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Question: Where would you go to eat good, locally sourced produce and enjoy a relaxed meal? Answer: most likely a gastropub out of London because it's these type of food operations that have been the standard-bearers for British ingredients over the past decade. The 2006 Catey Menu of the Year is a welcome addition to these culinary beacons.
As this particular gastropub is located in the West Country, it serves the appropriately named Bath chaps to its diners; and, naturally, those porcine delicacies come from a good (tasty) local breed, Gloucestershire Old Spot. Fittingly, as the establishment champions local English produce, it's called the Albion.
The Albion is in Bristol's smart and fashionable Clifton area. It's the first venture into the hospitality industry by Bristol-based business trio, Owain George, Miles Johnson and Ian Rayner, but its food is in the hands of chefs Toby Gritten and Jake Platt - and it was their creativity on the plate that won the judges' plaudits. "The menu is interesting, it reads very well. They're clearly not afraid to try out a few things without being silly about it," said one judge, "I'd have trouble picking out what I wanted to eat."
When Caterer visited the pub back in August 2005 not long after it had opened in its present guise, the Bath chaps were served with a white onion purée and grain mustard after being brined for four days, braised with mirepoix, sliced and fried-off prior to service.
A lot of work - admittedly, with a cheap cut - but nevertheless Gritten and Platt put the dish out for a mere £5.75. That obvious value for money was a big winner with our judging panel.
In fact, competitively priced and in-house, freshly made seasonal food dominate the Albion's menu. British shellfish in Somerset cider with a parsley cream goes for £6.50, Cornish fish stew (with monkfish and sea bass) served with saffron potatoes and rouille rocks in at £16 for two people sharing the dish. Baked duck egg, with oak smoked chorizo with broad beans is a snip at £6.
Also impressive was the scope of the duo's ambition to showcase well-loved British pub grub in a modern tasting menu format. The tasting menu is ubiquitous on the British dining scene, but how many people have had the courage to line up a ploughman's, a mini plate of lamb (confit shoulder, seared kidney and a bit of rib), miniature plaice and chips, and Bath chaps together: all accompanied by beer and cider pairings?
Gritten and Platt - gratifyingly for them and the Albion's owners - have pitched their food offering well at Clifton's young, moneyed crowd, which is not only pouring through the door in a steady stream but also happily parting with its hard-earned cash at the Albion.
"It provides a great experience, not only with the food but with everything else that goes with it as well - the service, the surroundings, the value-for-money," summed up one of our judges. "It'll be good to see how it develops over the next year."
- The Albion, Clifton Village, Bristol
- Imli, London
- La Trompette, Chiswick
- Charles Boyd, chief executive officer, Chester Boyd
- Mark Dodson, chef-proprietor, Mason's Arms, Knowstone, Devon
- Peter Hazzard, chairman, Chaddlewood Consulting
- Richard Hughes, proprietor, the Lavender House, Brundall, Norfolk
- Zoe Jenkins, food and beverage manager, the Dorchester, London
- Michael Raffael, food writer