An old-fashioned dining room in the Melia White House hotel, L’Albufera manages to outshine many of the more illustrious hotel restaurants in the capital, thanks to some genuinely great Spanish-inflected cooking.
Nestled in the bosom of the Melia White House, a cool and airy hotel located close to Regent’s Park and Great Portland Street tube, L’Albufera initially looks to be a fusty, high-end dining room, with formally attired staff, traditional furnishings and a very old school feel to proceedings. It comes as a pleasant surprise, then, that the food is anything but old-fashioned; instead some of the finest Spanish ingredients are put together in a variety of new and old way by a very capable kitchen.
It’s not going to quicken the pulse of foodies in search of the hottest table in town, nor are you likely to find a packed dining room buzzing with excitable chatter – L’Albufera cocoons you from the outside world, so much so that even on a swelteringly hot day, you’d have no idea whether it was day or night outside after an hour or two spent in this air-conditioned, restrained dining room.
This is where L’Albufera earns its four stars; the food is very good, indeed. A small selection of premium tapas dishes are available as a starter or to share, and the rest of the menu covers soups, meat and seafood dishes and desserts. Standouts include: a creamy gazpacho soup poured over a daintily presented bowl containing pulpy prawn and crispy Iberico ham; a lobster paella (£22.00) rich in saffron and tomato flavours, lovingly prepared and generously packed with the meaty fish; and a slow cooked suckling pig dish, kind of like a Mediterranean version of pork belly (£20.00), which is dreamy and succulent. Even a surprise amuse bouche at the start of the sitting, combining hummus with salt cod, a combo that doesn’t sound like it should work, is quite the revelation as the two intense flavours fuse in a very impressive way.
Trolleys for champagne and spirits may seem antiquated but - come on! - who doesn’t love to see bottles of hard liquor shimmying into view at the start and end of a meal? Continuing the Spanish theme, cava takes the place of its more venerated French relative, which critically keeps the price down to between £7-£10 per glass. The wine’s very nice, too: a bottle of the Spanish Tempranillo-Shiraz blend is cracking value for money at £25.00.
The Last Word
The capital is full of hotel restaurants with big reputations, some of which deliver, some of which don’t. L’Albufera may not have as big a profile as some of the big boys, but that means it’s a very pleasant surprise when you find it turns out food and drink to such consistently high standards.