Scottish cuisine is not an option readily discussed when eating out, despite London’s multitude of regional restaurant offerings.
Perhaps it’s knowing little more than haggis or whisky that has stunted our understanding of Scottish food or maybe the Scots themselves have tried to keep their dishes from spreading over the Highland borders, but rest assured; they do have a more tricks up their tartan-lined sleeves.
Proudly waving the Scottish culinary flag is Albannach: a restaurant hidden just south enough of Trafalgar Square for people to take note of this reserved menu, yet far enough from the tourist throng to appeal to the well-heeled Whitehall workers hanging by the bar for after-hours drink.
Sleek and modish, discarded antlers are incorporated into the furnishings, while black and white photographs of Highland landscapes line the walls. Immaculately buffed dark woods, soft leather seating, and a voguish spiraling staircase lead from the whisky-glinting bar to the second floor dining area: all equally suited to a restaurant with lush green highlands and scattering of sheep viewed from the window, as they are red double-decker buses.
Just in case you could still be in any doubt of what’s on the offering, ‘Albannach’ is Gaelic for ‘Scottish,’ and it’s not surprising that our waiter for the evening is a proud Scotsman himself.
Starting with the Pink Panther, the Albannach Speyside whisky-based cocktail mixed with cranberry and apple juice hints at a menu that is not afraid to twist tradition with modern city tastes.
Albannach combines traditional dishes with those you might expect to find on any British menu. Starters include the Scottish smoked salmon, a Lincolnshire sausage, English garden salad and the pan-friend chicken liver salad that my dining partner lapped up—despite professing not to usually like liver.
For fish lovers the grilled whole sea bream is a treat. A complete fish arrives as if it has just been caught, with nothing more than simple seasoning to bring out the fleshy flavours of the bream and accompanied by a green salad. I imagine a weathered Scottish fisherman cooking up his catch of the day, too appreciative of his fish to ruin it with fancy dressings, although whether that’s true will be a question for the waiter on my next visit.
Other options include the grilled rump steak with Romero pepper, onion and mushroom; the Scottish salmon fillet with butter bean mash and orange and butter dill sauce; and the rump of lamb served with spring onion mash—another hit with my partner.
Of course, for those who hope to keep things comprehensively Scottish, you can chose from with cullen skink, blue cheese bridies, haggis, neeps, and tatties.
Scotland’s traditional dessert is the cranachan; a sweet raspberry compote topped with whipped cream and toasted oatmeal, dressed lightly with whisky to give the whole thing extra depth. For any English that thought there was no suitable rival to the trifle, here you might just have found a match.
As you would expect there is an obvious emphasis on whiskies and the Albannach boasts one of the greatest collections of single malt whiskies in the UK. The bar glitters with hundreds of bottles of Highland malts from all four corners of Scotland and the Scottish Isles, as well as quality imports including American bourbons and Japanese whiskies. Of course it’s the Scottish flights, which come highly recommended—albeit somewhat biased—from our friendly waiter.
The bar makes a great place for inexperienced guests to learn the basics of whisky while aficionados can enjoy in-depth tasting with the on-site sommeliers, as well as the tailored sampling sets.
For the most serious of whisky fans, the Albannach is also home to the most expensive shot of whisky on the world. Ask for the Balvenie Cask 191 and allow yourself £750 for a double shot.
Albannach does its homegrown chefs and cooking ancestors proud. Give London just a few more modern interpretations of Highland gastronomy and it might not be long before we are all saying, “Let’s have Scottish tonight.”
Albannach, 66 Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DS
0207 930 0066