The cosy Albion serves traditional pub grub in the heart of London. Surely nothing could go wrong...

The Albion, 10 Thornhill Road, London N1, tel: 020 7607 7450

The pies of the day are announced on a blackboard in an ornate gilt frame worthy of a Stubbs, and the menu is full of family favourites, such as potted shrimps, game pie and slow-roast pork hock, as well as bar snacks such as chip butties and pork crackling. By rights, it should be nestled in a valley, smoke puffing from chimney, tractor in the car park. Instead, it's in the backstreets of Islington, albeit with a rear garden for al-fresco dining.

The former Sands End chef Liam Kirwan recently took over the stoves of The Albion public house and garden from owner Richard Turner, who is now ensconced in sister restaurant The Old Bear in Cobham, Surrey. For a man who has cooked with Rowley Leigh, Jeremy Lee and The Gun's Scott Wade, I am expecting Kirwan to turn out no-fuss, well-crafted British food, the sort of non-interventionist cooking that makes you wonder why the French feel they have to do so much to their food before they eat it.

A menu description as bald as "Mushrooms on toast £5.50" has become commonplace since the pioneering St John restaurant of Clerkenwell removed all flowery clichés from the British menu. There, it could mean garlic-infused wild mushrooms flashed in butter and tipped over house-baked brioche. Here, it is mushrooms on toast, and I mean bog-ordinary, bland, tasteless button mushrooms, like the ones Jamie Oliver forbids us to use in any of his mushroom recipes or, he threatens, "I'll come and get you." Add white-bread toast and a creamy, gluggy sauce, and I can't see the point in either serving it or eating it.

A second starter of fluffy smoked-eel paté on slightly sweet wheaten toast (£7.50) has more flavour, with a caper relish giving it some gumption, but so far, the kitchen skills are not up to those of the menu writer. Table service is scattery and ingénue, with one waiter turning up with main courses only to announce "The pie for the man and the fish cakes for the woman," sending the woman into mild hysterics.

The man's Dexter beef pie with laverbread (Welsh seaweed) and oyster (£15.50) is served in a little cast-iron pot, topped with a flat, thin, pastry lid that is more duff than puff. Another pot holds decent mash and shredded spring greens, but the pie is more reminiscent of a bowl of gravy with a single oyster and a few chunks of tender meat. The woman's three Arbroath smokie fishcakes (£12.50) are topped with a good, runny duck egg, fried bacon and a swish of dark-green pea purée. The taste of haddock gets lost in the process, with little left but potato, smoke and a rogue flavour I can't identify that throws the whole thing out of whack.

Damn it, I can't even turn to the wine for solace. The list reads well, but a 2005 Michelot Bourgogne (£30.50) falls flat when matched against thin gravy and smoke. And I know sticky toffee pudding (£5.50) is designed to be stodgy, but this one sinks to a new level; a dense slab of goo topped with a scoop of icy ice-cream.

The gastropub is the only hope we have for civilised, democratic dining in this country, taking the substandard pubby stodge we grew up with and reinvigorating it with seasonal produce, fresh ideas and fair prices. Tonight, sadly, has been a step backwards rather than forwards. It will matter little to the hordes who just want to sit in the garden and drink beer – but it should.

10/20

Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets

The Albion, 10 Thornhill Road, London N1, tel: 020 7607 7450. Lunch and dinner daily. Around £85 for two, including wine and service

The crunch bunch: Classic British dishes

Y Polyn

Capel Dewi, Nantgaredig, Carmarthenshire, tel: 01267 290 000

This simple, inviting Towy Valley gastropub specialising in top-notch, seasonal, modern British cooking, serves a two-course dinner for £22.50

Gee's

61 Banbury Road, Oxford, tel: 01865 553 540

What was once a florist has become a dramatically lit conservatory restaurant specialising in classic British cooking. The two-course, £12.50 lunch is a bargain

Canteen

55 Baker Street, London W1, tel: 0845 686 1122

The third and latest addition to this popular British chainlet combines slick contemporary design and share-tables with pie and mash

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Estates Contracts & Leases Manager

    £30000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Estates Team of this group ...

    Guru Careers: Brand Manager / Marketing Campaign Manager

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Brand Manager / Marketing Campaign Manager is req...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
    Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

    Berlusconi's world of sleaze

    The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
    Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

    Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

    Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
    Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

    Could gaming arcades be revived?

    The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
    Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

    Heard the one about menstruation?

    Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage