Run by Northampton College, the Albero is a high-street restaurant that aims to dispel the myth of student eateries. Katherine Alano went to visit
College restaurants aren't usually known for pushing the culinary boundaries on the high street, but in Northampton, students are being mentored to produce something memorable.
Opened last September by Northampton College, the Albero is situated at the top of the town's main shopping drag and aims to serve as a shop window for what its students are capable of producing.
Run by head chef and former student Liam Goodwill, whose CV includes stints at La Trompette in Chiswick, Horse & Trumpet in Medbourne, Leicestershire, and the Pheasant at Keystone, Albero acts as a finishing school for its apprentice chefs. The brigade comprises five full-time chefs, including three former Northampton College students, and two apprentices.
"Students can get a bit of experience of what it is like to go for a job," he explains. "They have to go through the official interview process, apply for the position and have a cook-off. Then, if they are successful, they can take up an apprenticeship for 14 months."
The menu at the 42-seat restaurant changes every eight weeks and is focused on the flavours of the Mediterranean, incorporating the best of seasonal, local ingredients. Goodwill's background is rooted in classic French cuisine and he finds some of that influence creeping in as far as cooking methods and techniques are concerned.
The menu at the Albero is served tapas style, with all main courses available in small and large portion sizes, giving diners more flexibility and a choice of how they want to eat and, more importantly, how much they want to spend.
Popular options include roast halibut with shaved fennel, girolle mushrooms and passion fruit (£8/£17); confit pork belly with a salad of butternut squash, apple, crisp ear and vanilla dressing (£6/£13); and roast duck breast with hazelnuts, stuffed cabbage, potato cannelloni and duck liver parfait (£6.50/£14).
Meanwhile, a more adventurous dish is the carpaccio of veal rump and crisp veal tongue with courgettes, peas, rocket and sauce gribiche (£7/£15). "We brine the tongue for five days with aromatics including fennel, cloves, bay leaves and thyme, before it is blanched, cooked and put in a Kenwood food processor with a paddle to create the texture of a raclette. It is then set in a tray, cubed and panéed," explains Goodwill, who serves the dish with seasonal vegetables of rocket, courgette and peas to keep it light.
Desserts feature a signature chocolate torte served with malted milk ice-cream (£7); next to strawberry jelly with poached strawberries and vanilla yogurt (£6.50) and a hot apricot tart with mascarpone sorbet, apricot and elderflower jam (£7.50).
Goodwill is keen to source from local producers and his suppliers include the Fruit Pig Company, which supplies him with its rare-breed pork, the Peterborough Game Company and Italian vegetable supplier AB Fruits of Bedford. Cheese comes from the local deli, the Food Hall, just around the corner from the restaurant.
With local sourcing of both produce and chefs delivering technically adept dishes, the Albero is a testament to the experience of the former students who want to make their mark in this market town.
Sample dishes from the menu
Summer vegetable risotto with asparagus velouté £5/£11 Butternut squash and sage agnolotti with courgette and pine nut salad and frozen Parmesan £5.50/£11.50 Roll mop herrings with young carrots, sweet onions, cucumber and dill £6/£11.50 Roast wood pigeon with pastille of leg, pickled turnip, radish and broad beans £6/£13 Crisp pollack with pea risotto, confit lemon and anchovy and crab beignets £6/£13 Roast duck breast with hazelnuts, stuffed cabbage, potato cannelloni and duck liver parfait £6.50/£14
Roast baby aubergines, caramelised artichoke, goats' cheese and summer bean salad £6/£13Desserts
Vanilla panna cotta, poached cherries, red wine and cherry sorbet £6 Crème brûlée, pineapple sorbet, coconut mousse and pineapple salad £6.50 Cheese board: Fourme d'Ambert (French blue cheese), Ardrahan (Irish semi-soft cheese), Fleur du Maquis (Corsican ewes' cheese) with fig and nut cake, pear chutney and wholemeal bread £8
The Albero restaurant Lower Mounts, Northampton NN1 3DE
Tel: 01604 400800