With the opening of Murano just a few weeks in the past, Gordon Ramsay protege Angela Hartnett is already turning her talents to a new venture. Part restaurant, part bar, part deli and part hotel, York and Albany is a rustically restored retreat in an unlikely location.
On the site of a former coaching inn built in the 1820s, York and Albany has been refurbished with an almost worshipful eye to the original pieces and design. An archway here, a mirror there: although at first glance everything is comfortingly modern, a second look reveals there are more things vintage than just the wine. If you stay in the hotel you’ll be treading across slightly uneven floorboards and brushing past glowingly refurbished antique desks and bureaus on your way to your suite’s four poster bed.
There are several different areas to the venue. The ground floor houses the large, dark bar, surrounded by high stools, whilst further out lower, cushiony seats mix with high-backed chairs and shiny lacquered grey tables. The aforementioned deli, the most rustic part of the new venue, is in a small room off to one side, accessible by a separate entrance and through the bar. Platters of freshly baked cakes and brownies take centre stage, while rows upon rows of glossy jams, pickles and oils line the shelves. Cold food, meats and cheeses are available from behind the counter.
The restaurant area is towards the back, and colours continue in the grey theme with similar tables and chairs to the bar area. Thanks to the huge glass windows (which open out onto a small, cosy patio) and high ceilings, there’s an enormous amount of light coming into the room, lending a bright and airy atmosphere. Unfortunately, though, some tables are spaced a bit too close together, making for difficult negotiating to and from seats. More tables are located downstairs in a room decorated in red that looks over the open kitchen.
Despite being under the Gordon Ramsay restaurant group, the feel that they're aiming for is more gastro pub than Michelin-starred restaurant – perhaps it has something to do with the wooden crates and hanging garlic knots in the deli. When you book a table they’re quick to tell you that the dress code is casual, but even so there’s a mainly suited and booted crowd. Jeans and T-shirts aren’t unwelcome, they just look a bit out of place amidst all the refurbished antique finery. Likewise, despite the fact that Regent’s Park is just across the road, Camden Town tube is just a few minutes further, but the pierced and mohicaned types may as well be in a different country entirely.
Seasonal British food is on offer here, and whilst prices are on the high side for a local gastro pub (and indeed for Camden) they’re nothing on other Gordon Ramsay restaurants. Starters range from £6 - £9, mains from £14 - £22 (a chicken dish for two costs £28) and most desserts are about £6. Tapas and pizzas are scheduled to be served at the bar and there’s a daily changing set lunch menu that's very good value at £15 for three courses. Plates are simply but attractively presented, with an earthy touch that matches the decor.
An amuse bouche of crisp bread and a thin, creamy chicken liver sauce arrives on a wooden cutting board, the sauce warming a rubber-topped glass jar. It’s almost the opposite of fussy amuse bouches that the capital’s restaurants usually offer and tastes lovely, salty and warm, although the thin, soupy texture takes a bit of getting used to. The smoked duck salad (£9) is more duck than salad, with lots of carpaccio-thin layers of succulent duck on the plate. The oniony leeks give it a bit of bite, but the sliced potatoes taste too sweet and, served cold, seem a strange thing to include. Grilled mackerel (£8), with its iridescent, stripy skin, is well served by bright pink, teardrop-shaped beetroot, and the salty, meaty fish goes well with the sweet, thinly shredded apple and celeriac remoulade.
Mains are heavy on the fish dishes, so the fish stew (£14) seems like a good choice. Although it’s a large portion, with big pieces of meaty monkfish and pink and succulent prawns, the thin yellow sauce is bland and could use much more spice to add some excitement in flavour. Braised neck of lamb (£14), on the other hand, is perfect in its simplicity, with a decent sized piece of meat that’s so tender, a knife is unnecessary – you could practically breathe on it and it would fall to pieces. It’s cooked well, in a thick, savoury sauce, and the large batons of carrot and parsnip are a sweet contrast to the thick, garlicky mashed potatoes.
Although there’s a dish for two to share on the dessert menu (steamed treacle sponge pudding, £11), the rice pudding (£6) is more than enough for two. Plump, fluffy grains of rice in a gooey, milky-sweet pudding are presented in a small pot, then dolloped onto a ripe, waiting fig in a bowl. It’s a simple dessert, often the stuff of school dinner nightmares, but here it’s pretty much perfect. The cheese plate, served with a handful of purple grapes, is a bit disappointing as for £8 you only get a few thin, although tasty, slivers.
The bar has a decently long cocktail list with prices from £6.50 - £9, a good range to match the variety of bars around the area. The York and Albany Royale (£8) includes a mix of Ketel One Citroen vodka, blueberries, lemon juice, cinnamon syrup and Champagne. There are several pages of classic cocktails as well as non-alcoholic drinks and spirits. Wines are mostly European, with some new world choices, and start by the glass from £4, whereas bottles go as low as £11. Iced tap water is offered straight away with your meal, which is always a nice touch.
The Last Word
Although much of the food is good, what remains to be seen is whether the York and Albany is still a bit too posh to hope to make good friends with Camden locals. Whether it’s dressed up as a deli, a converted inn or a bar, it’s still very much a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. Whilst Camden locals could conceivably come around for a drink, they probably won’t stay for dinner. The good news is though that the folk of Primrose Hill and Belsize Park are just around the corner – maybe they’ll be the better choice of regulars.