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Almeida N1 - Very French

and Louise Elgin liked it a lot!

This review is the first of a mini-series about French restaurants we've enjoyed lately.

Having recently returned from a wonderful holiday in the south of France, I found myself yearning for another taste of Gallic cuisine. I got my chance last night when I dined at Almeida in Islington. This part of town is certainly not short on restaurants, in fact I got the feeling that in this heartland of the champagne socialists, Tony's cronies can find plenty of flesh-pots to dine out in!

Almeida is a spacious restaurant with low lighting that creates a convivial atmosphere for its patrons. The large dining room is owned and designed by Sir Terence Conran, and includes an open plan bar area and kitchen, although neither is intrusive in either smells or noise for its diners. A feeling of privacy is created as each table is well spaced whilst the atmosphere is of a relaxed yet well run establishment. There is no music playing, just the gentle of buzz of conversation mixed in with slight tinkering in the kitchen.

The highly professional French staff guided us through the evening, making their presence subtly felt without intruding. After a crisp and refreshing glass of the Alexandre Bonnet house champagne, we turned our attention to the menu. There was a definite touch of brasserie about it, as apart from the usual selection of starters, main courses and desserts there was a crustacea section and a daily changing plat du jour.

I was also happy to see some really different starters, including a trolley of charcuterie and a rillettte de truite de mer, ficelles toasties. I began with a French classic, six Escargots a la Bourguignonne. They were as they should be - squidgy, buttery and garlicky - heaven on a plate. My guest, being a foie gras fiend chose the terrine, which he said, was traditionally made and particularly good. We were drinking wines by the glass as almost every selection on the Carte du vin was offered by either glass, pot Lyonnais, (half carafe) or bottle.

I selected a 2002 Menetou Salon, from Domaine H. Pelle, a famous producer in the Loire. It was very crisp, light with an aroma of greengages and lychees. My guest had a wonderful red Bourgeuil 2002 also from the Loire. It had a velvety nose, was quite dry but with a full bodied flavour and long finish, the perfect accompaniment to his terrine. The traditional French cuisine continued, with both guinea fowl and pigeon included on the menu. I choose some wonderful lamb, it came elegantly served, a generous portion that was pink and tender, the meat having a buttery texture, accompanied by a generous helping of beautifully cooked root vegetables.

My guest was very happy with his choice - a substantial helping of halibut, moist and latticed from the grill, simply served with watercress and half a lemon. To accompany this he had some very good pommes Lyonaisse and - what else - French beans! He accompanied this with a glass of Vouvray, Le Sec de Gaudrelle, Cut, Gaudrelle, Loire - a total contrast to my white, being oaked, with a strong nose and dense flavour, the perfect accompaniment for fish.

The desserts had us lamenting the fact that we had very little room left for anything else. Eventually we settled on a helping of strawberry sorbet which was a little on the sweet side with a rather squelchy texture, the only thing we ate that wasn't particularly memorable. As for the plateau de fromages, it had me salivating from across the room. It looked so inviting, a large, substantial selection complete with all the aromas that should go with a serious cheese board. I was also highly tempted by the riz au lait et pruneaux d'Agen, and the trolley of tartes maison. So I've decided the only solution is to return just to eat everything on the dessert menu!

Starters £6-12.50 Mains £11-£19 Desserts £5.50-7.00 House champagne £7.75 per glass, £38.50 per bottle White & red wines  from £14.50 a bottle

Almeida 30 Almeida Street London N1 Tel: 020 7354 4777

Louise Elgin, September 2004

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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