Ahhh the great British summer, don’t you love it? Thundery downpours were advertised by the Met Office. The social media output at The Albert Arms In Elephant & Castle didn’t exactly suggest that we’d be sheltered.
Yet the show must go on. Nothing stops me from bringing you reviews of roast dinners in London. Except lockdown. And lockdown 2. And lockdown 3. That is the end of the series, right?
So it was with some trepidation that I headed to The Albert Arms on Sunday, to sit outside for probably the last time ever as outdoor dining is now one of those things that I closely associate with the pandemic like not having enough toilet roll or eating banana bread – that I want to banish to history. Yes I do keep a minimum of 10 toilet rolls for myself at any one time.
Had the weather not been a clusterfuck of Britishness over the last month of outdoor dining then this would probably have been a period of exteme jollity, yet this last 5 weeks has been an endurance test of cold nights, wet days, Arctic winds – with occasional false hopes of spring sunshine, normally before 10am on a work day.
Before arriving I had visions of a flimsy gazebo sheltering us during a thunderstorm – which then collapsed under the weight of water or hail – or perhaps blew away in a tornado, leaving me with a Yorkshire pudding full of hail, and gravy that resembled water…well…that last one wouldn’t be anything new.
The fun of thunder
But one thing you probably don’t know about me, unless you know me, is that I love a good thunderstorm – so much so that I’d happily travel even further for one than a roast dinner. I’ve actually been storm-chasing in the UK. I want to go storm-chasing in the US. I was gutted to miss the thunderstorm this Monday gone when I was instead going on holiday. By the way, I have a sun tan from my holiday in the Lake District – two whole days of glorious, cloudless sunshine. Who needs Magaluf?
Anyway…thunderstorms. I love the suspense as you are waiting for it to arrive and the drama as the fury is unleashed. It is as much a piece of theatre as my roast dinner reviews are literature – though both are normally soon forgotten, the brief moments of “oooh” becoming a fast-fading memory as you then end up at a shitty Greene King pub, forgetting that you have a treasure trove of advice here.
Though I still didn’t quite want a thunderstorm to interrupt my roast dinner and arriving at The Albert Arms, shortly after a heavy shower, I played a confusing game of table hokey-cokey with the waitress until I was shown to a table just under a predictably flimsy gazebo. And my seat was wet. Yikes.
At least I was under the gazebo – unlike most of the rest of the tables.
And then the sun came out. Just realised – talking about weather and roast dinners in one post – this will surely be my most popular post ever?
Just two choices for roasts, which given how long I seem to be taking in making dinner choices at the moment is a good thing, shoulder of lamb at £17.50 and rump cap of beef at £19.50 – just hanging on under the £20 mark.
I went for the lamb, purely because I’d eaten beef the week before.
Bring me sunshine…and gravy.
Our roasts took around 20 to 30 minutes to arrive – which always gives me greater hopes than a roast that arrives after 10 minutes. The photograph shows hope too, doesn’t it?
Starting with the carrots, as per usual, these were nicely roasted – perhaps with a hint of honey.
Similar with the parsnips – I’d guess they were roasted together but there really were good parsnips, with their flavour fully brought out.
The spring greens were decent, quite well seasoned and easy to eat. Not really sure what else I could say.
Cauliflower cheese, which cost £3.50 extra, was creamy, cheesy and had crispy onions sprinkled on top to add a bit of extra texture to the cauliflower cheese. Nothing stand-out whoa amazing, but good, flavoursome cauliflower cheese.
The shock of lightning…and the shock of crispy roast potatoes.
You spotted them already, right? Two crispy roast potatoes. Freshly made, properly crispy, soft in the middle. London – why do you get it wrong so often? These were excellent roasties. But you noticed something else, didn’t you? Yep…but better two excellent roasties than three cruddy ones.
My Yorkshire pudding was decent, quite crispy but decent enough with a soaking of gravy. My accomplice’s Yorkshire pudding seemed like it had been under a heat lamp for a week – and was completely crispy and unfinishable. Throughout the roast, there was an oily feel to it, which my accomplice thinks came from her Yorkshire pudding – I couldn’t work it out.
My lamb was really nice – really, really nice. It had been shredded which was an interesting touch, well-seasoned again with just a slight crisp around some of the shredded elements. My accomplice had the beef which she was pleased with.
The gravy was as thin as rainwater, but thankfully it didn’t look or taste as such. However – it perhaps could have done with some rainwater as it was too rich. I’d understand if everything else was poor and needed masking by the gravy – but everything else was good…very good and the gravy kind of overpowered everything.
Not to a roast-destroying extent – I noticed it quite early but others I spoke to only noticed it after I mentioned it. A more complimentary gravy would have boosted the score well into the 8’s. Did this detract from the roast? A tad, but not too much.
And it was still sunny.
Sunny times at The Albert Arms
There isn’t much competition, both in terms of quality and quantity of reviews, but this is easily the best roast dinner that I’ve eaten out in 2021.
There is much to compliment – especially the lamb, the roasted veg – the amazement of actually getting banging roast potatoes – when was the last time I praised roast potatoes from a pub? Certainly not in 2021. Barely ever in 2020 either.
The gravy was really the only downside and it wasn’t majorly so – mostly because it just didn’t match the rest of the roast dinner. Yes, it was too watery, but the richness of the gravy, at least for me, didn’t compliment what was a really good roast dinner. And there was a slight oily feel to the roast – we think from the Yorkshire pudding but are unsure.
I was heartened enough to give it a score of 7.95, my accomplice scored hers a 7.70. My other accomplice ate just the burrata – she enjoyed it but why would you come out for dinner with LORD GRAVY and just eat cheese? It did look stunning though.
We also resuced some people to join us on the picnic bench when it started to pour with rain – I stayed longer than I initially intended as the Intel Pentium chip inside me wanted to see what people would do when it poured down with rain, but instead we invited the braver souls to take shelter with us. I did ask them for scores out of 10 but I don’t remember what they said.
Hopefully I’ve been profusive enough in my praise to make you at least consider a Sunday at The Albert Arms. Easy to get to, despite being in south London, a cosy pub inside, plenty of outdoor seating on the off-chance that we get a summer, a very good roast dinner, a really interesting menu for the rest of the week, friendly bar staff – it had a good vibe to it.
They clearly have a very good chef there.
I’ll be back on Sunday with my Lake District sun tan. And I’m going somewhere kind of posh, but not too posh.
Yeah but some of your customers are leery old men. Well, more middle-aged pretending to be young.
The Albert Arms, Elephant & Castle, South London
Station: Elephant & Castle
Tube Lines: Bakerloo, Northern
Fare Zone: Zone 1
Loved & Loathed
Loved: The miracle of crispy roast potatoes, super tasty lamb
Loathed: Gravy was too rich and watery