On the edge of Battersea Park and walking distance from the Thames, location is everything for The Prince Albert, a relatively recent addition to the Geronimo Inns chain that owns pubs all across London and Surrey.
Spacious and welcoming, on a bright spring day in March it is busy and cheery in equal measure, with pleasant, accommodating staff and a family-friendly remit: there is space to park baby buggies at tables and also places to store them away from it. Highchairs and booster seats are provided, and there are enough other children around to make sure they’re welcomed rather than just tolerated. The same is true for dogs.
Geronimo Inns don’t label themselves as gastropubs, but it is clearly this end of the market they’re aiming at. As is often the case, the wine list and choice of other drinks is twice the size (and impresses twice as much) as the menu, with an impressive selection of old and new world reds, wine, roses and champagnes starting at less than £15 a bottle. We choose the 2007 Le Coq Rouge, a perfectly good Merlot at £17.90.
The food, on the other hand, is much more toward the -pub than gastro- end of the scale. Problematically, there is no clear distinction between what is meant to be a starter, what should be a main course, and what might do for a light lunch. The prices offer some clues but this doesn’t always work. The onion and thyme soup with cheddar cheese toast is perfectly acceptable but, at £6, somewhat overpriced for the portion size. It wouldn’t make a lunch on its own and while the chicken liver paté with apple chutney (£6.50) might, it is too large for a starter although that seems what it is meant to be. The paté also lacked much flavour, though it was nicely presented.
The salad of organic pumpkin, goats cheese, rocket and toasted hazelnuts is better value for money – at £7.50 it would make a meal on its own, though as the only vegetarian dish on the menu bar a macaroni cheese, it’s not hugely inspired. The cheese burger with dill pickle and chips (£10.50) was more obviously intended to satisfy on its own but the burger was, like the paté, fairly tasteless and also too pink when it had been ordered well-done. The chips, which were huge, chunky and cooked to perfection, ended up being the stars of the meal.
On the more positive side, the relatively informal dining experience and choices that range from soups, sandwiches and salads to full meals and a decent selection of deserts, does ensure that a mixed group could all find something to suit their pocket; prices range from sandwiches at £5 to £18.50 for steak and chips. For a fine dining experience there are better options but for decent grub to accompany an afternoon or evening drink, we’ve had worse.
While the location and atmosphere save it, the over-ambitious menu would benefit from toning down its pretensions and reducing its prices at the same time. There’s nothing wrong with serving sausage and mash, or cheese and tomato sandwich with chips, but if you’re going to charge £9.50 and £6.50 respectively, they need to be a bit special – and that doesn’t just mean an artily arranged bit of lettuce on the side and pretty mini ramekins for the mustard and ketchup. Ironically, at the end of the meal, the bill looks more reasonable than the prices did when they sat in isolation on the menu: a two course lunch with soft drinks comes in at around £15 a head.
It all comes across as just a bit too much style over not enough substance. Pretty and amiable, but not terribly inspired, the food is ultimately overpriced for what you get. The Albert is a lovely place to grab a drink before a walk in the park but make sure you go for the convenience of the location and the friendly atmosphere, not just for the food.