Square deal for whisky

Albannach is an exciting new Scottish restaurant in the very heart of London. Dominic Roskrow reports
By Dominic Roskrow
There are very few of us who manage to live out our dreams. But in the very heart of London that’s what young Scottish entrepreneur Niall Barnes and his business partner Dan Sullam are doing.

After months of determination and hard work they have now proudly opened the doors to London’s latest style restaurant. And in doing so they massively advanced the cause of Scottish cuisine in the English capital and gave Scotch whisky a major platform at the same time.

Opening a major restaurant is one thing, doing so in a prime location in Trafalgar Square is ambitious and audacious too. But that’s what Albannach is – a contemporary Scottish-themed restaurant on the site of the old Aberdeen Angus Steakhouse. A greater contrast between old and new it would be hard to imagine.

So just how did two businessmen with virtually no catering experience snatch up one of the most prestigious sites in Europe –the view from the windows takes in Nelson’s column and the whole of the square – when an A-Z of popular chain restaurants also wanted the site?

“You have to hand it to Niall,” says Dan. “He had a clear idea of what he wanted it to do and he went and presented the concept to the landlady and she was impressed enough to give him the chance to do it. I think she liked the idea of what Albannach was trying to do rather than let it go to fast food outlet such as MacDonalds.”

Albannach – the Gaelic word for Scotsman – is the realisation of a vision for Barnes, who comes from a financial background but spotted a gap in the catering market some years ago.

“I’d see all the Irish theme bars but never any Scottish ones, apart from ones like the Aberdeen Angus Steakhouses,” he says. “I wanted to combine a contemporary and young person’s style bar with the very best in Scottish cuisine. Scotland produces some truly outstanding food and I wanted to present it in a modern way.”

Albannach does just that. It is positioned somewhere between the modern Scottish hotel approach of the City Inn in Westminster and the more traditional and masculine approach of The Boisdale in Belgravia and is a clever blend of sophistication, luxury and style.

It works on three levels – fine dining on the upper tier, style bar and lounge on the ground, and whisky and cocktail bar downstairs.

On the one hand it’s designed to appeal to the business community, featuring booths with their own liquid crystal display screens and volume controls, a private meeting room with large plasma screen and CD/DVD/video access, and wireless broadband access throughout.

But on the other it’s a party venue with draught beer products, fun ‘Scottish tapas’, in the bar area, an impressive cocktail list, and a large roll-down wall-mounted television screen for big sporting events.

The attention to detail suggests that the partners understand well what a modern business customer might look for in a venue. The food and drink offering is the direct result of Dan and Niall going out and finding the best to help them.

They met their whisky advisor Ian Wisniewski at a Whisky Magazine whisky tasting event in London, for instance. Sam Caporn of Wine International created the wine list. Their cocktail list has been put together by Tony Conigliaro, whose CV reads like an A-Z of London’s top bars –including Roko, Zuma, and Isolo.

And the head chef is rising Scottish culinary star John Paul McLachlan, a Gordan Ramsay protégé whose previous experience includes Amaryllis, Le Manoir aux ‘Quatre Saisons and Martin Wishart in Edinburgh.

Whisky is a cornerstone of Albannach. There are plans to stock some 200 to 250 malts including some very rare ones, and the plan is to organise tastings at the venue and to attract the great and the good of the industry for events there.

“We want to be known as the home of whisky outside Scotland,” says Niall. “The whisky theme will be very important.”

One of Ian Wisniewski’s roles will be to advise parties on what whisky to drink, and to encourage its consumption through tastings. The use of whisky as a menu ingredient is also likely and the team behind the restaurant don’t rule out themed whisky dinners and specific whisky events.

Although Albannach opened its doors just before Christmas it is officially launched with a media party in February and the plans are to eventually use it as a basis for further expansion in to the catering market.

“We have set our targets very high with this place,” says Dan. “It has taken a lot of time, money and determination. But hopefully we can build from here. It is a very exciting time for us.”

Restaurant Menu


Hand-caught roasted scallops with fennel purée

Arbroath Smokies with confit ratte potato

Salad of wild asparagus and poached Highland egg

Ravioli of wild mushroom, roasted cepes with borlotti bean cappuccino

“Cullen Skink” soup with fresh petit pois

Terrine of foie gras, confit of duck, French beans and port wine reduction

Main Courses

Braised loin of venison, pomme purée, caramelised shallots, game jus

Pan-fried tranche of Lewis salmon, confit savoy cabbage, baby leeks, Hermitage sauce

Spiced Skye monkfish tail, mussel and saffron vegetable broth

Roasted fillet of Buccleuch beef, parsnip purée, baby spinach, braised mushrooms

Thyme-poached supreme of guinea fowl, slow-roasted lentils du puy, asparagus, truffle cream sauce

Roasted vine tomato and parmesan risotto, rocket salad􀀂