The The Almeida Restaurant and Bar – Islington, is opposite its namesake theatre, and that could help to explain why this is such a hidden gem – maybe you only think of it when you think of the theatre. But that would be a great loss, as the Almeida is a place you could dine at any time of the week, with friends or work clients, and you would never be disappointed.
As we walked in, we were warmly greeted and shown to our table by the window. Although we had arrived early for lunch, at 12am, there were already some other diners there, and there was a steady flow of people coming and going throughout our meal. Never busy, but enough to know you were in a good restaurant.
The main restaurant area is bright and cheery, with tables nicely spaced out. The clever use of mirrors made it look bigger than it was.
A private dining area was behind the bar, decorated in warm red colours, leather seats, and some of the most humorous photographs from the early 1900’s. This area is quite separated from the main restaurant is is often used for private functions, as well as being the intimate location for the Almeida Wine Tasting suppers.
Whilst looking through the menu, a waiter came offering a choice of artisan breads. This level of service, on such a small thing is what makes the Almeida a memorable place to go to eat.
The menu is generated daily, highlighting seasonal fresh items and locally sourced specials. Having made our selections from the menu, an amuse bouche of smoked eel with a horseradish cream arrived, with thinly sliced radish, cucumber and dill. The eel, often overlooked by many diners, was full of flavour, the horseradish sauce bringing out the hidden depths in the meat, and this was a lovely way to start the meal.
For starters I ordered the Almeida Charcuterie; house terrine, pickled cured hams from Pico di Salumi and coarse farmhouse breads. the hams were up to the standard you would expect from local producer Pico di Salumi; the real surprise was the chicken liver terrine – it was superb. Opening the jar revealed the smoothest pate under the natural setting fat, and with toast this was superb. I could have eaten this all day.
My Date for lunch ordered the Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Truffle Cream. It was well presented and the truffle aroma wafted over the table almost tempting me to try it myself. She loved it, the rich whipped truffle cream sitting on top of the artichoke puree.
The wine chosen to go with the meal was a bottle of Chateau Lanessan Haut Medoc Delbos Bouteiller 1997. This had caught my eye, but was also recommended by the wine waiter, as it provided a good balance for both red meat and white, especially in rich sauces.
For main, I chose the Roast Cornfed Chicken with white polenta, cavola nero and wild mushrooms. The chicken was moist and easily tore apart, exactly as you would want it, being able to soak up the delicate sauce gravy as you dipped it. The mushrooms didn’t really add much and I would have preferred a tasty carrot or two instead, but that’s just a personal choice.
My Date ordered the Denham Estate venison with baked beetroot, pickled pear and hispi cabbage, dressed in a rich sauce. This would have been my first choice, but as we had to order differently I let her have it. She clearly liked it and said that she would definitely have it again it was so good.
As with all the food, the presentation was superb.
After a suitable break, we were offered desserts. Now the food was so good, and of such decent size that we were nearly full, but, well it would have been rude not to have something.
I decided to go for the Star Anise burnt cream, with Caramelsed Satsuma and Cocoa Mouse. It arrived on an oval china plate, and each segment was well presented and had a great range of beautiful colours and aromas.
Each item was a pleasure to eat in its own right.
My Date went for the more traditional crumble – Warm Poached Lincolnshire Rhubarb, Apple, Walnut Crunch with rhubarb ice cream. All made on the premises, it was a full-on rhubarb treat, without any heaviness from the crumble. A lighter way to finish the meal than you might expect.
All in all, a very fine way to spend a lunchtime.
If you are going to the Almeida Theatre, then dining here is a no-brainer. But why not make the most of it and its location at other times. the service is superb, its not noisy, and is a great place to entertain.
The Almeida also have Wine Tasting Suppers and other small events at amazingly good prices. Their website lists them, and I will certainly be returning there again to sample the ever changing seasonal menu.
The Almeida Restaurant
30 Almeida Street