is downright lazy. Ocean Stix or whatever they are called does NOT qualify as seafood unless you are running a fast food store. No amount of piling rocket on the top can hide the fact that this is basically pasta with mussels and chopped up Ocean Stix. What of the prawns? Any sign of a bit of fish or squid? Unless you ramp up the seafood aspect of this dish, at £9 it's risking being known as a bit of a rip-off.

Having got that off my chest, I feel I should finish on a more positive note. I do like the fact that although the pub shows football in the front bar, it keeps the sound low so the place doesn't turn into a no-go zone for me. Whether this will change during the World Cup I don't know. Hopefully the back part of the bar will remain footy-free.

The staff are very friendly and helpful and the atmosphere in the bar is generally lively but not intrusive. It's still the best in the area for food, and hopefully the ale offerings will improve given time.


The Royal Albert said...

@DD, thanks for taking the time to write about the Royal Albert. I'm pleased to hear you are fond of the pub, that the food has improved and that the staff have been pleasant, but I'd like to address some of the less positive aspects you mentioned.

We had more trouble than we expected repairing the fourth ale tap, but as of this weekend it is up and running. As for the ale selection, I'm sorry to hear you've not been impressed, I don't wish to use the excuse of poor luck, but in the past couple of months we've rarely not had a guest on, in fact as I write we have two - Nordic Fury (York Brewery) and Otter Mild. Before those we have had Betty Stogs, Adnams Bitter, Black Sheep Golden Ale and so on. Brakspear keeps its permanent spot, but Landlord is rotated with Doom Bar and the three Purity ales had been sharing the third pump with the guests until the fourth was repaired.

I'll have all four taps in action as often as possible from now on, although real ales are 'live' and have a limited shelf life - to preserve quality we might sometimes decide for the quieter part of the week to have three rather than four. In the near future we hope to have Cask Marque accredidation for ale quality as we put a lot of time and effort into caring for our beers.

We try not to be overly-wordy when writing menus, which is why the leaves and beans in the cous cous salad weren't mentioned, but Theo (chef) and I take your point about the importance of accurate descriptions and it's something we'll bear in mind in future. From the picture it looks like there wasn't enough squash in your salad and the pasta should have had a good amount of prawns, mussels and squid, as well as parmesan. We apologise on both counts, it's not something we're happy about. We certainly don't mean to hide behind rocket leaf, god knows enough pubs do that.

We understand our food is not cheap, but value for money is important to us - we have decided to operate on relatively small margins in order to offer a high standard of food and I am sorry this was not the impression we gave. You mentioned at the beginning of your review that you regularly eat with us, which is good to hear, I hope on your other visits you have been pleased with your food.

I have been at the Royal Albert for almost four months now and hope overall customers have noticed improvements. As well as the new chef, menu and guest ales we have lengthened and improved the wine list, with most available by glass or carafe. We have also replaced the broken benches to the front with 8 new benches (plus deckchairs) to seat 50+, with plans for some plants very soon. We have also generally worked on making the pub more presentable, from the back bar to the ketchup bottles. On the food side, we update the menu on a daily basis, maintain a good selection of vegetarian options, and have made desserts a permanent fixture. Everything is homemade - Theo genuinely cooks from the heart and I've never known a chef so open to criticism.

As with every pub, this is an ongoing project, I hope the Royal Albert is a better pub than it was four months ago and better still in another four months' time. I am always available for a chat when I'm working if any readers of this blog ever want to say hello and let me know their thoughts.


Deptford dame said...


Thanks for taking the time to reply, and for addressing my comments so positively. I'm delighted to hear that the fourth pump is back on track, and look forward to trying a few more guest ales in due course. We do often visit at the quiet times of the week, so I hope I'm not going to be unlucky too often!

The pub has definitely improved considerably in the last four months, and we continue to enjoy the varied menu, even if it's not always exactly what we expected!

John said...

I went in the RA after Richard took the helm. Unfortunately, they'd run out of ingredients for a Sunday roast. The Landlord did taste slightly better than usual (the drink, not Richard...that would be cannibalism). I'd really like to like this pub because its much closer to me than the D&B. I'll try again soon.
DD, you say this has the best food in the area but have you eaten at The Duke yet? I keep meaning to get round to it but never do.

Unknown said...

I was left dissappointed with The Duke's Sunday roast. It came out on a tiny plate and looked like a school dinner with mushy/overcooked veg and watery gravy. Was a bit embarrassed as I walked there from the other side of Greenwich with a friend especially to eat there (I did once have a lovely pitta/olive tapenade and cheeseboard there) and I really should have saved us the trip.

Deptford dame said...

Kat's right, save yourself the walk. I've got a post about the Duke coming up when I get chance. It doesn't make good reading.

The Royal Albert said...

Re: The Duke, I've been to their first pub, The Dartmouth Arms a few times, but not for a while now. More of a restaurant than a pub in the back and generally very nice food. My girlfriend tried pigeon for the first time there and loved it, I had a very well cooked steak, but wasn't so keen on the chips. I also remember another time having lovely desserts and a great dessert wine.

Being honest though, I wasn't so keen on the roast, considering the price. Everything apart from the meat just wasn't quite right.

Like I say, this was some time ago now and The Duke is another pub entirely. @Kat, I would say give them another chance, you might just have had a hefty slice of poor luck. A neighbour of mine who opened a bar in Dulwich said she always tried to give a place 3 chances - first bad experience could be bad luck, the second could be a coincidence, the third is time to give up! I think she had more patience than most!

Deptford dame said...

@the royal albert - I'm in agreement with your friend, sadly the latest visit was the third time...

The Royal Albert said...

@Deptford Dame Oh dear!

Kat said...

Im intrigued to hear of your Duke experience Dame!! I havent ventured back there yet! (I also agree with The Royal Albert about giving establishments every chance to redeem themselves.)