I was gutted to find out yesterday that one of my very favourite restaurants in London has closed down. Having been away for several weeks I had totally missed the news – and now it’s too late to go for one final meal there!
St Alban, which was run by the same people who operate the fantastically old-school Wolseley, ceased trading on Christmas Eve.
It was the perfect place to go for a relaxed yet special dinner. Impeccably trained staff who were so slick as to seem invisible; a wonderfully mellow atmosphere without being oppressively ‘hushed’; funky modern decor (not to everyone’s taste) and flattering lighting; the ‘help yourself’ glass canisters of nuts in the bar area; space-age bathrooms; a great wine list and an unpretentious, reasonably-priced menu. I always thought the unassuming exterior – no signage except for the name etched on the frosty glass windows – made it feel more of a well-kept secret; perhaps this lack of ostentation ultimately proved to be their downfall.
The evening I saw Nigella dining there I knew I was in good company.
A special mention should go to Cameron, the guy who kept things running smoothly. I’m not sure whether he was the maître d’ or the manager or what, but he was a constant fixture and he was absolutely charming and obliging when a friend and I once asked if we could have a tour of the kitchen.
I will miss being able to go and tuck into their famous crispy pork belly, the huge green olives and generous selection of bread that arrived on the table alongside a dish of peppery olive oil as soon as you sat down, and the sensational desserts: blood orange soufflé (pictured above), work-of-art Eton mess, and homemade yoghurt with shards of honeycomb.
The day after my first dinner there, I emailed to ask if I could have the recipe for the delicious dessert I had eaten. Unbelievably, they sent it to me. It’s the perfect dish for a hot summer – I promise to write about it here when the ingredients are in season.
Apparently the same restaurateurs are now planning a ‘Wolseley-style grand café in the old Theatre Museum site in Covent Garden’. I look forward to seeing it, but somehow it won’t be quite the same.