In 2008 Tracey MacLeod gave Terence Conran's Boundary Project in Shoreditch, and its menagerie of outlets stacked in an impressive converted warehouse, a glowing review, saying of the ground floor Albion café, 'the food is great: well-made versions of traditional British caff grub'. So, with the positive write-up in mind, and ringing endorsements from friends, even though I'd been let down by food at Boundary rooftop last summer, I popped in for lunch.
Strategic design places a food shop and bakery up front, whetting the tastebuds and drawing in hungry mouths before even a glance at the 'posh caff' menu, which promises to deliver all the heart-stopping British classics: Welsh rarebit, devilled kidneys, Full English, fish and chips...
I'm no snob when it comes to a cooked breakfast. Nothing beats the no-frills local caff on East Finchley high street for its bottomless mugs of milky PG, endless rounds of toast, and hilariously nonchalant service. A perfect greasy-spoon fry up to soothe a booze-addled head. And, if I crave an upmarket breakfast, Lantana Cafe always delivers.
Albion cafe certainly looks the part. The space is airy and welcoming, staff delightful, and the bread top notch. However, as soon as the plates hit the table, our hearts sank.
Pint of prawns £8.50. Pricey, and not particularly fresh (I could name a dozen gastropubs that make a better fist of this simple dish).
Beetroot soup £4.75. Boring and insipid. Lacked bite, and seasoning. Again, not a hard dish to get right.
And, finally, the £10 fry up. Bloody miserable. One soggy tasteless tomato, the worst hash-brown/bubble and squeak we'd ever come across (raw potato), mediocre rubbery sausage, measly portion of beans, and...no toast!
Beauty is clearly only skin deep at Conran's caff. As Luiz, The London Foodie, says, 'another classic example of style over substance' (read his review here).
We left feeling short changed, annoyed, and still hungry, so headed to Brick Lane for a satisfying record trawl at Rough Trade, picking up a brownie from the Albion bakery on the way, a vast improvement on what the cafe kitchen had to offer.
Next time I'm in the area I'll return to the old faithful, St. John Bread & Wine.