I rarely take advantage of lunch menus at normally-expensive restaurants, because if I motivate to try out a pricey restaurant, I want to have the “full” multi-hours-long, appetizer-to-coffee experience. I figure you can’t really judge a place on a special lunch menu.
Of course, you should never say never, and twice now, I’ve enjoyed the £15.50 weekend lunch at St. Alban, a Mediterranean-inspired place near Piccadilly Circus. Despite the fact that St. Alban’s owners used to own J. Sheekey (seriously one of the worst values in London), I initially dropped by because TimeOut loved it and it’s steps away from where a certain designer has sample sales every few months. So first I shop, and then I go to St. Alban. It’s all very Ladies Who Lunch (except, of course, for the tiny detail that I have a full-time job. And I’m shopping at a sale).
St. Alban’s lunch menu is limited and hasn’t changed much over the past three months, and because I’ve there eaten both times with largeish groups, I’ve managed to try all of the options.
The bread basket, which could so easily be a crappy throwaway, is lovely. Grissini is crispy and tastes like olive oil, and it’s overshadowed only by the fruity, aromatic olive oil that accompanies the springy, moist country bread slices.
Portions at St. Alban are pretty huge, which is weird, because the restaurant’s aggressively high-design, Jetson-style interior would suggest small portions. Soups and the broad-beans-and-chorizo starters were disappointing during both my visits. Bland. It’s hard for chorizo to be bland, but somehow St. Alban manages to do it.
The salads have been the best of the lunch appetizer options. The buffalo mozzarella and artichoke salad isn’t the most creative offering in the world, but you’re served a whole ball of fluffy, creamy, tangy cheese, and the greens are lightly dressed with a sweet balsamic vinaigrette. Simple and good.
Main courses are definitely the highlight from the lunch menu. This is where the hugeness of portions rears its ugly head. Paella is served with whole king prawns, massive mussels, calamari, smoky chorizo, and surprisingly, chicken. The seafood ingredients are sweet and not-overcooked, and the risotto is creamy and not gloppy.
My other fave of the lunch menu mains is the pork belly. I love the delicate layer of crackling and the fat-marbled pinkness of the meat. Because the two thick slices of pork belly are too much for even the piggiest eater (comme moi), I’ve scarfed down one slice and then asked to have the other to go. The other day when I made the “to go” request, our server gave me a couple of eyerolls, which was too bad. Up until then, she’d been the model of friendly helpfulness, regularly refilling our glasses with tap water. As New Yorker in London noted a few months ago, getting leftovers “to go” elicits these sorts of reactions in London restos. Shame.
Overall, St. Alban’s weekend lunch menu is a steal at £15.50 for two courses. Options are simple and well-executed, and the dining room is empty enough on weekends that you can linger. The service is generally attentive and helpful, and my only advice is to work up a big appetite before you go.
St. Alban, 4-12 Regent Street, SW1Y 4PE; 0207 499 8558. Closest tube station: Piccadilly Circus