From the moment I heard about The Abbey restaurant I knew it was going to be special.
Open in a type of trial phase just for select dinner services and at weekends, their initial aim is to focus on top quality rather than squeezing in as many covers as possible, which for a new restaurant (or in fact any restaurant) is truly admirable, but it’s really paid off. With a solid focus on providing both food and service of the highest quality, it’s a place we’ll be returning to time and time again.
I was lucky enough to have my parents staying with me for Mother’s Day – a day which she said we actually haven’t spent together since we were children. I jumped at the chance to take my mum to The Abbey, and like any good restaurant they spoilt her with prosecco and mimosas which she was delighted with (even though she can only drink about two before she’s falling over!).
The restaurant is split into a main area with classic décor at the front, and a stunning conservatory area in the back, where the most delicately arranged pink and purple flowers line an entire wall, with the others painted a pale pastel hue. The floor is done in beautiful blue and white tiles and some of the wooden tables have been replaced by gorgeous white and grey marble ones, with pretty little succulents sitting on each one.
Their menu is simple but perfect – a hybrid creation using international flavours with fresh locally-sourced produce – something for everyone yet concise enough that each dish has been carefully thought out. Their executive chef, Cat Ashton, was previously head chef at both the prestigious Petersham Nurseries and the wonderful Paradise by way of Kensal Green, where I’ve enjoyed many wonderful dishes courtesy of Taste Film!
After having a chance to look through their extensive wine list we were brought wild garlic butter and grilled sourdough with chilli olives to start, and what a start it was! I love olives but my mum and I both agreed that we often find them too salty – just a few and we’re done. These were honestly some of the best olives I’ve ever had though – beautifully balanced, with a firm bite to them, only a subtle hint of saltiness and brushed gently in a glorious chilli oil. Despite being presented with a giant plate we were still fighting over them! The sourdough came stacked and smothered in a garlic butter – vibrant green from the wonderful wild garlic.. needless to say we ordered another plate of that!
For starters I was torn – I could’ve happily eaten them all, so to make the decision making slightly easier I let my parents take first pick and I ordered the third.. with the intention of trying them all of course! Confit guinea fowl and cauliflower soup came beautifully presented in a simple white bowl, deliciously creamy with bruschetta on the side for dipping. Trout tartare was stunningly fresh, with the deep pink of pomegranate arils complementing the slightly paler pink trout perfectly. Crème fraiche gave the dish a slightly more indulgent twist and of course there was more of their glorious sourdough toast on the side.
My personal favourite was undoubtedly the veggie option though, and by happy coincidence this was the dish I’d actually ordered for myself! Grilled broccoli came piled up with celeriac, toasted pumpkin seeds, macerated figs, balsamic and mountains of light ricotta cheese. It feels almost silly to be raving about broccoli but I can’t even begin to think how they made it that tasty – it was honestly sublime!!
Like most British restaurants, there’s a different menu on Sunday with a focus on the nation’s pride and joy. Sunday roasts are a true classic – and one of my all time favourites – but I have to admit that I rarely actually end up choosing one, as restaurants and pubs usually understandably focus on the higher quality meats such as lamb or beef where turkey and chicken are my favourite roast meats. Even here I was tempted by the fish, but the Wagyu beef caught my eye and on recommendation of the lovely restaurant manager I went for it, and what an incredible decision it turned out to be.. I mean how often is it that you come across Wagyu beef.. on a roast dinner!?
It was everything I was hoping and more. The meat was cooked to perfection – slightly pink, thinly sliced and so incredibly tender. It was so good that it was almost a strange sensation to be eating meat worthy of fillet-steak quality as part of a roast dinner! It by no means felt out of place though – the rest of the plate was executed to a similarly outstanding standard. Roast potatoes were light, fluffy and incredibly crispy, with the type of crunchy outer layer that you can usually only achieve by browning (or in my case even slightly burning!) them. Yet somehow the chefs have achieved that dreamy coating with the most perfect pale golden brown colour on every surface. The Yorkshire pudding too, was divine. For a start, it was an absolute monster! As my favourite part of a roast dinner I’m disappointed if it’s anything less, but often I find that like with many things, quantity means sacrificing quality, and I’ve had many a giant Yorkshire pudding that have been dry (almost crusty even) at the top and overly soggy and greasy in the middle. The Abbey have perfected their Yorkshires though, and I saw many a plate come out of the kitchen with each one looking just as perfect as the last – puffed up beautifully in the oven and soft all the way through – no hard, crusty edges in sight! As a true Yorkshire girl at heart I’d say I’m pretty fussy, but they’ve nailed it.
The accompaniments are perfect too – little cubes of roasted celeriac, delightfully vibrant market vegetables, a beautifully balanced jus that is neither too thin nor too salty, with the whole dish sitting on a deliciously smooth carrot puree. If beef isn’t your thing, then order it anyway, because this is sure to change your mind! Seriously though – the other roast mains sounded just as good – there’s a slow cooked lamb shoulder that I imagine would be melt-in-the-mouth soft, a veggie option that sounds incredible (ricotta, chickpea and hazelnut pastries!) and a crispy pork belly which my dad got, and loved. Much to the horror of my relatives (who are all obsessed with Asian-style pork belly), I’m not a big fan of it, but I tried a bite of my dad’s and the meat was so deliciously soft. Perhaps slightly too salty for me but he had no complaints, and the skin was so crispy that even my mum jumped in for a bite!
My mum ended up ordering the fish of the day which was grilled hake with coconut curry, spring greens, celeriac and chilli oil, and I have to admit that had my roast not been so incredibly good I’d have had food envy! The fillet was fried to perfection, with skin so crispy that she ate every bite, and it was served so beautifully with tenderstem, chilli, delicate coconut shavings and a heavenly creamy curry sauce.
For dessert the sticky Medjool pudding was always going to be a winner for me. Served with a pumpkin seed tuille, butterscotch and ‘cream’ ice cream it was everything I wanted from a dessert and more. The sponge was soft yet sticky, there were chunks of soft, gooey medjool dates and the butterscotch sauce was so incredible that I abandoned cutlery in order to get every last drop out of the bowl. I felt a little bad in the end because on seeing how much I loved it, my ever selfless dad insisted on donating the rest of his to me as well! Not one to miss out on a chocolatey option I also wanted to try the chocolate mousse, which came in a beautifully little teacup, as light as it was dainty. I regularly voice my dislike for light, airy puddings and mousse comes close to the top of the list, but despite being light, the mousse itself was thick and indulgent and it came perfectly finished with a jug of caramel cream and a crunchy almond biscuit.
Throughout the meal the waitresses and the restaurant manager came over repeatedly to check that everything was perfect, and to ensure our glasses of water never went empty! Friendly, smiley and all too happy to chat and recommend dishes, they too left nothing to be desired.
We all left feeling incredibly satisfied and above all I felt an immense sense of gratitude. As some of you may know I’m going through an incredibly tough time in my personal life but I’m so lucky to be surrounded by the most amazing family and friends, and to be able to share such a wonderful meal with my parents was a truly perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The Abbey is an absolute gem, a wonderful addition to the St Alban’s food scene and I will undoubtedly be bringing friends here, and hopefully returning with my parents again in future too.
Link to their website, where you can (try!) to book – despite being so new they’re already seriously booked up! https://www.theabbeystalbans.com