The Brockley Central Interview: Richard Salthouse, The Royal Albert



The Royal Albert Pub
460 New Cross Road

Since the flurry of pub news in the second half of last year, the local scene’s been a little quiet. But Richard, the former manager of Jam Circus, has taken over at the Royal Albert, which is almost as exciting as getting a brand new pub. We asked him how he planned to try to make a good pub great.

Tell us about the Royal Albert please

It’s a very old pub smartened up, but with some endearing fraying around the edges. It’s very pretty to look at - leather sofas, small tables and taxidermy at the front and ‘proper’ tables to the back, by an open kitchen. It’s low-lit, kitsch, a little cheeky and quite laid-back; it’s a genuinely friendly pub.

Customers are a mix of local professionals, ‘creatives’ and students, with a family element on weekends. Knowing full well this will sound pretentious, the local scene fostered by Goldsmith’s students and the arts and music crowd do give the pub that little bit of edge; we can’t take ourselves too seriously.

A lot of customers love their ale – we have four hand pumps, so guest ales change weekly, plus the ‘house’ Brakspear is a decent £2.50.

Food is a short menu of simple, quality homemade dishes – a good mix of small dishes and mains, plus the obligatory Sunday roast. There are changes coming in the kitchen, but I answer that further down.

We’re minutes away from Tanner’s Hill and Deptford market, so meat has always come from Bill at Wellbeloved’s, who’s great for an interesting cut once in a while, and fish from The Codfather. Events-wise, we can get really busy on certain nights, but you’ve asked me about those lower down.

Now you’re in charge, what will you be doing differently?

Our two big projects are to improve the front area with plants and new seating, and to knock through inside to the shop next door, which will add a third again to the size. Both depend on our company’s schedule, but I’ll be pushing for the front to be finished before the peak of summer and knocking through I hope can be done this year. More bands, DJs and events should be scheduled by late spring/early summer.

The previous head chef, Kevin was a popular chap around these parts. But, he’s off for pastures new within the company, so we now have Theo, whose background is top restaurants (Park Lane Hotel, Atlantic Bar, Coast, etc.) Theo will step up the quality and consistency of the food without it being overcomplicated or overly costly. He believes in using predominantly British seasonal ingredients, having a short menu that changes on at least a weekly basis and is a big fan of seafood and healthy options. He’s a pastry chef by trade, so I expect some impressive desserts.

Over the past 2 years I’ve become a coffee obsessive/bore and I plan to bring the coffee here to a very high standard at some point. Once some of the more pressing issues are dealt with I’ll be cracking on with the coffee; guys like Ross at Brown’s and Lysney and Neil of Exchange Coffee at Lewisham Market have shown there’s a place for speciality coffee in the area.

As well as all of that we’ll be looking at offering a short cocktail list at all times over the next couple of months, plus we have local designer Robin Stannard (twitter.com/full_beard) working on a logo, menus, flyers and all other things paper, and a photographer called Ewa taking snaps such as the one in this article. We’re already on twitter (twitter.com/theroyalalbert) and will be getting an email newsletter up and running very soon.

What will the balance between food and drink be?

We're a pub first and foremost, so the primary aim is to be a great place to come for a drink. That said, we’re looking to attract to attract more diners. We don’t want to alienate customers who just want a pint or a glass of wine, so we’ll have plenty of small options on the menu as well as substantial mains.

As good as our food will be I don’t see us as a destination eatery for foodies, other than those who live in the area.

You hosted a lot of live music at Jam Circus, are you planning the same at The Royal Albert?

Holly has established Thursday as the night for live music and Fridays and Saturdays for DJs. They've been hugely popular and Friday is usually by far our busiest night, but we're looking now to add some variety to the bands and, to a lesser extent, the DJs. We're hopeful by late spring we'll have a line-up to tell people about (any local bands do get in touch!)

What about other events?

We have a Monday night pub quiz. For as long as I've known this pub the quiz has been a bit different to the rest - there's a creative round (plasticine masterpieces, etc) and a challenge round (paper aeroplane throwing, etc). We're also looking at throwing an early summer party just for fun. Plus, we're open to other events such as Deptford X festival, etc.

Who’s in charge of Jam Circus now? Is it in good hands?

Katje has moved up from assistant manager to head honcho and supervisor Sam to deputy honcho, plus May remains the head chef, so very good hands indeed. They're really pushing the live music and DJ aspect and have already had some extremely busy weeks. The staff at Jam Circus are the finest group of people I've worked with and I consider them all good friends; five of them have been there for over 3 years now and I know they will all care for it as if it were their own. I ask for regular updates!

Have newcomers like The Orchard and The Talbot made life tougher for you?

I would usually say no, as competition in such under-served healthy and helps keeps more people local. However, I don't think enough people living at the Lewisham Way end of Brockley have known about The Royal Albert, what we offer, or how close we are and they are some of the people I need to reach. Now that they have The Talbot and The Orchard nearby that will be more difficult for us. Both are fairly food-focused, so we’ll have healthy competition for diners, and our late hours might mean we can attract a few more for drinks. I have no complaints though; they’re both great for the area and less than 5 minutes from my flat!

Do you think we'll see more pubs and bars open in the area in the next couple of years?

Yes, but I struggle to think where. Premises are unlikely become available and Deptford's high street area isn't the most attractive. The future of Brockley has to begin at Brockley Cross, forming a cohesive mini high street with Brockley Road, but we rely on the road layout being improved for anything to change.

Given an available shop and an intelligent owner willing to invest, I see a good restaurant doing roaring trade on Brockley Road. Deptford I think will go down the café/coffee route on and around the high street - I don't see many restaurants and bars until the area smartens up, which it will do with the completion of the new developments, the station upgrade and the ELL at new cross.

46 comments:

Deptford dame said...

Nice interview, thanks and welcome to Deptford Richard! Myself and the Geezer use the Royal Albert regularly for eating out, it's probably my favourite pub food in the area, and I look forward to changing menus. One plea would be to consider regular guest ales - the ones you offer such as Brakspears are ok, but nothing special. I would like to experience the same frisson of excitement I get every time I walk in the Dog & Bell, wondering what guest ales will be on offer. They can't match you for food but their range of ales should surely be something to aspire to?

Anonymous said...

Where is this pub please?

Matt-Z said...

The old shop next door was part of the Paradise Bar for a while (during its worst days), glad the owners are to make use of it again. I assume the extension will follow the theme of the existing pub and keep the same atmosphere (which is very good). I like the food too, though it's not the cheapest.

I don't suppose they're planning on reinstating the disco floor that was there in the 90s?

Matt-Z said...

The old shop next door was part of the Paradise Bar for a while (during its worst days), glad the owners are to make use of it again. I assume the extension will follow the theme of the existing pub and keep the same atmosphere (which is very good). I like the food too, though it's not the cheapest.

I don't suppose they're planning on reinstating the disco floor that was there in the 90s?

Matt-Z said...

^^^ Double post, sorry. Anon - the pub is on the corner of New Cross Road and Florence Road.

Scott said...

I have said this to all my friends and I will say it to all of you on BC blogland - this is one of the best pubs in London. Since moving to the area last April, I have met so many interesting people at the Royal Albert and even made a few friends.

This place really has it all - amazing atmosphere, great food, varied beer selection, incredibly friendly staff and wonderful live music nights.

Thoroughly looking forward to all of the new changes.

Anonymous said...

thanks Matt-z

The Royal Albert said...

@Dd I am making guest ales a personal mission - one of the taps will constantly rotate, feel free to make suggestions. We have 3 taps right now, 1 is Brakspear, 1 is usually a beer by Purity and the other alternates between Landlord and a guest. Once the troublesome 4th tap is fixed (next week?) the guests will no longer have to live in Landlord's shadow and will have a tap of their own.

Anon - On the corner of New Cross Road and Florence Road - smack bang between New Cross station and Deptford High St, or a straight walk all the way down Shareloes Rd and across Lewisham Way. http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=royal+albert+pub&sll=51.47593,-0.027037&sspn=0.006228,0.01929&gl=uk&g=se14+6tj&ie=UTF8&hq=royal+albert+pub&hnear=London+SE14+6TJ,+UK&ll=51.479565,-0.024376&spn=0.023574,0.077162&z=14&iwloc=A&cid=9275776571444142748>

Headhunter said...

Anon 12.24, The pub is in New Cross at the corner of Florence Rd and New Cross Rd. I've only been once and it seemed a decent place but that was before Richard took over. Will have to drop by again sometime...

The Royal Albert said...

Oops that was a big link.

@Matt-Z, yes to the existing theme - the extension could simply be extending the current room or making a separate room connected by a door. The back room by the kitchen should also be extended by a metre or so. There's a slim chance the kitchen would move so that we can have more space to cook, but I doubt it. Like I say, this is all down to company schedules - I hope to know more by the end of April.

New food - Theo should be on board full time the week after next, so within a month there will be fully refreshed menus, including a Saturday brunch.

No disco floor planned that I know of, but I've heard plenty about its Paradise days, from even my uncle!

@Scott glad to hear, the guys before me did an amazing job establishing the pub and the set of customers that walk through the door are as varied as they are brilliant (well, mostly).

John said...

I think I've already made my views known about the Royal Albert on another thread. I share the Dame's views about the drink. I've always found the choice of ales to be very poor and always in bad condition although others contributing to this site disagree. The interior is very nice though with the exception of some "extreme" second-hand furniture.

The Dog & Bell is by far the best pub in the area. I'm not too interested in food so I'm happy there.

drakefell debaser said...

It has been a while since I visited the Royal Albert and being a sucker for leather armchairs I do like the interior but also found it very welcoming. Hope to try out the food soon.

The Royal Albert said...

John, I think I remember speaking with you on that thread. I can only speak so much for what's gone before, but I'll be sure to have a different guest ale each week and not the usual suspects you can pick up anywhere. I'd bore very quickly otherwise. I'm obsessively clean and organised, and beer is no exception - i'll not allow any dirty pipes or poorly kept ales.

It's been a to-do of mine for 3 years to get to the dog and bell - all the more reason to now my own pub is relatively close. Keep your eyes peeled for a large-nosed tired tall twenty-something trying out their ales.

The Royal Albert said...

John, i'll take a look at changing some of the furniture, it looks lovely but some is more than worn and the layout is infuriating at times

Anonymous said...

Sounds good and not focusing too heavily on the food like a lot of newly opened pubs ( I say pubs loosely ). Hope you will be able to put the list of the entertainment on here.

Anonymous said...

Keep the sofas. All pubs should have at least one leather Chesterfield.

Brockley Nick said...

Totally agree. Leather armchairs belong in pubs.

Headhunter said...

No dancing at the Royal Albert? Last time I went there, there were loads of people up shaking their thangs up at the back. It was a couple of years ago though.

The Dog and Bell.... I went there last year and was a bit underwhelmed. It was a small place, hard to find, bit bland inside, laminate flooring if I remember and new MFI style furniture. Poky little yard bit out back. Don't specifically remember what beers they had. People there were friendly enough, but I didn't think wow, I've reached pub nirvana and didn't feel the need to hurry back...

The Royal Albert said...

@Anons, well I do tend to focus heavily on food, but in a pub like this I won't do it to the detriment of drinks. Leather furniture is lovely in here, but maybe overkill, I'll have a think.

@HH I'm told The Dog and Bell had a couple of changes of management and had some dodgy spells, but are supposedly in fine form these days. I'd quite like being hard to find!

The Royal Albert said...

Oh and HH, dancing still happens, but it's not confined to a dancefloor!

drakefell debaser said...

Richard, if you need a home for any armchair you may decide to get rid of, please let me know.

Anonymous said...

The Dog and Bell has won several CAMRA best pub Awards.

Anonymous said...

drakefell debaser - if you're looking for those kind of red sofas/chairs I bought a red Chesterfield (style probably, but looks great)sofa and chair from a second hand place in Ladywell village. The sofa was £160 and the chair was £60. They're easily the best buys I made for my house. I got them a few years ago but I notice that he occasionally gets similar things, it's just over the bridge on the left - he has things on the pavement.

Deptford dame said...

For me the delight of the D&B is mainly in the ales and the friendly welcome; if you are there for the decor, true it's nothing special but Headhunter was definitely mistaken about the MFI furniture. I enjoy the fact that on every visit I can choose from a couple of reliably good regular ales and three guest ales which are constantly changing. All are kept meticulously well. It's rare to get such a great choice and such quality in this neck of the woods. Thankyou Richard for your promise to improve on the current offerings in the Albert.

Headhunter said...

I know that place anon, I've wandered by occasionally and noticed some interesting bits and bobs.

I know that the Dog and Bell has won lots of awards, perhaps I expected too much. I'm sure the beer is fantasically well kept, I just wasn't so impressed by the place in general. It wasn't horrible or anything, just felt pretty average.

drakefell debaser said...

Cheers anon 16:51, I will go and have a look.

Anonymous said...

All the regulars are lucky to have Richard, great pub, seating outside has loads of potential, also Richard is quite fit :)

Matt-Z said...

What happened to the bloke who used to work at the Albert who looked like Tony Hawks (the comedian, not the skateboarder)?

oryx said...

The Dog and Bell is ace - I'd say it is one of my favorite pubs in the whole of London.

It's everything a pub should be - friendly, laid-back and a good choice of good beers (e.g. Belgian fruit beers as well as traditional English ales).

The Royal Albert sounds good - we're right at the south end of Brockley and a way away from it, but will definitely have to give it a go.

John said...

Headhunter, you're right about the poky garden to the rear of the D&B which I don't think any of the regulars consider to be anything other than for bike storage and smoking. However, laminate flooring and MFI furniture???

There isn't anything special about the decor but then there is nothing bad about it either. What makes the pub great is that it serves, what I consider to be, ale in perfect condition plus about 30 bottled belgian beers. It attracts all sorts and has a good conversational atmosphere. I suppose the downside of this is that it isn't 'trendy' which is the only thing that keeps many pubs alive these days (other than cheap beer). Go in there on a mid-week evening these days and its almost deserted, which is a shame.

The D&D's biggest problem is that most people don't know it's there. I can honestly say that I've overheard so many young people who have just discovered the pub, either talking to the landlord or amongst themselves, saying how great it is.

John said...

Sorry to go on...but this is a good article about the Dog & Bell, and Deptford in general, by Andrew Gilligan (dodgy dossier fame) which is really an extension of an article published in the Evening Standard:-

http://www.greenwich.co.uk/andrew-gilligan/deptford/

oryx said...

I like Gilligan's article about the Dog and Bell/Deptford, not least because he disses Time Out's usual appalling ignorance about SE London.

The Royal Albert said...

@HH "I've only been once and it seemed a decent place but that was before Richard took over", sounds ominous!

@DD The decor lady would probably pinch the leather furniture for another pub if I got rid, but if I do, and she doesn't, you've got bagsy. I'll second the Ladywell shop - got every leather chair in JC from there. If you can trek further there's a great second hand place in the old fire station in West Wickham.

People were dancing tonight and the 4th pump was fixed, so ales were Landlord, Purity Mad Goose IPA, Sharp's Seasonal 6 Berries IPA and Butcombe Bitter. Brakspear wasn't ready so we had the luxury of 2 guests.

John, you're right about pubs often needing to be trendy to bring in the punters these days, and that only goes to show how well D&B has done to stay open, succesful and award-winning in a hard to find spot. There must be at least 5 closed ex-community pubs between the top of Deptford high street and the river. Ironically enough real ales have become quite trendy themselves the last few years. My boss invited me for a pint in D&B when I started at RA, it's one of his favourite locals, I'll take him up on it.

@MattZ, do you mean Simon who dressed a little wacky to say the least? He was the manager for a while, some time ago, but left. He pops in now and then actually

Sam@JamCircus said...

Good interview richard, really looking forward to the new food, will definately be in to try it out. In fact, i am pretty hungry now. But the RA is too far, hmm, any chance you could make an improvement on making it closer to my house?

The Royal Albert said...

You'll have to move in with the gf if you want to be closer!

Had a good chat with Theo today - menu is looking good for next week, give me a bell if you want to come in and try it out.

Timmy2wheels said...

The Dog and Bell is an excellent pub for drinking and bar billiards, but the food is dreadful. I don't think every pub needs to be 'gastro', but the scami and chips/limp burger offer there is pitiful...

Anonymous said...

Id rather have good Ale than good food and bad Ale

Headhunter said...

Richard - Sorry, that "but that was before Richard took over" comment wasn't meant to come across like that! I'm sure it'll be all the better for your presence.

On the D&B, it sounds like I've been unfair, I'll have to give it another try. It's main attraction seems to be in the way its beer is kept an the sheer variety on offer and I cannot claim to be some kind of beer afficionado. As long as a bar or pub isn't wall to wall keg lager (Stella, Fosters etc etc) and it has London Pride or Tim Taylor, I'm alright. Once I've got a half decent pint of Pride, my next tick box for a pub is the decor and style and the D&B just didn't really seem to have thatin spades. I think before I went I was expecting some kind of Victiorian gem with cut glass mirrors and dark mahogany panelling etc.

The Royal Albert said...

@HH, I hadn't thought it was a dig - it was a nice comment about the pub that made me laugh as it set me up for a fall!

Anonymous said...

The Royal Albert has really friendly staff and is cosy. I would like to see more live music though and more varied too.

The Royal Albert said...

Anon, we agree on the more varied, this is something we're working on

Trixie said...

Firstly I want to say I like the Albert and drink there quite a bit, however a few points come to mind:
- the furniture is ok looking, but lots of the sofas are well past their best, once you're sitting down there's no escape (maybe that's the plan?) because the base springs are completely gone! although you can usually find some change down the back of the cushions...
- Another point is that some of the tables and sofas don't work together (too low or high or too far away) no fun when you can't reach your drink!
- It's nice to be able to sit outside in the summer - would be nicer if there was a screen (bamboo maybe?) so you don't feel quite so much that you're sitting on New X road
- Live music.... hmmmm, having bands on all the time doesn't seem to be doing the Inn many favours... I think of the Albert as the place where I go to meet my mates and have a chat (and many, many drinks) if it's too loud we won't stay. Also, the set up never seems to me to work that well for live music. DJ yes, full on band no.
- Food has been massively inconsistent, but seems that this has been dealt with
- the staff are always lovely, so hope they will be staying

good luck with the new pub!

The Royal Albert said...

@Trixie, thanks for the comments, stuff like this is really helpful

Furniture - not trying to trap anyone in their seat, but there's no immediate plan to change furniture. Longer term I will look at the layout and furniture condition. This could also coincide with expanding.

Outside - My answer wasn't clear enough when I said 'the front'. There are plans to re-do outside, with something to block off from the street, like planting. Might look into new furniture too.

Live music - it will only be Thursday nights and the reason we want to vary the bands is to make sure it's appropriate, not too loud, etc. Work in progress.

Food - yes, inconsistent until now. Theo worked his first shift cooking last night and the quality, consistency and presentation shot up. He still needs to look into staffing and training, so I won't promise perfection immediately, but there will definitely be noticeable and significant improvements as of today. Part of his menu is on now (Wednesday), more to come this and next week.

Staff - you can hug them if you like!

Thanks

sarah said...

Looks great! i'd be interested in DJing. let me know if you need anyone else.

The Royal Albert said...

Sarah, that's great to know, pop in for a chat sometime.

theblondpond said...

I arrive 2 years later hahah
I stole the picture (with link back to the post, so it's not really stolen) for my blog, there's a small review of the pub too.

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