At last, we understand the pain that teachers must feel when they’re forced to say a pupil ‘could do better’. There is nothing more frustrating that something (or someone) showing promise, but not living up to their potential. So it is at the Althorp.
This neighbourhood pub, housed in a handsome building overlooking the green spaces of Wandsworth Common, got off to a good start by virtue of location alone. In the homely front room, drinkers were kept happy, with a mainstream selection of lager, cider and bitter (Asahi to Kronenbourg; Aspall’s; Doom Bar to Wandle) plus a decent selection of wines by the glass. But out back, in the dining room, the wheels started to come off.
First of all, this area was separated from the pub by an odd, brightly-lit ante-room. Rather than being given over to some well-behaved drinkers to provide buzz, on our visit it was kept empty by the use of ‘reserved’ signs. The dining room was quiet - too quiet for a pub - but for a soundtrack of ill-judged pop music (Blur; Damien Rice). The room was almost pretty, with lavish boutique-hotel curtains, tiny oil lamps flickering on the tables, and wire ‘branches’ with mother-of-pearl ‘leaves’ on the walls. But again, the lights were too bright for it to be cosy.
It was, however, the kitchen that was the biggest disappointment. There were flashes of brilliance, such as a perfectly seasoned and nicely-textured pork and pistachio terrine, beautifully matched to a light and tangy celeriac remoulade, that showed that someone out back could cook. But most dishes were let down by amateurish errors: large clumps of Iceberg hearts in an otherwise decent prawn cocktail; a fridge-cold sesame bun on an otherwise well-made burger; French fries that lacked colour and crunch, simply because they needed longer in the fryer.
On our visit, almost half of the adverttised pudding list wasn’t available, and the one we tried - a cheesecake with an exotic passion fruit and mango topping – was built on to a soggy base of cheap digestive biscuits. Too many details smacked of laziness or lack of care.
Service was equally inconsistent, from the one lovely waitress who knew her stuff, to her well-meaning but clueless colleagues.
We’d like to see the Althorp try harder, and live up to its setting.