Leave the iPhone at Home – Prince Alfred, Maida Vale

02 Jul 2016

I don’t know about you, but for me, London dining 2016-style usually goes something like the below...

Just finished. Uber on its way xx
Just left the office. 5 mins late. Sorry! xx
I’ll find our table & order Negronis.
God. YES!

But when I stepped into Maida Vale’s stately, stuccoed Formosa Street I couldn’t help but slow my pace.

The Prince Alfred, a Youngs’ pub and dining room gleaming from a relaunch in March, is an updated Victorian gem with much of its 1856 interior intact. Etched glass snob screens and carved wood panels divide the bar into intimate snugs (and used to shield the toffy-nosed drinkers of yore from the lower-class publican) while, in the spacious Dining Room, prints of Georgian and Victorian London jostle with blue leather banquettes and exposed-filament lightbulbs.

So as the buzz of our Negronis kicked in (I know, we were fools to pass over a pint of Youngs’ excellent bitter), we put smartphones away and let the low hubbub from the open kitchen and chat of fellow mid-week hungry diners calm our city-jangled nerves.

Like the building, the kitchen mixes traditional and modern, with old favourites – sausages and mash, beef burger – alongside the more contemporary quinoa, kale and goat’s curd. But like the prices – starters at £6 to £8 and mains between £12 and £22 – it’s far from outlandish.

When the relaxed and perfectly attentive waitress arrived we went both trad and new. Mustard-cured Wild Salmon, Potato Salad and Golden Beetroot was a pretty parcel, the oily fish cut through by sugary pickled wafers of beet. Cured Smoked Duck Breast with Apple and Celeriac Slaw needed more than the pea shoots and pomegranate seeds scattered about it to help it sing. Both were easy on the eye.

Does a kitchen live or die by its steak frîtes? We put it to the test. A tender Rib-eye Steak with Thick Cut Chips was a shade too medium for the medium-rare we’d ordered. But no-one died. Sea Bass Fillet had skin just the right side of crisp. Add the woody taste of salsify, a cheeky kick of chili tomato sauce, basil oil and the long-stemmed brassica and you have a technicolour, cheerful cooking.

An enthusiastically zingy Slovenian Pinot Bianco ‘Quercus’, and a sappy, ruddy Rioja ‘Viña Torcida’ came from a list that skitters across largely familiar wines from the old and new worlds, and with most bottles between £20 and £30, you’ll find something to your taste. I just wish we were given the vintages.

Pudding was ‘Alfred Mess’ and a Rhubarb and Apricot Tart. Alfred had travelled a long way from Eton. This was a soothing peach parfait with little kisses of lemon and coriander meringue, and coriander microherbs with that icy peach cream were an unexpected delight. Rhubarb and apricot, uncommon bedfellows too, made for a decent tart with a honeycomb ice cream I’d go back for.

We wandered back into the calm half-light of the evening, then out came the smartphones, and down we headed into Warwick Avenue tube and the never-ending clatter of the Underground. I arrived home to a Whatsapp from my friend: “If you’re after a weekday refuge, a freshly polished diamond of old Victorian London, and gastropub cooking with a contemporary edge, the Prince Alfred’s your place.”

Matthew

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