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.